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Monitoring Training Load & Recovery For Combat Sports

As the level of combat sport increases the need for increased performance becomes a factor that is highly prioritized. However as training load increases as will fatigue. Increased training loads will come in many difference shapes or sizes dependent on the training phase (i.e. competition periods, baseline phases etc.), each different phase will place specific demands upon the individual dependent on the desired physiological response. Regardless of the training phase, monitoring and managing fatigue appropriately is critical to the individual improving both in and out of competition.

Although the scientific literature is sparse in regards to monitoring training loads and fatigue there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and practical applications put forth by leading experts based on current exercise principles.

Combat athletes are notorious for their balls to the wall approaches, this is probably due to the nature of the sports in that within competition the idea is to subdue an opponent with techniques that many would consider ‘extreme’ (knock outs, submissions, pins, throws). Joe Rogan refers to MMA as “problem solving with dire physical consequences” and due to this nature combat sports athletes have the mentality to continuously grind and outwork their opponents.

Now don’t get me wrong this ability to produce high amounts of output has many great advantages. They will generally have the ability to manage higher training loads and show significant improvements within shorter periods of time. However just looking to push, push, push over long periods of time can not only lead to injury and illness but also to a drop in performance which is something that definitely needs to avoided.

Monitoring recovery and training loads can be as simple and as complicated as you wish to make it. Typically monitoring load can be broken down into external and internal factors. As a general rule external factors tend to be more complicated and require additional equipment that not everybody has access too. Examples of external monitoring devices may be force plates & push bands to monitor drops in velocity. Lactate sampling to measure production of lactate within the blood. Power output measuring i.e. maximum power output over sustained period of time. These are just a few examples but as you can see they provided good baseline measurements which over time are easily to reassess and implement changes, however most require additional help and equipment that can be expensive or difficult to have access too.

Internal monitoring I believe can be a much simpler way of monitoring training load especially for those individuals who are new to tracking fatigue and recovery based protocols. Most internal factors are tracked through an RPE system (rate of perceived exertion 1-10, 1=easy, 10=maximal). Variables may include; training difficulty, level of soreness, sleep scores, how recovered do you feel and so on. As you can see these are pretty simple to track and don’t take up much time to note down. However the negative side is how you feel doesn’t always equate to physical output.

Combining internal and external measurements is probably the most reliable way to monitor fatigue and recovery from different training loads. When working with individuals I will provide 5-10 factors that I want them to track on a daily/weekly basis so we can monitor fatigue over sustained periods of time.

Below is a list of 6 examples that are a mix of internal and external factors, all are simple to track on a daily/weekly basis and may help you too monitor your training load and make decisions based around rest days, increasing/decreasing training loads etc.

So here you go 6 idiot proof variables that can help track and monitor recovery and training loads:

1. Total weekly sessions - assess how does changes in total sessions completed affect your performance? Do you feel you’re getting better? Performance measures increasing?

2. Weekly RPE (1-10) – How difficult was the total week of training?

3. Soreness Score Daily & Weekly (1-10) – how stiff/sore do you feel day to day? Note any changes in training volume/intensity

4. Total Rounds Sparred/Live training – are you getting better or just producing more fatigue? This will depend on your selected sport. For example grapplers will spar more rounds than MMA fighters

5. Sleep Score (1-10) – how well did you sleep?

6. Daily Resting Heart rate – increase or decrease of 20% may be time to have a rest day

Inputting your scores into either a logbook for simplicity or onto an excel spreadsheet if you want to be super fancy and create graphs and charts to analyse your training. Below is an example image of an excel spreadsheet for a grappler with the variables inputted over a 7 day period and averages at the bottom.

So there you have it, a simple method for analysing and tracking training load over periods of time. If you wish to increase your analysis further you could try and correlate training loads and levels of performance increase/decreases to produce a much deeper look into maximal recoverable volume in order to minimize the risks of excess over reaching and maximize the chances of steady improvement.

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