Individuals who train fall into three main categories: hobbyists, infrequent fliers, and fighters. But somewhere in there is a thin slice representing a less well known type: the 9-5er, who at 5 PM walks out the door, transitioning promptly from battling traffic to engaging in hand-to-hand combat inside a gym somewhere.
These folks are an anomaly when it comes to fighting and training; they’re the people with careers who take their evening activities to the next level. There’s a reason why you don’t meet a lot of these people: it’s incredibly demanding. A rigid schedule with limited time to train whenever you want makes it difficult to stay competitive.
Difficult, but not impossible. If you feel like you’re burning the wick at both ends between your professional and fighting careers, I have my experience to demonstrate for you just how it can be accomplished.
People get into fighting at all different stages of life. For me, it was after I had already finished two degrees, established a career, and got married. Obviously, quitting my day job to pursue my passion was not – and is not something I am able to do. As much as I wish I could quit and pursue my dreams, I can’t be shortsighted about it. I need to earn a living.
Training with a full-time job hasn’t been all fun and games, but I’ve found ways to make it easier. Prior to getting into MMA, I was a bodybuilder and competed in many fitness shows. I have borrow lessons and habits from those experiences that translate very well into training life. Though having very different goals, a lot of the same organization, preparation, and protocols can be applied to both combat sports and fitness competitors.
This article presents lessons borrowed from my fitness competition experience to provide a framework for maintaining a career and training at a high level.
The only way I make my training schedule actually work is because of three things:
Easier said than done, I know. Like anyone else attempting this, I have my days. Some seem to go so smoothly, like “It’s working! I’m making this work!” Other days, I’m flying by the seat of my pants. As a case study, I’m flawed in my areas, but I find that being prepared, having a routine, and being flexible makes up for my own deficiencies.
Here are the things I prepare in advance, as often and as well as possible:
When it comes to having a routine, you have to be consistent. However, you also have to be flexible enough to change gears if needed. For instance, you get stuck at work and are late to practice. Instead of forgoing practice altogether, get there when you can and make the most out of a shitty situation.
Here’s my schedule as it pertains to my training:
Sunday: Grocery shopping & Meal prep
*I count this as a hard day because it’s the end of the work week and training just feels extra brutal on Friday nights.
My schedule is based on what I can do, my energy level, and if I have any tournaments coming up. For instance, if I have a jiu jitsu tournament coming up, I won’t do any strength and conditioning workouts the week of (just like most people would do during a fight camp). I’ll also take a few days off of training afterwards to give myself a break.
Structuring your hard, moderate, and light days will require you to examine your schedule. See what you have to work with and what you can reasonably make happen. You have to know your schedule inside-out to make this possible – I can’t emphasize that enough. Maybe you have to work out before your day job begins and train in the evening, or vice-versa, or perhaps fit in a workout over your lunch break. For me, I prefer to nap over my lunch break.
If I am feeling worn out, I’ll take a session or day off. It’s important to keep an eye on how many sessions or days you’ve worked out, and make yourself take a break if necessary. If I’ve been pushing it hard for a number of days or weeks, I’ll give myself some time off.
Find your rhythm and what works for you. Like Emily Moore wrote, it’s quality > quantity. When you are training with a full-time job, you have to make these reps count!
To progress in this sport efficiently and at a high-level, you have to be selfish.
Normal activities, events, and other social things that people do with family and friends take a backseat. For me, this isn’t a problem because I love training and I’m passionate about getting better. However, I also recognize that I have to be considerate to the person that means the most to me: my spouse. I am fortunate that my spouse supports me 100%. To do what I do and to make the progress that I’ve made would be difficult if I had an unsupportive or antagonistic partner.
So I have one big rule: when it comes to training, if my spouse asks me to stay home, I stay home (…99% of the time.)
Sometimes the people that matter in your life need you and it’s important from time to time to take off your training blinders. We all get tunnel vision from time to time. It’s not going to kill you or destroy all your gains to take a night off.
The most important lesson is to always remember that when you are saying “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else.
Want to go to Happy Hour with your co-workers after clocking out for the day? Then you may be saying no to practice. Been training every evening after work? Then you may be saying no to spending time with your spouse. It’s important to remember that with every decision, there’s a benefit and consequence.
Ultimately, determining your success depends on how you prioritize your time, what your goals are, and what you put into your practices. It’s also about just being stupid organized with your time, food, and gear.
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