Martial arts is an athletic pursuit, but few of us are athletes. At least, we don’t have the work ethic of a serious athlete. Two or three workouts a day, five or six days a week? That’s a little too rich for most of us. We don’t have the funds to live that life, or have other things that make demands on our time. Working out two or three hours a week is a big thing for most of us. Six hours a week of training makes us feel pretty badass. It’s a long way from there to twelve or twenty hours…or more…of workout in a week.

I like a tough class. I regard my students as amateur athletes, and hit them with a workout that challenges their ability to adapt. Twice a week is just at the limit of what most people can handle. If they all had unlimited money and free time, would I teach them full time?

No. At least, not yet. Building the capacity for heavy work takes time. It’s not surprising that the students that are starting to get ahead of the exercise curve are those with a sport background. They’ve got a few years head start in tendon development if nothing else. The students without that background are already running up against tendon and inflammation issues. Muscles get strong fast, they can recycle protein quickly and rebuild themselves to meet increased demands within a week or two. Tendons have to wait six weeks or more for those benefits to feed down.

Which means you get strong before you are able to handle it. Injuries happen when muscle pull is uneven. The system takes a while to integrate. And more than just tendons adapting, the brain has to catch up as well. It’s got years of thinking the body can only move a certain way, and it’s not used to muscles that can sometimes dramatically over-perform.

Between the two there is a need for balance. Tendons need time to grow in, so growth must be restrained. Improvement has to happen in cycles, not steadily. If we pay attention only to this, we might be tempted to slack our training, or take time off. We could do that, but then we are missing the nervous system adaption. The brain needs to sync up with the muscles, which mean movement and training, and all the feedback that entails.

You can build up to the full athletic training frequency, but only after years of preparation. As amateurs, students of athletic arts, we need to be aware of this. The aches and pains we run across are messages we shouldn’t ignore. Sometimes you have to put a little less effort into your workout, and pay more attention to technical details. If you’ve got a good teacher, they will help manage this for you. It’s one of the reasons everyone who teaches martial arts should study modern coaching and sport science.

If you want to teach, take coaching classes. You won’t regret it, and it will make a difference to your students.