There’s a concept you may recognize, if you’re a science fiction geek: the Amtal Rule, from Frank Herbert’s Dune. Pressure test something until it fails, to assess its worth.
If you have a system of multiple components and the whole thing repeatedly breaks down because of one part, that’s a clue.
When I was taking a self-defense course and had to be held up and told, “Breathe bro, you can keep going but slow down,” that told me that my intense endurance training had been lacking.
When I was going all-out in grappling and my thumb ligaments
tore sprained, that told me that my connective tissue resilience needed work.
The “little bits” that break aren’t always little. I’m currently nursing a toe injury, but the failure point can be a slab of hamstring muscle, your shoulder, or the yoke of your neck. Or something that isn’t a matter of size, like a headache at the end of a workout, or gassing out in the middle of class.
When as an older active person, you notice things pulling you up short in your headlong dash to glory, you start realizing that everything is connected, and everything is kind of important. You can’t train without modification if your calf is torn (you won’t be able to stand without modification if your calf is torn), or you tear a ligament in a finger, or pop an MCL in your knee, or strain your back, or tear a disc in your neck.
I ran across a YouTube video last night by Jocko Willink, on not getting injured doing BJJ. If his name isn’t familiar, Jocko is something of a celebrity as a former Navy SEAL, business consultant, and high-level active Brazilian jiu-jutsu player and instructor. He’s going on 50, built like a gorilla, and still lifts and practices jiu-jitsu on a daily basis. He advises enjoying the journey and being selective with your training partners when you’re a white belt, but regular strength work and daily jiu-jitsu practice have served him well. If it’s important, the wrestling great Dan Gable is supposed to have said, do it every day, and if it’s not important, don’t do it at all.
Nursing my own little broken bits, I can see the value of this.
Slapping Johnson & Johnson athletic tape on broken bits as they arise is not a long term strategy. You don’t know what will give out next, and if you’re not addressing the underlying cause for why things are breaking, you’ll be playing injury whack-a-mole forever.
If you want to stay active at high levels of intensity, you need to train all the links in the chain involved in that activity.
You may have an idea of what your weak links are — like finger ligaments and cardio — but as you mature (and especially if you’re returning after a hiatus or taking up something new), the odds increase that you have vulnerabilities that you aren’t even aware of. My knees never, ever gave me a hard time — until my MCL popped a year ago.
To cover all the bases, you have to train the entire system.
If injuries are preventing you from training the whole system, it makes total sense to address the specific boo-boos. Fix the broken bits with tape, wrestling shoes, physical therapy, private lessons, remedial workouts — whatever the situation demands. But the goal should be a return to engaging the entire system.
Engagement in this sense means not too far beyond the edge of your current envelope. Yes, you need challenge to grow and strengthen: that’s a fundamental part of the overload principle. You stimulate things, and your physiology responds by stepping up to the level of challenge, plus building in a little extra capacity, aka getting stronger.
But the biggest overload stimulus is regular training. You don’t need to go crazy; showing up consistently is impressive enough.
And you can’t do that if you’re sidelined.
What’s that Star Trek, Starfleet primum non nocere? The Prime Directive? The prime training directive, the first principle, is to train all parts of the system.
In grappling-based martial arts, that’s training with partners on the mat. In tennis, it’s playing across a net with partners. In archery, it’s slinging arrows in conditions matching your goals (like target archery or hunting).
In your activity of choice, doing the activity calls upon all the involved parts. By definition, this occurs with all the intensity demanded by that particular level of participation. The stress of slinging arrows downrange using a 25 lb draw weight bow is less than using a 45 lb draw weight bow. Maybe your goal is to sling arrows using a 100 lb draw weight English warbow, and you’re not there yet. But slinging arrows at 45 lbs, you are calling upon all of your archery bits. And all the connected bits will get called upon — and respond to training — if you gradually increase your numbers while performing the activity.
Because of my own injury history, I’ve not been a fan of “just get back into things but, um, take it slow.” I thought I was taking it slow, but I wasn’t and things tore.
But the more I think about it, the more that Getting Back Into Things makes sense. It’s the only way to ensure all the involved parts get worked, even the ones you didn’t know were weak.
In sports medicine, there are specific ways to address injuries when things go sproing! That’s picking up the pieces after a catastrophic failure. Being older
and wiser, I have a limited tolerance for catastrophic failures: there are only so many intact bits left. Prevention and sensible prehabilitation is clearly the superior strategy.
If you have known weak spots, fortify them.
Fortify them over many weeks or months. This allows connective tissue the longer time it needs to strengthen, and your reflexes the time needed to move like a chill ninja instead of a spastic noob.
The only way to be sure you’re hitting everything else is to train the actual activity.