Optimal performance – the magic that you want happen whether you train in fitness, martial arts or parkour. It is the secret combination of mind and body that not only makes training feel awesome, but it makes you look forward to your next session, making it easier to reach your fitness goals as planned.
But how do you set yourself up for optimal performance amidst a hectic schedule that often drains you of time and energy? Is it even possible to establish a pre-training routine when you are preoccupied with working overtime, completing your assignments and/or taking care of the kids?
Yes. Work and the many responsibilities are a part of life. You will never have perfect conditions – in fact, even people in the fitness industry work with limitations. Make do with limitations.
Forget about optimal performance in training without these basics
The key to optimal performance is to manage the stressors in life and minimise their effects on your mind and body.
Therefore, sleep well, eat nutritious meals and hydrate yourself throughout the day. Give your mind and body the resources to face a crazy day and go insane when training.
Sleep allows the body to recover and strengthen itself. The brain also clears your mental slate and consolidate your memories during this time. These processes are essential to getting a stronger body, activating muscle memory (for parkour and martial arts) and feeling positive to tackle challenges.
- Sleep 7 to 9 hours daily
- Sleep before midnight
- Wind down an hour before bedtime
How I mess up…
- Sleep 4 to 6 hours on weekdays
- Sleep after midnight most of the time
- Have little time to wind down
I have experienced some of my best training sessions after a good night’s sleep, usually earlier in the week. Once Wednesday arrives, however, I become sleep deprived, setting into motion these events.
- Aikido (when doing quick and continuous defense, attacks and breakfalls): Dizziness and palpitations. It gets bad enough that I end up skipping the second hour of training.
- Calisthenics & Running: With strength and cardio work, I occasionally get migraine attacks that naturally ebbs away my motivation. Ignoring the throbbing headaches, my ability to do chest-level pullups and dips are also affected.
Takeaway: If you feel like shit from being sleep-deprived, you will train like shit.
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2. Food & Nutrition
Maintain constant energy levels throughout the day. Spikes and crashes from excessive sugar intake drains mental energy. Likewise, consuming too much oily food causes indigestion.
- Consume the appropriate amount of food, calculated in caloric estimates or portion-sizes. Obviously, tweak your intake if you goal is either to lose or gain weight.
- Avoid fasting over 4hours to prevent grogginess
- Start the day with a natural source of protein, supplement with protein-shake if needed.
- Avoid oily or sugary foods before training
How I mess up…
The only thing about nutrition that I messed up recently was postponing lunch to after 3pm. The increase in job scope leaves me little time to eat.
To adhere to my calculated protein intake, I tend to compensate by having a heavy lunch.
The problem with postponing lunch and having a heavy meal to compensate is the drastic spikes and crashes. Moreover, in a recent intensive bar calisthenics session, I could still feel the food while working out. I vomited a little on my last rep.
Takeaway: Eat in moderation. Avoid heavy meals hours before training.
If you intend to train well, you need proper hydration throughout the day; not just right before training.
- Constantly drink water for hydration to avoid binge drinking before training
Takeaway: Be hydrated to perform well.
Pre-workout Tips for Insane Performance
After taking care of the basics, to the best of my ability, this is a rough outline of what I do.
1. Determine the objectives of your training in the morning
Do you want to focus on strength, cardio, stamina, speed, reaction or technical proficiency? Knowing your objectives is a form of mental preparation and it also tells you the intensity (type of energy you need).
For instance, on Aikido training days, I choose either to focus on improving technique proficiency or reaction speed. Where technical proficiency training requires more mental focus, reaction speed training requires more physical energy.
2. Have a light meal 2 to 3 hours before training
I tend to be lax with protein intake timing on days when I focus on technique/movement improvement. Sometimes, I just don’t have time to source for protein and make do with a mini-sandwich.
The point here is to eat just enough so that you don’t crave for food or vomit excess food while training.
3. Look through your training plan
For all self-directed training (calisthenics, running and movement practice), I skim through the training plan and picture myself doing it as a form of mental preparation. I also reflect back on the previous training session to anticipate weaknesses and focus on improvement.
Knowing the plan cuts the use of mental resources from confusion or anxiety.
4. Drink water
Hydrate yourself before training. That’s all.
Though I tend to skip proper warm ups due to time constraints, I make do by brisk walking to my training spots to raise my heart rate. Of course, if you have the time, do a proper warm up. The difference in performance is significant!
The average person sits down for hours at work or school. Thereafter, trying to run at speed or jump into an intensive calisthenics circuit from resting heart rate is a physical and mental torture until you get used to it. Easing into your routine does wonders to your performance.
Be Flexible and Spontaneous
Training should be a refuge from stress and a source of fun. So, if you obsess and stress out over performing your best for every training, not only is something terribly wrong, you are on your way to quitting your warrior journey.
Be flexible with both your training routine and pre-training ritual if work leaves you drained. Adapt. If you can’t consume protein before workouts, eat something else. However, avoid compromising the basics of sleep, food and hydration.
Be spontaneous when things become mundane or your performance stagnates. Go to your favourite training ground without plans and make it up along the way. If you have your mind and body well-taken-care-of, you will intuitively know what to do. Many times, by being spontaneous,, I end up training longer and with better results. I naturally try out new moves and work on my weaknesses. The sense of productivity from letting go and allowing your intuition to guide you will allow you to soar to greater heights.
Run along. Take care of your mind and body. And when life gets insane, be flexible and spontaneous.
Writer’s Note: ETB Fit prompted me to share my thoughts and routine on working out for optimal performance. The first thing that came to mind on topic were the many people who compromise on sleep and nutrition despite their desire to perform well. And yes – I’m the hypocrite who also has trouble following my own advice.
Nonetheless, I shared the bare essentials to set the foundation to getting insane training performance based on my experiences in Aikido, callisthenics, running and beginner parkour/MovNat training – while being completely open about my imperfections. Life happens and I am doing my best.