Edit: This article was originally titled “The Phases of Our Life”. (16-Mar-2013)

I had a thought about my wushu training today (or was it last night?).

The thought was, that there are different phases to training, and depending on what phase you’re in, determines what type of schedule or training you follow. This, of course, might just pertain to me. After all, we each know our own body best so what I’m saying applies to me … it might not apply to you.

Okay .. .that disclaimer aside, I notice that I have a couple different phases.

Phase One : Lazy Ass / Re-evaluation

This is basically the period of time when I take a break from wushu. I think there always comes a point when a person sort of gets burned out on wushu. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, don’t fret. It probably will.

But that’s a good thing. It means that you are searching. A part of you is looking for a new perspective … a new way of approaching the sport/art of wushu. It means you’ve exhausted one part of your search and are about to begin a new one. I think the best way to approach this phase is to just take some time off … or, if you can’t stand the thought of that, just go once or twice a week to maintain your wushu and just have fun.

Don’t do it as a sport. Think of it as a fun activity to just go and enjoy. If you start feeling the joy of just having fun with wushu again you’re more likely to get past the burn out and begin the next step in your wushu development.

This is also good to do after a competition … reflect on why you’re doing wushu … think about what wushu means to you … maybe you want to ask yourself those types of questions .. maybe not. But it’s a good chance to look back at the last several months and take stock of how you’ve changed and how you want to change in the future.

Phase Two: Building Up / Development

Whenever I take a break, and I think this goes for most people, I inevitably have a period of extreme pain when I’m getting back into wushu and my body shows it’s resentment for being forced to practice. This is the “getting back into it” phase and it’s a royal pain in the butt. But here’s what I’ve come to realize (since I’m currently in this phase, I’ve been thinking about it).

This phase also relates to the period after you’ve competed and it’s a long time until you have to do it again. This is when you really start pushing yourself (or your coach does) to make new strides in your physical development. This is the phase when you’re building up your abilities to a new level before the next competition season or event.

This phase is different than the phase where you’re preparing for competition or some big event. The focus here is on developing your core physical abilities — on building your body’s strength, speed, reflexes, etc.

Now, in the past what I would do when building up is basically kill myself. I’d go back into wushu full bore. Maybe the first week I’d do 3 or 4 classes .. but after that I’d quickly ramp up to 6 .. and before I knew it I was sick with the flu or injured and forced back into Phase One, even if I didn’t want to be.

What I now realize is that, when building something, and not perfecting or honing it, you have to treat your body differently. The process of building your body means that it is being taxed beyond it’s previous abilities and being forced into a new, upgraded level of performance.

Now, how does your body build itself?

Well, when you work a muscle you are basically tearing it down so that it will rebuild itself into a stronger, healthier, bigger muscle. It’s an adaptation response. You tax your body … then it builds itself back up to compensate for the wear and tear, hopefully building itself back in a stronger, faster way than before.

The thing is, and you’ll read this in most muscle development texts, is that the most important part of this phase isn’t the taxing exercise that you put your body through.

Sure, that’s important. But I think the most important of development training part is the period where your body is adapting to the stresses you’ve placed it under. If your body is able to build itself back up in the best way possible, then you’ll develop that much faster, right?

So, what would I do before? I’d tax my body. Part one of the equasion was no problem. I could stress my body out no problem with lots of exercise.

However, I wouldn’t provide my body with ample opportunities to rebuild itself into a stronger unit. Before my body had a chance to rebuild itself I would tax it again the next day … and the next .. and the next … eventually my body was so taxed that it didn’t have any reserves to maintain even general health. I’d get sick … or become injured … basically I was short-changing my body’s adaptation response.

So, what does the body need when building itself back up?

Basically two things:

  1. Proper Nutrition
  2. Ample Rest

This is what the body does (granted, I’m not a doctor, but this is what I gather from the limited research I’ve done):

First, when you tax a muscle into an adaptation response it has to build itself back up. But with what? Well, obviously with whatever you’re feeding your body. This means good, high quality lean proteins, which have the necessary amino acids for muscle development, as well as plenty of healthy, low-fat complex carbs such as fruits and vegetables.

It also means a ton of water. Water is how nutrients are passed through your body … not enough water .. and you can’t process the food you’re putting in your system. In the past I might have followed up a workout with a trip to the Taco Bell across the street, get a 7-Layer Burrito and a Sprite.

Well, what am I doing? Basically giving my body stuff it can’t use. It either lets it flush through or stores it later in my fat reserves. It takes what limited nutrition is available from that food and uses it, but it’s not enough, and my body is still wanting for the things it needs to build itself back up.

So, let’s assume that you’ve got the nutrition part down. You’re eating well, giving your body nutrient-rich foods that will help it build itself back up after you’ve torn it down. Then what?

Well, when does your body do the rebuilding?

It’s while you’re sleeping.  While you’re awake your body is being used, even if you’re just sitting there trying to figure out how to beat Sin in Final Fantasy X (or whatever game is popular these days), you’re still using your body.  When you sleep your body is in rebuilding mode. It takes the nutrition you’ve been feeding it during the day and uses it to fix the damage that’s been done through exercise.

Before I wouldn’t get enough sleep. I’d short-change myself thinking, well, I really only need about 6 – 7 hours to get by. But that’s not true at all. I’ve found that the more I exercise, the more beneficial sleep is to me, because that’s when the exercise is actually doing it’s work. That’s when my body is becomming stronger.

8 hours is a general minimum number of sleep that most people give you .. .but that’s for sedentary people … not people who are working out like demons doing 50 butterflys and 120 kicks during a class. The more you work your body, the more it needs to repair itself and consequently, the more sleep you need.

I would say that 9 hours a night is the bare minimum for a person really working out hard.  Of course, that’s not always possible, but whenever it is .. you should take it.

Sleep isn’t like a bank where you can deposit more sleep on the weekends to make up for the weekdays when you didn’t sleep enough. That’s not how it works. If you short-change yourself, you’re short-changed. For good. You need enough sleep every night so that your body is always working to repair itself.

Now, of course, when you’re younger things are different. Or .. at least you think they’re different. Really, the only difference is that, until about the age of 25 your body is still growing. Your body is on permanent build-mode. That means it’s set up for a fast adaptation response … it’s still trying to become the final mature adult product that your genes tell your body it’s supposed to be.

When you’re young you can push your body harder and farther, because your body is set up to be adapting on a much more consistent, constant basis. You can get by on less sleep and less healthy food when you’re younger, because your body is better able to deal with the stresses that those influences cause.

However, once your body stops growing all hell breaks loose. Suddenly you’re plagued with injuries … suddenly you’re tired all the time and you don’t know why.

I know what some of you younger people are thinking. Well .. I’m already tired all the time! I already have injuries. And let me ask you this .. how much good healthy food, water and sleep are you currently getting?

Whenever someone who is under the age of 23 or 24 tells me they are always tired or having chronic injuries I almost always find out that they are also the people staying up until 3 in the morning and then sleeping 3 hours before a big mid-term .. .or they’re eating Double Doubles on a regular basis … or they don’t like the taste of water.

Look, even if you’re young, if you don’t treat your body right, it’s not going to be able to adapt very well. The only difference is, when you’re younger, you have a higher threshhold with which you can abuse your system. The same rules apply no matter what age you are.

Treat your body right, and you’ll be able to do things you never thought were possible.

So, my big realization with all of this, is that, during my building phase I really needed to pay more attention to getting plenty of sleep each night … 9 hours minimum … and that I really needed to be careful about what sort of foods I shove down my gullet.

Thank goodness for my new mixer. I’ve been eating much healtheir since I purchased that contraption. I also need to be sure to carry around a handy-dandy water bottle with me so that I’m able to give my body enough fluids, which aid in fat metabolization and nutrient distribution to my cells.

I also realized that I can’t start off with the 5 or 6 day a week schedule when I’m building up. 3 – 4 days a week is the maximum. And each class I really work hard .. and then REST so that my body can take all that work I did and utilize it for my benefit, making me stronger and faster for the next class a couple days later. My body is building itself right now … (especially after Li Jing put us through the ringer last night) … and as such I need to give it the opportunity to do it’s job.

I’m on a 3 day a week wushu schedule for the next few weeks. Why? Because I’m building myself up. Because I’m trying to really push myself … to get my body to a new, stronger place. And if I’m doing that, then I need to do it right.

Plenty of sleep, and lots of nutrition.

And then there is the next phase …

Phase Three: Competition Preparation

At some point your emphasis goes away from building and goes to perfecting what you already have built up. It’s a few months until a tournament or big demo … you need to change your approach. What happens now is that you start taking what you’ve built up and honing it down. You’ve built your body up. Now it’s time to take that stronger, healthier machine and make it work the right way.

I noticed on Kai’s 2001 Beijing tapes that the team, just 30 days before the huge 9th All China Games, were just working on little details in their forms. They weren’t doing full sets. They weren’t going all out to kill their lungs. They would just pick a small section of their form and work it until they got it right.

It is the small detail work .. the perfecting of the punch or kick in that 3rd section of your form … making sure your stance transitions are clean … that is where your form really developes.

In Phase Two you’re developing your physical capacity .. but in Phase Three your’e developing your form. You’re developing your ability to do the movements correctly and give special attention to all the details of your form.

You don’t kill yourself .. .you maintain your level, of course … you still get enough sleep and eat right … but your focus goes from doing 3 sets of 2 minute wall-sits in a class, to figuring out the right way to transition from the butterfly to the front sweep sit. Your focus changes to the form.

Ah .. but what about endurance? What about being able to do the form in it’s entirety?

Good question .. that brings us to phase four…

Phase Four: Endurance

I think a lot of people start killing themselves on the endurance end too soon before the competition. In all honesty, endurance isn’t that hard to build up if you work hard at it. You can build up your endurance in a few weeks if you focus on doing it.

I remember when I was training at SCWA a year or two ago. I went from relative endurance-less capacity to doing 5 sets in a class in just a few weeks. I think endurance, in general, are one of the easiest things you can build up. Do lots of sprints. Force yourself to go through the full set multiple times in a class. If you do that for a few weeks, doing one set in competition will not be difficult.

Especially when you consider that you’re building this up from the previous few phases. You know you have the physical capacity. That’s what phase two was all about. Your body is stronger than it ever was before.

In Phase Three you perfected your form and now you have a better understanding of what you need to do with each movement. So now that you’ve trained your body and your form, it’s time to build up the ability to perform.

Perhaps a month before the competition you start working on full sets … sprints … build your lung capacity … push your endurance. This is also one of the more painful parts … you have to eat a lot of bitter here. But it’s worth it when you compete with your form and you walk away from the competition carpet barely winded.

Conclusions

So, that’s basically what I’ve been thinking about recently. Right now I’m building up. I need to get plenty of rest and good food in my system. Of course, I’m also working on my form as well, and I think there is an overlapping of many aspects of the phases too.

But my primary concern at the moment is just develping my physical capacity to do wushu in the first place. Lots of squats … horse-bow stance transitions … wall sits .. ab work … things that will develop my physical abilities. And of course, my forms .. but those aren’t the higher priority for me at the moment. In another month or so I’ll switch my focus to Phase Three .. and then, about a month before competition .. Phase Four.

It’s also interesting to note that the phases sort of go through a cycle. Phase One is sort of mental. A chance to refresh your brain, clear your head and reevaluate your priorities with wushu. Phase Two is very physical. You’re building your body up and taxing it. Phase Three is mental again … thinking about your form and how to use your body. And then Phase Four is physical again, building up that endurance and stamina.

But like I said in the beginning, these are just the things I’ve come to realize about myself and my own body. My body isn’t the same as yours and you will, undoubtedly find things out about yourself that don’t apply to me. But it’s good, I think, that we each work for a better understanding of what we’re capable of, and what it takes to bring us to another level of development.

Isn’t that what life is about, after all?