Weekly training volume can be a tricky balancing act for many people who want to train in martial arts. People want to have fun and get better but overtraining has many costs, so finding that balance is very important.
Martial arts training frequency should be tailored to age, fitness level, and training goals. An ideal training frequency maximizes skill acquisition while avoiding overtraining. Younger fit athletes who want to compete should train daily and older hobbyists should train between 2 to 4 times a week.
Now that we understand some of the basic factors to determine the ideal training volume for martial arts, let’s dive into some details on how to evaluate these factors to set your own ideal weekly training volume.
Can You Train Martial Arts Every Day?
Training martial arts daily is doable for most people if they practice a good recovery routine and keep their training intensity to a moderate level. Practicing a good recovery routine that includes adequate food and rest is essential to keeping up with a daily training frequency.
Many beginning martial artists fall in love with training and try to train every day without keeping an eye on recovery. Unfortunately, after a few months, it is not uncommon to see this over-enthusiastic group of beginners getting injuries or burning out.
Can You Get Better in Martial Arts Training Once a Week?
You can get better while training once a week, but it is not optimal. Getting at least two sessions a week will provide significant learning benefits. If a student can only train once a week, they should be very focused on training and do additional practice at home if possible to maximize learning.
Additionally, not training often enough risks students getting demotivated because they don’t build muscle memory and technical proficiency fast enough. They are making progress, of course, but maybe will acquire skills a bit slower than their peers.
Engaging in regular training is essential for sustained and rapid progress. If you have the time and a good recovery routine, you can train as much as you like as long as you keep an eye on signs of overtraining.
Signs You Are Overtraining in Martial Arts
Overtraining in any sport is not advisable. In the context of martial arts, you will slow down technique learning and improvements. If your martial art of choice includes live sparring, your performance against your partners will suffer. Make sure that both your body and mind get recovery time.
When you overtrain, your body and mind will let you know by giving you some clues. Take a look at these 8 common signs that you might be overtraining in martial arts that you should pay attention to in order to properly moderate your training and recovery times.
Generally speaking, getting exercise from sources like martial arts is a great way to improve sleep. However, when exercise is taken to extremes you can end up having trouble sleeping due to accumulated minor wear and tear as well as aches and pains.
Something simple you can try is to schedule your martial arts training further away from bedtime because sometimes that will cause sleep disruptions that might feel insomnia as your brain and body try to cool down from the session.
If you are starting to get excessively irritable and have a high volume and intensity martial arts and exercise training schedule, you might be getting into an overtrained state. Getting carried away and training too much can up your sleep requirements and nutrition requirements as well as overstimulate your brain.
Most people do not get enough sleep and do not get adequate high-quality nutrition, and inflating these requirements by adopting a high level of training volume can make this problem worse, which can lead to irritability.
If you are ever feeling excessively irritable it might be a good idea to rethink your overall life routine, since something is likely out of balance.
If you find yourself getting frequently sick on an intense training schedule, it is quite possible that you are overtraining. If you overdo the exercise you end up stressed and put into a slightly immune-compromised state which can make illnesses like a cold or flu more likely to take hold.
If you are overtraining, your frequency of minor injuries is going to go up. This has a lot to do with putting minor stresses on tendons and muscles and not building in enough recovery time to return to baseline, so the minor damage builds up and can lead to increased injury risk.
5. Constant Aches and Pains
It’s not unusual to experience stiffness and soreness after a martial arts training session, but if your joints are constantly sore, it means your body is not being given the time it needs to recover fully in-between sessions. Frequent soft tissue pain in your shoulders, wrists, and fingers is a clear sign that you are training more than you should.
6. Excessive Exhaustion
Overtraining will cause your body to stay in a constant state of exhaustion. In this case, you may experience low energy levels and find it takes a lot of effort to perform ordinary activities. If this goes on for a while, you might need to put your training on hold for a few days to allow your body to recover in full.
7. Lack of Motivation
It’s easy to recognize obvious signs of fatigue, such as a lack of enthusiasm or motivation. Rather than feeling motivated and excited to attend a class, you may find yourself avoiding training and making excuses not to go. This is not a physical symptom but rather a mental one. You have become overstimulated, and you need a time out.
8. Reduced Performance
An overtrained body could quickly regress in performance. This will not happen overnight, but you will begin to notice a difference in your performance with time. For instance, you might find yourself getting slower, less coordinated, and exhibiting reduced precision when executing your favorite techniques. All this means that your body needs to take a break. Often times you return after your time off and everything starts to go right in terms of performance when you return to training.
Should White Belts Train Daily?
Although learning martial arts can be hard, a white belt should try to train 2 to 4 times a week on average and prioritize fundamentals classes. These classes are more likely to have lower intensities suitable for beginners and smooth out progression and prevent overtraining. If there are no recovery problems, daily training is okay.
If your martial art does not include a belt system, a basic guideline is to go by total time trained. If you have been training a martial art for less than a year you are most likely close enough to a white belt in terms of training to have this advice apply to you.
The white belt is the first rank in most traditional martial arts. All beginners start here. As mentioned earlier, two times a week is the recommended minimum training frequency at this stage. Unfortunately, a high number of white belts train a bit too often and end up burning themselves out, and many quit.
Training twice a week prevents regressing and allows for skill acquisition, and training three times a week allows more martial arts motor pattern development and increases the rate of progress. I personally think that training three times a week is ideal for about six months.
For example, in jiu-jitsu training, most believe that the training ought to focus on defensive positioning and escapes. As a white belt, you tend to fight from inferior positions, which makes it a lot harder on your body, which is a big reason why lower frequencies make sense for a beginner.
That advice also applies to any martial art that has a live sparring training component.
Can Advanced Belts Train More Frequently?
More advanced students can increase their training frequency with less risk of overtraining. This happens because your movements are more efficient and you spent more time in advantaged positions that are easier on your body. Training 3 to 5 days per week is sustainable for most.
Overtraining is always a possibility, so do not neglect your recovery time. 3 training sessions a week is a good first step. If you overdo the training and start to feel potential overtraining effects, a simple break of a few days is usually all it takes if you catch it early.
Still, other factors such as your age play a role here. For instance, older practitioners should avoid pushing their bodies beyond a certain point. The process of recovering from overtraining can be tedious, and overexerting yourself could cost you your progress. To avoid stalling your training, find the number of days that you can recover from without too many issues.
If you are an advanced belt with an eye on becoming a competitive athlete or are just younger, you’ll need to carefully structure your training intensities and recovery routines to sustain daily training and potentially twice-daily training. This is physically possible for many people, but it isn’t easy for people who have full-time jobs and other responsibilities.
What Is an Optimal Training Schedule for Learning Martial Arts?
An optimal training schedule for martial arts is the maximum you can support without hitting any of the signs of overtraining. The most common answer you will get from an instructor is likely three times a week since most students can recover from that training volume.
For the majority of martial artists, it’s really about finding a good balance between training and recovery. This is affected a lot by these 7 simple factors.
1. Current Experience Level
More experienced martial artists will be able to sustain a more intense training schedule because their bodies are better able to go through familiar motions without getting too exhausted.
Younger martial artists will be able to recover more quickly when doing intense training in their martial arts. Older athletes will need to recover for a comparatively longer time.
Somebody who has a goal of becoming a professional martial artist or fighter should be training more often than somebody who is a hobbyist that is doing martial arts as a simple leisure activity.
If you have a 9 to 5 job or a physically demanding job you will have a little bit more trouble maintaining an intense training schedule, this is mostly due to the inherent difficulty of prioritizing recovery alongside a full-time employment situation.
5. Fitness Level
If you are fit, you can train more since the overall exhaustion from doing the martial arts classes will be lower, which results in less of a recovery time requirement. Also if you are at a lower body fat percentage your propensity to develop inflammation that can keep you from training is far lower.
6. Learning Style
Some people are naturally physically gifted and pick up learning martial arts very quickly. This can change how often a student might want to train to be able to learn their skills.
7. Class Duration
If a class is one hour long versus two hours long that is a huge difference in overall activity for the class. If your classes are longer, you will not necessarily need to go to as many classes to keep up with a good level of skill acquisition.
Optimal Martial Arts Training Volume By Skill Level
For hobbyists, an optimal martial arts training volume is the maximum you can train while having fun and not running into overtraining issues. As a guideline, beginners do well with 2 classes a week, advanced students do well with 3 to 4 a week and competition athletes ideally get daily training.
Beginner Martial Artists
A twice-weekly training volume does a good job of giving new students decent skill returns and fitness returns when they get started. Getting two classes a week will make it easier to link skills between lessons. After 3 to 6 months most students can try adding more volume to their schedule.
Advanced Martial Artists
More advanced students will typically do well on a 3 to 4 times a week training schedule. This allows students to make good progress without running into overtraining issues and burnout. Movements will be more practiced so the cost to their bodies will be comparatively less, which helps lower recovery time, ultimately making more training volume possible.
Competition Martial Artists
Competitive martial artists in either showcase or combat sports contexts need to get as close to daily training as they can in order to excel in competitions. Their challenge is moderating intensity on their training days in order to get maximal skill acquisition without as many recovery costs. For combat sports, this means tapering to a peak in intensity. For showcases, it is more steady and has to do with practicing skills in the routine.
These are of course just outlines of what is typical, every individual can find their own ideal routine since these are just generalizations.
Try out different schedules and make sure that you try to get at least some training in if your life gets hectic because it can help you maintain skills and it’s much easier to keep going in some capacity than to come back after a long layoff.
How To Recover Faster from Martial Arts
Optimizing your recovery routine for martial arts involves getting high-quality nutrition, hydration, sleep, and doing active recovery. This will sharply reduce your overall recovery time. Maintaining this self-care will also increase your ability to train more frequently.
Building a good recovery routine can involve incorporating aspects of any of the following 8 factors into your routine:
Getting high-quality sleep is vital to keeping your hormones in a healthy place. This might not seem as important at first glance, but hormones that regulate muscle growth are very impactful for exercise recovery. Additionally, these hormones will help to repair minor damage taken during normal training. Also, sleeping well helps your overall well-being, so it shouldn’t be ignored regardless.
2. Good Nutrition
Getting in all your required micronutrients and macronutrients will help your body recover much faster from your martial arts workouts. If you have had a particularly difficult training session, getting some protein and carbs in postworkout can help to reduce your recovery time a bit more.
3. Massage or Foam Rolling
Getting a massage or foam rolling session in for active recovery can help to reduce the duration of muscle soreness and give you some extra benefits in flexibility and mobility.
Keeping on top of your hydration is pretty important to a lot of bodily processes. In terms of recovery, it keeps you from cramping and lowers overall fatigue due to dehydration.
Using a sauna for recovery provides some health benefits, especially in regards to dropping inflammation in your body overall. The sauna directly helps muscle recovery and reduces cortisol and the associated stress on the body.
6. Cold Therapy
Getting into an ice bath has undeniable benefits for boosting circulation, promoting faster healing, and relieving muscular pain. If you are not used to ice baths you probably won’t enjoy them at first, so just stay as long as you are comfortable with them and increase your tolerance over time. Do not exceed 10 minutes.
Adding in mobility work gives you some extra active recovery exercise which can drop your recovery time while providing mobility benefits. Getting this down in a cool-down phase or simply on an off day can provide a lot of benefits to your martial arts training.
Yoga is one of the powerhouse recovery activities you can do to improve your wellness and flexibility. The meditative component alongside the stretching and mobility gains will help your body to recover well and the meditation can often have hidden gains in terms of sleep quality.
The mileage you will get from improvements in each of these areas will vary by individual. Some people will respond better to different recovery protocols, so experiment with these to figure out a good individualized routine.
Another action you could take is to perform your martial arts training with more intention and less physical intensity. Keeping the intensity lower will also lower the impact that training has on your body.
Everybody’s ideal training frequency will be unique to them. Finding the right balance between recovery and training volume is something that is vital for longevity in any martial art or sport.
My opinion is that you should experiment with different training routines and different recovery routines to find out what works for you. If you are enjoying your training and learning well, do as much as you reasonably can, and just pull back if your body tells you to.
For more check out 4 Benefits of Cold Therapy for Martial Arts.