Level 2 Coach Award - Just how bad is a seminar for you?
Name: Hugh Darby
Dojo: Shonenjiku
Title: Just how bad is a seminar for you?
Date: Sept 2011- Level 2 Coach Award

Introduction

If you do both iaido and jodo, you may be faced once a year with a six day summer seminar. Across those days you might have four 6-8 hour days and a couple of half-days of practice. You may have a competition for each discipline and / or gradings in there as well. Other than the summer seminars, there are weekend seminars that are slightly less gruelling, but still typically mean a full 6-8 hour practice on the Saturday followed by a Sunday morning practice and a grading in the afternoon.

A looking at the BKA directory of clubs and club times suggests that the majority of us train perhaps a couple of times a week, for 1-2 hours each time. And that assumes we don’t have jobs, families, holidays and so on that prevent our attending from time to time.

So, for most of us, seminars represent a step change in our level of iaido and/or jodo activity. And the number one thing that every book on sports training principles says is that sudden and significant changes in exercise duration and intensity are one of the worst things to do.

I’m sure we all know from our own experiences that attending a summer seminar in particular can be a very painful experience. In this paper I’ll explore some of the main physical issues and how we should manage them as students and as coaches.

What are the physical issues?

1.1 Overview

The main physical issues associated with a seminar fall into the following broad areas:

  • Energy expenditure
  • Dehydration
  • Prolonged standing or kneeling
  • Repeated cycle of warm up / cool down / start again
  • Recovery and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
  • Overstressing your body

1.2 Energy expenditure

Energy expenditure during exercise depends on intensity and duration. I don’t have specific figures for iaido or jodo, but by way of a point of reference, the table below shows a range of levels of exercise effort – from walking to running – for a range of durations. The ‘average’ summer seminar these days tends not to include more than 6 hours’ potential floor time during any day, and actual activity during this time may be reduced by rotational training, explanations/demonstrations and breaks. The most comparable activity in the table below in terms of heart rate would be moderate to brisk walking, depending how continuous the practice is. Activities such as tandoku dosa in jodo or hayanuki in iaido may kick the heart rate up far beyond the ‘brisk walking’ level, but they tend not to be a focus of prolonged activity at seminars. Assuming that iaido or jodo is comparable to moderate or brisk walking, the additional calorie requirement imposed on the body during a seminar could range from a very modest 200-300 calories (4-5 oatcakes, or if you really must, a Mars Bar) to a more curry- and beer- worthy 1300 calories. (As a reference point, I’ve taken the daily calorie requirement of the average man at around 2500 calories.)

Activity duration (hours)
Assumed effort levelCalories burned per hourAdditional above BMR1 23456
Walking 2mph (slow)2009595190285380475570
Walking 3mph (moderate)2801751753505257008751,050
Walking 4mph (brisk)3202152154306458601,0751,290
Jogging5554504509001,3501,8002,2502,700
Running 5mph/Walking upstairs6355305301,0601,5902,1202,6503,180

The equation’s simple in terms of energy expenditure. If your fuel – your glycogen store – is depleted, you have to draw on 'survival' energy, which means eating away at your body's protein and fat.

Before and during a long practice, carbohydrate-based food or drink should probably be your focus, to give you the ready energy to keep you going.

There’s plenty written about the importance of carbohydrate loading before endurance events and a few different approaches to maximising glycogen storage. In broad terms, you should favour foods with a low glycemic index – such as fruits, vegetables, whole wheat pasta and grains – and make them 70%+ of your diet for 3-4 days before your activity, but being careful not to overload the night before (which carries the risk of not having processed all your food by the next day).

Given the duration of each day’s practice, the best thing to do is to eat and drink throughout the day. More frequent consumption of smaller amounts of carbohydrates better maintains blood glucose and insulin levels better than refuelling only at lunchtime, or just in the evening. Some studies have shown that eating protein and carbohydrates together may maximize muscle glycogen storage.

Nutrients from fluids are absorbed more quickly than from solids, so it’s suggested that you start by consuming carbohydrates from fluids. You can get sports drinks like Lucozade and Powerade that contain a large amount of carbohydrate to keep you going, however they don’t contain any protein to support your recovery once the practice ends - there’s more about what you need to do post-practice in the ‘Recovery’ section below. You can get specific ‘muscle’ or ‘recovery’ formulations, often in powder form, which do include protein, but they’re expensive. You can find or make good, cheap alternatives to both sorts of drinks. A glass with about two thirds orange juice and one third water, with a pinch of salt thrown in, gives you the same sort of drink as a bottle of (orange-flavoured) Lucozade sport. Chocolate milk is good for both carbohydrate and protein, or else a home-made banana milkshake with a spoon or two of peanut butter does the same sort of thing.

1.3 Dehydration

The body loses fluid in two main ways - sweating and breathing, both of which you’ll do a lot of during a hard practice. Sweat obviously also contains salt (mainly sodium and potassium) which helps the body absorb water. After or even during a long practice session, you can sometimes see the white salt marks appearing on your gi as your sweat dries.

Water is essential for many chemical reactions that occur inside our cells, including the production of energy. In addition, your blood becomes thicker if you don’t replace fluids. The result is a decrease in the amount of blood pumped by the heart per beat and consequently a decreased oxygen delivery. This means a decline in your ability to exercise. The best rehydration fluids are those that contain sodium, which stimulates the kidneys to retain water. You need to be aware of how much you’re exercising to gauge your requirements during and then after exercise. Look at the colour of your urine throughout the day - a light colour indicates sufficient hydration; cloudy and yellowish (or worse, feeling no need to go) then you need to drink more. If your practice is at a low intensity, for periods of less than an hour, plain water and your normal balanced diet is going to be fine. If you’re cranking out the kata for six hours at a seminar, you’ll benefit from something with some salt in it, whether it’s a sports drink or a home-made concoction.

If you’re serious, the best way to gauge how much fluid you've lost is to weigh yourself immediately before and immediately after each day’s practice. A possibly useful comparison is that the ‘average’ runner doing a three-hour marathon could expect to lose 3-5 kilograms of weight, the advice for which is for every kilogram lost, to drink 1.5 litres of water. So, keep track of the volume of fluid you’re drinking, and make sure it’s enough while not excessive. Excessive fluid intake can result in hyponatraemia – where the sodium concentration in your body becomes too low.

Keeping properly hydrated will also reduce the risk of cramp – a particular risk when fatigue and dehydration can cause the muscle to tighten.

1.4 Prolonged standing or kneeling

1.4.1 Standing

Seminars often call on us to stand for long periods getting taught in addition to performing numerous standing katas. Standing in itself requires considerable muscular effort but, if you’re standing still, it’s just a strain on the body, rather than actual exercise. Issues include:

  • Joint compression Each body part is compressed by all of the sections of the body above it. Compressing a joint means body fluids are squeezed out of the space in the joint. Without body fluids and circulation, joints become malnourished, and can’t continue to support the weight of the body without discomfort.
  • Insufficient blood return in the legs Gravity pulls blood down into the feet. Leg activity acts as a pump to assist in returning blood to the heart. When muscles are engaged in one long contraction to keep you standing, it hinders proper circulation. This can result in blood pooling in the legs.
  • Postural muscle fatigue Postural joints and muscles keep the body from falling over while a person is standing or walking. These joints and muscles need nourishment, which they get from circulation. Muscles also need rest breaks to recoup from bouts of work. Standing for a long time forces muscles and joints to work nonstop without nourishment. Without rest, muscles become exhausted, resulting in pain.

The result: sore feet, swelling of the legs and pain in the muscles of the legs, back, shoulders and neck.

Hard flooring – i.e. the floors we often train on - exacerbates problems with prolonged standing.

If you’re tired and sore your practice will suffer as you seek to work through and/or limit the pain rather than being able to focus on your practice. As a consequence, you may get even more tired and be more liable to injury because you’re compensating in odd ways. You may also be less safe to practice because you’re less in control and less focused.

It’s interesting to note that prolonged standing is listed among the CIA’s ‘Enhanced interrogation’ techniques.

1.4.2 Prolonged kneeling

But it’s not all standing – in iaido in particular there are all the seated techniques – a third of seitei and about three quarters of Muso Shinden ryu. Or, if you don’t want to stand while the teachers are demonstrating maybe you should kneel instead?

Kneeling involves some of issues encountered with the prolonged standing in relation to restricting circulation – we’ve all had pins and needles when first standing up after being seated for a long time.

Some (fascinating) US research has looked at miners working in height-restricted mines, who were forced to kneel or squat as they worked. The research pretty much concluded whether they squatted, knelt, or half-knelt they were going to have problems in the knee joint because of the various stresses placed on the knee. There’s also lots of information available on what’s variously called housemaid's knee / roofer's knee / carpet layer's knee, citing symptoms of swelling, warmth and tenderness caused by prolonged kneeling damaging the bursa (a fluid sac in the knee).

On top of that, research also indicates that regular, prolonged static kneeling or squatting increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knees at an earlier age. Oh yes, and prolonged kneeling is also cited as a stress position that ‘aids’ interrogation.

So kneeling’s no better for you than standing.

1.4.3 Dealing with prolonged standing and kneeling

What can you do to make all that standing and kneeling easier? Well, there’s not a lot out there that’s too helpful. Guidance suggests simply moving around and changing position, and when you do have to stand ‘still’, you should alternately contract and relax the calf muscles, flex and straighten your ankles and knees, and shift body weight from one leg to the other.

The best advice – all sources say – is to avoid fixed standing or kneeling positions altogether and to restrict even prolonged non-static standing or kneeling activities.

1.5 Repeated cycle of warm up / cool down / start again

Warming up then cooling down repeatedly during a seminar is just a manifestation of improper warming up, done many times each day over the course of a number of days.

Warm-up prepares your body for exercise by raising core temperature, increasing the efficiency and elasticity of muscles and tendons, improving their work-rate and endurance, making synovial fluid less viscous and allowing for a wider range of movement. Warm-up is believed to help prevent injury, although the evidence isn’t completely clear. Although the body temperature only returns to near normal after about 45 minutes of rest, you’re cooling down all the time. (I couldn’t find a source that showed the rate of decline over that period – for example, whether it’s initially quicker or is a steady decline.)

The main risks of not warming up before resuming practice are likely to be a reduced focus on your activity with the concomitant safety risk, a generally reduced quality of performance and ability to perform, as well as the possible increased risk of injury.

1.6 Recovery and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

1.6.1 The importance of recovery

If the workload in any practice is too great and you don’t recover before the next session, your ability to perform during subsequent sessions declines. So, what you do when finish the day’s practice is just as important as what you do when you are practicing.

The first key thing is to warm down properly. Cooling down helps remove lactic acid - which can cause cramps and stiffness – and allows the heart rate to return to its resting rate in a way that places least stress on it. Cool-down does not appear to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (- see below for more on ‘DOMS’). You may want to stretch gently as part of your cool down, which may help muscles relax and make you feel better, but again will not help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.

Secondly, you need to refuel to replenish your fuel stores with some carbohydrates and also get some protein into you to support the repair of your muscles. As already described in the section on Energy Expenditure, your performance is strongly influenced by the amount of pre-exercise muscle glycogen, and endurance activities decrease muscle glycogen in the body. So you need to replace what you’ve used with enough good quality carbohydrates, and also get enough to prepare for the next day. For muscle fibre repair, you also need to complete protein (i.e. protein that contains all the essential amino acids, which the body can’t manufacture itself). You can easily find lists of all the best protein sources by quantity per gram and by completeness in terms of which amino acids the foods contain, but asa starting point you can’t go wrong with egg, which is the most complete protein source, containing good amounts of all essential amino acids. (You don’t necessarily need to take half a dozen raw eggs in a glass like Rocky Balboa, however.)

In terms of the exact quantities and proportions you should eat, then if you’re really serious about all this you need to get yourself a good book on sports training, monitor the intensity and duration of your practice and identify the most appropriate dietary approach. Dietary requirements for endurance activities are very different from those for muscle-building and you have to work out what best fits you.

Rehydration is also a vital part of recovery, for all the reasons outlined in the section on ‘Dehydration’ above – don’t stop taking on fluids just because you’ve stopped training.

Needless to say, alcohol will not help, as it leads to further dehydration.

1.6.2 DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

1.6.2.1 What is it

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness occurs anywhere from 8 hours to 72 hours after unaccustomed heavy exercise, and is most frequently felt when beginning new training, changing your training routine, or dramatically increasing the duration or intensity of your training. I.e. attending a seminar fits right into DOMS territory.

The temporary symptoms include pain, decreased range of motion, decreased output of muscle force, and some swelling. The symptoms tend to peak around 24-72 hours and disappear after 5 to 7 days. Some argue that the pain, inflammation and restricted ability to use the muscle are mechanisms to protect the muscle from further damage, although continued use does not seem to exacerbate damage nor have any adverse effect on recovery.

The mechanisms involved in DOMS are generally suggested to involve one or more of:

  • damage to muscle tissue itself - may be due to depletion of energy reserves or actual degeneration of muscle fibres
  • accumulation of fluid and breakdown products in the muscle
  • muscle spasm
  • overstretching or tears of the connective tissue

Eccentric exercises – i.e. when extending a muscle under force – seem to cause more soreness than isometric and concentric exercises because the muscles endure higher mechanical forces during eccentric contraction. This would include, for example, key iaido movements such as the body movements at the end of mae / ushiro, and extension of the right arm in nukitsuke.

DOMS is exacerbated in a hot, humid environment.

1.6.2.2 Avoiding DOMS

Stretching or warming up the muscles does not appear to prevent soreness, although some research supports the possibility that a warm-up performed immediately before unaccustomed eccentric exercise slightly reduces the pain of DOMS.

There is general agreement that muscle fibres undergo repair and adaptation. Muscles do therefore become more resistant to future muscle damage when subsequent exercise of the same kind is performed, and any damage that does occur is repaired at a faster rate subsequently. Some studies suggest that the muscle may start to adapt as early as twenty four hours after the first bout of exercise.

The only way of avoiding DOMS is to increase workload gradually, progressively working muscles against a load greater than they are used to. To increase endurance, muscles must work for a longer period of time than they are used to or at a higher intensity. It is essential that this is a progression, however – an optimal level of overload over an appropriate period of time, to minimise the risk of injury. If you do too little too slowly, it won’t make any difference, but if you do too much too soon, the result may be injury or muscle damage.

Building up athletic performance is a whole topic in itself, but broadly, initial fitness, age and sex are some of the key factors to consider, in addition to the target outcome. In terms of age, for example, younger adults may well be able to sustain a quicker build-up in training intensity, while older adults seem to attract a greater risk of injury through attempting to build-up exercise intensity too quickly. Children are a category in themselves, because of their developing joints and bones, and there are also particular considerations for girls and women.

1.6.2.3 Recovering quickly from DOMS once you’ve got it

Nothing is proven completely effective at reducing the duration and intensity of DOMS once it occurs, and ultimately, the only reliable advice for DOMS is to prevent it in the first place.

One study of basic military training in marine recruits showed that post-exercise protein supplementation did reduce ongoing muscle soreness during repeated training – essentially the recruits who took additional protein reported less pain from DOMS and generally fewer aches and pains. The study looked at experience a number of weeks into training, however, and it’s not clear how great the effect is over shorter periods, such as during a seminar.

1.6.2.4 Things that may help the pain

There are a few suggested treatments or approaches that seem to help relieve the pain, but none has been systematically proven to help restore muscle function any more quickly:

  • Continued exercise may temporarily suppress the soreness by increasing pain thresholds and pain tolerance – an effect known to occur in endurance training.
  • Massage. Some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness and reduce swelling, although it had no effects on muscle function. It may help remove some of the waste metabolites floating around in the muscle but a severe massage on damaged muscles may damage them further.
  • Ice Bath / Contrast Water Bath No clear evidence proves these are effective however, many professional athletes claim they reduce soreness.
  • R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is quoted in some sources as useful for DOMS – it’s the standard method of treating acute injuries. (The latest first aid guidance gets rid of compression as part of the treatment for acute injuries, so I’m not sure where that leaves this guidance for DOMS.)
  • Gentle stretching Although research doesn't find stretching alone reduces muscle soreness, many people have reported that it simply feels good. Gentle stretching has historically been recommended as a way to reduce DOMS, but more recent reviews suggest no effect on soreness experienced from half a day to three days after activity. That’s not to say that injury and performance weren’t otherwise helped by stretching, just that stretching didn’t reduce DOMS.

All of these things work by increasing the circulation to the area, helping take away waste and extra fluid, and bringing in nutrients. Drinking plenty of fluids may help flush the waste products from the body.

Taking a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory such as Aspirin or ibuprofen may also help to temporarily reduce muscle soreness, although they won't actually speed healing. Some caution is advised in taking these before exercise, and in particular before endurance exercise. Little actual performance benefit is reported, nor is there any decrease in recovery time. However, because NSAIDs mask pain, their use may lead to an increased risk of injury. Also, because of the way NSAIDs work, prolonged use attracts the risk of stomach irritation or gastro-intestinal bleeding.

The least useful advice is just to avoid vigorous exercise and not to do anything that’s painful when you’re suffering from DOMS. Unfortunately, not an option during a week-long seminar.

1.7 Overstressing your body

Practicing for six days in a row for up to six hours each day brings you into the realms of overstressing your body, particularly if you couple that with inadequate hydration and nutrition as well as alcohol and late nights. Essentially, your body is continuously damaged and subject to other stressors with inadequate time to recover:

  • microtrauma to the muscles are created faster than the body can heal them.
  • amino acids are used up faster than they are supplied in the diet – ‘protein deficiency’
  • the body becomes calorie-deficient and muscle tissue is broken down
  • levels of cortisol (the ‘stress’ hormone) are elevated for long periods of time
  • the body spends more time in a catabolic state than an anabolic state (i.e. breaking down rather than building up muscle)
  • excessive strain to the nervous system during training.

Some of the symptoms you may feel as a result:

  • decreased aerobic capacity – i.e. you can’t train as hard on successive days, training generally feels harder
  • poor physical performance – e.g. lack of coordination, decreased strength
  • lack of stamina – you can’t train for as long
  • delayed recovery – it takes longer and longer to recover pain – your muscles don’t stop aching. Ever.
  • fatigue – you feel tired and/or get tired more quickly

In this state, there’s also an increased risk of injury, a depressed immune system and possibly other issues such as insomnia.

Lessons for the student

1.8 Before the seminar

First and foremost, if you can, build up your practice frequency, duration and intensity in the run up to a seminar. There are of course practical barriers to this. I can hear everyone saying “If I could train more, don’t you think I would?” You may have no time to train extra hours, or if you do, there may be nowhere to train extra hours. Even if you do have time and can do exercise that’s not iaido or jodo, the problem is that only thing that really gets you fit for iaido or jodo is doing iaido or jodo.

If you can’t attend more classes, think what you can do, which may include:

  • Increase your intensity of practice at the classes you do attend - cut the chit-chat and just crank out the kata.
  • Ditch the car. Boring nanny-state health advice, but just be more active whenever you can: walk or cycle instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the lift. It’s not much, particularly if you’re reasonably fit anyway, but it’s something that will give you some base increase in cardiovascular fitness if not particularly in activity-specific muscle strength or flexibility.
  • Use your TV time. You’ll feel a bit silly, but you can do body-weight exercises and isometrics (e.g. ‘sofa dips’, press-ups, bridges/planks) while you watch TV.

1.9 During the seminar

Remember this is a hobby, not a way of life. Consider what you’re there for. If you’re attending with no view to grading or competing in a taikai that matters, then potentially you can work at the highest intensity level when you get the chance, and accept that you’re going to be in pain and performing more poorly after a day or two – but maybe that’s okay, subject to your accepting the increased risk of injury.

Otherwise:

  • Take it easy during the seminar. (Difficult, when it may be your one chance in the year to get abused by 7th and 8th dans. Especially difficult if you’re grading and/or competing – you want to impress during the seminar, but you also want to be fit for the end. The only right answer is to train hard before the seminar so you don’t have to take it easy at the seminar. It’s a tough life as a wannabe samurai.)
  • Get the right amount and type of food before during and after practice.
  • Keep hydrated before, during and after practice. Consider sports drinks and also protein supplemented drinks even if it’s as simple as chocolate milk.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all.
  • Get early nights and lots of sleep.
  • Consider NSAIDs for the pain, but only after practice, and be careful.

1.10 After the seminar

The key thing is to take time to let your body recover – don’t push it hard for the first few practices. Use the time to consolidate the seminar in your mind – consolidation within your body can come later.

Lessons for the coach

1.11 Before the seminar

As a club coach, you need to know who is attending which seminars, and for what purpose. If you and they are serious about performance, then you need to make sure you explain all the points set out above in ‘lessons for the student’ and that you monitor whether a student really understands the points and trains appropriately and to the right level.

Young people tend to think they’re capable of doing everything and are indestructible. To some extent, that’s pretty true – a younger body can recover from a lot of abuse very quickly. That doesn’t mean that performance doesn’t diminish in the short term, however quickly recovery might happen. It can be very hard for a committed young student to moderate the intensity of their activity during a seminar in order to grade or compete at their highest ability level at the end of a seminar. It can also be very hard for a young student to moderate the intensity of their social life during a seminar!

As for older people, they tend to think they’re still capable of doing exactly what they did when they were younger – there’s a refusal to believe and accept the ageing process. Additionally, many peoples’ mental image of their body’s actions doesn’t change as fast as their body does. As you age, your strength, speed and mobility may reduce. But the older student may not see that this is happening to them, and will try to train as if they were younger. This can lead to quicker fatigue and more quickly diminishing performance during a seminar, coupled with an increased risk of injury. If there’s a grading at the end of the seminar, the consequence may be that they’re tackling it at the lowest point of their physical ability.

So, you’re going to sound like your student’s mum or dad, but you may have to counsel students on what to eat, what to drink, and how to behave if they want to maximise their performance during a seminar and particularly if they’re grading or competing. If they’re grading, it’s only themselves they’re letting down. If they’re competing, it’s their country (cue national anthem).

As a point of self-protection for the coach, make sure you know your student – their fitness levels and capabilities, and anything relevant about their medical history and any injuries they’ve had or are carrying. If you’re proposing any radical change in the intensity level of their activity, make sure they understand what they’re getting into. It sounds extreme, but do you need to suggest they consult a doctor?

In the run up to the seminar, if you can, and always subject to the students’ aims and capabilities, cut the teaching and just get everyone cranking out the kata.

1.12 During the seminar

If you’re running or teaching at a seminar:

  • Give plenty of hydration / food breaks - allow students to drink water or take small snacks in the dojo, provided spillage risks are minimised / managed.
  • Moderate the practice intensity, especially if it’s particularly warm, to help students’ moderate their body temperature.
  • Actively manage the duration and frequency of study breaks, especially if the dojo’s particularly cold, to help students maintain body temperature.
  • Accept that during longer study sessions, people will need to move around to minimise the problems associated with prolonged standing or sitting.
  • Remember this is a hobby, not a way of life. People will have to go back to their families and to work in a day or two, so make sure they’re able to do that, to do it safely, and to do it year after year for many years to come.

1.13 After the seminar

Use the time in class immediately after a seminar to talk about the points made at the seminar and embed them in them in everyone’s mind – make it a more mental practice rather than a physical practice.

Conclusions

Seminars are hard on the body.

Coping properly with a seminar from the perspective of either a student or a coach requires understanding of the main issues, preparation well in advance, and a professional attitude to the seminar itself.

Realistically, however, most of us don’t have the combination of facilities, time and inclination to train for iaido and jodo in the same way as elite athletes would train for their sports. So – probably by default rather than by design – most of us will simply opt to get through a seminar and to pass our gradings as best we can, hoping to avoid long term injury.

While there are some lessons we can learn about sports training from the elite athletes, it’s up to the individual coach and student how far this can and should be taken. As coaches we should seek to guide our students in the ‘right’ way practice our arts, but it’s up to our students what they wish to do with that guidance. Once again, remember this is a hobby, not a way of life.

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