In martial art circles, we often hear that training while exhausted (or tiered) will improve your technique. The one I heard was that it will force one to stop all extraneous movement and do the minimum to get a technique to work.

Is this true? If not, when might it be a useful learning tool?

  • It would be interesting to know what is the minimal amount of exercise needed to improve a certain technique. (I'm referring to MED - Minimal Effective Dose - it had fleeting mentions of martial arts in the four hour chef).
    – Reno
    Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 9:34
  • @Reno: If only there was a stack exchange site dedicated to martial arts where you could ask just that question..... ^_~ Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 10:08
  • It is too broad to be asked to be honest. (And really hard to answer, I'll try to find out more about this and answer it myself)
    – Reno
    Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 10:27
  • 1
    @Reno: I think there is a good question there. Besides, it's not like this site is overburdened with questions so the more the merrier. Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 10:38

4 Answers 4


Where did this myth come from?

Martial arts instructors are frequently tasked with running a sport workout without having any formal training (that is, outside of their own dojo) to do so. This means that many of these instructors--my past self included--ran classes that were particularly counterproductive from a workout-design perspective.

One of the most common ways this manifests itself is with overly intensive "warm-ups". Really, these are conditioning workouts in their own right, though they are generally not structured in a progressive fashion to realize training goals over time. This is common in any widespread exercise method. For instance, this criticism of CrossFit notes that there's a distinct tendency to emphasize "beat-down" workouts instead of rationally designed progressions towards training goals. It's easy to run students through a grueling set of exercises and make them tired.

It requires time, knowledge, forethought, and effort to run a structured workout or design a training program correctly. That's why the ex-post-facto "training when you're tired will make you learn the technique better" explanation (and it's cousin the just-so story of "training when you're tired means you'll remember the technique when you're tired") is so popular.

Tom Kurz' Science of Sports Training page 267 (under Technical Exercises in a Workout) notes:

If, at the initial stages of learning a technique, athletes are allowed to get tired, their fatigue will alter the technique and incorrect technique will be learned, perhaps permanently.

(One of Kurz' articles on this topic, entitled Examples of Good and Bad Workouts, used to be available on stadion.com but is currently unavailable.)

When should this method be used?

From the same book but on the next page, it is noted that techniques the student knows and can already perform well should occasionally be trained under some degree of fatigue:

One [technical] workout can be done at the end of the [weekly] microcycle, when the athlete is tired [from previous workouts in the week], to learn how to use the technique in adverse conditions. In this workout only well-mastered techniques should be practiced.

This is contrary to the idea that one should learn the technique when tired, which interferes with learning. It only applies to techniques the athlete is proficient in, and now needs to practice under more challenging conditions.

What's a better approach?

For learning a new technique, a better approach is to run a structured workout that progresses from warm-up to directed warm-up to sport-specific movements and culminates (while the athlete is still fresh) in learning one technique. Learning multiple techniques causes interference and should be avoided.

  • Could not agree more. +1.
    – Lex
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 16:02
  • Good; but was "training while exhausted" ever advised for new techniques in the martial arts? I've only ever heard this approach for a means of removing excess/waste movement from a well understood technique as a means of absorbing the principles. The criticism of crossfit is relevant for Fitness.SE, but is it non-sequiter for MA.SE?
    – stslavik
    Commented May 8, 2013 at 17:37
  • 1
    @stslavik I've seen "train while exhausted" advised at every stage of training both in person and online, by crap teachers and by well-respected ones, so the answer to your first question is Yes. The bar for a "well-mastered" technique is quite high and rarely reached when "train while exhausted" is employed. As for the crossfit reference, it's not a non-sequitor to point out the tendency in both fitness and martial arts to emphasize feeling how hard a workout was versus using a workout as a means towards a goal. If you think rephrasing it could help, please go ahead. Commented May 8, 2013 at 18:02
  • For a specific example of a "training while exhausted" recommendation, see this answer from Sardathrion, which inspired this question. It is a classic example, in that the method is recommended as a way to reduce tension in movements. This has been shown to be a poor approach. In particular, one of the hallmarks of well-mastered technique is the absence of unnecessary tension, ergo using the "train while exhausted" technique to reduce tension is by definition misguided. Commented May 8, 2013 at 18:19
  • 1
    I agree with this post 100%. Some instructors do not realize the difference between a warmup and a conditioning. But students are guilty too, thinking themselves too good for the warmup, which I do think is critical to have. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 16:18

There's a lot of things that happen when you're training, whilst being over-exhausted. Improvement of technique is NOT one of them.

There are three characteristics of good training methods - they should be effective, efficient and stretch your limits. If you're not trying to do all three you're either wasting time or you will not reach your fullest potential.

Looking at goals for training in terms of technique improvement, it is extremely inefficient to train the LEARNING of technique when you're overexhausted. You will not be able to absorp any new information, you will not be able to control your different muscle groups working together properly and you will simple have muscle fallout causing you to do things with incorrect posture, motion etc.

The main reasons why you'd every train whilst being exhausted are to train mental strength and/or be prepared for fighting extended battles.

So there can be reasons for training an experienced person who's exhausted, but you'd always have to keep the goals in mind.

Take away: for each training program there are goals. Those will be split up in sub goals and each lesson is then designed to accomplish those goals over time.

Goals can be improvement of technique (split up into different techniques), improvement of conditioning, improvement of strength, improvement of focus etc etc. Looking at those goals you then arrive at a certain drill/routine/exercise/program.

Good luck training - and always keep thinking for yourself. Not so much to second guess the trainer, but mostly to understand and aid your own training and development.


In martial arts mental strength is equally important with technique. The main advantage of Exhaustive training is increase in mental strength . We learn that we can get tired to such an extend and still be able to fight. We acquire the experience to handle such a tough situation .

I think Exhaustive training is not really good to learn a new technique. The technique must be learned slowly & properly after which can be executed in a tired condition . From my experience it teaches us to use our energy most efficiently. like throwing the punches wisely, moving around the ring with minimum energy loss etc


The point is to teach you how to function properly when you're exhausted. During army basic training recruits will be required to run a good few miles before they're taken to the shooting range for target practice. The point behind the exercise is that in a live-fire scenario, you would have been marching for half a day, or you'd have been digging foxholes and you'd be out of breath and stiff when the enemy attacks. If you haven't learned how to shoot straight with aching and protesting muscles during basic training, an actual fire fight is the most horrible place to learn this lesson.

On the flipside, my father-in-law was a sniper in the South African Defense Force (not to be confused with the South African NATIONAL Defence Force) and said that being drilled in shooting while exhausted made their unit the best at competitions. If you can control your aim when tired, you'll be able to do it so much better when you're not.

It's not a giant leap to apply this principle to unarmed martial arts: if your muscles can do it properly while tired, so much the better when they are fresh. Also keep in mind that in a tournament, especially a tough one, by the time you get to the final match, you'll have acquired many knots and bruises and your muscles will be complaining. The guy who's better able to deal with this will be the champion.

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