The Critical Zone by Michael Aloia

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Until they run out of gas. The old adage of perseverance, determination, and fortitude in the eye of overwhelming odds may have its place on the field of play, but when running the risk of burnout from overexposure and improper attention to personal wellness, it can become a matter of quality of life for you and those around you.

We have all have those moments – those days – when enough is enough, where some “R&R” is not only due, but overdue. Every job, every profession, every walk of life has what is considered overload, withdraw, and disenchantment to the routine work we perform. Any one of these can occur, in any order, depending on circumstances and intensity levels. When this happens, we have reached the critical zone. Fatigue is usually the outcome. Fatigue affects many aspects of our lives: mental, spiritual, emotional, as well as the common physical effects. With the different forms of fatigue, various levels of despondence to one’s ability to properly perform also tend to become apparent. This feeling amplifies as intensity plains rise, workload is increased, and the individual’s threshold is reached and pushed beyond their limits, thus, experiencing overload and exhaustion. The situation worsens still as the individual, who, on the brink of sensitivity stimuli shutdown, works harder, struggling to maintain even the lowest form of composure and reliability, all the while missing the mark to accomplish even the most menial of tasks. This situation can place an entire team in danger. As focus diminishes, so does the ability to perform – simply because we may have pushed past our limits. Knowing our limits can help when adjustments or down time are required to maintain effective and efficient levels of performance.

Becoming aware of the critical zone’s warning signs of fatigue overload and work stressors can avoid costly issues and unwanted casualties. Every day, numbers of men and women who burn the candle at both ends are becoming a proverbial statistical human casualty of professional occupational overload. We all believe we can do more, give more, be more, and have more.  This may be the case; however, running ourselves down to the wire only serves as a formula for disaster. Fatigue has many signs: unwanted weight gain or loss, dehydration, sleep deprivation, mood swings, loss or increase of appetite, lack of focus and coordination, and a deficit in a once surplus of passion and drive to name a few. These warning signs can come one at a time or all at once, each feeding off the other, burying ourselves deeper into a fatigue abyss. Burnout becomes inevitable.

Taking steps to address a feeling or symptom when it first becomes apparent, by our own admission or on note from another, will save our best resource – ourselves. These possible pitfalls in our own daily routines will also aid in assisting martial arts practitioners by enabling us to recognize the possible lows in others. Training is a school effort; this builds a team mentality – helping others helps the individual. Being a team member means to be vigilant and trustworthy. As you depend on others, others depend on you. As a martial artist, peak performance is the optimal goal. Providing ample time for “rest and recovery” only serves to strengthen the team by strengthening the individual. 

We all run the risk of overtaxing our position putting our health and well-being in jeopardy. Time catches up with us all. No one is immune to the stressors and overloads that face us in mass quantities each day. No profession is without these obstacles and those with high stress profile vocations are at higher risk. Fortunately, we have options, there are strategies – we have a choice. Making the choice to care for ourselves effectively and efficiently provides us the clarity to weather the storm with grace and dignity, and not permitting an unneeded or unwarranted fall, eliminating possible unnecessary down time, while protecting our structural integrity and that of the team or unit. A team is only as strong as its individual members.

Battling the effects of the critical zone range from a proper diet and nutrition to adequate and ample sleep, as well as from optimal personal physical health and fitness to a stable mental, emotional and spiritual disposition. Knowing when enough is enough, when to ask questions, when to ask for assistance, and when to seek the counsel of any immediate and/or extended support arenas available are just as important. We don’t have all the answers all of the time.  Educating ourselves is the best ally in our fight against the critical zone effects. The more we know the more we flow.


One thought on “The Critical Zone by Michael Aloia

  1. For older students like me a little arginine alpha ketoglutarate does wonders for physical endurance.


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