HRmax is your maximum heart rate based on your age and gender. Once the central nervous system detects that your body has exceeded its HRmax, which is approximately 220 beats per minute minus your age, it assumes you are in extreme danger and dumps a cascade of hormones into the bloodstream to help the body deal with the emergency.
Most people, even martial artists, have seldom, if ever, been in a situation that would drive them into HRmax, so they do not know how to deal with its effects. The hormone dump brings out instinctive behaviors that are commonly known as the “fight, flight, or freeze” reflexes. The body prepares itself to fight, run away, or simply freeze and not move at all.
Effects of a hormone dump
Some of the hormones being dumped are adrenaline, noradrenaline, aldosterone, and cortisol. Adrenaline, also called epinephrine, is a hormone released by your adrenal glands and some neurons. It’s released in response to a stressful, exciting, dangerous, or threatening situation. Adrenaline helps your body react more quickly. It makes the heart beat faster, increases blood flow to the brain and muscles, and stimulates the body to make sugar to use for fuel. When adrenaline is released suddenly, it’s often referred to as an adrenaline rush. The rush of adrenaline is what gives you the ability to dodge out of the way of an oncoming car before you’ve had a chance to even think about it.
Once in the bloodstream, adrenaline:
- It binds to receptors on liver cells to break down larger sugar molecules, called glycogen, into a smaller, more readily usable sugar called glucose; this gives your muscles a boost of energy.
- It binds to receptors on muscle cells in the lungs, causing you to breathe faster
- It stimulates cells of the heart to beat faster.
- It triggers the blood vessels to contract and direct blood toward major muscle groups.
- It contracts muscle cells below the surface of the skin to stimulate perspiration.
- It binds to receptors on the pancreas to inhibit the production of insulin.
Some physical effects of a hormone dump:
- Tachipsychia. The perception of time slows to where things seem to be happening in slow motion.
- Auditory exclusion. The brain reduces the amount of attention it pays to hearing and focuses more on sight.
- Visual exclusion. Peripheral vision is reduced so you only see that which is straight ahead, also known as tunnel vision.
- Tone amplification. Sounds, such as screams, seem louder.
- Other effects. Teeth baring, snarling, fist-clenching, and short-term memory exclusion.
These reflexes were useful for our ancestors when they had to deal with predators. They may still be useful, but sometimes they cause problems when dealing with modern threats.
Effects of martial arts training
When we have trained to deal with the unexpected, such as in martial arts training, we lessen the chances of reaching HRmax since our training is useful in handling such things as an unexpected attack. However, once we reach HRmax, the body thinks we are unable to handle the situation with our martial art skills and it allows our basic instincts to take over. When this occurs, our martial art skills, and any other conditioned skills, are suppressed and our techniques are slower, weaker, and uncoordinated.
A martial artist who is in poor physical condition will reach HRmax more quickly than a highly conditioned one. Regrettably, many martial artists, especially those over 30 years of age, are not in great physical condition. Years of practicing the same techniques over and over have not only made them better at performing the techniques, but it has also made them more efficient at doing the techniques, so less physical conditioning is needed. This means they will reach HRmax sooner and the skills they have so diligently practiced will be inhibited.
Most martial artists train physically; they strive to perfect their physical techniques. Some train mentally, striving to improve their concentration and relaxation skills. However, few martial artists train on how to handle stressful situations. People in high-stress office jobs can handle stress better than most martial artists. As a result of low-stress management skills, many martial artists will panic in high-stress situations, go into HRmax, and whatever martial art skills they have will be suppressed.
Most martial artists train in performing techniques, and the perfection of those techniques. However, bad guys could care less about your perfect techniques, the only things that impress them are techniques that cause them pain. Moreover, the bad guys thoroughly enjoy inflicting pain upon you.
Since many martial artists do not train in conflict management and do not know how to deal with violent attackers who do not think rationally, they are surprised by how quickly a person may become angry enough to attack and how aggressively and violently a seemingly mild-mannered person may attack. As a result, when these attacks occur, the martial artists get stressed, go into HRmax, and they lose the ability to use their martial art skills.
Many martial artists have outstanding physical and mental skills and physical conditioning. The problem is that all these abilities relate to their martial art; they have everything they need to be good at their martial art, but it may not relate to real conflict. When faced with a situation outside the realm of their martial art, these skills and fitness levels may be practically useless.
A professional football player and take a pounding in a game on Sunday and be fine the next day. However, if the same player can play a few sets of tennis for the first time with his girlfriend, the next day he will probably ache over all over since he used muscles he was not accustomed to using.
Fighting an opponent in the ring, no matter the level of contact, is not that stressful for a fighter since he or she has trained for it and knows there are rules, rules keepers, and available medical services. However, in self-defense situations, there are no rules, referees, or medial help – you are fighting for your life and perhaps the lives of those accompanying you.
Going into HRmax is not a death sentence; you will still have your instinctive fighting skills and access to some of your martial arts training. Also, with proper training in recovery techniques, you will be able to lower your heart rate, come out of HRmax, and gain some control of the situation. Professional fighters train on relaxing and recovery in the short minute between rounds. Many times, a fighter who is seemingly wasted at the end of a round will come back strong after only a one-minute rest.