Growing up as an active athlete involved in both team sports and individual competition I notice one glaring difference between the two – the infamous adrenaline dump. Based on my experiences playing basketball, I can recall dozens of big games and high pressure situations where I found myself taking the game winning shot or defending against the game winning shot, and often times coming up short. However, not once did I ever experience the dump of adrenaline or any kind of purge of energy.
It wasn’t until my first Muay Thai fight that I truly felt first-hand what this mythical feeling was that I had heard so much about. Why is that? Basketball being a team sport, it may have something to do with the fact that there are four other guys out there with you watching your back and helping you reach a common goal. In the ring, under the lights, it’s just you and the fact of the matter here is that there is no one out there but one other dude who means to put you in harms way.
In order to identify the root cause of this adrenaline dump we must first understand the physiological process of it all. When a human being is placed in an environment of high stress and pressure, our bodies initiate a major surge of adrenaline into the blood stream. This causes the heart rate to accelerate rapidly which forces your breathing patterns to become much faster and much deeper. These physical reactions were designed to provide our blood with more oxygen so when we decide to either fight or take flight, our muscles will be ready to lead us in whichever direction we choose.
The tricky thing here is that even if we choose to stand our ground, our minds have built this scenario up so frequently that the anxiety of it all actually happening here and now can cause the muscles to become tense and freeze up for a moment. Once this brief moment of fear and hesitation passes, we jump into action, finding that through all of the chaos our bodies can no longer sustain the massive demand for oxygen thus accelerating the fatiguing effect. Our adrenaline response typically allows us about one minute of freakish strength and max effort.
As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t until my first experience in the ring that I felt this happening. During the first round, I was aggressive yet technical, trying my best to finish the fight quickly and escape the environment of extreme stress I was currently in. Unfortunately for me, my opponent weathered the storm and, as soon as I made it to my corner, I knew good and well that my tank was empty.
In training, mind you, I was sustaining a far more intense pace at a much higher volume. Amateur Muay Thai calls for the three, two minute rounds and in practice we were doing six, three minute rounds. So why on earth was my body totally drained after one round? This being my first time cutting weight without a doubt had an effect, as did my inability to pace myself or, as Mystic Mac would say, “be efficient with my energy.” However, all of these factors aside, the nerves I was feeling before played a critical role in my bodies physiological response to the high stakes environment I placed myself in.
The human body was built to adapt and, the more time under tension we accumulate, the greater that adaptogenic response will be. When it comes to basketball, the stakes are significantly lower than combat sports. Yes, basketball is a contact sport. However, there is no real threat of violence like there is in fighting. When the realization occurs that there is a man ten feet across from you who intends to hurt you, the stakes and anxiety sky rocket. A basketball player can practice taking the final shot and, the more experience they have in that situation, the more comfortable they will become with that pressure. It is the body adapting to stressful circumstances that raises this comfort level.
Constantly putting ourselves in disadvantageous scenarios will only cause our bodies to adapt and become more familiar and comfortable in these environments. Therefore, while there is no real cure for the adrenaline dump, there is advice this Greg Jackson tells his students: “We must be comfortable where most men are not.”
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(Adam Tindal of Orlando, Fla. is new MMATorch Specialist columnist focused on the sports science of exercise. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Performance Enhancing Specialist, and has USA Weightlifting certification . He studied exercise science at UCF and current works for a sports performance company in Orlando. He has practiced Muay Thai for nearly ten years and is a passionate follower of MMA.)