Successful performance enhancement training and coaching divides an athletes needs into technical, tactical, physical and psychological elements. These are all pieces of a puzzle that govern the success of an athlete in their chosen field, and areas that’re immediately recognisable to a Thai boxer.
To get the most out of training sessions — whether that’s structured classes, private coaching or open training — understanding and addressing these elements will have a massive impact on your performance in the ring.
Technical training deals with developing the required skilled movement for the given sport or activity, and usually consists of performing closed (predetermined) drills while observed by a coach. All technical movement (stance, footwork, strikes and clinch) should be executed according to key performance points. Emphasis is on repeating key movement patterns accurately for a sufficient number of times to convert a cognitive motor pattern (requiring coordinated concentration) into an autonomous one requiring little conscious effort. The quality of movement is the key to developing these habits – every time you perform sloppy technical movements you reinforce a bad habit.
New skills are best learned while you’re fresh so that you can accurately coordinate and control your motor patterns. For this reason, it’s a good idea to focus on new technique at the start of a training session when you’re not fatigued. Always perform technical movements in good form to notch up another good motor pattern in the autonomous brain bank. It’s easier and quicker to learn a new skill from scratch rather than to break an old, bad habit.
When having an all-out fitness blast, concentrate on well practised skills to avoid undoing any quality movement habits with ragged technique. Keep these movements clean and with enough repetition they’ll maintain quality even when you’re tired or under extreme stress in the ring.
Tactical training is concerned with sport specific decision making and reaction to situations. This is usually trained using open drills requiring a reaction to an external stimulus, forcing the athlete to respond. Interactive padwork falls into this category, where the padholder uses lots of footwork to vary the range, shows random target shapes and feeds back simulated strikes.
Tactical training puts the technical tools to work. It selects the right tool for the right job and pieces together connecting techniques in response to your opponent’s reaction. Practice different modes of defence and attack and use different timing and rhythm.
Tactical training also involves the strategy and game plan for the chosen sport, which could be different for each position played or individual. For a Thai boxer this strategy is born out of your own style of fighting, whether aggressive, elusive, counter or tricky, and which style your opponent favours. It also depends on the range preferences of both you and your opponent. Who’s the most comfortable at long, medium or close range? Who’s better in the clinch? Know your strengths and weaknesses — know yourself. Then learn your opponent’s — know your opponent.
Physical training prepares the athlete to perform maximally in their specific sport or activity. It not only builds appropriate strength, power, endurance, agility, stability and mobility, but also develops the coordinated movement required for technical mastery of the chosen sport. Each sport or activity has a unique energy system requirement which must also be specifically enhanced. Physical training underpins both technical and tactical performance by ensuring that an athlete can physical execute the technical movements and strategies at the required intensity and duration.
Thai boxing demands repeated intervals of power endurance of varying duration and intensity depending on the level of competition (Interclub, Novice, C, B or A-class) and the type of fighters pitted against each other. This places great demand on all the energy systems (anaerobic alactic, anaerobic lactic and aerobic) which need developing in the right proportions to produce optimum physical performance. Remember, if all else is equal, the better conditioned fighter will win. Muay Thai rewards power and effect, and the rounds are of increasing importance as the fight goes on. Even technically better fighters can easily lose a fight if they haven’t the energy or power to match their opponent in the latter rounds.
The psychological training focuses on how an athlete performs in mentally challenging situations and relates to an athlete’s will/motivation to reach goals or objectives. Mental strength is of massive importance in the ring. Pushing yourself through hard training sessions, sparring, interclub and decision fights will build resilience. We all have a capacity that exceeds our perceived mental and physical limitations, learning to access this is critical – this applies not only to competition itself, but also to training and essentially life as a whole. Learn to overcome and don’t be afraid to step outside the comfort zone. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.
Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning
Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.
Don helps ambitious fighters & coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.
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