It’s not enough to just train hard, you need to train smart. Thai boxers must train many different qualities to be successful – highly skilled movements, tactical strategies, flexibility, strength, explosive power and relentless endurance.

How can you develop all these without frying yourself in the process?

In a previous post I discussed general adaptation syndrome and the concept of supercompensation. Timing your next training session to hit this supercompensated phase will prevent overtraining and boost performance (fig. a). Conversely, failing to allow enough recovery is a recipe for overtraining and poor performance (fig. b), while leaving too long between sessions and you’re just spinning your wheels (fig. c).

Timing training

Timing training for a) performance improvement, b) performance degradation or overtraining, c) no overall performance change

Overtraining can be avoided by coordinating all training sessions and understanding how each impacts each other and your recovery. But… this is easier said than done.

Depending on the intensity and volume of your training, you can fatigue up to three different systems – metabolic, neuromuscular and structural – and each system’s rate of recovery is different.

  •  Metabolic system recovery (removal of waste products from muscles and blood) from low-volume aerobic/lactic work can be complete in just a couple of hours, although higher intensity, higher volume activity can totally deplete muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate) which can take up to 24-hours to re-stock by consuming more carbohydrate.
  •  Restoration of the neuro-muscular system (central nervous system) takes between 12 – 36 hours depending on the training session intensity.
  •  Structural system damage from hypertrophy (muscle growth) and eccentric muscle contraction (lengthening) can take between 1 – 3 days. This damage is characterised by DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which results in muscle tenderness peaking 2-days after unaccustomed intensity and duration of exercise.
3 recovery systems

Recovery rates of the three independent recovery systems

The recovery time for each of these systems will depend on the training intensity and individual capability, along with nutrition and rest quality. Although the fatigue effect of consecutive training sessions taxing the same recovery system is superimposed (stepping recovery back, see fig. c above), sessions loading a different recovery system can be hit while simultaneously allowing others to recover.

This is where some clever planning can allow you to work hard on consecutive days and  improve performance without overtraining.

If your first day of training focuses on heavy strength and power development, such as resistance exercise, plyometrics, Olympic lifting or Muay Thai technique worked explosively with large rest intervals, there will be a mild metabolic demand and little structural system fatigue.

Then the following day can heavily load you metabolic system with padwork and sparring while simultaneously allowing neuromuscular recovery from the previous days training. By understanding how training effects recovery on three independent levels you can massively improve your training progress.