Written by Don Heatrick
Because of the high level of interest in my Thai boxer Down – Injuries article, I felt I should continue on this theme.
Fighters are a different breed, you’re wired a little ‘differently’ – it’s why you were attracted to Muay Thai in the first place. Like it or not, you’re an extremist by nature and this can be both you’re strongest asset and your biggest weakness.
Do you know when to stop? Do you have a drive to finish the task regardless of the physical cost? Pain is temporary, glory is forever right? I know you very well – I am you – but here’s what I’ve learned.
In most professional sports, talent is often inversely proportional to work ethic, but in Muay Thai there’s a higher level of work ethic and commitment. We’re a bunch of extremists. We must understand that fighters will do what is asked of them regardless of the physical cost to their body, it’s our mind-set and we can’t help ourselves. This puts us at great risk of overuse injury on a consistent basis.
Coaches and fighters must realise this and design training accordingly. Pulling back can in fact be more important than pushing – and I know that statement just struck an aversion response with you, it does for me too, but it’s true even if we don’t want to hear it.
You’re number one training goal is to prevent injury during the training process – managing appropriate training intensity and volume, and not using modalities with a high injury risk. Coaching good exercise technique is paramount here, a good exercise performed badly is far too commonplace.
You’re number two goal is to prevent injury in the ring. Training should improve balance and stability. A strength training programme that also focuses on single limb movements is great for injury prevention. Plyometric drills also develop proprioceptive body awareness and the eccentric strength needed when to withstand impact from your opponent.
Goal number three is to improve fight performance. I know you feel this is the number one priority, but injured Thai boxers can’t fight and can’t train to peak performance. Accept it.
Training with Injuries
Reining in an injured Thai boxer intent on maintaining fitness is a hard task. Of course it all depends on the nature and severity of the injury, but it’s usually possible to work on something that doesn’t aggravate the condition.
If it hurts, don’t do it. This is much harder than it sounds for an extremist, but it’s not possible to work through the pain. You must work around it to let it recover, or it’ll take considerably longer to heal or possibly never be 100% again.
Eliminate any activities that provoke the injury and find an alternative. I often stop athletes with knee injuries performing squats but have them continue deadlifting instead (if this causes no pain) to maintain strength. As another example, I’ve just strained my calf but have found that I can use the spinning bike to continue to build my aerobic conditioning without prolonging my injury.
Resist the urge to test out the injury just to see how far you can go! “I can do this movement ok… I wonder if I can do a bit more?.. Yes… A bit more?.. Doh!” Sound familiar? Stick to being progressive over the coming days and weeks, not in one session.
Be a stickler for form. Always demand perfect technique through a full range of motion and only exercise to technical failure – the point where another repetition with perfect form is no longer possible. Working to absolute failure allows you to continue with bad form until you can’t even perform an ugly looking rep. These have no place in your training, injured or not.
A longer term approach needs to be adopted when it comes to injuries. A perceived short term gain can easily result in a long term loss or even prematurely ending you fight career. Bolster your Muay Thai training with supplemental work that prevents injuries, keeps you progressing, and keeps you in the ring. Temper your extremist tendencies and live to fight well another day.
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Don Heatrick, owner of Heatrick Strength & Conditioning, is a strength and conditioning coach, Muay Thai coach and former pro Thai boxer from the UK.
With over 25-years experience in combat sports and athletic conditioning, he’s passionate about all things leading to improved Muay Thai performance.
And he loves sharing what he's learned (and continues to learn) along the way on his websites heatrick.com and muaythaiprogram.com.
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