Written by Don Heatrick
Your training must be specific to your sport. This is straight forward if you’re either a sprinter (power) or a marathon runner (endurance), but we’re Thai boxers and we need it all. Conflicting physical adaptations are part of our game, and managing this is crucial if you’re to get the best out of yourself.
Your body is a very clever system. It adapts to the stress that you place it under to become more efficient at future bouts of a specific stressor (allostasis). Progressively overloading makes you fitter, stronger and more powerful – but you can’t simply train everything at once. Training certain physical qualities simultaneously creates conflicting adaptations and poor progress.
Another important consideration is the recovery time required for each type of stress. Inadvertently repeatedly stressing the same system without allowing sufficient recovery quickly leads to overtraining, injury and lack of progress. You train to get better, not just for the sake of training! Don’t fall into the trap of merely working out. Each session should have an objective which fits into a longer term plan designed to improve athletic performance.
The process of planning training for optimum adaptation and improved athletic performance is called periodisation. Training is typically structured over the entire year to coincide with known or anticipated fight dates, and then reverse engineered to break the season up into specific training phases or blocks. Going further into this is beyond the scope of this article, for now I’ll stick to explaining which individual training sessions are compatible with each other and which confuse your body’s adaptive responses.
Danger 1: Conflicting Training
Attempting to develop aerobic fitness and anaerobic lactic fitness simultaneously is doomed to failure (Olbrecht 2013). Aerobic activity requires your muscles to utilise mitochondria cells to efficiently process oxygen for long lasting energy. Your body adapts to this stress by increasing the number of aerobic energy cells (mitochondria) in those specific muscles. Exceeding your anaerobic threshold (increasing exercise intensity) demands energy faster than your aerobic system can supply it, and requires the anaerobic lactic system to take up the slack. Unfortunately, as your body develops to handle the demands of anaerobic lactic activity, it kills off the mitochondria, reducing your aerobic fitness (Jamieson 2009)!
Before you assume that Thai boxing is an anaerobic lactic sport and therefore aerobic development isn’t important, this conclusion is completely wrong and stems from a misunderstanding of how the energy systems interplay. It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into this right now, but trust me on this, you need a massive amount of aerobic fitness as a fighter. Don’t kill off your aerobic fitness with an excessive amount of all-out anaerobic lactic sessions. The more energy you can produce aerobically, the less you’ll need to rely on the anaerobic lactic energy system.
Danger 2: Consecutive Similar Training
Following a training session (stimulus), your body is fatigued and attempts to adapt to the stress you’ve placed on it. This adaptation occurs during the rest and recovery periods between sessions. If you train the next day without allowing sufficient recovery, you can become overtrained. The trick is to get the balance just right to continually improve without either overtraining or detraining.
Your body takes a varying amount of time to recover, depending upon what kind of stress you applied; metabolic, neuromuscular or structural. The good news is that each stress type can recover independently to the others. By training different recovery systems on consecutive days, you can train hard each day, maximising progress without overtraining. To find out more about recovery, take a look at my article Timing Training to Boost Recovery & Performance.
Avoid combining extensive aerobic training and anaerobic lactic training on the same day. They conflict. Ideally you should have a phase of aerobic conditioning which you later convert to power endurance. Extensive flat out pad/bag/sparring rounds, and extreme ‘metabolic’ circuits will demand an anaerobic lactic contribution and are best trained closer to your fight date when you’ve already built an efficient aerobic engine. Reducing the pace to below your anaerobic threshold, and avoiding overloading specific local muscle groups with consecutive repetition will reduce the anaerobic lactic demand.
You can train maximum strength, power, plyometrics and low volume aerobic work on the same day without detrimental effect. Thai boxing training on these same days should be largely technical and aerobic based with bursts of power lasting no longer than 10-seconds for a particular movement. All such training then demands neuromuscular recovery at the same rate, along with a little metabolic recovery (which rapidly recharges). You’ll also train to produce explosive power and recharge it aerobically, rather than continually switching to an anaerobic lactic supply by default – which has a more limited capacity.
You need to be able to tolerate working in the anaerobic lactic energy system without grinding to a halt, but training extensively in this range will force your body to produce more energy this way, and then you’ll be prone to gassing out. Instead, build an effective aerobic capacity, and then tax it with explosive bursts and generous recoveries. Then gradually shift the emphasis to lactic work much closer to the fight, by extending the work periods and reducing the rest periods.
Thai boxers need to be a jack of all trades, we need a rounded performance profile. Just be aware how training the different energy systems and different physical qualities impact each other, or you could be working very hard and cancelling out your efforts.
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Don Heatrick, owner of Heatrick Strength & Conditioning, is a Level 4 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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