Recovery – The Secret to Rapid Performance Improvement

Fighters pride themselves on being hardy. But there’s a difference between hardy and fool hardy!

There’s times to push through it, and there’s times to back off. The trick is knowing which situation your currently in, and it’s not as difficult to read as you might think.

I’m sure you’ve either been training in Thailand and peaked too early, or know someone who simply went in too hard from the off. After four days or so, crash! Injury, illness or just plain old fatigue sent you retreating to just one of the two daily sessions, or skipping training all together.

Not ideal… and it could have gone very differently.

The key is what coaches call “progressive overload”. Your Muay Thai fitness can only improve if your body can adapt and recover from your training. Heaping on more than your body can cope with may feel “hardcore”, but will cut your development very short.

Effective training uses a “minimum dose” approach, where the minimum amount of training stimulus is applied to get an improvement, no more, no less. In the same way you’d only take the required dose of paracetamol for a headache, and not down the whole bottle!

So in Thailand start gradually, perhaps with just a morning session for the first 2-3 days (these tend to be the lighter more technical sessions). And add a second daily session when you feel your recovery is up to it. It all depends on what your base level of training volume was before you left home.

In Thailand you’ll ultimately be training six days a week for four to six hours daily. Don’t expect to go from three hours of Muay Thai training a week to this kind of volume and intensity instantly. You’ll break!

Your body continually adapts to the physical demands you place on it during your training. But the quality and rate of adaptation depends on a performance triangle: Training — Nutrition — Rest.

Fail to balance these elements and you’re on a hiding to nothing. Thai boxers tend to thrash themselves non-stop, and although this drive is a great psychological asset for a fighter, it must be applied appropriately to get the best from them.

G.A.S. or General Adaptation Syndrome is a term used to describe your body’s short-term and long-term reaction to stress. Stress is both physical (extreme hot or cold, lack of sleep, starvation and physical exertion) or mental (loss of a loved one, struggling to solve a problem, or even having a difficult day at work). Essentially, your body reacts to both physical and mental stress the same way.

Be aware that training places additional stress on a fighter, and that all stress factors must be considered and controlled when programming training. Get better sleep, eat better and learn to relax and you’ll recover better and quicker.

general adaptation syndrome and recovery

It’s important to remember that fitness improvements take place during the recovery between training sessions — when your body adapts to the stresses you’ve placed on it — not during the training sessions themselves.

Fail to leave adequate time between workouts taxing the same energy system, or fail to get enough quality sleep or the right nutrition, and this will lead to over-training.  Progress will stall and performance will be poor. Manage stress well and you’re onto a winner.

The weeks leading up to a fight are the most likely to result in over-training. A proper training taper will help you hit the ring in the best shape you’ve ever been rather than burned out.

Generally, further away from the fight, training-volume (the amount of rounds, exercise reps, minutes training) is high and the training-intensity (perceived effort, heart rate, % of 1-rep-max resistance) is lower. This reverses as the fight gets closer, training volume decreases while intensity increases.

The sooner you recover, the sooner you can get back to training and improving your performance. Those that can get back to the gym and be productive (supercompensated) will improve performance quicker. Put as much thought into your recovery as you do your training and you’ll leave the competition behind.

Planning training sessions once recovery has progressed above the fitness baseline (during supercompensation) is the key to maximising progress.

… More on this in the second part: Timing Training to Boost Recovery & Performance.



  1. Liam tarrant October 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Hey man, great articles. Keep em coming

  2. Mark Plunkett October 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    More detail please Don!!!

  3. steve October 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    More detail required!! I’ve been suffering from pains in arms and elbows through over training so any way of preventing that would help.

  4. Dean Burroughs October 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Good article here Don. I’ve always stuck to the baselines of always remebering that, to a certain extent there’s no such thing as over training, Just under recovery! More Information would be good! Cheers Deano

  5. Tony October 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    Nice article, definitely want more detail though, pls :)

  6. Will October 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    Nice one Don, I’d like to know more. Cheers.

  7. DonHeatrick October 29, 2012 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the feedback guys, much appreciated. We’re getting the total up… 14 more to go :)

  8. Simon Bowle October 31, 2012 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    Bring the knowledge Don! great stuff

  9. DonHeatrick November 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    There’s wasn’t enough comments for the part 2 post to jump the queue, but it’s coming next… keep an eye out on Sunday :)

  10. […] a previous post I discussed general adaptation syndrome and the concept of supercompensation. Timing your next training session to hit this […]

  11. iansjobs1 December 4, 2012 at 11:57 am - Reply

    So when is the best time to get back to training?

    • DonHeatrick December 4, 2012 at 1:41 pm - Reply

      Hi Ian, I’ve followed up with some more information on my post “Timing Training to Boost Recovery & Performance”. You can read it at

      Best regards, Don

    • Edward December 17, 2012 at 4:14 am - Reply

      this guy would do some damage on the ultmiate fighter tv show. would def be interesting on the show too cause he is such a different kind of guy (aka a good guy dont call him the choir boy for nothinG!) than the usual dudes on the show.

  12. iansjobs1 December 4, 2012 at 11:59 am - Reply

    That’s lame about there wasnt enough comments.

    • DonHeatrick December 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm - Reply

      It’s a new blog and I was perhaps a little adventurous asking for 20 comments at this stage :)

      Although, this topic certainly has proven to be popular, thank you all for the feedback. If you all vote with your feet like this, it makes it a lot easier for me to provide content that you want.


  13. […] should rest the day before the fight to allow your body to supercompensate, and therefore your energy requirements will be minimal and a reduction of food and water is okay. […]

  14. […] physical qualities that will make you a better Thai boxer. Don’t waste time, effort and recovery capacity detracting from this — quality over quantity every […]

  15. […] under valued athletic quality that is critical to your rate of progress, both in the ring, and from one training session to the next. Don’t be the fighter that loses just because you didn’t respect the contribution of a rock […]

  16. chris June 24, 2015 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    Nice article!More details?

  17. […] fundamental to fight performance, but also general recovery between training sessions. If you can recover better, you'll not only fight better, but can also train harder and more frequently – resulting in […]

  18. […] over a wide range of joint angles. Once this foundation has been established, individualised, periodised programmes are designed to develop the fighter’s strength and power qualities along with appropriate […]

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