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.
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.
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 now a podcast host and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.
Don helps committed Thai boxers organise training for accelerated self development & Muay Thai performance.
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