Movement Rhythm & Muay Thai Economy

Following last weeks post, this article shares more in-fight relaxation tips inspired by my private session with Yodsanklai Fairtex in Pattaya. Every move Yod makes comes from a relaxed, shuffling fighting stance – which is a focus in his coaching.

Muay Thai is rhythmical movement, with an escalating tempo from the first to the last round. Synchronising with your personal rhythm improves your movement economy. To do this you need to ‘feel’ your own timing, your own dance. Strength coach Vern Gambetta describes all sports movements as rhythmic in nature – a series of synchronous and asynchronous rhythms derived from our fundamental heartbeat rhythm. To athletes it is a feeling almost like an internal metronome.

I feel that rhythmical movement also comes from moving elastically, riding the stretch shortening cycle as you pulse weight alternately between each foot in your fighting stance. By rhythmically pre-stretching muscles and tendons you can tap into considerable stored elastic energy. I find this rhythmical movement also encourages physical relaxation while allowing your awareness to remain focused on your opponent. Mentally you relax the cognitive part of your mind (left hemisphere) and engage your autonomous, creative mind (right hemisphere).

Stretch shortening cycle

Stretch shortening cycle

Accessing this creative processing power saves considerable mental and physiological energy. By selecting autonomous responses, your movements are better coordinated without extraneous muscle contractions. Less experienced boxers tend to overcompensate for lack of skill by remaining tense and throwing everything they have and end up gassing out quickly. Part of your Muay Thai skill training is learning how utilise the energy you produce effectively – learning to pace yourself using efficient technique and strategy.

Strength and conditioning training contributes to movement economy by improving the contractility of muscle – how fast your muscles can contract and relax. Relaxation speed is important! This requires timing – timing that must be ‘felt.’ Fast twitch muscle fibres are capable of contracting and relaxing faster than slow twitch fibres, so train to ‘throw’ strikes. Hit through the target, letting your opponent absorb the force allowing you to return to your stance. Explosive medicine ball throwing drills develop muscle contract/relax efficiency. Plyometric bounding and power training sessions not only develop muscle contractility but also critically allow you to cultivate the ‘feeling’ of efficient timing.

All your power originates at the floor. It’s how efficient you can transfer this power up through the body into the striking limb that differentiates between powerful strikes and ones that feel ‘off’. When it comes to efficiently using stored elastic energy in your body, a subtle difference in timing can make the difference between maximum power transfer into your strike or an energy leak in the kinetic chain that leaves you feeling flat.

However you train, develop the habit of using your whole body with coordinated timing. Feel the rhythm of your internal metronome and get your dance on!


  1. kerkyra August 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Really interesting couple of articles Don, thank you.
    What medicine ball drills would you recommend for this? Both for solo and partnered drills.

    • DonHeatrick August 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks Kerkyra,
      The medicine ball drills that I use are part of a progressive plyometric routine designed to increase explosive power both in the upper and lower body. You have to be careful to prescribe such training progressively as although the load is low, the force production is very high and overuse injuries can result far too easily.

      I’ll need to write a blog post to explain how to use them :)

      • kerkyra August 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm - Reply

        Ha ha! Not just your standard throws, passes, twists and slams then!?

        I’d certainly be interested in learning more about them. Can you recommend a good starting point? To learn from, read about or otherwise.

        • DonHeatrick August 22, 2013 at 7:32 am - Reply

          I certainly begin with passes, twists and slams but then progress onto more Muay Thai specific patterns. In addition, lower body plyometric bounds, hops etc are essential as all force generation originates at the floor. Stretch shortening cycle (SSC) development is essential for Thai boxers.

  2. […] rather than from the striking limb backwards, power emerges effortlessly . You can focus on relaxed timing rather than ‘grunt’. The problem with defaulting to a max-effort approach is that […]

  3. […] Don Heatrick Limited. (2013). Stretch shortening cycle. Retrieved from […]

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