Saenchai cartwheel kick

My early morning run was feeling easier today, my pace was quicker than previous outings and my mind was sparking – thoughts, ideas where hitting me without conscious effort as I sprung along. At last I was beginning to feel myself again after a training hiatus. As I neared the end of the run I felt the urge to push harder, this felt good, injury had meant I hadn’t been able to work like this in quite a while.

As I began to turn up my pace and my focus returned to my movement and breathing. I needed to become present in the moment, focused — the familiar self-drive began to kick in. As I ran, my mind began to visualise, turning the increasing physical discomfort into an opponent, an opponent that was testing me, trying to defeat me. I responded by digging in.

As I pushed on it was getting harder. Should I ease up? “No, keep going” came an internal voice.  My body responded. “Who would know if I eased up just a little?” chipped in that little voice, “YOU would!” came a louder voice. I began to run faster, seeming to access a higher gear. After a committed final distance that seemed to draw out, I sprinted back onto my driveway, sucking air in through every orifice in an attempt to repay the oxygen debt.  My internal dialogue commended me, “That was a good run.”

This experience is nothing new for me, but it triggered a question. How many people ease up when that internal voice asks; who would know if I eased up just a little? Then I realised, it’s my intent that makes my training  productive or not, that I train my intent in every session.

Eckhart Tolle explains the transfer from ‘thought’ to ’emotion’ to palpable ‘energy’ is real and can be positive or negative. You can feel this in a fight and these psychological habits need to be trained — how you train is how you fight. If you give-in during training you can bet you’ll give-in under pressure in the ring.

Pushing yourself does not just relate the volume or intensity of training, but also the level of technical sophistication. A low intensity day can (and should) be technically challenging, that’s how you improve, striving for something just out of reach. Malcolm Gladwell explains that most top performers practice for a total of about 10,000 hours to obtain mastery. To get 10,000 hours of practice in 10 years, you’ll need to practice 3-hours a day, 7 days a week! And of course this is purposeful practice, training with intent.

Your intent, or purpose for each session must be clearly focused, and this purpose comes from your periodised strength and conditioning programme or technical Muay Thai coach — know what you are going for. For example, are you developing strength, power, aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness or power endurance? Are you crafting your round kick, sharpening a combination or a defensive evasion? You should never just be spinning your wheels practising things you’re already good at. This doesn’t count as purposeful practice with the specific objective of progress.

Relentless hours of training without progressive purpose simply don’t count. For example, you may have spent nearly 10,000-hours driving your car, but this certainly doesn’t make you an expert. Most of your driving practice is mindless, thinking about other things, without focus, without progress.

Accumulating 10,000-hours of quality, purposeful practice is difficult — if it wasn’t everyone would be World class. Training 3-hours a day isn’t going to be practical for most of us, but take every opportunity to practice. Strength coach Dan John says, “If it’s important do it every day.” This advice speaks of quality movement patterns, intensity and volume not withstanding. Unloaded technical movements can be practised during warm ups, cooldowns and active rest periods — but keep them purposeful.

Matthew Syed explains that elite performers continually challenge themselves, they strive for the next progression and aren’t afraid of failing – it shows they’re pushing themselves hard enough. In fact, if you aren’t failing you’re not trying hard enough! But, be careful to avoid overtraining — remember you can push yourself with technical sophistication, not only with training intensity and volume.

If your not messing it up once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough. In this way, the best fighters seek failure and then grow from it. They work outside of their comfort zone and desire feedback to find new areas in which to progress. The best fighters have accumulated more hours of purposeful practice and train their intent every day. Before your next training session, focus your intent, keep it sharp and feel the difference. Maintain this attitude over the long term and others will see the difference too.

Further Resources

Don Heatrick

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), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

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