Nothing happens by accident. If you want to be the best fighter you can be, you need to put some thought into it. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Or was it Winston Churchill? Anyway, whoever said it was bang on! And it’s true in every arena, Muay Thai included.
So what must you consider when planning your Muay Thai training and all its multifaceted aspects? What planning pitfalls must you avoid? Well here’s a quick breakdown for you, courtesy of sports science — athletic training principles.
For any training programme to make you physically better, there must be an element of progressive overload. Over time, there must be an increasing demand in terms of how hard the training is (load or intensity) and/or the amount of time, distance, sets, repetitions or rounds used (volume).
For example, this progression can come in the form of increasing weekly intensity (loads) while using the same volume (number of sets, reps, rounds etc). Or, intensity can remain the same and the volume gradually increased.
In the gym, you can add in extra exercises, exercise sets or reps, or increase the load lifted etc. In conditioning sessions, you can stretch out your sprint distance, increase the number of repeated sprints, maintain a higher heart rate on tempo runs, or reduce rest durations between intervals etc. In Muay Thai training, you can work at a higher heart rate during sparring and pad rounds, or vary the length of the rounds and the rest intervals between them etc.
A word of warning when considering progression, don’t start too high! Begin low (minimum dose), and consistently build up over time. If you start too high, you’ll have no head-room for progression – and despite what you may believe, you don’t need to max out all the time to get better. In fact, this simply leads to overtraining, plateaus and injury.
Without progression, athletes plateau and detrain very quickly. Remember, long-term progression is what will make you truly awesome, not short-term showboating and temporary boosts. This progressive overload must exist on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
Overload relates to the amount and rate of training intensity and volume you apply. So progression and overload actually exist hand in hand, forming progressive overload. The way that you do this depends on your training objective and the periodisation (planned training) model you use.
The amount of overload you use must be just enough to cause an adaptation, and no more. Joel Jamieson uses a ‘tripwire’ analogy to describe this. You need to step up far enough to trigger the trip wire (causing adaptation), then the job is done. If you carrying on stepping through after you’ve triggered the tripwire, you’re wasting steps. Steps that would have been better taken developing another area of your training, like your technical and tactical Muay Thai skill.
I’m a big believer in getting the job done at minimal cost (both energetic and time), leaving capacity for technical training and recovery from the training load. More is not better. Better is better!
Very basically, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Specific fitness gains you progressively build will revert back to your untrained state over time if you no longer need it.
You all know that if you go away on holiday, when you come back to training, everything feels a bit harder than it used to. The longer you’re away from training the more you’ll lose.
This is not only true of overall fitness (what I’d refer to as aerobic capacity), but also each individual athletic quality. If you don’t train strength for a while, you’ll get weaker. If you don’t train power, you’ll become less explosive. Neglect speed training, you’ll get slower. And so on, you get the picture!
And, if there’s not enough overload on each quality, then fighters will detrain and the effects they gain will be reversible too. But the good news is you don’t need to have all of these qualities maxed out all the time.
Although, as a fighter you don’t want to let any quality decrease too much. That’s where planning your training (or periodisation) comes in. Building the right qualities at the right time, while maintaining the others – keeping the plates spinning. I find a conjugate or undulating periodisation model works best for Muay Thai fighters. It keeps all the tools sharp while focusing on sharpening specific areas in different blocks or phases of training.
This relates to the amount of variation you have in your programme. If you work on one component for too long, if haven’t enough variation in your weekly or monthly cycle, it can result in overuse and fatigue (both mental and physical) which can lead to under performance. Or at the very least training monotony!
If you train the same thing for too long, your body quickly becomes adapted to that, and you’ll get a detraining effect – even if you maintain the same training intensity and volume (law of accommodation). This is why planned progression is key to the kind of long-term improvement that’ll leave everyone behind in a year or so.
This is a term that’s become a bit of a ‘buzz word’, meaning that everything in your training has to be functional for Muay Thai. That everything in the gym needs to look like Muay Thai or involve balancing on stability balls. This is not the case.
What we’re looking for is a transfer from our gym exercises to Muay Thai, or what we call dynamic correspondence. Are you replicating the forces, the movement patterns, joint angles and velocities seen in Muay Thai? Are you training the multiple joint actions in multi-direction planes with multi-directional movements? Are you developing the right mix of energy systems to the right levels for Muay Thai?
Your training in the gym needs to transfer into the ring. Thai boxing coaches may argue that fighters don’t lift heavy weights in the ring, but as strength and conditioning coaches, we know for example, that fighters working a kettlebell swing, a hang clean or a high pull is all about getting that joint action. And that ‘triple extension’ of ankle, knee and hip joints dynamically corresponds to explosive punching and kicking.
Picking the right exercises to get the most dynamic correspondence at different phases of your training, is an important part of your plan to ensure a transfer from the gym into the ring. Training must meet the demands kinetically (force, direction and time) and kinematically (motion, techniques) of Muay Thai. As you can see, there’s more to specificity than throwing some punches with dumbbells, or kicking with resistance bands on you ankles!
Now World Domination
Ok, that’s enough for you to be going on with for now. Are you failing to plan, and therefore planning to fail? Have fun building your athleticism along side your Muay Thai ability – and if you understand and apply these training principles, you’re all set to dominate! …You’re welcome. ;)
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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