This morning I’m braving the London’s weekday rush-hour, heading to Covent Garden for my daughter’s Royal Ballet Workshop. Riding on the Underground Tube car presented an unexpected opportunity to train a bit of stance and balance.
I managed to score a seat for my daughter, but I was left standing as the tube car began to accelerate out of the station. Boom, I instinctively adopted an athletic stance, flexing at my knees and hips while actively feeling for the floor with my feet. I handled the shifting floor without the need to grab desperately at a handle or rail – I can’t say the same for others around me.
Observing the balancing strategies of the other Tube commuters, most didn’t have a cue how to stay on their feet in the absence of something to grab hold of. So here’s today’s inspiration – a few thoughts you may not have considered on how to remain balanced in your Muay Thai stance.
Tube Car Training
Ok, here’s a little talk of specificity (part 2 of my Muay Thai Specific Training article is coming soon…). When training balance, it’s good to consider what training will transfer well to Muay Thai, because not everything does, despite how awesome it may look.
When it comes to training balance and stability for Muay Thai, the floor surface is important. As fighters, we compete in a boxing ring with a stable, static surface, not a wibbly-wobbly one. We need to train our bodies for these specific conditions.
As a Muay Thai strength and conditioning coach, if I had you standing on one leg while balancing on a stability ball to train balance, I’d be a idiot! Injury risk aside, the transfer to your Thai boxing balance would be minimal – the floor surface conditions are just too far removed from a boxing ring.
[accordion][spoiler title=”Side Note – unstable surfaces” style=”fancy”] I do use unstable surface training to rehab injured private clients and for my water sport athletes (an unstable surface is sport specific for them)! [/spoiler]
So why is a moving Tube car a better training option of fighters?!
Although a boxing ring doesn’t move around like a Tube car, there’s a good carry over to the boxing ring because as a fighter you can still react to the solid floor in the same way as you can react to the ring surface.
The moving floor acts as an external load, trying to disrupt your balance much like an opponent in the ring. It’s just acting from the ground up rather than from the top down. In strength and conditioning we call disruptive training forces that challenge balance and stability ‘perturbation’.
Maintaining position while being ‘perturbed’ demands everything to switch on, from head to toe. If anything is being lazy, you’re balance will break as your energy leaks from your ‘weak’ area. It’s interesting to observe where you find this leak occurs, and how you instinctively cope with this. What is your habit? Was it effective?
Many on the Tube car certainly didn’t have effective habits for balance. Now, I could go into reducing centre of gravity height and increasing base of support area to increase stability, but I’m sure your technical Muay Thai training has covered that (hit me up in the comments if you do want more detail in these principles though).
If your stance is the right shape, you’ve got those elements covered. What I’m going to share is how you can use that stance to best effect.
Beyond Your Muay Thai Stance
When your balance is challenged by an external force, you must absorb that force effectively. Now, of course your stance should be correctly placed to present a good, strong structure, and you can use footwork to step and shuffle your way to balance. But beyond this is what I call the mechanics of reactivity.
It all begins with sound knee-dominant and hip-dominant movement patterns. These are athletic habits that I train every session in my gym programs. Every session is an opportunity to reinforce correct movement mechanics that’ll instinctively trigger when balance is challenged.
You need equal knee/hip dominant habits and strength, or you’ll get found out when a wobble comes your way. When you go to pick something up from the floor, what is your default habit with your lower body? Do you dive your knees forwards, or your hips back?
I find the majority of untrained people dive their knees forwards, they’re quad-dominant and their body trusts the front of their thighs rather than their backside and hamstrings. It’s good to have strong thighs, but it should be equally balanced with a strong backside.
Let me explain how this comes into play when you’re fighting to maintain balance without taking a step.
If you begin to fall and attempt to keep balance by lowering your centre of gravity by bending your knees, this shifts your weight over your toes. A good pattern to use if your falling backwards to keep your balance, but a bad idea if you’re falling forwards!
If you drop your centre of gravity by flexing at the hips (sitting your backside down and back), your weight shifts back toward your heels. Great if your falling forwards, but lousy if your falling backwards!
By hunting between knee dominant squatting and hip dominant hinging in real-time, you can trim your weight distribution between the ball of the foot and the heel, regardless of with direction you are falling. Being good at flexing and extending your ankles, knees and hips is not only essential for generating strength and power, it’s crucial to balance.
Ignoring the effect of lowering your centre of gravity to improve stability, staying partially flexed in your stance allows rapid trimming between knee and hip dominant patterns. Think of a surfer dynamically fighting to stay on a surfboard while ripping across a wave.
If you lock out your knees and hips, and shift your weight to your heels, you’re in trouble. Yet this is exactly how exhausted fighters stand in the final rounds of relentless bout. And why they get unbalanced so easily too.
My tip is to feel your feet on the floor. In fact, stand up and get in your stance now! Exaggerate the bend in your knees – feel the weight shift onto the balls of your feet? Now exaggerate the bend in your hips (stick your backside out) – feel the weight shift toward your heels?
So if you find yourself with too much weight on your heels, bend your knees more to regain control. If you feel to much weight on the balls of your feet and an imminent topple forwards, drop your heels to the floor and sit your hips back to rescue yourself.
Back on the Tube Car
All movement is an opportunity to practice. But what is your movement quality? Does it help or hinder your Thai boxing performance? What are your unconscious ‘go to’ habits, and do they need changing?
Muay Thai scoring rewards effect, and loss of balance demonstrates a massive effect! Don’t go giving your opponent points by just being bad at absorbing force. Focus on drilling your knee and hip dominant patterns – practice them, load them, perturb them!
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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