by Don Heatrick
Saenchai is a Muay Thai living legend, and his trademark moves are based on a particular athletic foundation that he’s naturally exploited to awesome effect.
Saenchai is an elastic animal!
He’s super efficient at storing and returning elastic energy in his muscles and tendons, what sports scientists call stretch-shortening cycle – and not everyone has developed a body that can do this. But you can if you train for it… let’s look at how you can use your strength and conditioning sessions to achieve this ability too.
Watch this Saenchai movement breakdown video with example training exercises now!
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TEXT TRANSCRIPT AND MORE…
The most effective way to develop that crazy elastic speed and power is using plyometrics… but before we can pick suitable exercises, we first need to take a closer look at Saenchai’s movement to determine whether it’s fast or slow stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) that’s in effect!
Fast SSC uses a spring return of energy in 250 milliseconds or less, and a Slow SSC returns in longer than 250 milliseconds. The plyo exercises that we choose need to choose develop either the fast or slow SSC accordingly!
So let’s start by doing a slow-motion analysis of how Saenchai is moving. As Saenchai sets up to throw a body kick here, he takes 0.26 secs to generate force on the floor to throw this kick. And that’s his “ground contact time.” So as a stretch-shortening cycle where we preload the muscle to get an elastic reaction, that just tips into what we’d as a slow SSC to generate the force for this kick.
He then sets up to throw a low kick, and this time takes 0.30 secs to generate his force on the floor. Again, we’d classify this as a slow SSC. So with little bounce, and just generating the force kind of “cold” from the floor, that’s what we’re getting.
But now we see later in the fight Saenchai starts to find his bounce, and his rhythm. And as he sets up for this one he uses what I call a Bounce Step, where he drops his weight into his rear leg keeping the heel off the floor and this uses that elastic energy in the calf.
And if we take a closer look here, we can see that his rear leg is incontact with the floor but his lead leg is actually not in contact with the floor. So he’s dropping most of his weight into that rear leg to power it up. That stab of elastic energy only takes 0.13 secs to spring and return form the floor. And in this way, Saenchai uses a fast SSC to launch into his trademark Question Mark Kick.
And on landing that kick he now plant his foot squarely down onto the floor, again with the majority of the pressure on that rear foot with the heel raised giving us a plyometric contraction in his calf as he keeps that lead foot off the floor and he instantaneously summons another fast SSC with a ground contact time of about 0.2 secs.
And this time he chooses to use that energy to take it into a teep. And you can see he’s rather pleased with himself there!
And now as his opponent advances onto him, he now uses what I call a Drop Cut. So he stabs that front foot into the floor keeping the rear foot off the floor. And that drop of his centre of gravity into the lead foot with the heel raised allows a plyometric contraction of about 0.13 secs. Again, a fast SSC.
And this allows him to drive that lead foot back explosively quickly to avoid that kick. And as he continues his retreat as his opponent advances he then decides to use that backward momentum to plant that rear leg, again to what I call a Drop Cut.
And this time instead of changing direction to move backwards, he uses it to change his reverse direction to stop on the spot, and even effectively move forwards a little. And that’s characterised by a drop of his centre of gravity into a leg with a leg with the heel raised (to get that elastic SSC) while keeping the leed foot raised up off the floor to change his direction – to apply that stab of force and ride that spring energy return.
And this time it takes about 0.35 secs which is effectively a slow SSC in this instance. And he uses that energy to suddenly stop his direction of movement and evade that incoming lead hook from his opponent.
And let’s check those movements out again in real speed so you can see how he uses that elastic spring return. Once Saenchai gets his bounce on, then you’re in trouble!
So we can see that we need a mixture of fast and slow SSC exercises in your training program to develop the qualities you need to move like Saenchai with that explosive, elastic ability. And we’ll begin by looking at some fast SSC plyometric exercises.
This first example uses alternate leg low hurdle bounds. The stronger and stiffer you can make your muscles, the faster you can keep your contact time.
And this second example uses 2-footed Medium Hurdle Jumps. So if your muscle isn’t sufficiently strong and if you haven’t calibrated the control of your muscles and tendons to handle that elastic recoil, then you won’t be able to bounce with this sharp contact on the floor.
And the final fast SSC example I’m going to give you here are Low Hurdle Hops. As we shift from 2-feet to 1-foot, can become longer. And only someone with sufficient strength and elastic control will be able to maintain a fast ground contact time between these hurdles. And the hurdles might have to be reduced in height to make this quick enough. We’re looking for 0.25 secs or less to qualify as fast SSC and to get the training benefit we want.
So these fast SSC exercises give you that elastic bouncing rebounding energy that Saenchai was demonstrating when got his flow going.
Now let’s look a slow SSC exercises that will develop your ability to throw that kick “cold” without any bounce or telegraphing. The first example I’m going to give you here are Scissor Hurdle Bounds. And here the ground contact time will be 0.3 – 0.4 seconds as it takes longer to arrest that force and change direction to come back over again.
And the final example of slow SSC exercise are a Box Jump. And here I’m showing you an example of 90 degree turning version. And here again, the ground contact time is typically 0.3 – 0.4 secs and develops that ability to throw a kick “cold” without any Bounce Step or Drop Cut.
And let’s just take a final look again at Saenchai applying this elastic ability in his Muay Thai technique.
So we can rapidly develop this elastic energy in the gym if we overload the movements – and that will fast track it – so we can develop this bouncing quality that Saenchai has in spades, that we won’t get if we don’t develop it in the right way.
And just because you’re naturally not too elastic, it doesn’t mean you can’t make that much, much better if you get your training right.
And if you’d like to learn more ways of improving your Muay Thai ability check out our Heavy Hitters resources at heatrick.com, or even our Muay Thai performance courses to make the quickest progress possible.
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.
Follow Don Heatrick on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/donheatrick/
Do you have a chart or a cheat sheet that has the plyo exercises you mentioned separated by category (slow or fast SSC)?
I don’t Sam, but good call… I’ll have to put something together!
Ok! I’ve done it Sam!
Here you go… https://vh206-ff52c0.pages.infusionsoft.net/
Awesome, as usual. I like how you juxtaposed the Muay Thai examples with the exercises to help show the carryover better, like in the video.
Thanks Sam! :)