by Don Heatrick
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my competitive fighting career. And they’ve shaped me both as the person and the coach I am today.
Although I’ve ultimately used these mistakes to my advantage, if I can save you learning the hard way, then that’s a huge win.
So here are my top 3 mistakes, and how they can help you in your fight career.
MISTAKE 1: Allowing myself to be held back.
In the early 90’s, Thai boxing coaches were extremely rare in Suffolk in the UK.
So I was stuck in a gym with no fighters – Muay Thai for the “art” alone.
That obviously wasn’t enough for me, but my coach at the time was running a western business. He told me, “Fighters are bad news for the gym… they’ll fight, they’ll lose, and then they won’t come back.”
“I haven’t got time to coach fighters. If you want to do it, you’ll have to sort out your own training, arrange your own fights and corner men.”
So I did.
And in my first year on the English amateur Muay Thai scene, I’d won 4x titles, three at different weight classes (75kg, 81kg, 86kg), and been picked to represent England at the World Muay Thai Championships in Bangkok.
I just missed out on a medal at those World Championships – losing a split-decision to the defending two-times World Champion from Russia – but went on to win a silver medal at the following European Championships, despite having 3-months out of training due to injury (more on THAT mistake coming up).
So the lesson is, if there’s a fire in you, don’t let those around you hold you back. I did for way too long.
Don’t wait like I did… Find a way, and chase it.
Surround yourself with those that have achieved what you want to achieve – get access to them. They’ve walked the path you’re following, and they believe it can be done when others don’t.Find out for yourself how far you can go, don’t let others decide that for you. Or you’ll regret it.
MISTAKE 2: Fighting at a too light weight class.
I mentioned that I won 3 of my amateur titles at three different weight classes in one year… Well the hardest of those titles to win was when I was the lightest.
The amateur fights held the weigh-in on the same day as the fight, so the amount of possible dehydration was minimal. The weight changes had to be achieved by body composition alone.
For me, at a pretty constant 8% body fat, the only difference I could make was altering muscle mass.
To make weight at 75kg, I (ignorantly) stopped all my weight training, and restricted my calorie intake.
I (just) managed to win, but I felt like $#!+
I was weak and felt vulnerable. I lost my robustness… and I got injured. Not in the fight, but in training.
Being “bigger” than your opponent is not the advantage you believe it to be. And pushing to fight lighter and lighter – if body fat levels are not the reason for your body weight – is a big mistake.
My philosophy is for fighters to train correctly, fuel correctly, and achieve a competitive body fat percentage (less than 10% for males, and less than 17% for females).
The weight class you compete in is then -3% to -4% body weight for a fight with a same-day weigh-in, or up to -8% body weight for a day-before weigh-in (if correctly using a combined water-loading and glycogen-depletion strategy). More on these strategies and calculating your ideal fight weight here.
By both fueling and training for optimised performance, your body will end up at its ideal weight. Distorting this weight will cost you not only performance, but could also cost you some of your competitive years through injury.
MISTAKE 3: Pushing through injury.
Good fighters have that “do or die” attitude. This can make a fighter, but it can also be responsible for breaking a fighter too…
And this I’ve found out the hard way… multiple times – am I learning yet?
I’ve broken my big toe on one foot, dislocated the big toe on the other foot, broken ribs, fractured my elbow, separated my shoulder, developed patella tendonitis, and achilles tendonitis, etc. etc.
I WOULDN’T STOP!
Some of these injuries needed surgery, or shockwave therapy and physio treatments to fix. But ALL of these injuries happened because I ignored a pain signal, and carried on anyway.
I was a fighter that would just “run it off”.
Now this attitude is great during a fight. But in training, it’s a bloody liability!
And the older you get, the more of a liability it becomes.
Stuff that heals when you’re younger (or thought had healed – more on that another time), simply doesn’t heal as you get older.
Injuries cost you progress… and I’m not talking about a week or two, or even a month. I’m talking months.
A small amount of backing off at the right time can save you months of wasted time and missed opportunities.
And I’ve learned backing off doesn’t mean stopping altogether. It means working around an injury, moving forwards in other areas that don’t aggravate and slow up your rate of healing.
In training, don’t take unnecessary risks. Balance the risk vs reward of every exercise or training method – and go with those that yield the greatest performance benefit for the lowest risk.
I don’t program muscle ups or dips (largely redundant functional movement pattern for Muay Thai and stupidly risky on AC joints – separated shoulder).
I don’t program high volume running (not needed to develop fight specific fitness and increases risk of overuse injuries to achilles and patella tendons etc).
Listen to your body, get in tune with it. It’s a precision instrument. Short-term gain can end up a long-term loss.
And long-term gain is where it’s at.
HOW TO AVOID MY MISTAKES
Firstly, don’t do any of the above.
Don’t allow yourself to be held back, regardless of circumstances.
Don’t fight at a weight class that’s too low for you.
And don’t push through injury, because you might push them to a point where they last forever.
As for your training – follow the progressive training structure I’ve outlined in my Optimal 12-Week Fight Camp Blueprint. I made it to eliminate 80% of the mistakes people make in their S&C training (all of which I’ve had to learn the hard way).
And if you want to correct the remaining 20% and reach elite levels of S&C as efficiently, effectively, and quickly as possible, get onto the Heavy Hitters program when it opens again.