by Don Heatrick
I’m often asked if it’s good training for fighters to throw punches and kicks with resistance bands connected to their arms and legs? You know, like in the Instagram posts?
The short answer is no!
Loading up skilled Muay Thai technique is never a good idea, because it changes how you move. An ill-informed attempt to produce the most sport-specific training method ever, actually creates several major problems.
Despite appearances, the physiological demands of a loaded Muay Thai technique are very different to unloaded technique (more on that it an moment).
Same, Same, But Different
The problem is, that although the movement is different, it uses a motor pattern that’s close enough to confuse your brain’s control of the many coordinated aspects that go into that skilled striking technique.
Repeat that enough, and you distort your hard-earned, efficient, movement skill… those motor pattern engrams I mentioned in a previous video.
The truth is, band resisted striking is a gimmick.
Companies are trying to sell their product without having any idea of how to scientifically train fighters, or even if the product improves fight performance at all.
And in fact, it makes fighters worse!
But why is it so wrong?
1. Clumsy AF
First off, let’s use our “coach’s eye”, and see if the movement passes what renowned strength coach Mike Boyle calls the Shit Test…
If you watch an athlete move, how does it look? If it looks like shit, then the form is shitty. You need to fix it.
And in this case, resistance bands spoil the movement. Losing the bands will fix the form!
For example, if you take a closer look at band-resisted round kicks, you’ll instantly recognise the balance is completely different – before the kick, during the kick, and after the kick.
Even Buakaw and Pakorn look bad throwing Muay Thai strikes against resistance bands! It makes them look clumsy.
And repeating bad form will screw up your technique. Simple as.
Not only is the balance messed up using the band, but the striking limb is pulled back after the strike all by itself. The muscles responsible for controlling your movement, and quickly getting you back to a balanced stance are getting the day off!
You’ll effectively train your body to leave your punches and kicks hanging – ready to get caught or countered.
And there’s more bad news…
2. Reversed loading profile
The next problem is the way the extending band adds resistance to your strike.
If you watch any fighter punching using resistance bands, as the band stretches, it slows the strike down. It starts fastest and ends slowest.
That’s the opposite to a real punch… which starts slow and accelerates to the fastest velocity at the end, as you strike your target.
Training your muscles to slow the contraction speed down as you throw a strike isn’t sport-specific – even if the punch shape looks very sports-specific!
Don’t confuse feeling you’re faster, when you take the bands off again, for being faster.
That’s just a relative sensation… Just like it feels fast to travel at 40 mph when you just been stuck in a slow moving traffic jam.
3. You’ll focus on the striking limb
The final problem is that when striking against a resistance band, you’ll incorrectly focus on the striking limb… which doesn’t generate the power, it transmits the power.
And this is true of kicks as much as punches… All strikes.
As I’ve discussed in previous video, even for punches, the primary source of an advanced boxer’s punching force is their legs, followed by the core, and finally the punching arm itself.
Using a band will teach you the opposite.
You’ll focus on the striking limb as you feel the band’s drag. You’ll change your motor pattern – how your brain coordinates your technique.
As performance coaches, we look to produce a training environment that creates the coordinated movement we want with an external stimulus. We’ll use specific drills, and often equipment, to do this – as it reinforces a new motor pattern quicker and more efficiently.
Using a resistance band is a good way to learn and reinforce bad technique, quickly!
Buakaw doesn’t regularly use resistance bands in his training… I’m sure he was filmed playing with a piece of kit that a marketing team wanted to promote. It’s certainly not what made him a world class Nak Muay, or a secret training method he’s introduced to give him an edge.
I’ve no doubt he enjoyed larking around with it for a few rounds, and then thought, “Yeh, that’s stupid… it makes me move like a newbie.”
Simply changing up training routines is the wrong motivation for using any piece of training equipment.
And simply misunderstanding the scientific principles of athletic development and motor learning means these equipment manufacturers have put two and two together, and come up with five.
The key to effective athletic development is to overload the movement pattern, NOT the skill.
And we do that in the weights room.
Muay Thai sessions are for practicing technical and tactical skill – and once well rehearsed enough – testing that skill under fatigue.
And anything that messes up your skilled technique should be kicked to the curb.
Focus your training on what will really make you a better fighter.
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Thank you, and I’ll catch you next time.