I have never been much of a running man. Never did enjoy running as a form of working out. Especially the long duration, low-intensity abomination known to mankind as jogging. It is so utilitarian in nature that I derived not even a micro-ounce of enjoyment from doing it.
After I started training Muay Thai, I learnt that running is actually a major component of training, particularly in Thailand camps. It was something that had to be done if you want to get good at Muay Thai. Despite the widespread culture of running in Muay Thai, I chose to stubbornly exclude running as part of my personal workout routine.
At some point, I started to feel stagnated in my performance. Sure, I was a lot fitter than when I just started training but my performance wasn’t consistent. On my better days, I could go at the pads like a boss but on my off days, I was gassing out after just 1 round of padwork with my Kru. It was at this point that I decided to employ the largely ignored endurance training system: running.
Anaerobic vs Aerobic
Running can be carried out in two forms: aerobic or anaerobic. Aerobic workouts rely on a combination of adequate fuel(glucose/glycogen) and oxygen to meet the energy demands. Examples of aerobic workouts include long duration-moderate speed jogging, swimming and cycling. Anaerobic workouts rely exclusively on stored energy to sustain the muscular effort. Examples of anaerobic workout include sprinting, weight-lifting, and high intensity interval training. In many Muay Thai camps, both aerobic and anaerobic forms of running (jogging and sprinting respectively) are performed regularly for optimal performance gains.
Benefits of Running for Muay Thai
Muay Thai training often emulate fight conditions with mulitple 3- to 5-minute rounds consisting of shadow boxing, bagwork, padwork, and various conditioning exercises. This high intensity interval training is usually anaerobic in nature, while sparring and actual fights encompass both aerobic and anaerobic elements. When both the aerobic and anaerobic systems are developed, a fighter will be able to repeat explosive movements over the course of the training or fight by minimizing fatigue. Here are some reasons why you should introduce regular running into your training routine:
The cardiovascular system, made up of the heart, lungs and blood vessels, is responsible for the circulation and transportation of oxygen, blood cells and nutrients (amino acids and electrolytes) to the muscles. Cardiovascular endurance refers to how proficient this system functions and it has a huge impact on your performance. The better it is, the longer you can last during extended periods of physical activity. Regular long-distance jogging enhances cardiovascular endurance by strengthening the heart and lungs muscles, thereby improving both blood circulation and oxygenation of the blood.
Have you ever seen the sprinters at the Olympics? They are one of the most muscular athletes due to their continual anaerobic training which includes weight-lifting and of course sprint training. Anaerobic exercises aim to build overall strength and lean muscle mass. Regular sprint training also develops the explosive strength required in the intense striking game of Muay Thai.
If you find yourself not only gassing out but that your muscles feel smashed after just one round on the pads, the muscle fatigue can be overcome with regular sprint training. Anaerobic workouts will increase muscle mass and improve muscle strength, while also increasing the body’s capacity to store energy molecules in the muscles. Aerobic workouts, to a certain degree, also increases the storage of energy molecules in the muscles and so a training routine combining both forms of running will enhance the body’s ability to withstand against muscle fatigue.
Studies have shown that body fat actually affects athletic performance. Just a small increase (2%) in body fat can lead to profound decrease in anaerobic performance. The leaner you are, the better you get at maintaining a high level of power or force production during your Muay Thai training, sparring or fights. Both aerobic and anaerobic running helps the body to burn fat. Although sprinting is more effective for fat loss, it cannot be done everyday as it is a highly intensive exercise. It is recommended to allow a day for recovery. Low-intensity jogging can be alternated with sprinting for optimal results.
Running is one of the simplest exercise to carry out. If you aren’t interested in investing on another gym or club membership, running is the thing for you. All you need is a pair of running shoes and workout clothes. Heck, you could even run bare-footed if you are up to it or if the ground condition is right. There is no need for additional gear or equipment and you can do it on your own anywhere, anytime. No skills needed, just plenty of perseverance to get off your ass. Put on your earphones, get laced up and off you go!
Tips on Jogging
I don’t think anybody needs much advice on jogging. Everyone has done it at some point in their lives. Here are a few things to take note of:
Warm-up and cool-down
Even as a low-intensity workout, warming up and cooling down will help to prevent both injuries or unnecessary straining on the body. An adequate warm-up prepares the body by loosening the joints and increasing blood flow to the muscles, while cooling down prevents venous pooling of blood in the legs. The pre- and post-run activities are essential in helping you go the distance -pun intended. Just a 5-10 minute walk before and after your run is good enough, so don’t skimp on them.
Distance, Speed and Frequency
It is not uncommon at Thai gyms, to start each morning training with a 3-6 mile (5-10 km) run and then sometimes another 4 mile run before the afternoon training session. That said, if you haven’t been running for a while, don’t dive in and do too much or too fast.
Firstly, in order to determine how you should run, you need to calculate your target heart rate which is a great way to gauge your intensity level. You should aim to run at about 60 to 80% of your maximum capacity to derive the benefits aerobic workouts. You can work out this number by using one of many “Target Heart Rate” calculators on the web. I used the one from active.com (http://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/heartrate).
Once you have gotten your target heart rate figured out, head for a jog and see how fast you need to run to achieve this heart rate. You can either use a heart rate band or the traditional method of measuring your pulse against the watch. The speed will vary from person to person since we are all of different fitness levels. But generally speaking, you should be able to speak in complete sentences without gasping for air.
Next, at the pre-determined speed (intensity), slowly build up till you can hit 30 minutes of non-stop jogging. Many new runners get over enthusiastic and end up increasing their mileage too soon, which can lead to injury. A recommended guideline is to increase roughly 10 per cent of your mileage every week.
When you have built up a certain degree of endurance, you can gradually increase your speed, distance, and frequency of run. There is no limit as to how fast or how long or how frequent you can run. As with all things, moderation is the key. If you push yourself too hard, there is possibility of overtraining which can have adverse effects. (For more information on overtraining, see related article: Training Muay Thai Everyday”)
Tips on Sprint Training
In order to derive the benefits of sprinting, there needs to be a systematic approach in the training. You can’t simply go sprinting for 100 or 200 meters and call it a day. There are literally loads of training routines but just stick to one for a while and you will see improvements in your performance. Before you start your sprint training, here are some things to take note of:
The importance of warming up before your training cannot be overemphasized. It is essential and imperative to reduce the risks of injuries and this is exceptionally critical for sprint training. Start with a light 5-10 minute walk to get reasonably warmed up. Then performed some dynamic stretches, especially to warm up the hamstrings, glutes, and the calves, where injuries are most common in sprinting. Finally, remember to end with a 5-10 minute walk to allow the heart rate and breathing to gradually return towards resting levels.
Word of Caution
In spite of the benefits of sprint training, it is not recommended for people who are severely out of shape or haven’t been exercising for a while. There is a limit to what your body can do and sprinting places a lot of stress and strain on the body. Start with a lite training routine and gradually build up the intensity to. Failing to do so can exponentially increase your chance of injury.
Sprint Training Routine Examples
Routine 1: Following a warm-up, sprint for 15 seconds and then walk for 45 seconds. Repeat this three times. Next, change up the interval so you sprint for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds recovery. Repeat three times. Finally, sprint for 60 seconds followed by 60 seconds recovery. Repeat twice.
Routine 2: Mark off a distance where you are running that is 40 to 50 yards long. After doing your warm-up, come to this location and sprint as hard as you can for the whole distance. Jog back to your starting point and sprint again. Repeat this sequence five to six times.
After a period of training, you can increase the repetitions or increase the distance as you adapt and as you build up strength and lung capacity. Get to a point where you can easily do 15 intervals per workout. Increase the duration of your sprints and decrease the duration of your recoveries to progress with your sprint training as well. But remember to always allow at least a day of rest in between sprint days to allow for proper recovery.
There are obviously benefits to both forms of running exercise and it is certainly a game changer if you do both. You don’t have to take my word as the gospel but if every accomplished Thai fighter is doing it, then it must be worth something. The best Thai fighters, from Buakaw to Saenchai, run religiously, and they are the best testament to the benefits of running. It does take discipline, determination and a desire to be better -or even the best- at what you do. Are you up to the challenge in your pursuit of Muay Thai excellence?