How to Improve Muay Thai

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With the new year just a week away, it’s the time of the year to draft your annual resolution list. A new year’s resolution is an act of self-improvement, and as martial artists, we always look -or at least hope- to improve some aspect of our fight performance. If you train without thinking about improving; merely going through the motions that the instructors put you through, all you will get is a good fitness workout at the end of the day.

If you are training to be better at Muay Thai, it helps to have a plan listing which areas need to be improved, and then work towards achieving those targets. Setting small, short-term, realistic and definable goals adds up towards becoming a better, more well-rounded Muay Thai fighter. Becoming the best version of ourselves, because that’s what martial arts is all about. Even if you train just to lose weight, having small, realistic goals will keep you motivated. Little by little, eventually a little becomes a lot.

During training the past month, I began to make observations about my performance. Everything from my techniques, stamina to speed and power. Amongst a few things, I have started to develop some bad habits, and I also noticed a plateau in my stamina. Being mindful is the first step towards improvement. Train as hard as possible, and start taking notes of areas that you feel need to be improved. You can also ask your trainers and training/sparring partners to make observations of areas for improvement.

This is what I intend to do: with a list of items to work on, I first ordered them in descending order of priority. Starting with what I feel is of the utmost importance and then work on 1-2 items at anytime till I have made adequate progress and then move on to the next items. It is a continual monitor-feedback-evaluate process.

If you wish to see improvements in your Muay Thai performance in the coming year, you need to first identify what needs to be improved. For starters and as a brief guide, here are some resolution ideas on what you can work on:

“Excellence is achieved by the mastery of the fundamentals”, so says Vince Lombardi. We may think that we have already nailed the techniques but somewhere along the way, we might have developed bad habits unknowingly. If you have been training for a while, your Kru will generally assume you’ve got your techniques right and may neglect on correcting them. You can ask your trainer to pay attention to your techniques and correct them especially during pad work. A lot of us have the tendency to go hard during training but fail to perfect our techniques. Like my Kru once said, “focus on your techniques first, power and speed will follow”.

Stamina/Endurance determines how long you can keep going without experiencing fatigue. If you have been gassing out easily during pad work or Muay Thai training in general, this needs to be your top priority. There are two sides of endurance: cardiovascular versus muscular. Cardiovascular endurance is the ability to last during extended periods of physical activity. While muscular endurance is the ability of the muscles to sustain repeated forceful actions for an extended period of time. Both are just as important as continuous explosive actions are required in the intense striking game of Muay Thai that can last 5 rounds of 3 minutes each.

Regular long-distance jogging or aerobic exercises enhances cardiovascular endurance by strengthening the heart and lungs muscles, thereby improving both blood circulation and oxygenation of the blood. Anaerobic workouts such as sprint interval training will increase muscle mass and improve muscle strength, while also increasing the body’s capacity to store energy molecules in the muscles, hence improving muscular endurance. 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. (See related article: “Muay Thai Running”)

Defense is one of the most underrated and undervalued aspect of Muay Thai training. Mainly because it isn’t as exciting or appealing as striking. While the best defense is a good offense, the converse is also true: A good defense is the best offense. A leg catch, sweep, or a simple block can transition into a counter-offense effectively. The best ways to work on your defense is to keep drilling and sparring.

More than just strength, striking is about explosive power. And it doesn’t only rely on arm or leg muscles but actually the whole body from the back, core and hips. Other than weights training for general muscle building, plyometrics workout is a great way to improve striking as it develops the fast-twitch muscles necessary for explosive power. Besides working with a heavy bag, plyometrics exercises with medicine ball, battle ropes, and even sprinting are all great for developing explosive power.

If you have stiff, tight hips like I do, Saenchai’s drool-worthy high kicks can feel but like an impossible dream. There are few ways to improve flexibility but the most structured and well-known system is definitely Yoga. Yoga is often ignored as part of a fighter’s training program as it is seen as incompatible with a masculine sport such as Muay Thai. Yoga can be very beneficial since a main objective of all those postures is to improve flexibility of the body. With regular practice of the appropriate yoga postures, that Bruce Lee-level high kick may be a lot within reach than you think. Besides improving your kicks, increased flexibility means less exercise-related muscle damage. I guess it’s sooner than later to hit the yoga classes and yoga mats. (See related article: “Yoga for Muay Thai”)

Keep pushing yourself; your boundaries; your limits. As Rocky once said, “Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life”. If you want to see results, you have to put in the effort and time, going 100% at your training. Coupled with a positive attitude, dedication, discipline and willingness to learn and work on your weaknesses, you are all set to take your Muay Thai level to continually greater heights in the coming year, and the years to come.

Chok dee!

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