How does a fat old guy appear to have better conditioning than a fit, healthy young man in his prime?
If you’ve ever visited Thailand and been to some of the fight nights in the local stadiums, you may have been witness to the common sight of a beginner foreign fighter vs an old (retired) Thai fighter.
Let’s set the scene: The foreigner is fairly new to muay Thai, he has trained his ass off for the fight and is in top physical condition. The Thai, on the other hand, is overweight, hasn’t trained for several years and just fights every now and again to make a bit of extra cash, but he is a former stadium champion.
The two face off in the ring and the fight goes the distance. The foreign fighter gasses out and the old Thai man walks away with the victory.
So how did the old Thai who drinks regularly, smokes 20 cigarettes per day, doesn’t train, and who was probably drunk during the fight, appear to out-work and defeat the much bigger, stronger, well-conditioned foreigner?
Surely the Thai should have gassed out long before his opponent?
If it was a feat of skill that defeated the foreigner, then it would be understandable, but how does the Thai have superior conditioning?
A hypothetical scenario, but a common reality in Thailand. In fact, not only do they last five rounds, but they often come out of the fight looking fresher than their opponent. Even if they lose the fight, they seem to last a lot longer than they should before they begin to fatigue.
Answer: It all comes down to energy expenditure efficiency.
Muay Thai Conditioning Components
Muay Thai conditioning levels are determined by several factors;
– Rate of energy production – how fast energy can be produced
– Duration of energy production – how long the energy can be produced for
– Total energy production – how much energy can be produced during a fight
– Energy utilisation – how efficiently the generated energy is utilised
Put simply, conditioning is the ability to produce the energy you need to perform the required movements during a fight.
In this article, I’d like to elaborate more on the utilisation of energy. This component isn’t quite as simple to improve as the other three.
Energy Wastage in Muay Thai
Conditioning is essentially our ability to maintain our strength, speed and power throughout a fight. The most powerful fighter in the world will become KO fodder without good conditioning levels, as his energy systems simply won’t allow him to use that power over a prolonged period.
Therefore, a fighter’s conditioning needs to be sufficient to allow him/her to make explosive movements as often as possible during a fight.
However, fighters with good conditioning can still gas out quickly if they don’t utilise their energy efficiently. Conditioning isn’t merely about producing energy, it’s about how you use that energy.
In muay Thai, energy can be wasted in many different ways; poor muay Thai technique, excess contractions (over-tensing) of the musculature, structural collapse during ring movements and strikes, poor breathing technique etc etc.
How Experienced Fighters Are More Efficient
Experienced fighters utilise their energy much more efficiently than beginners. Here are a few examples of how they do it in a fighting context.
Beginners have a lesser ability to stay relaxed in between strikes
Experienced fighters move as much as they need to, and no more. Their muscles contract and relax at very precise moments, not to waste any precious energy.
Beginners tend to move more than necessary to evade strikes which places greater energy system demands on their bodies.
Experienced fighters evade attacks by avoiding the incoming strike by a millimetre, so not to expend excess energy.
Beginners and have an inefficient striking economy i.e. lots of wasted limb movement on the way to its destination which doesn’t contribute to the final power output of the strike.
Experienced fighters possess superior muay Thai technique and so their strikes use minimal movement to cause maximal effect i.e. energy doesn’t leak during their strikes by performing biomechanically “incorrect” movement patterns.
Beginners throw a much higher volume of strikes but cause less damage due to missed efforts.
Experienced fighters miss less. They are able to wait for openings and strike when there is a higher chance of scoring.
Improving Energy Expenditure Efficiency
If we go back to the old Thai vs fit foreigner, it’s obvious that the Thai had poor rate of energy production, poor duration of power production and low potential total energy production. But he utilised his energy better than the foreign fighter.
Good muay Thai conditioning is measured by how well the boxer is able to meet the demands of the fight. A fighter who places unnecessary physical demands on himself during a fight due to energy wastage means he will struggle to meet those demands when he requires it.
In the hypothetical fight, the old Thai just placed less physical demands on himself. That’s it.
Although the efficiency of energy expenditure is largely gained through years of training, as with anything else, a conscious effort in training is needed to fully reach your potential.
Essentially, the key is to do “just enough”.
Relax – If you’re not throwing a strike, be as relaxed as possible.
Strike – Focus on quality, not quantity.
Technique – Ensure your limbs travel along an economic route towards the target and return to the start position without any excess movement.
Move – Only as much as is completely necessary.
Muay Thai conditioning is not just about generating energy – it’s what you do with it that counts!
Photography: Jacob Barak KlensinFollow MuayThaiScholar