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The Thais Are Right - Run if You Want to Fight


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I'm posting this article by Aaron Jahn here because it is a great breakdown of the science behind the Thai (and western boxing) focus on running. There are arguments out there against the importance and efficacy of running for fighting, but the Thais believe in it whole-heartedly, and I've embraced it despite a really heavy work load. It just makes you better. Better both physically and psychologically. I've seen the arguments for HIIT and sprints replacing longer runs for equal cardio benefit, but I've always believed that running was at the crossroads of physical and mental in a way that short "hacks" aren't.

I don't always share Aaron John's stuff because he puts some pretty sexist, and to my ear anti-female content, but this article is definitely worth reading:

Don't Run, Don't Fight - The Science Behind the Thai Obsession with Running

Some parts that I liked include: 

The other benefit of having a lower resting heart rate is that it will take you longer to reach your anaerobic threshold – the point you switch from producing the majority of your energy aerobically to anaerobically.

As Mike Robertson puts it, athletes need to increase the gap between their resting heart rate and anaerobic threshold – the aerobic window.

The aerobic window is worked out like this;

Anaerobic threshold – resting heart rate = aerobic window

For example, if Thai boxer “A” has a resting heart rate of 70bpm and his anaerobic threshold is 150bpm, then his aerobic window is 80bpm.

Thai boxer “B” has a resting heart rate of 55bpm and his anaerobic threshold is 180bpm, giving him an aerobic window of 125bpm.

Clearly, Thai boxer “B” has the largest window in which to primarily utilise aerobic energy and won’t tax the fatiguing anaerobic systems as quickly as Thai boxer “A”.

The cardiac output method is very efficient in reducing our resting and working heart rate and improving one side of the aerobic window spectrum. With regards to raising the anaerobic threshold, there are more specific methods we can use, such as threshold training."

And

I’ve also learnt that shunning a particular training method which has been implemented by hundreds of thousands of fighters that has served them extremely well over decades of practice because of a few misinterpreted studies is arrogant. Not only is it arrogant, but it is detrimental to the growth of the sport, not to mention the potential counter-productivity its affects will have on fighters.

 

Obviously there are considerable roadblocks to running for many people: shin splints, bad knees, heel spurs, etc.  These very common running injuries are largely absent from any of the Thai fighters I've known and/or trained with. A number of these typical injuries are due to a "too much, too soon" approach when westerners touch down in Thailand.  Build up gradually - I recommend people get their mileage up before getting to Thailand for their trips.  In the article the author suggests there are other cardio options for building up aerobic capacity, but doesn't explicitly give any examples or suggestions.

For those who cannot run, Joel Jamieson, who Aaron Jahn sites does suggest a regime of non-running exercises that may give you what running does. Check those out. In that article, Running 2.0, there are some good summations on the weakness of an interval-only approach:

Another of the arguments often used to support the exclusive use of interval methods instead of steady-state training is that combat sports are explosive and therefore anaerobic in nature. The biggest problem with this argument is simply that it’s not true. On the contrary, combat sorts require high levels of both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, but the overall majority, i.e. greater than 50% of the energy necessary to fight, comes from the aerobic energy system.

How do we know this is the case? Well, for one thing, performance in sports that really are highly anaerobic, sports like like weightlifting, Olympic lifting, 100m sprinting, field events, etc. cannot be repeated without very long rest periods. Try asking a sprinter to run 100m at full speed and then run another one 20 seconds later and see what happens – I guarantee he or she will look at you like you’re crazy!

In combat sports, the skills are certainly explosive, but they’re also highly repetitive and sub- maximal. You aren’t throwing every single punch or kick as hard as you possibly could. You aren’t putting every ounce of strength and power into every single movement because everyone knows that if you did that, you’d quickly gas out.

The bottom line is that all combat sports require a balance of both aerobic and anaerobic energy development. Writing off methods like roadwork that have been proven for years to effectively increase aerobic fitness simply because they may appear slower than the skills of the sport is like saying there is no reason to do anything but spar because that’s the closet speed to an actual fight.

A lot of proponents for the “nothing but intervals” approach also argue that even if roadwork is effective, it simply takes too much time and you can get the same results with less time using higher intensity training. The truth is that roadwork does take more time than doing an interval workout, there is no doubt, but this also is part of why it’s able to deliver more long-term results.

As discussed previously, higher intensity methods often lead to greater progress in the short run, but this comes at the expense of plateaus and stagnation. Lower intensity methods may not work as fast, but they produce much more long-term consistent increases in aerobic fitness and when it comes right down to it, improving conditioning and performance requires time and hard work. As much as it might sound good to say you can achieve better results in 4 minutes than you can in 40 minutes, the real world has proven this idea to be nothing more than wishful thinking.

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Thanks for sharing! It definitely makes me more motivated and determined to drag my ass out and run when I read about why it's so important.

In the past month and a half I've started incorporating runs into my weekly routine and started building up distances. Originally I started with just 2 km and last week I finally was able to run a full 10 km at a decent pace. Speaking from experience, I have to say I've noticed a HUGE difference in my ability to perform and recover between padwork rounds. Its amazing. Before I was always immediately winded, and despite the fact I'm still winded no matter what, I find that now I can push and carry myself much better through 5 rounds.

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Any time one of our fighters doesn't do great in his fight, my trainer shakes his head and explains, "so-and-so didn't really run." My other gym, no matter what injury you have, my trainer says "run a lot, clinch a lot," that's all you have to do. Everything else can be altered, but running and clinching aren't negotiable.

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I use to be a couch potato when I was a kid. Didn't run and rarely participated in the sports during P.E at school. However for the past 3.5-4years of doing Muay Thai, I have been running consistently.

Yeah my gas was pretty shit and my running sucked when I picked it up, given I had shin splits and plantar facilitis.

Eventually those pain gradually subsided (leading up to a fight). Though they do come back when I'm out of shape or not in fight camp haha. =(

Sucks being young with joint pain. Feeling like a old man trap in a kids body =(

The benefits are worth it though.

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I personally hate running.. it has become a mental training for me.  I have been told by Ajahn Suchart many times "there is no Muay Thai without running".  Often times I have tried to substitute with spinning classes or stair climbing so it's good to get more information on the basis for running if the body permits. Thanks for this.  

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Why don't you try running before training?

Because that means waking up even earlier and I am sooooooo not a morning person. The real reason I have been fasting until noon is that society has seen fit to enforce a "no forks before noon" ruling upon my person. Too many early morning stabbings apparently ;) Lol realistically I was running before training a while ago (it's too hot here to go after training), I'll get back there eventually.

 

Edit: also I realized I have been holding my breath while striking recently for some stupid reason. That seriously does not help with the whole not getting tired thing. Glad I figured that one out though, score one for me!

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I have less than a month left before a high-paced 8 days summer training camp, where we will be doing 2 muay thai trainings a day PLUS running in the morning....

Me and running is like the worst relationship EVER. I neglect it, because I'm so bad at it....and therefore I can't motivate myself to go out and run, and I have no idea how I can run with my tight weekly schedule...

Hearing the trainer talk today about prepping myself for the camp when it comes to running I realised it's last minute if I want to try and do something about it!!

Can you give me some piece of advise as to when I should run? I'm like Tyler NOT a morning person, I get up at 7:30am (with a lot of struggle) and go to work, come back home around 5pm, cook and eat dinner, go to training at 7/8pm until 9/10pm - and this is what my week Monday-Friday look like. I feel like running only on the weekends will not help me much...or is it better than nothing?

If I go to the club earlier and run lets say 30 minutes I will be SO TIRED in training that I won't benefit much out of the training. I don't really know how I should introduce running into my weekly schedule...Any idea is apreciated!! I'm honestly devastated about this issue :(

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 I'm like Tyler NOT a morning person, I get up at 7:30am (with a lot of struggle)

 

You can try this little trick. I'm not a morning person either, but part of that may be a blood sugar issue. Try setting an alarm for 4 am and taking a small snack (not high in sugar/carbs) and then going back to sleep, then see how you feel at 7:30. If you feel more energized you may consider being able to get up for a small run in the am, even 15 minutes. Just an idea. It's something I've done in the past the worked.

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I always thought I wasn't fit for running (past knee issues and overweight) but I'm thinking of trying C25K this summer to see if I can fit 2/3 30min runs in my week and see if my endurance improves. With the heat I'm always gassed out, it's exhausting...

Do you know any tutorial about correct posture/breathing?

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Well, look at that. Aaron Jahn has managed to produce something that is actually worth reading! I also usually ignore his posts because of the sexist stuff I've seen come from his page, but this is actually decent.

Can you give me some piece of advise as to when I should run? I'm like Tyler NOT a morning person, I get up at 7:30am (with a lot of struggle) and go to work, come back home around 5pm, cook and eat dinner, go to training at 7/8pm until 9/10pm - and this is what my week Monday-Friday look like. I feel like running only on the weekends will not help me much...or is it better than nothing?

If I go to the club earlier and run lets say 30 minutes I will be SO TIRED in training that I won't benefit much out of the training. I don't really know how I should introduce running into my weekly schedule...Any idea is apreciated!! I'm honestly devastated about this issue :(

I also don't run before morning training because I'm rubbish at getting up that early and I prefer to keep my energy tank full for sparring and padwork. I also just really love using it as a way to cool down afterwards. It seems like your schedule is a little packed for that, so running on the weekends is definitely worth doing if you can't fit it in during the week. You'd be surprised how quickly it starts to get easier once you go through that initial period of feeling like it's the worst thing ever. Maybe during the week, just try a few short sprints? That won't take very long and will also build your cardio in a more explosive way, so you'll get the benefits of both. 

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Emma, thanks for the advice, it actually seems do-able. I usually say that I can train all evening long, from 8pm til midnight, even running, but it's a bit weird and maybe even a bit dangerous doing your run at midnight :) (dangerous as in I live nearby a forest and lately we had wild boars as "visitors" in my area). I will run this weekend and try to work one sprint during the week into my schedule. For starters! :)

Kevin, thanks for your advice, too! I will try it out one day, when I get used to running ;)

dtrick, thanks for the running plan, I think I actually tried it once, but didn't really liked it. But I don't like running at ALL ;)

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What do you think about cycling for cardio? I do 25-30 minutes before training 3 times a week, plus some HIIT training.

 

Hi Snoopy, 

I'm an absolute beginner when it comes to Muay Thai (started about 3 months ago) but I've come to it from a background of about 4 years of training and racing mountain bikes, which means I have pretty good cardio fitness and leg strength. Terrible everything else though! I've found that my recovery during and after sessions is WAY better than some others who don't have great cardio and I can do a lot of the fitness exercises better, even though I lack a lot in upper body strength. 

If the aim is to build cardio capacity and endurance, cycling can certainly help you do that but I suspect that if you're already reasonably fit, 3x30min sessions a week may not give you much benefit. Unfortunately cycling tends to be a less time efficient form of exercise than running, the trade off being that you're (probably) less likely to get an overuse injury. And going fast is more fun :) I find that unless I'm doing some kind of awful hills / intervals thing, I don't get much out of any sessions less than an hour. Seeing as you're already doing HIIT stuff, maybe think about throwing in a longer ride on the weekend?

I have wondered if there's more to the running for Muay Thai training thing than just cardio and mental toughness, though. Muay Thai involves lots of time on your feet and using your legs to generate power and perhaps running helps with those aspects too.

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Can you give me some piece of advise as to when I should run? I'm like Tyler NOT a morning person, I get up at 7:30am (with a lot of struggle) 

Try using a new alarm, there are some apps you can get on your phone that gradually wake you over a period of half an hour so by the time it actually wakes you, you're already awake. Weird to explain.

Using electronics before bed also makes it more difficult to wake up in the morning, try reading a book. 

 

I hate running, I'm so young but my knees are so sensitive, I went on a 1mile run a couple months ago and I couldn't walk the next day because of my knees, it sucks. Luckily I'm in in England so if you don't run it's ok, but I'm dreading all the running I'm gonna have to do in Thailand.  :mellow:

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Try using a new alarm, there are some apps you can get on your phone that gradually wake you over a period of half an hour so by the time it actually wakes you, you're already awake. Weird to explain.

Using electronics before bed also makes it more difficult to wake up in the morning, try reading a book. 

Ah yes, I've been using one, it sucked for me. I woke up pissed off because of the long waking up period :D But if I find a strong enough resolve to run in the morning, I will try using a different one for sure :)

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Ah yes, I've been using one, it sucked for me. I woke up pissed off because of the long waking up period :D But if I find a strong enough resolve to run in the morning, I will try using a different one for sure :)

Lol, you're worse then I assumed, I think you're incurable haha.

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Ah yes, I've been using one, it sucked for me. I woke up pissed off because of the long waking up period :D But if I find a strong enough resolve to run in the morning, I will try using a different one for sure :)

Hahaha the smart alarms are hit and miss for me depending on the tone. Lately I've been using one that is very subtle, I barely hear it when waking up, but so far I haven't slept through it either. When I find one that works, I definitely feel better waking up vs a normal alarm. Also, get to bed at a consistent time. I have found this is a huge one for me and totally messes with my sleep patterns if I don't adhere to it. Hope that helps, hahaha usually I don't even begin to wake up until I'm like halfway through my run!

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Hahaha the smart alarms are hit and miss for me depending on the tone. Lately I've been using one that is very subtle, I barely hear it when waking up, but so far I haven't slept through it either. When I find one that works, I definitely feel better waking up vs a normal alarm. Also, get to bed at a consistent time. I have found this is a huge one for me and totally messes with my sleep patterns if I don't adhere to it. Hope that helps, hahaha usually I don't even begin to wake up until I'm like halfway through my run!

Thanks Tyler, I totally can relate to your last sentence :D I go to work by bike and sometimes I'm so sleepy during the first few hours of the day that I can't remember my road to work ;)

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I read Aaron's article too, it's very true that running is an essential part of fight training. I run about 6 k if not further a few times a week in Bristol where my gym is and who I fight for at present. I train about 5 or 6 times a week. Last time I trained in Thailand I caught a bad cold within a couple of days and it went to my chest so I trained quite a bit  but didn't run bar once.

It was 14k and over 30 degrees and was horrible. lol First time out there we would always run in the morning and then in the afternoon if you wanted. If you fight again the trainers expect you to do morning and afternoon. (I've not fought out there yet but I would like to when I am back out there in feb next year.) I've always been told my fitness is very good, it really pays off in a fight. There is always something left in the tank! 

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