An Integrated Approach to Training Kickboxers – Part 1: Introduction

Training fighters pose unique challenges to the coach. An uncertain schedule (fighters can take short term fights at any time), the lack of a dedicated off-season, the high amount of skill training and the mixed bioenergetic demands of the sport, challenge periodization models that have been devised primarily for a track and field. The more technical aspects need to be considered, the more complex the training process becomes. Consider the transition from boxing to kickboxing for example. The obvious difference is that the amount of striking techniques is greatly increased by effectively doubling the number of limbs that can be used for attacking. Less obvious is the shift of bioenergetic demands. It can be argued that since the legs have a much higher mass than the arms, a kick is further to the right on the force-velocity curve than a punch and subsequently, different types of training need to be implemented for the optimal transfer. Also, mobility becomes an issue here, whereas it wasn‘t before. The more qualities need to be developed, the less time can be devoted to each individual quality, given a constant available total time. Hence, the importance of each quality needs to be carefully considered. Different qualities have different weights, ie., priorities. Those priorities are not necessarily set in stone, though. Going from amateur MMA rules (usually, three rounds of three minutes each) to pro-MMA rules (usually three rounds of five minutes each), for example, significantly shifts the focus from the anaerobic to the aerobic system. The same can be said when transitioning from amateur Kickboxing to pro-Kickboxing. While in the former scenario, a fight will usually be capped at three rounds, a Pro Full Contact bout (not K1, though) can very well go on for twelve rounds.

The strength demands of MMA or grappling tend to be much higher than those of kickboxing, Even when dealing with the same style, individual preferences and predisposition matter a lot. Consider the classical „rock, paper, scissors“ of boxing. The stereotypes most often presented in this context are the boxer, brawler and swarmer, A brawler like Mike Tyson will strive to end the fight early with heavy strikes. Conversely, a boxer like Muhammed Ali will wear the opponent down, staying out of reach, working the jab. Finally, a swarmer (think Manny Pacquiao) will attack relentlessly, throwing a multitude of moderately-powered strikes and always applying pressure. As a rule of thumb, boxer beats brawler, brawler beats swarmer, swarmer beats boxer. That’s obviously not always true, but no heuristic is. Each of these stereotypes will have different weights attached to different physical qualities. While the brawler will be well served by higher maximum strength and power levels, the brawler might benefit more from aerobic capacity. In the end, everything needs to be developed to a certain degree. If multiple qualities need to be addressed in a training process, the debate quickly turns to periodization. The following section will deal with this issue.


Periodization is the division of the training process into smaller, more manageable periods of time. The term goes back to Matveev (1977) and the underlying concept of periodization forms the basis of any „smart“ training program. Bompa and Carrera Bompa (2005) described the basics of periodization. Plisk (2003) presents different periodization models.

In essence, a periodized training program breaks the whole training process down into more manageable periods of training (hence, the name periodization) and allows the coach to prioritize certain physical qualities and technical/tactical skills depending on the current period. Figure 1 illustrates a very simple schematic of a periodization that distinguishes between a preparation phase, a competition phase, and two transition phases. During the first phase, training volumes are highest, and intensity is lowest. This relationship is continuously reversed towards the competition phase, where intensities reach their peak and volume is greatly decreased in order to keep the athletes fresh. Likewise, the training contents are gradually shifted from the development of physical attributes (speed, strength, stamina) to technical skills.

Figure 1: Wave-like basic periodization Scheme. Modified from Verkhoshansky (1998).

Kiely (2018) recently criticized the stern proponents of any particular model, pointing out that there is little evidence to suggest that one model is inherently better than others. Obviously, many different implementations of many different models can yield viable results under the right circumstances. Parr (2018) concludes that “There are many forms of ‘periodization’ and while some coaches might prefer one form while other coaches might prefer another, they all work.” With respect to combat sports, it needs to be noted that “because team sports, the martial arts, and racket sports use either longer or more numerous competitive phases than individual sports, they follow a bi-, tri-, or multicycle periodization. Therefore, the preparatory phase in these sports is comparatively shorter than in other sports” (Bompa & Buzzichelli 2015). While the competition period can be very short (mostly one-day events, with multiple day events reserved for international events), fighters can compete multiple times per year. This holds true especially for amateur fighters who need to qualify for international events. With four annual competitions, this leaves only three months for each cycle. My light-contact fighters tend to compete more often, while the full-contact fighters have between three and four events. This consideration is crucial when deciding between a concentrated loading model or a concurrent model. These will be explained in the following paragraphs.

Choosing a periodization model will dictate the structure of training. While many models have been proposed, the most basic distinction can be made between linear and non-linear periodization. In linear periodization models, physical qualities are developed while continuously increasing intensities and decreasing volumes as competition period approaches. Conversely, non-linear models do not entail this strategy (Baker 2007). Another distinction can be made between concurrent and conjugate training. Concurrent training aims at producing multi-faceted development of physical fitness by training several motor abilities at the same time, while conjugate training involves „successively introducing into the training program separate, specific means, each of which has a progressively stronger training effect, and coupling them sequentially to create favorable conditions for eliciting the cumulative effect of all the training loads” (Verkhoshansky and Siff 2009). In other words, while concurrent systems are constantly attempting to develop many qualities, conjugate systems are focusing on only one or a few qualities at any given time.

Issurin (2008) proposes block periodization (BP) as a means of implementing conjugate training. The main argument for BP is the biological incompatibility of different training adaptations. According to proponents of this model, multiple qualities cannot be optimally developed together. Issurin points out that advanced athletes require concentrated loading, as high training volumes and intensities are required in order to induce adaptation at high training levels. Nader (2006) investigated the effect of concurrent training on strength and endurance adaptations. He stated that at the upper limits of strength, endurance training inhibits or interferes with further increases in strength. A possible explanation is that „the activation of aMPK through endurance training may inhibit the activation of mTOR and hence, prevent muscle hypertrophy”. Nader examined three groups of trainees over a period of ten weeks. The endurance only group, as the name implies, performed endurance training but no strength training. The training volume was progressively increased. Conversely, the strength only group performed only strength training (with progressive overload) but no endurance training. Finally, the mixed group performed both training modalities. At the end of the intervention period, the strength only group has achieved significantly greater improvements in strength, which at first glance, seems to confirm the superiority of concentrated loading protocols. However, looking at the data also reveals that during the first seven weeks of the study, both groups that had strength training in the program showed comparable progress. This observation makes it apparent that for lower training levels, similar development can be expected in the concurrent and non-concurrent training groups.

Even in advanced athletes, the interference effect can be attenuated by, among other measures, properly sequencing the training order, training strength, and endurance at the same end of the fitness continuum (Stewart 2014). On the one hand, this means that strength and power sessions should be conducted before conditioning sessions. On the other hand, high-intensity strength training should be conducted with low-volume, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) rather than longer, more continuous methods such as the cardiac output method.

Looking at the limited data we have regarding the physical profile of combat sports athletes, drastic training measures such as concentrated loading might not be in the books anyways, especially when considering the broad range of qualities that need development. Suchomel et al. (2018) stated that “although single- and multi-targeted block periodization models may produce the greatest strength-power benefits, concepts within each model must be considered within the limitations of the sport, athletes, and schedules”.

John and Tsatsouline (2011) presented a taxonomy of sports (and athletes) with regard to the physical demands. According to that classification, everyone should start in quadrant I, which demands a high number of qualities at a low level of relative max. Basically, this can be thought of as a physical education class in school. From there, athletes go to one of the other quadrants. Q2 is the realm of collision sports such as American Football that require many qualities at a High Level of relative max. Q4 is where one or very few qualities need to be developed to the highest possible level. Examples for this quadrant are sprinting, weightlifting or the sport of powerlifting. Physical deficiencies cannot be hidden in this domain. Combat sports, on the other hand, range in quadrant III of the classification. This means that they require “Few Qualities at a Low or Moderate Level of Relative Max”. I tend to agree with this assessment. The scientific literature offers clues regarding the bio motor requirements of fighters. The next few sections offer an overview of what the literature has to say about the physiological profile of combat sports athletes.

Physiological Profiling

As mentioned in the introduction, different qualities influence the athletic success of fighters. Speed, power, strength and endurance training all have their places in a well-designed training program that aims at optimal physical preparation. The literature offers a very diversified perspective with regards to the importance of each of these attributes.

Strength and power, as developed in the gym with classical exercises such as bench press and bench throw strongly correlate with punching impact (Jancso 2017, Loturco 2015). This hints at the importance of developing strong fighters for full-contact disciplines such as K1 Kickboxing. Punching impact is only one of many factors in a fight, though. Under real-world conditions, boxers express considerably less punch force than what is found in laboratory demonstrations (Pierce et al. 2007). Hence, it is questionable whether the maximum punch is a decisive factor in a match. I have not found any scientific evidence showing a clear link between punch impact and success in boxers or kickboxers. On the other hand, while the absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence, there are studies that suggest that maximal strength may not be highly relevant in the big picture.

Chaabene et al. (2012) presented max strength data for elite Karate competitors and conclude that “maximal dynamic strength is not decisive in kumite karate”. Likewise, Carazo-Vargas et al. (2015) concluded that “Scientific evidence does not conclusively demonstrate a direct association between power and athletic performance in Taekwondo”. These studies suggest that neither strength nor power seems to really be the key performance indicators in combat sports, at least in striking styles. Things might look a bit different concerning metabolic factors.

Regarding endurance, Chaabene et al. (2012) stated that “One of the most important factors governing an athlete’s performance is their level of cardio-respiratory endurance”. Most authors investigating physiological profiles of combat sports athletes seem to agree with this assessment. James et al. (2013) pointed out that “A well-prepared mixed martial artist will need to possess high levels of maximal strength and strength endurance in addition to the ability to express power repeatedly under loaded and unloaded conditions.“ Silva et al. (2011) presented an average VO2Max of 57.99 mL/kg/min (±10.3) for elite kickboxers and stated that kickboxers had the best test result of the considered sports (judo, wrestling, MMA, kung fu, kickboxing). Slimani et al. (2017) found average VO2Max scores in amateur, national level, and elite kickboxers, ranging from 48.5 mL/kg/min for Turkish (national and elite) kickboxers to 61.5 mL/kg/min for Canadian (elite) kickboxers.

It is important to remember that technical efficiency is not considered in ergometer-based testing protocols. Also, in my experience, fighters tend to hit the limits of local muscular endurance (LME) before they reach the point where cardiovascular fitness becomes the limiting factor.

Considering the fact that a VO2Max of 35–40 mL/(kg·min) are average values for untrained males (Heyward 1998) and elite runners have a VO2Max of up to 85 mL/(kg·min) (Noakes 2001), fighters are, at best, in the middle ground. This does not necessarily call for the same training methods that would be appropriate for highly developed athletes.

Combat sports challenge different bio motor abilities. Each of those can make or break a fighter (i.e. an under-developed ability can impair overall performance). Subsequently, this can lead to defeat or injury. Although it is vital to consider the interplay between all qualities and skills, mechanistic dissemination of each individual component can offer clues about their place in the big picture.


Strength might just be the most difficult – and likely, polarizing – quality to discuss. Strength is a very important factor in any sport. In their review, Suchomel, Nimphius and Stone stated (2016) that “Greater muscular strength is associated with enhanced force-time characteristics (e.g. rate of force development and external mechanical power), general sport skill performance (e.g. jumping, sprinting, and change of direction), and specific sport skill performance, but is also associated with enhanced potentiation effects and decreased injury rates.” In combat sports, strength advantages become even more apparent. As Alwyn Cosgrove repeatedly pointed out, weight divisions exist to protect the lighter and hence, arguably weaker fighter.

Different aspects need to be considered when planning strength training for combat athletes. The first among those is injury prevention (for the lack of a better term, because obviously, you do not prevent injury, but simply try to decrease the risk). Kyprianou (2018) stated that “fitness training should always be complementary to football training; primarily to target injury prevention and then to improve performance.” De la Motte et al. (2019) showed some evidence that hamstring flexibility, lower body power, sprint speed, and single-leg balance abilities are associated with musculoskeletal injury risk.

In combat sports, where the explicit goal is to deliver the damage to the opponent, the importance of injury prevention – or rather, the reduction of injury risk -, cannot be stressed enough. Probably more important than the damage taken in sparring and competition is the risk of sustaining non-contact injuries or overuse injuries. Higher relative strength levels may allow the athlete to complete technical tasks without or with less compensation and therefore, put him into risky positions less often. Think about the forces that occur during a spinning kick – if muscular strength is insufficient to stabilize the core and hips, the passive structures (i.e., tendons, ligaments, discs, etc.) need to absorb that excess forces.

In this context, specialized strength training must not be ignored. In his survey, Rainey (2009) interviewed fifty-five amateur and professional MMA fighters about their injuries. He found that “The most common type of injury reported by the participants was contusions (29.4%), followed by strains (16.2%), sprains (14.9%)” and that “77.9% occurred in training compared to 22.1% that occurred in a competition“. James (2014) analyzed the injury patterns in MMA and stated, based on the underlying mechanics, that “it is likely that shoulder, hamstring, and groin strains are common preventable injuries within this population.” He, therefore, proposes specialized exercises such as the Nordic Hamstring Curl for the Hamstrings, the side-lying hip raise (aka Copenhagen Plank) and external shoulder rotation against resistance bands as a means of specialized injury prevention training. Landow (2016) also points out the importance of assessing and maintaining shoulder-, hip- knee- and ankle mobility as well as knee- and trunk stability to prevent overuse injuries. Parr (2018) stated that “the strongest leg curlers have the least extremity injuries and can kick more powerfully” All of this points to the importance of dedicating a certain amount of training time to exercises which will not necessarily exhibit great transfer to performance but will keep the athlete healthy and resilient.

Aside from the prehab aspect, there is always the aspect of performance training. Carmen Bott concluded that strength but not endurance is the discriminating factor when comparing elite level wrestlers to college-level wrestlers. When reviewing the literature, the further one moves down the spectrum, from purely grappling based styles (wrestling, judo) towards striking oriented styles (boxing, kickboxing), the less important max strength seems to be.

Literature now shows a strong correlation between general strength and power performance (on exercises such as the bench press and squat jump) and punching impact (Jancso 2012, Loturco 2015). It is important to consider different punching styles. Lenetsky et al. (2013) show that boxers of different experience levels and ring characteristics (knock-out artists vs players vs speedsters) generate strength in different ways. To be sure to cover all bases, a whole/body strength and power program seem to be most appropriate. Filimov et al. (1985) showed that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, i.e., better coordination between different muscle groups will increase punching power. This might hint at the fact that more experienced strikers display better kinetic linking between the upper and lower extremity through their core. McGill (2010) showed a “double peak” in core muscle activity when measuring high-level athletes. When throwing kicks or punches, fighters tense up and undergo a total body contraction to initiate the technique. In order not to slow the strike down, the body is then relaxed as far as possible during the majority of the movement. Upon impact, there is a second stiffening of the core that allows for maximum impact.

Lee and McGill (2017) also investigated the effect of static and dynamic core training on striking velocity and impact force in Muay Thai athletes. Impact force was enhanced to a greater degree by the static core training protocol while the dynamic protocol resulted in better improvements of strike velocity. Looking at the protocols, however, the dynamic protocol included rotational medicine ball throws during which the trunk again acts primarily as a force transmitter rather than a force generator and the actual moment is produced by the legs and hips. It would be interesting to see the results of the static protocol in conjunction with the rotational throws.

I surmise that exercises that require a high degree of core stiffness in the transverse plane, such as single-arm, single-leg pushups may exhibit an even higher transfer to punching impact than exercises that are more sagittal plane dominant in nature, such as the bench press.

Although this section aimed to dissect the individual bio motor abilities in a mechanistic manner, it still needs to be acknowledged that boxing, by its nature, is a matter of optimization rather than maximization. A good strike will always balance out the need for high power on one hand, with other factors such as speed, non-telegraphic movement, energy conservation and the need to be in a strong position to defend against counter-attacks after throwing that punch on the other hand. That is why I find it hard to quantify a single, measurable aspect of a technique without over-emphasizing it as a consequence.


Stamina is the ability of the body’s energy systems to provide ATP for activity. There has been much talk about the importance (or lack thereof) of the aerobic base. Jamieson (2009) presents data on the relative contribution of the different energy systems (aerobic, anaerobic lactic and anaerobic alactic) with respect to MMA competition. He concluded that even in combat sports, despite the high intensities observed in a fight, the aerobic system plays a dominant role. Oetter (2011) presented similar figures. Likewise, Bompa and Carrera (2005) attributed 50% of the ergo-genesis in boxing to the aerobic system (although on the other hand, for “martial arts”, whatever that term encompasses, the aerobic contribution to ergo-genesis is set at as little as 20%).

Investigating the physiology of repeated sprint efforts, Parolin et al. (1999) found that “As each bout progressed and with successive bouts, there was a decreasing ability to stimulate substrate phosphorylation through phosphocreatine hydrolysis and glycolysis and a shift toward greater reliance on oxidative phosphorylation”. Again, this points to the vital importance of a well-developed aerobic system for combat sports, which are intermittent, repeated-sprint sports by nature.

On the other hand, Lehmann (2000) presented data on different combat sports, according to which average blood lactate concentration is at 12,6 mmol/l. Likewise, Engelhart and Neumann (1994) showed average blood lactate concentrations of 18-22 mmol/l for wrestlers. These figures indicate that the anaerobic lactic system is very active during combat sport.

Personally, I believe that the topic of energy system training has to be approached from two distinct sides. On the one hand, we must consider the role of the different energy systems with regards to the actual performance in the ring. From my experience, the aerobic base needed to persevere in MMA competition (5 x 5 minutes, 1-minute rest) is much higher than say, in a Muay Thai match (5 x 3 minutes, 2-minute rest). I am primarily dealing with amateur kickboxing (3 x 2 minutes, 1-minute rest), where the bio-energetic demands are shifted even further towards the anaerobic lactic system. Buse (2008) observed that Karate is an anaerobically demanding activity and deducts that the same holds true for Kickboxing. Slimani et al. (2017) offered insight into the activity-to-rest ratio of amateur and elite level kickboxers and finds bouts of high-intensity action to last 2.2 ± 1.2 seconds. This supports the hypothesis that the anaerobic system plays a vital role in kickboxing. Likewise, an efficient aerobic system is necessary to resupply ATP during the relative rest periods.

On the other hand, the fitness that is needed to train, away from actual competition, is a quality whose dependence on the aerobic system can’t be denied. I truly acknowledged this for the first time when I trained in a couple of gyms in Thailand. A typical training day there consists of four to six hours of training, spread over two sessions, six days a week. Most sessions will include a lot of running (eight to twelve kilometers a day are well within what you can expect) and rope skipping. In some of them. there will be sparring and clinching, and all sessions will have a great amount of pads and heavy bag work. In such a setting, a well-developed aerobic system is crucial – not only for inter-round recovery (in some gyms, the “rest” between rounds of pad work consisted of little more than a set of push-ups and squats) but for regeneration in between sessions as well.

Figure 2: Smashing the pads at Sit Thaharneak Muay Thai in Chiang Mai. With two high-intensity sessions per day, with each one lasting for two hours, in a subtropical climate, inter-session recovery becomes a crucial component of training. The same degree of aerobic conditioning is probably not necessary when training on an amateur level in Europe.

In a western setting, the significance of the aerobic base likely needs to be viewed in a different light, though. Not counting strength training (which is not included in the Thai regimen outlined above), my athletes train less than ten hours a week (I will describe my situation in more depth in a later paragraph). Sessions in my gym are ninety minutes. My athletes frequently do two subsequent sessions. These will be different sessions and hence, tax the biological resources slightly different. For example, an athlete might do his stand-up training for ninety minutes, followed by grappling for another ninety minutes. Especially in the grappling classes, the technical drills will be performed at a much slower pace than a typical session in Thailand. Also, due to the nature of the techniques, a bigger portion of the session will be spent on demonstration. If you have ever attended a submission wrestling session, you will know what I’m talking about. Given these circumstances, I do not believe that extensive low-intensity cardio training is necessary for my athletes to recover in between sessions.

Coming back to the aspect of performance considerations, I am not sure a clear differentiation between the different energy systems is strictly necessary to design a training program for fighters. As Jamieson (2009) shows, all energy systems contribute to a fighting effort, at different rates. If an athlete is unable to demonstrate the required performance, (i.e. cannot produce a sufficient amount of ATP), it is difficult to assess whether this is due to enzymatic activity, heart minute volume, oxygen uptake via the lungs, cellular respiration issues, inefficient carbohydrate utilization or any other factor. Most likely, the answer to each of these issues will look very similar and boil down to training in the intensity zone in which the athlete failed. As they say, “practice as you play”. I explain some of the methods I use in the following sections.


In fighting, higher movement speeds in punches and kicks not only increase the odds of scoring, but they also contribute to a higher impulse when the strike connects. Newton’s Laws state that force equals mass times acceleration. In other words, in a simplistic model, the stronger an athlete is, the better they can accelerate (bodyweight when sprinting, a hand when punching, etc.) and achieve higher movement velocities. Unfortunately, the correlation between max strength and movement velocity is a very loose one (Siff, 2003). Rippetoe and Baker (2014) differentiate between different types of athletes with regard to their development in the weight room. According to this taxonomy, a novice lifter is one that can progress his training from session to session. As soon as performance cannot be improved from session to session, a lifter progresses from a novice to an intermediate level. Advanced lifters work relatively close to their ultimate physical potentials and hence. The size of the stimulus required to induce further adaptation is so large that athletes at this level are highly specialized in their respective disciplines (weightlifting or powerlifting). This highest level is not relevant for combat sports athletes and hence, will not further be considered in the following sections.

At low training levels (i.e., novice lifters), just getting an athlete stronger will probably make him faster. For more advanced lifters (in Rippetoe‘s terms), though, this cause-and-effect relationship is not so clear cut anymore. Obviously, diminishing returns need to be taken into consideration. As with all training, I believe that under the aspect of performance improvement, more advanced athletes benefit most from specific drills. Although advanced methods such as over-speed training can be implemented with combat athletes (my trainer was way ahead of his time and had us do band-assisted punches and kicks, as well as over-speed sprints well before it was mainstream), I believe that the biological cost of such extreme measures has to be considered. Given the relatively low level of general athletic competency found in combat athletes as opposed to athletes from team sports, I doubt that the excess joint stress that comes with sprinting down a flight of stairs or practicing over-speed kicks is justifiable in many cases. Speaking of joint stress, I also believe that – even though higher levels of strength might not improve movement velocity in advanced athletes, injury prevention always needs to be among the top priorities. General strength training – not necessarily maximum strength training – can be employed as a maintenance measure to attenuate the injury risk athletes constantly face during their training and competitions.

Closing Thoughts

Keep in mind that nothing exists in a vacuum. Training disturbs homeostasis and induces adaptations, which in turn affect performance in one way or the other. It is plausible to assume that an increase in strength or rate of force development (RFD) will affect the execution of a technique. Consider the case when kids hit maximum height velocity (MHV) around age 13 and suddenly seem to lose much of their technical proficiency due to the fact that limb length (lever arm) and strength levels do not match up. While adolescents at MHV are a rather extreme example for the effect of changed physiology on technical skill, the same mechanism – although at a much lesser scale – still holds true for adult athletes. The technique is affected by physiological parameters and should, therefore, be developed along with them.

Also, the physical condition or bio motor potential is considered to be the rate limiter for sports performance by some experts in the field. Verkhoshansky (1998) presents the relation between bio motor potential and the specific ability to exploit that potential.

Figure 3. The performance result (red line) as a function of the bio-motor potential (green line) and the athlete’s ability to exploit it (blue line). S (yellow line) depicts the trainability of the special fitness. Modified from Verkhoshansky (1998).

The graph in Figure 3 illustrates the concept. In the graph, the S-axis represents the athlete’s increased skill over time, P represents the motor potential and T is the athlete’s ability to exploit it. R depicts the performance result. As Mladen explained in his post on agile periodization, according to this model, athletes at later stages of their career are rate limited by their potential rather than their ability to exploit it. I have mixed feelings regarding this idea.

On one hand, I agree with the model and firmly believe that building bio-motor potential is vitally important and should be a major focus of LTAD (which I will not dive into in this article). Unfortunately, in my experience, with maybe the exception of Judo players, most combat athletes in Europe took up the sport at relatively high age and simply lack the athletic development that Verkhoshansky’s athletes would probably have at a comparable age – Dan John might say they never went through Q1. Again, this comes back to my opinion that most combat sports athletes (at least in Europe) are not comparable to athletes from other sports such as soccer or rugby when it comes to their all-around physical fitness, coordination, and professionalism.

On the other hand – and this is probably purely anecdotal, but I believe it to be valid anyways – the Thai system of training Muay Thai as well as the Chinese system training for pretty much every Olympic sport seem to contradict Verkhoshansky’s theory. What makes the Thais the best at their game, in my opinion, is not the fact that their physical capacity is much higher than that of western athletes. Rather, it is the fact that they train four hours a day, six days a week, from early childhood on. Granted, this builds an amazing aerobic base, tremendous work capacity and most likely, great connective tissue strength. However, these are not the deciding factors here.

The Thais spend so much time on skill acquisition and refinement that by the time they reach puberty, they have pretty-much achieved mastery over their craft. Their ability to exploit their physical capacity in their specific sports tasks is developed to the maximum. Having two to three hundred professional fights over the course of a career probably does something for tactical understanding and timing. When asked about the one piece of advice for training and/or live on Mike Robertson’s Physical performance Podcast, Brett Uttley answered: “optimize your game intelligence first” and went on to describe how focusing on the physical side of training would not bring him success as a player. If you think about it, the Chinese Olympic system heavily relies on early specialization and ridiculously high volumes of the monotonous practice of high-skill maneuvers, rather than the biggest possible increase in bio motor potential. There is certainly an inherent element of selection to that system. The ethical side of such an approach can obviously be discussed, although I believe that discussion is rather naive. In any case, though, it cannot be denied that the Chinese have success with what they do.

Of course, the question is valid whether the Thais, Chinese and Cubans (to name a few) would be even better in their respective sports if they devoted more resources to building up the bio motor potential of their athletes. Today, trainers such as Rett Larson are working with the Chinese Olympic teams, so I guess, there will be an answer to that question in a due course. Still, context is very important and not every athlete has what it takes to be in the Chinese Olympic team. It is indeed possible that Verkhoshansky’s model is very accurate, and at the highest levels, bio motor potential becomes the rate limiter. Maybe, the athletes I am working with (or have experienced so far) are simply not well enough developed with regards to the skill level, so motor potential simply does not become a ceiling (or a rate limiter) for their sports performance. In any case, it seems to me that the via Positiva approach for fighters (and this may absolutely be different in other sports) is to devote as much time as possible to sport-specific practice and, as a via Negativa approach, develop enough strength and general athleticism to prevent the athletes from getting hurt.

The concept of training residuals can be interpreted as “easy come, easy go”. Although this isn’t really new as such, it was only made fully apparent to me by coach Carmen Bott not too long ago. Aerobic development takes time. Think about it – peripheral capillarization is an anatomical adaptation and hence, requires the remodeling of tissue. This doesn’t happen overnight. The same can be said for other hypertrophic processes, such as left ventricular heart hypertrophy, muscle hypertrophy or the increase of mitochondrial density in the muscle. Mastering technique takes time, no matter whether the discipline is grappling, striking, or MMA.

In contrast to these long-lasting adaptations, transient qualities are faster to develop but are also lost faster. Anaerobic Lactic performance is heavily dependent on anaerobic enzymes. It can be improved rather quickly, but shortly after the cessation of the training block, it is lost rather quickly as well. High-end timing is something that can be developed in the long term but needs to be addressed with priority during fight camp.


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