Are you training for first Muay Thai fight? How do you know when you’re ready?
I had been training for about six months before I had my first Muay Thai fight, not something I recommend to my students today, and not something I specifically planned for either, but nevertheless, I found myself at a smoker at the Muay Thai Academy in North Hollywood. The small gym was hot and crowded with students, family, friends, random fans of a sport not yet popularized in America. The ring was small, the canvas patched with duct tape and blood stained. I geared up in the small, one stall unisex, bathroom, put my Thai shorts on, my sports bra. Took out my jewelry, which at the time took about fifteen minutes, as I had ten or so odd piercings in my body.
I remember little of the fight, hopped up on an adrenaline and buzzing with nerves all I remember is getting punched hard a couple of times and thinking, “Holy shit, this girl wants to hurt me.” It was an unsettling realization. As strange as it sounds, the fact that this was a vicious sport hadn’t occurred to me yet. I was just a girl who loved to train Muay Thai.
Resolutions are often focused on breaking habits.
To quit smoking I used running. In 2003 I was still a smoker. My bad habit had been picked up by being a club kid in my teens and a bartender in my twenties. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2002, I started training Muay Thai seriously and became addicted to the sport. I knew my smoking and clubbing had to stop, and I should focus more on training.
I wasn’t a heavy smoker, but I was still in the habit of a two to three cigarettes in the evenings. Instead of smoking, I decided to go running more. Running made me feel accomplished and also reminded me how much I needed healthy lungs for Muay Thai. Eventually, I just stopped smoking altogether and built a life around training.
A couple of years ago I stumbled on a booked called How to Change Habit by Charles Duhigg. It describes how we can’t just tell ourselves to stop habits like eating sweets, smoking, drinking, or nail-biting. We need to REPLACE that habit with an action that gives the same reward. This is why so many people switch one bad habit for another, like eating more sweets when they quit smoking or smoking more when they stop drinking. But swapping one bad habit for another never entirely addresses the bigger problem.
For weeks ago I decided to sign up for my SFG Level II certification and immediately got anxious about being able to press a 22kg bell over my head. I was starting to map out a plan for how by May 10th I could get to where I needed to be. I was all riled up and ready to go…. then I got the flu for the first time in years.
I don’t even remember the last time I had a fever; it might have been when I was in high school. Fever, sore throat, the whole deal and I was out of work and training for a week. Then when I was finally feeling better, I went back to training, started light and everything felt heavy…. then and was hit with a relapse of my chronic back pain. Another couple weeks and a few chiropractor visits and I think I’m finally starting to feel right again.
For someone that only used to take one day off a week from training and not even take more than three days off after a fight. It got me thinking about how my views on setbacks have changed. When I tore my knee in 2009, I sat at home, drank bourbon and read all of the Twilight novels while sulking. As soon as I could walk, I was doing bench presses and pull-ups. I booked a fight before I was even 80% better and just told myself I would be better. In truth, I was a bit nuts. Today, while I might be a bit peeved about an injury or illness, I try to put things in perspective. TRY being the keyword.
My attitude is that if you push me towards a weakness, I will turn that weakness into a strength. – Michael Jordan
I used to suck at pull ups. My reach is two inches longer than my height, and therefore I have a long way to pull myself up. Great for punching people, horrible for body weight exercises and pressing heavy things over my head. However, today I can do several pull ups, and my favorite lift is the kettlebell military press.
As an athlete, I know that the secret to getting good is to shine a magnifying glass on yourself, pin point your weaknesses (because you know your opponent is doing that) and get better at what you suck at.
When I first started training Muay Thai, I gravitated towards being a puncher. I loved everything about the jab and cross. I used the occasional kick to set up my straight punches. I was a forward fighter and somewhat one dimensional. While certain strengths can carry you far, I knew that I wouldn’t be turning pro if I was a one trick pony.
I used to count calories in my head while I was running. I distinctly remember the feeling of pounding the pavement as I rounded the bend at the Hollywood reservoir trail adding up the sandwich I ate for lunch and the cereal I had for breakfast and subtracting the 380 calories I had burned in three and a half miles and wondering if I should do another loop so I could have dessert after dinner. It was a horrible feeling. I don’t wish compulsive calorie counting on anyone and that is why I want to share with you how I more mindfully track my nutrition now.
Calorie Counting is Only a Fraction of the Big Picture
I’ve spend a lot of time researching how to lose body fat and gain lean muscle (i.e. “get toned”). It’s my job, so I’ve done a ton of research, tried everything under the sun for myself and worked with a bunch of clients in the 10 + years I’ve been a trainer and here’s the bottom line: Calories matter, but there are a BUNCH of other factors that also matter to fat loss and muscle gain. Here are just a few: macro-nutrients, food quality, sleep, stress, hormones (that’s a BIG one), current muscle mass, genetics, intensity of exercise performed, mindset (yes, the way you think matters!), gut health. This list alone is enough to make your head spin and it’s only a partial list of all the factors that affect fat loss and body composition. Also, if there is anything certain I have learned in counseling people it’s the different approaches work for different people. You cannot tell someone to do something you do and expect them to get the same results you do. Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean you should write a book (or blog) telling everyone you found the definitive answer to fat loss, individuality matters.
Basic Take Away: Instead of only focusing on calories in and calories out, focus on creating healthy habits that will stay with you for a lifetime. Here’s how…
Not every day of practice has to be your best day
Yesterday during my 9 am kettlebell training while trying to press the double 16 kg bells over my head and struggling it struck me that this was not going to be an easy day. I got a little frustrated because these were the same bells that I knew I could press 75 times in one session and yet I was struggling to get these measly six reps in a complex. I was having an off day.
But then I remembered one of my favorite phrases – “Let it be hard.” I finished the session, even if that meant push pressing the last two reps of each round and while I was walking home (yes people do walk in Los Angeles, I am proof), I thought about all the different strategies I use to get through hard sessions. I used these tactics to make it through grueling Muay Thai sessions when training for fights and I still use them today.
Let It Be Hard
This one is my favorite as it encapsulates all aspects of mindset. Training is hard. If it were easy, it would not be worth it. If it were easy, you would not make progress. If it were easy everyone would do it, and you would not feel the same accomplishment from your achievements. When you hit a snag in your training or are just having a bad day remind yourself that hard = good. Embrace the hard. What can screw with us about a training session being hard is what we think it means about us. Maybe it’s hard, and it wasn’t hard last week. Maybe it’s hard, and we think we should be progressing faster. Maybe it’s hard, and it’s not hard for the person next to us. But what you have to realize is that all that means NOTHING. Training is about progress; training is about getting just a little bit better every day. Sometimes that means our strength, stamina, power or endurance improves; other times that means our mindset is challenged and we improve mentally, or we learn a new technique, and we improve our skills. Progress is not always measured in numbers, reps or time, sometimes it is mental, sometimes it is subtle. When you feel that your training is hard, let it be and know that you are improving in some way. Hard is what gets you better.
I grit my teeth and hit “publish” and the familiar, yet never an easier sensation of excitement and anxiety consumes me. It’s a feeling similar to entering the ring to fight. I don’t fight anymore, I retired in 2011 from fighting Muay Thai, but writing, something I have done all my life is a constant reminder of what I love about fighting.
Fear. We all have it. Fear will never completely disappear. We just have to find a way to own it, to cut through its thick air with a knife.
My fighter Emily fought last weekend. We had just finished the last round of pad work to warm her up. She was greased up and ready to go, the first glistening sweat on her brow, her second wind getting ramped up, her mouth dry and her eyes full of feeling.
As I talked her through some mental visualization techniques to keep her energy focused, I was reminded of what has been missing in my life these past few months: fear; or more specifically stepping through fear.
I still remember the first time I got hit really hard in the face. During a Muay Thai pad work session my coach hit me square in the nose with a Thai pad and I froze. As I felt the blood trickle down the back of my throat and tasted the salty liquid. It took me a minute to register that my coach was yelling at me, “Hit the fucking pads, Roxy! Keep your hands up.” I suddenly came to and returned fire with a jab cross kick and at that moment I had several realizations…
1. The guys must be going easy on me in sparring cause this was more pain than I had ever felt before
2. Getting hit sucks
3. I was angry about it
4. I really wanted to hit my coach at this point, but knew that was unacceptable
It’s 9 pm, and I find myself at work again tucked into my little office typing away, hoping to check off just two more items on my never ending Gmail tasks list. The gym is locked up for the night, trainers have gone home to eat their veggies and protein and get some sleep. Just me and my keyboard… and the cats. Kimura, the OG gym cat, is staring at me in the guest chair opposite my computer desk wondering why I am still here and NJ, the newest addition to my feline family, is curled up in my inbox on top of invoices, file folders, and notes. She scoffs at my workload and gives me a cute yawn and blinks innocently as if to say, “Process me. I’m cute. I am an actionable item!”
Hi. My name is Roxy, and I am a workaholic. I often think that being a workaholic is much better than being a slacker. “At least I get shit done!”, I think. In my more naive days, I could be found saying, “Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the motivated.” Or some other shared and liked cliche fitness quote on social media. But the truth is as much as I love my work, love my life and honestly believe that hard work pays off there is a point where overwork does more harm than good, just like over training for fights can lead to failure and eventually adrenal fatigue.
There is a fine line between being a hard worker and working yourself into a puddle of stress and exhaustion at the expense of other important aspects of your life.
This article was originally published August 18th, 2011 for Muay Thai Authority. I have posted it here with some minor revisions.
Every athlete is looking for that extra edge in competition. If we can be just a fraction of a step ahead of our opponent in one area of athleticism that gives us an advantage. In a sport where all it takes is one punch to make a champion that advantage could be cardio, strength, speed, agility, skill, experience, reach or size.
Muay Thai, like other combat sports, is divided into weight classes. Theses weight classes are supposed to level the playing field so that opponents are equal in size, but with new modern techniques borrowed from other sports like wrestling and MMA, Muay Thai fighters are now using weight cutting to gain a serious size advantage over opponents.
Some may say that weight cutting is cheating; others claim that it’s just a matter of discipline and sacrifice. I say that it’s a question of science. But like any other science experiment, if you make a mistake it can cost you a lot – in this case, it can cost you the fight.