Muay Thai – Kickboxing – Children’s Classes – GRIT

Your conditioning is one tank of fuel, use it wisely.

Understand how to train & use your fuel for improved performance. For a 3 round fight or 100km Mountain Bike Ride.

Regardless of how fit you are, you only have one tank of fuel. Your fuel tank is your energy, your fitness, and your ability to keep performing. You can be super fit and still burn out. You can fit in one area but not fit in another. Fitness can be very sport specific and requires specific understanding on how to use your fitness for optimum performance. You must use your available energy wisely, burn it out and you will not do as well as you could. If you build your fuel for endurance running it will not help you sprint faster and vice versa. A fuel tank works better when you put the fuel in you need for performance. No matter how much diesel you put in a performance engine, it will not work. Even with a fuel tank of the right fuel, you rev the engine to hard and it will burn out faster.

When I talk energy systems, I mean using your fuel by revving the engine up and down and changing gears as required in order to maximise your fuel use. For fitness this can be translated into adjusting your pace during the event/round. For fighting, you have to set the pace of the fight and vary your tempo to be adjusting your output. Your opponent will disagree with your plan, so you have to be adaptable and capable of actively recovering in the bout. It is essential you re-fuel (with oxygen and lower heart rate in the rest breaks between rounds).

In the round you want to be 100% when you can but never burn out, this requires adjustment of your speed, power, flow, and rhythm to ensure you have fuel left and never gas yourself. Fighting is not the sport to be conservative in and bludge because you are frightened of gassing. Learn in training how hard you can go and how to adjust. Your training, mental state, mood, and anxiety will all affect your ability to burn fuel efficiently. Being hurt will burn fuel faster as will losing confidence. All things that need to be learnt in training to reduce uncertainty.

Exhausted is bad in Combat Sports. Exhausted is bad in any sport, even if you have not finished the event. Many people can still finish on will power and mental strength, but this alone is not your best use of the energy you have. You can easily burn out and be more tired than you have ever been in combat sports or not finish that endurance race you have trained so long for. This usually happens when people go out to hard to fast, use their nervous energy wrong and go harder than 100% for longer than they are capable, with not enough time to recover whilst in the event. For beginners in combat sports, it will happen to you in sparring, in competition and even when you step into the limelight as main event. If you do not train sport and event specific and be aware of how to use your fuel tank.

I have competed at Combat Sports and Endurance events and everything between. Regardless of the event length, your mind will measure the duration of the event subconsciously and ensure you have enough to get through it. Rarely do people die from pushing themselves to far in an event (as we subconsciously hold back to keep alive). However, plenty of people under perform from pushing themselves too hard or not hard enough. If you know the event is three rounds, you brain prepares, and your conditioning should be sorted for it, before you step in the ring. When you are running a 100m sprint, you think and subconsciously react differently to setting out on a marathon. You know how long until it is over, so your subconscious auto sets a pace and reserves for your other bodily functions. Combat Sports can differ because the intensity can be varied, and you have an opponent trying to hurt you and stop you from finishing.

In endurance events, your own mind and body are the challenge, in fighting sports, it is that, plus an opponent trying to beat you up. That is exponentially harder. The nerves from a ‘you or them’ competition in front of a crowd is also harder to manage and can use up valuable energy needed for performance. Sure, you get nervous setting out on an endurance event, especially if you are competitive and have grand expectations but they are internal, more based on personal expectation that actual fear of injury, embarrassment, and the test a 1-1 combat sports offers.

Combat Sports are a full contact sport that have more fear, more excitement and are at a high pace. Fighting is an open sport with dynamic fast-paced changes and consequence that are immediate. Endurance events have consequences, but they develop over a longer time, you have competitors, but they are not there to hurt you, they often encourage and spur you on. You usually know the course of the event and can plan it, something you can only prepare for in Combat Sports though training but the pace and demands on your body and mind will still be something that requires more energy to adapt to. Sport specific preparation is critical before you step up to the start line.

For endurance events, you have to train often and less than the actual event demands and build up to it. For Combat Sports, you have to train longer and harder than the actual event time, every time you train. The physically development required for each sport are contradictory. Combat Sports often have far more technique and skill training for the complexities of combat. You should not be training for an endurance marathon and a fight at the same time or even within months of each other. How you use the energy you have is what counts in the event. This energy is something that takes time to train and build. It cannot switch from one event to the other in a few weeks effectively. You will train your body over time to do what you mostly spend time doing. If you run a lot slow, you will not be fast when you need to for a fight.

Being as fit and healthy as you can be is how you have to turn up at the event. Being very fit is something you can control and prepare for. It will give you the best chance for any event. Whenever I competed at combat sports I was very fit but that alone did not determine the result. It helped me through hard fights, lots of nerves and unexpected challenges. 20 years ago, I was just fit, not as sports specially fit as you need to be today. It took a long time to learn how to use the fitness correctly.

Your tank of fuel and how you use your energy systems is critical to your performance, confidence, and the result. Some of your fuel will be used for nerves and anxiety. This takes experience to manage, a good coach to talk you through the challenges. Nerves and anxiety are good for performance, learn to moderate them and perform better. Excitement will cause you to go hard and burn fuel, learn how to lift repeatedly, and ensure your training includes these intense intervals realistically. You can prepare your heart and lactic tolerance doing sprints, be sports specific with pads, but you have to include the reactions, application and demands of hard sparring to really test if you are ready for a fight.

No matter how fit you are, no matter how strong you are, no matter how hard you have trained, you only have one tank of fuel. Some people have distinct size tanks, some people use different performance fuel, but if you empty your tank, you are done. Getting your second wind is tough in such an explosive sport. In novice fights you often see both combatants burn their tanks at the same rate and both fighters give it their all from start to end, which degrades the effectiveness of both combatants’ techniques and relies on will more than skill. If one fighter retains his fuel and uses it wisely, combined with skill, they often come home stronger and dominate the bout. It is far easier (and good for your confidence) to be the fighter with more energy than your opponent.

In an endurance event, you get red line fever and sprint at the start for position and can burn your self out in the initial stages. Your ego is driving you more than your training, and you are overly excited. You have to control this, or you will burn out later. You have time to settle down and get to your training rhythm, if you do not, you might not finish. In Combat Sports, you have to be ready to go hard and fast and keep it up form the bell. You have to have intervals trained into you, so you can keep repeating the same intensity, over and over again to stay on top of your opponent. You can start slow and relaxed, but your opponent may disagree, so you have to be ready and adaptable.

Being hurt will affect your fitness. You can crash in bike race, but this is unexpected. In a fight, you will be getting hit and any damage you suffer will degrade your fitness reserves and will power. It can give you more adrenalin, but this will not last. Concussion is possible and if suffered, will slow you done and tire you. Your training for fighting must include training depleted, fatigued, and learning how to work through challenges and pain. Mental strength is necessary and needs to be trained constantly.

Training that sets barely achievable challenges is something to do routinely. Things you are unsure you can achieve, make you a little nervous and test you, are a great training method. Set hill repeats you are usure you can achieve, set pad rounds longer than the fight. A good method here is to tell the fighter they are doing three rounds at fight pace. Then when you have done three, add a fourth, sometimes a fifth. Do not tell them you are doing five at the start, trick them so they go at a 3-round pace. This build’s confidence and ability to push and hang on whilst developing more effective training at the required intensity. If you do ten pad rounds for a 3-round fight at 75% pace, the fighter is likely to have a lot of trouble going 100% for three rounds.

There is fuel you develop through training and there is fitness you need just to manage nerves. At an event you will have multiple types of energy/fuel. Nervous energy which will make you feel very tired when it is burnt out. Real energy is the fitness developed in your training preparation. Will power energy, how deep you can dig when needed is event specific and will be tested. This draws on what you body has saved based on your urgent needs to complete your goal. Learn what your nervous energy does and accept that your real energy is built through training and will be there for you. Your nervous energy is great for extra awareness, spark and digging deep. It focuses you for conflict and is your lizard brain preparing for the event. Will power energy is your competitiveness and desire to win or finish.

Being the fitter competitor is only one factor. It is a distinct advantage however it is how you use your fuel that is more important. Sparring and competing are stressful, and this anxiety burns fuel we do not normally experience in training. This is an energy system we need to practice. Other energy systems include your ability to use, power, explosiveness, speed, rhythm, reactions, evasion, work rate and the ability to repeat intense intervals. For endurance sports, you need to get your pace, learn to keep it and train with people so you can lift, ignore, or collaborate with them to simulate a race. In sparring you need to practice with opponents that are better than you, less experienced than you and do endless rounds at varied intensity.

A difficult opponent, a crowd and your family watching are extremely demanding on your mind and body. Preparing for this takes experience. For a novice fighter it has to be developed in training as much as possible. (READ MY ARTICLE ON UNCERTAINTY AND PERFORMANCE TO LEARN HOW). A novice fighter or pro fighter on a big international fight will face new mental challenges at the event that are hard to simulate. A good coach will find ways to prepare you mentally for this and reduce the uncertainty. I do not accept that an adrenalin dump or super performance anxiety can not be managed and prepared for.

Adrenalin will be there, and this will affect your performance. Novice competitors at any sport will sometime be overwhelmed by it and professionals will suck it up and use it wisely. It will burn your energy if not controlled and red line that engine before you start. Breathing is the key, long deep breaths. Novices will have adrenalin dumps and feel exhausted, lose concentration, have heavy legs and doubt. This is where real fitness comes into it and will be there if you have trained for it. Confidence is critical, breathing is essential, and preparation is necessary, or an adrenalin dump will cost you the bout. Will power get you through, but you are likely to be disappointed in your performance.

Training for a sport that requires you not go as hard as you do in competition is tough. For endurance sports, it is usually the length of the course. For fighting it is the power and speed and consequences from a real bout. Sparring is preparation but cannot be under the same fight conditions. You have to simulate all aspects of this. Pad work for output at maximum rate and sparring for reactions, decisions and pacing of your energy systems. Sprints for body physiological preparation and strength work for power, with specific drills to translate your fitness into the sport.

The challenge in using your fuel effectively requires development in stages and an understanding of your individual energy systems. No two people react the same and no two fights follow the same sequence or factors. The problem with training people to pace themselves is most people do not know how hard they can go in the first place. Sparring and pad work are the best fitness training you can get (once you have the skills to do it) and people who are lazy, slow, or complacent often do not do well against someone who works hard. Pacing your self is conservative and implies, keeping under control. For fight sports being conservative will not win you hard fights. For endurance events, it will help you finish but not break any records. I like to train people to tolerate a pace they can barely manage, recover in the event, and keep lifting as you will naturally decline as the pace becomes comfortable. Tolerance of a solid pace takes a lot of training and mental strength.

To learn how to use your fuel you need to first get well conditioned by training as hard as you can and understanding what your 100% really is. When do you break? How long does it take to recover and what skills work at what levels of depletion. Learning what you cannot do, how far you can go and what breaks you is essential. Hard to face up to but especially important, a very under used phase of training. You often find some students have distinct ability to maintain effective power and speed in some techniques over others and this knowledge is essential for training people to know when to use what skills and what works best for them.

  • Preparation – develop the skills and habits required to the level required to compete. Be in an environment that foster development, disciplined routine, and deliberate practice.
  • Stage 1 – Learn when you break (mentally and physically) and know your 100% effective and what you are like at 80%, 50%. How long does it take for you to recover and get back to 90%?
  • Stage 2 – Train to extend your peak and how to cycle through energy to recover in the event. How long can you stay at 80%, 100%? Some fighters do well staying at 80% or 60% whereas most require intense interval training for preparation.
  • Stage 3 – Train at a pace that suits you and maximises your ability to use your fuel effectively. Even intervals require a knowledge of how long for, what intensity and what rest required to repeat them.
  • Stage 4 – Learn what works best for you with what energy system and adapt and change as the sparring and fighting develops. What works best, must be focused on winning for combat sports and finishing or endurance sports.
  • Stage 5 – Increase your base line to have an overall higher effective work rate. Practice adapting, improve your recovery and ability to incorporate rests into the sparring/fighting to maximise your fuel use.
  • Stage 6 – Practice reading your opponent and adapting to different people. Develop tactics with your coach as your experience develops.

Of course, many of the stages overlap, so keep it simple.

Baseline fitness mindset for fighting. You have to have a level you do not let yourself go below in sparring. A standard of posture, breathing, guard, and reactions. You have to have a level of defence awareness and focus that if you go below or accept in training, will cost you the bout and could get you hurt. When I coach fighter, I am extremely strict on their base line in training. When people want stop, turn their back, look at the clock and would rather get hit than attack. You have to train them out of this type of habit. The baseline is a key aspect of finishing bouts and never dropping below performance ability. I am super strict on guard and focus and never accept this on the bag, pads or even shadow sparring.

Some fighters judge the outcome in the first 30 seconds and give everything. This can work, but what of your opponent is still there? What if you throw everything at them and it did not work? You can see the will of a fighter like this evaporate fast and nobody that does the sport long term fights like this. People with heart, never give up and the toughest fighters come back so even if you are winning, using your fuel well, you need to stay mentally sharp and never be complacent. The 30 sec aspect is when the fighter also decides the outcome based on this effort, an all-in approach mentally and physically. They spend the rest of the fight confident or negative depending on that first 30 seconds. Never train this way.

In coaching people to better use their fuel and energy systems I coach beginners to get fit enough to know how hard they can go. Then to emotionally break through preconceived effort levels in fitness whilst training skills deliberately and in a controlled way. Intermediate students then need to be smarter and learn to have a high work rate whilst pacing themselves and adapting to their opponent. Initiating attack to force defence and controlling the rhythm of a bout is critical. This can mean knowing how long your 100% is or how to stay at 90% and not hit your 100% in order to last longer. For fighting, this is when timing is so critical. Of course, nothing guarantees winning but it certainly helps to maintain energy as long as you can. All of this requires good ring work and timing. It is only relative to what your opponent does, what you can make them do or what they make you do – it takes an element of control over the fight. Fighting is a sport often determined by 1% so being slightly in front and slightly more aware is easier than being behind, reactive, and struggling to feel sharp.

Some suggested energy systems to train to use and work between for combat sports. The ability to switch between at the right time, in a round will help maintain a solid unyielding pace for fighting. Keeping one style for the whole bout is not the key, switching to maintain your best out put is the goal.

  • Flow – A flowing smooth rhythm at a pace that can be maintained for combinations in bursts at a high work rate. Keeping a rhythm that goes up and down but never to hard you burn out and never to slow you get left behind. A constant 80% pace with some spikes and some deep breathing.
  • Single hard – Explosive techniques with full intent. Only thinking one technique ahead but with enough balance to go immediately to another technique. May appear to an audience as a combination or determined work rate but to the practitioner it is one technique at a time done well. Full power commitment with rhythm to set up another shot and be ready for defence. Good for when you feel unable to link technique and always good if you feel power and power makes you energy grow with aggression.
  • Speed – Loose and fast movement, explosive but not tense, aiming to catch opponent out by being faster, making them defend and setting up power shots. Being fast, including fakes. Requires a focus on speed training. Speed is highly effective. Like everything fast, it will burn out quickly though.

Force is mass times acceleration. So be loose and fast with intent behind it and you will have power.

  • Evade and control – use the ring, make your opponent miss, evade, and move. Make your opponent freeze, to be unsure and hesitant. This takes experience, works if you hurt your opponent or have them guessing and nervous. If you do this, you musty know how to regain your energy doing it. I do not like this style for the whole fight, just to recover actively and to make it hard for opponent to have balance and confidence in their attacks. Making someone miss can be better than blocking as they are open for strikes. Do this when you need to recover, look for openings and change the fight tempo.
  • Watch and react – Rest when you can, if nothing is happening, rest (BREATH) especially if you are in control, ahead or need to rest. You must maintain the ability to recover whilst reacting to your opponent’s attack and keeping pressure on through positioning. If they attack, counter fast, react, always show you are prepared to go, which can reduce their determination to attack if they see consequences in your eyes and are also getting tired.


When a student feels they are close burn out in one energy system/style, they can change the system and keep adapting to stay competitive. In endurance sports you need to vary pace and work through changes in energy and mood. Fitness is closely tied to confidence and if you feel exhausted your confidence degrades. If you feel good and something is working, keep doing it, if not, adapt your energy system. In sparring you need to practice changing systems often and can even pick areas that put you at a disadvantage to practice being behind and needing to adapt in order to come back. You should never only practice being in front as that is unrealistic. For endurance sports, train at varied degrees of suffering and simulate what you can about how you will feel deep in the race, not just at the start.

Endurance requires you to endure!

No one can maintain 100% for 5 minutes but everyone can learn a pace that maximises their energy systems and can be adaptable to the pace of a fight. It is also fun to train diverse ways and incorporate different approaches and focuses into your training. Work rate is critical however it is important to train quality over quantity and train to be smart and effective in what you do. Deliberate practice is the key. Ensure you know what you are practicing and how it will contribute. Changing your energy system out put will help use the fuel you have spent so long building up in training. Be aware of everything that can burn fuel fast and prepare for it so there are no surprises at the event. Learn from every event and adjust your training as you develop experience. Experience counts.

Training makes you feel better so always train, always adapt, and never quit the healthy life.


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