Have you ever watched a high-level Muay Thai fighter train and asked yourself, “How do they do it?” How are these guys able to train day in and day out without burning out? Don’t these guys ever feel like “taking it easy” and having a day off?

While it might be easy to assume that these fighters are cut from a different clothe (some certainly are), the truth is that most of these guys are just like you and me. They get tired after hard training, they are sore in the morning, and they don’t always feel 100%.

The difference between someone who consistently trains hard vs. someone who trains inconsistently often comes down to one thing: Habits

Before I continue, it is important to define what habits are first.

Habit Definition – “A usual way of behaving : something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way (Webster Dictionary)

“Much of our daily lives are taken up by habits that we’ve formed over our lifetime. An important characteristic of a habit is that it’s automatic— we don’t always recognize habits in our own behavior. Studies show that about 40 percent of people’s daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations.” – Wendy Wood

Essentially, habits are actions that you perform throughout the day that you don’t have to think about doing. A habit can either be a good habit like bushing your teeth every day or putting on your seat belt in the car, or it can be bad one like smoking.

When you look at successful athletes in any sport, the key to their success are the habits that they have cultivated over the years.

The reason habits are so important to success is because it makes your decision making a lot easier. When something becomes automatic you don’t have to think about doing it, you simply do it.

Could you imagine if you had to think about whether or not you were going to train every day? That would probably result in you skipping a lot of training.

When your brain has to “think” about doing something, that is when you encounter the most resistance internally.

If you have to “think” about going for a run, your mind will make excuses to prevent you from doing it. Whether you tell yourself that you are “too tired, sore, or overtrained” to run, you will likely come up with a good enough reason why you shouldn’t do a run today. There is always tomorrow, right?

Habits prevent this from happening. When you have a habit of running daily, you won’t think about whether you “feel like running,” you will just run. It becomes automatic because it will be ingrained in you.

My Sister the Marathon Runner

The first time I took my younger sister on a run she barely finished it. She complained the entire run and made every excuse under the sun why she couldn’t finish it. Fast forward 6 years later and she is now running marathons and can easily out run me.

How is it possible that someone who never ran in their life is suddenly running marathons?

She developed a habit of running. 

In the beginning, she started running short distances and slowly increased her distances every week. Slowly but surely, her body began adjusting to her distance and she continued to increase it. In the period of 2 years, she went from someone who could barely run, to someone training for marathons.

The secret to her success was achieved through Habit. Once she had the habit of running ingrained in her, she didn’t think about whether she felt like running, she simply ran.

People who are successful in Muay Thai have established habits in training that allow them to switch their minds off and simply do.

Habits eliminate the thought process that says, “I don’t feel like doing it,” when things become difficult or we encounter resistance internally.

Habits You Should Incorporate Into Your Training

Now that I have talked about the importance of developing good habits if you want to achieve more in training, here are a few habits that you should consider incorporating into your daily training. There are many good habits that you can incorporate, so don’t limit yourself to only these ones.

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Habit #1. Running Before Training

Muay thai runningOne thing that I have learned from training in Thailand is the importance of running. If you are not running, you will not be able to achieve your peak fitness level. Running is such an essential part of conditioning that it should be incorporated into your daily training routine.

Now I realize that everyone has different fitness levels, physical abilities, and goals, which is why I won’t suggest how much distance you should run. However, if you get into a habit of showing up 30 minutes early before your training and running, you will find that your fitness level improves drastically.

The first 3 weeks of running before training will feel like hell. You will become more gassed in training and won’t have as much energy, so be patient. After your body starts adjusting to the new work load, you will notice a huge spike in your energy level, allowing you to do more sets of kicks and punches than you thought would be possible.

While running before training might be difficult initially, it is a habit that will have great benefits if you can manage to do it over the long run. If you don’t have time to run, you will make time if it is important to you.

Habit #2. Strength and Conditioning after Training

staying focused in trainingAnother important habit you should develop is adding 15-30 minutes of strength and conditioning after training. While I used to be a heavy weight lifter a few years ago, now I stick to calisthenics (body weight training) and I find it very effective. Hitting the weights is also very effective (I know a lot of people who are big on CrossFit), but not everyone has access to a gym or has the time.

This is a hard habit to develop because 95% of the time you “won’t feel like doing it.” After a long day of training, nobody will feel like they have the energy to put in their conditioning work, but it will help you in the long run. If you can manage to stick to this new habit for a few weeks, you will find that you consider it part of your training.

Habit #3. Clinching Daily

Photo Credit: Adam Crowther

Photo Credit: Adam Crowther

People often wonder what makes someone a good clincher. The answers, lots and lots of clinching every day. The Thais often clinch for 30 minutes every day in training. In fact, they often clinch more than they spar. Not only do they develop better technique in the clinch, it also makes them physically stronger in the clinch.

If you asked a BJJ black belt how the became so good in the sport, they would tell you that they rolled countless of hours on the mat. The same is true with clinching. Clinching is completely different than normal stand up striking.

If you want to improve your clinch, you need to develop a habit of clinching every day. If you don’t train at a gym that clinches, you should try and find a partner who will work with you after training.

The Habits of Champions

Hate him or love him, one thing that I respect about Floyd Mayweather is that he trains hard for his fights. How does someone who has so much money, still work hard in training when they don’t have to?

You would think that after the 40th fight of his career, he would start taking it more easy in training and be less hungry.

While Floyd is undeniably one of the most skilled boxers in the sport, what has kept him at the top are the training habits that he has ingrained inside of him.

When he has a big fight coming up, he runs. He doesn’t have to think about running, he simply does it. That habit is something that has been ingrained in him (most boxers) since he was a young boy and it carried forward until he was the best in the sport.

He doesn’t have to think about whether or not he is going to show up to training, that habit is simply ingrained inside of him. When you look at his training schedule, the things that he does when he prepares for his fights haven’t changed since he was a boy because of habit.

Habits to Avoid

Since habits are actions that we do without having to think about them, not all habits are good habits. In fact, there are a number of bad training habits that may be keeping you from reaching your potential. Here a few of the bad habits that you will see from people who are training at the gym

  • Showing up late to class – Just like showing up early to class is a habit, some people have a habit of showing up late. Most of the time they do this in all areas of their lives, not just Muay Thai training
  • Skipping Training for poor reasons (You are tired, didn’t sleep, don’t feel like it, etc)
  • Talking during the rounds – If you are going to talk to people, do it during breaks and not when people are working on the bag or hitting pads
  • Constantly looking at the clock – During a pad round or sparring session, you should never look at the clock to see when the round is over. Always focus on what you are doing at the moment.
  • Making Excuses – Some people make excuses for everything, including fighters. In fact, I have met some fighters who will make an excuse after every loss. Whether they blame the promoter for a “mismatch” or they blame the trainer for “not making them ready” every time they lose you can expect to hear an excuse. They never own up to their own mistakes and accept responsibility for anything. This is one of the worst habits that you can have.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle 

How Do You Develop Successful Habits?

While it is easy to say that you should form good habits if you want to be successful in Muay Thai, it is much more difficult trying to develop the good habits.

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Think of how many millions of people have a new years resolution of working out in the gym at the start of the year and stop going after 3-4 weeks. If only there was a magic number of 21 days to form a new habit, everyone would develop great habits.

The truth is forming good habits are extremely difficult. This is something that I have struggled with throughout my life. How can we eliminate habits that are bad for us, even though they are ingrained inside of us?

Learning how to rewire our brain into creating positive habits can not only make you more efficient and better in Muay Thai, it can also change other areas of your life. The field of habits is a science that some psychologists have dedicated their lives to, so I won’t pretend to be an expert in this area.

What I will say is that when you first try to form a new habit, it is all about being consistent. Until a particular action becomes so ingrained that you feel terrible when you don’t do that habit, you need to continue to work on trying to form it.

Recommended Reading
Better than before bookIf you are interested in learning how to form habits that can positively impact your life, I recommend that you read a book called:

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.

This book talks about how you can form good habits and break bad ones that you have.

Forming good habits is something that I have struggled with over the years, which is why I found this book to be so on point.