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One of the reasons why Muay Thai is such an amazing sport is because of the growth that you experience from the beginning to the end.
In my previous article, I talked about the three stages of Muay Thai development. The first phase requires you to develop your fundamentals. After you learn the basics, you reach the steep acceleration phase, where you improve rapidly. This last phase is the most exciting period in your Muay Thai growth because you are constantly learning.
After a few years of making rapid gains, you will find your gains start to level off as you enter the plateau phase. When you start to plateau, you need to make a conscious effort to improve, or your game will stay the same year after year.
I know people who have trained for a decade, yet are not improving. You do not want to be that one person at the gym who has been training for ten years, but has worse technique than the guy who has only been training for one year.
If you find yourself in the plateau phase, here are five reasons why you are not improving.
#1: You Are Out of Shape
Being out of shape is a great way to feel like crap in training. When I am out of shape, I spend the entire training session thinking about how tired I am, instead of focusing on improving. Sure, I can look good for a few minutes, but the moment the pace increases I falter.
Sparring especially sucks when you do not have good cardio. Poor cardio during sparring is not only bad for your development, it can be downright dangerous if you are up against a heavy hitter. The moment you start getting tired, you switch to survival mode and end up taking more head damage.
When I talk about fitness, I am not referring to having six-pack abs or your physical appearance. Anyone can starve themselves enough to get six-pack abs without being fit. I am talking about the ability to train a full 2-hours without dying every minute of it. Sure, you will get tired, but there is a difference between being tired and being out of shape.
Everyone knows how they feel when they are fit and how they feel when they are not. Fitness and Muay Thai go hand in hand. Unless you are an instructor who is teaching classes and not training, it is important that you always maintain a high level of fitness to ensure you keep improving.
#2: You Do Not Set Goals
Goal setting is important to Muay Thai, whether you are a fighter or not. A significant part of goal setting is understanding your strengths and weaknesses. Once you do, you can put yourself in positions to improve these areas.
Perhaps you hate clinching because you have not made it a priority to improve your clinch. Instead of avoiding the clinch, you need to set a goal of improving your clinch skills, so you stop feeling uncomfortable every time you clinch.
It is important to have a combination of short term and long term goals. In the short term, you might want to focus on learning the basics of the clinch, and a long term goal might be that you can competitively clinch with the best person at your gym. Whatever goals you create, make sure you keep them SMART goals (Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic and Timely).
#3: You Do Not THINK during Training
Far too many people go through the motions in Muay Thai, without ever thinking about what they do. If you have a coach that is constantly watching your every move, then you do not need your thinking brain turned on. However, if you do not have the luxury of a coach constantly critiquing you, you need to coach yourself.
This is especially important when you are doing individual drills like hitting the heavy bag, shadow boxing, and sparring without supervision. While you are doing individual work, it is important to constantly ask yourself how you can be better.
Many students never learn to think because they rely on their instructor to correct their mistakes, without taking the responsibility on themselves to fix things. While beginners are not equipped with the knowledge or tools to critique their own technique, after years of training you should be able to tell when you do something correctly or not.
#4: You Are Staying in Your Comfort Zone
It is so easy to get in a routine and stick to that routine. Human beings like taking the path of least resistance. Changing your routine and doing something that puts you outside of your comfort zone is uncomfortable. It can make you feel uneasy and scary at times.
Going out of your comfort zone often means sparring with new people. Finding new people might require you to go to a different gym to work with new sparring partners, or it might require a trip to Thailand.
Sometimes the best way to jump-start improvement is to change the scenery around you. You might have learned everything you can from your current instructor and need a new perspective. Whatever the reason, it is important to recognize when a situation has gone south and you need to move.
Being at a gym is like being in a relationship. Frequently it is easier to stay in a bad relationship and maintain the status quo than it is to move on into unfamiliar territory.
This often happens in Thailand when you work with a trainer for a long time. Sometimes you need a change to take your game to another level.
I recommend booking a trip to Thailand if you really want to stimulate your growth. While you are in Thailand, book private lessons so you can maximize your learning.
#5: You Think You Know it ALL
The biggest reason for a lack of improvement is the misconception that you know it all. Just because someone has trained Muay Thai for ten years does not mean that person has mastered the sport. I would never tell anyone I have mastered Muay Thai because I never will. There is always more I can learn and things I can improve on.
The moment you start to think you know it all, is the moment you stop improving. Always be humble and realize there is always more to learn, regardless of how long you have been training.
The fact that you are reading this article, probably means you are not one of these ‘know it all’ types.
Once you hit the plateau stage in Muay Thai, you need to make a conscious effort to improve your game in training.
Unless you are lucky enough to have a dedicated trainer who watches over you and provides direct feedback to make you better (training in Thailand), you need to take your Muay Thai development into your own hands.
You need to take responsibility for your improvements and develop a strategy to improve. Growing requires you to focus on goal setting, learn how to critique your own game, push yourself out of your comfort zone, be humble, and stay in shape. Maintaining a growth mindset in training will ensure that you continue to make gains through the plateau phase.