Guys, I’m excited to write up this athlete profile for professional Muay Thai fighter and former world champion Greg Wootton.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Greg over the last couple of months, as we have been doing strength and conditioning work together during a break from competition. He’s an excellent athlete with vast experience, interesting insight, and a very nice guy. I hope you’ll enjoy the lessons you can learn from what he has to say.
I’ve added my own comments in the blue writing.
Stats & Honours
Professional Muay Thai fighter
Light welterweight (63.5kg-65kg)
35 fights (31 wins, 4 losses, including a victory over Thailand’s most decorated champion Petboonchu FA group).
2 world titles
U.K. Ranked No.1, represented and medalled for England at world and European amateur championships.
I trained at KO Gym my whole fighting career, but I’m now head coach at Stars Gym and UCL university club, and also coach fighters out of Bloodline gym. I have a 1st in Sport and Exercise Science from Roehampton University.
During your competitive years, what did a typical week in the gym look like?
A typical week in the gym consisted of two sessions a day, six days a week with Sundays off.
Training session were a mixture of:
- Technical – pad/bag work, technique drills, light or hard sparring, clinch work.
- Conditioning – Short runs, longer runs, skipping, shuttle runs.
- In the last month or so before a fight, every session finished with 50 kicks each leg, 50 punch-kicks, 300 knees on the bag, 100 push-ups, and 300 ab exercises.
Active recovery on my rest day was Bikram yoga.
Looking back, I definitely used to overtrain sometimes. ‘The more the better’ is the pervading culture in Thailand and in many martial arts gyms. This now seems to be shifting to a smarter training approach.
The training Greg describes above is extremely taxing on the body. That volume and intensity of training can only be sustained for a couple of months at most (usually in the run up to a fight).
Trying to train like that all the time will result in injuries and burn out. A huge part of training is RECOVERY!
Did you do any strength and conditioning (as we now know it, strength work, etc)? Why do you think it has taken so long to catch on in fighting sports?
In nearly every session there were calisthenics of some sort (burpees, squats, press-ups, etc). We also used to do hard Tabata sprint work and circuit training.
Depending on how far we were from a fight, we’d also include things like:
- Shadow boxing with weights, medicine ball slams, and hitting a tyre with a sledgehammer.
- Walking lunges, clean and presses, kettlebell swings, pull-ups, hanging leg raises, ladder footwork drills and ab rollouts.
I didn’t do any traditional heavy lifting such as squats or deadlifts though. I was afraid of gaining muscle mass and struggling to make weight for fights.
In hindsight, I perhaps should have moved up in weight at some point and trained to get stronger at that weight.
S&C is now a part of fight sports thanks to the influence of top UFC competitors working with dedicated coaches. I think the reason this didn’t happen earlier is due to a lack of education about the benefits a proper S&C programme can bring, along with an ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ mentality.
Plus, the lack of money in Muay Thai makes it difficult for athletes to actually train with an S&C coach.
Pretty much all athletes at the top levels of sport are now doing some form of structured strength and conditioning. Skill alone is not enough anymore; it’s all about being stronger, faster, and more agile too.
A properly designed strength and conditioning programme can turn good fighters into formidable, menacing ones.As a weight class athlete who needed to maintain a specific weight, how much of a problem was this for you?
From my experience as a fighter, coach, and generally being around gyms, I’ve seen a lot of disordered eating habits.
By disordered eating, I mean binge eating, food deprivation, water loading, dehydration and all manner of crazy diets.
In any weight category sport, there is intense pressure to make weight. Under that pressure, and without proper education and care, athletes will push their bodies right to the limit.
What many people don’t realise is that the more we force our body in to a lower weight class, the more we damage it’s natural state of homeostasis. Our metabolism, electrolyte balance, digestive health, hydration levels etc, all get messed up.
After the ‘successful’ weight cut, the athlete has his fight and then ‘rewards’ himself by binge eating. With his metabolism in such a dire state, he regains weight quickly and easily. It now becomes a vicious cycle of diet, fight, binge, repeat.
A lot of psychological damage also occurs during this cycle. It creates a very unhealthy relationship with food.
Average gym clients do the same, but usually on on a smaller scale. Train hard for a few weeks, go on holiday, fall off the wagon, come back, berate and punish themselves in the gym, fall off again, etc. It’s not a recipe for happiness.
I’m thinking of writing a few articles about this issue in sports and training, and have lots of suggestions of how to fix the problem.
Greg raises an excellent point with regards to ‘normal’ clients. Yo-yo diets and drastic weight loss rarely ever lead to good, long-lasting results. In fact, these diets can make you more likely to gain fat in the long run as they damage your metabolism.
You are a big believer in psychology – did you have any specific rituals/routines that you credit for helping your success as a fighter?
100%. I believe psychology is important in all sports, and even more so in fight sports. Over the years I have picked up a lot of knowledge about how to train the mind. This started out to help me become a better fighter, but later became more about being a better person.
Here was my daily routine in training camp before fights:
I’d start the day with 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation shortly after waking up in the morning (check the ‘Headspace’ app for an introduction to meditation). I’d focus upon bodily sensations and breathing. This really set up my day, and I’d notice when I didn’t do it.
It brought me clarity, awareness, and made me more present, better equipped to deal with whatever was thrown at me (in the gym and in life!)
I’d then train, eat and read a bit. Reading something inspiring or educational is massively important. If you aren’t growing and improving, you get stale.
(‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed is a good book, dispelling the myth of talent, inspiring you to work hard and put the hours in. Malcom Gladwell’s ‘David and Goliath’ is another inspiring book that changes the way you look at challenges and adversity, something sport is full of. Eckhart Tolle’s the ‘Power of Now’ also helps with staying present in life and at competition time.)
After that, I would often go to a lunchtime meditation class at the Buddhist centre near the gym. This was priceless for resting and recharging. It helped me deal with the anxiety and stress of competing.
Afterwards, it was back to the gym for more training. During the more monotonous parts, like long runs, I’d visualise scenes I wanted to come true. I’d talk to myself and repeat positive mantras about success to build my self belief, especially close to fights. That’s when doubts creep in and your spirit gets tested. (Read ‘The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind’ by Dr. Josef Murphy to learn about mantras and building belief.)
Often, I’d catch myself doing this this mental training and think I was nuts. It didn’t matter though. It worked.
This psychological training helps beyond fighting – with anxiety, fear, and the everyday stress of life. It gives you the tools to dig yourself out of depression and have better relationships (which is mostly what life is about). It can help you become a better, happier person.
What were some of the greatest lessons you learned during your career?
- You can learn something from everyone and every experience, no matter how good or bad.
- If you want to do something, you have the power to try to achieve it. No excuses. No one is responsible but you.
- Most importantly – ‘Belief is the most powerful weapon we have’.
What drove you as an athlete?
This is a deep one.
I used to think that I was driven to be the best as a personal challenge, to see what I was capable of achieving. This is still true to some extent. Honestly though, after some time away from the sport, I realise I was striving for recognition and appreciation.
In my mind, if I achieved great things, my friends and family would praise and value me. Maybe I lacked this growing up. Maybe I simply didn’t like or accept myself without accomplishing great things like winning fights and world titles. It’s a mad one to admit to, and quite sad.
I’m now quite sceptical when I see other athletes pushing themselves to their limits. If they truly loved and accepted themselves, would they push themselves and their bodies to breaking point to win a fight or a race or match? I doubt it.
As humans, we all have work to do on ourselves, but athletes are more than likely broken in some way. Sport is sometimes a way to focus on something else and avoid trying to fix the real issue.
Look at how many fighters and athletes end successful careers and then suffer from depression. Without training to distract them, they can no longer seal over the cracks of the real problem.
I don’t mean to imply that sport isn’t healthy, but from my experiences, taking something to such an extreme could have a darker motivation than can be seen from the surface.
If you could do it all over again, what would you do different?
Short answer is nothing. No regrets. Every experience is a learning curve, and experiences shape us into the people we become.
However, I would have liked to have invested in myself more (if I could have afforded to). I would have paid a S&C coach for sessions and a program. I would have seen a nutritionist a lot earlier to help make weight for fights in a healthy way. I would have gone on more training camps abroad and gone to more seminars and talks.
Knowledge is power, and investing in yourself is never a waste if what you do is your passion.
Big up Mustafa for taking me up a level with his fresh, innovative practical training and for taking the time to do this article.
Check out my website : www.gregwootton.co.uk
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