Fight Nerves / Fight Psychology

Adrenaline Rush & the Adrenaline Dump
If you’ve been unfortunate enough to watch any of my fights, you’ll probably notice how I tend to go absolutely mental for a few minutes, and then start blowing out of my proverbial back-side.  This is a consequence of the ‘fight or flight’ reflex which kicks-in whenever a person (or animal) feels threatened.

This is thanks to a massive surge of adrenaline, which has many consequences and effects decision-making, endurance and strength.

During the adrenaline rush, for the first 30 seconds or so at least, you are pretty much the strongest man on the planet.  Your Nervous System (Sympathetic nervous system) is activated 110%, you’re heart rate goes through the roof and you want to either run a million miles in the opposite direction, or destroy anything and everything put in front of you.

When this rush ‘slows down’ however, you will feel absolutely exhausted.  It’s as if you’ve placed all your energy supplies for the week into a window of 2 minutes, and if the thing that’s threatening you, isn’t destroyed, you’re in trouble.
This dump can also happen if you believe the fight is about to end, or you are about to win.  See the Shane Carwin Vs Brock Lesnar fight for a good example.

My kickboxing fight is also a good example.  Through inexperience – after landing one shot I thought I was in with a chance of winning the fight, and because of this, my adrenaline levels went through the roof. Then I got a kicking.

Effects of Adrenaline
Besides the obvious physical effects –
– Increased Heart Rate & Blood Pressure
– Increased strength (during the ‘rush’, massive drop-off during the ‘dump’)
– Muscle Tension – look at this in more detail later

There are also important psychological effects to be aware of.
Including –
– Narrowing of the field of vision (which is a physical effect with psychological consequences)
– Inability to make logical decisions.

If we were to refer to the Triune brain model (which is out of date, but good for explaining stuff); the ‘Reptile Brain’ takes over, and you act purely on instinct.
Even if your corner is shouting technical advice, even if you are a black belt ninja, if you are not relaxed enough, your ability to make decisions, stick to the game plan, or even execute anything technical or elaborate  will greatly diminish.

Physical Effects
Muscular tension can be a big problem.  If you’re game plan relies on any kind of flexibility for example, this can be an issue if you are not relaxed enough.

According to my Yoga teacher at least, the main area that tension is stored whenever you feel stressed is you psoas muscles and to an extent the piriformis muscles.  This makes sense, because having spoken to my friend who is a Thai boxer, and experienced my inability to do high kicks in my kickboxing fight; being stressed out/nervous/feeling threatened causes a lot of tension around your hips which can effect your ability to execute certain techniques.

Preparation to Reduce Pre-Fight Nerves

Start as soon as possible before your fight, and visit your fight venue is possible.   Visualise the walk to the ring, the stare-down, the bell going, the walk out, and the actual fight.  Visualise everyday if possible for 10-20 minutes.  Visualise different scenarios.

Walk Out Music
If possible, choose a down-beat, or soothing type walk-0ut music.  If you’re trying to stay relaxed, the music needs to correspond with this.
Also, have a word with your mates.  On the day of the fight, you don’t want messages such as ‘smash him’, ‘destroy him’ etc.  you will either want to forget about the fight until about 90 minutes before, or you’ll want messages such as ‘enjoy it’ ‘relax and do your best, don’t worry about the outcome’.

Good Warm up and Foam Roller
The best way to offset some of the tension, and to retain more flexibility is by having a good warm up.
Take a theraband and do ‘monster walks’ to warm up your glutes.
Use a foam roller to get rid of some tension in the neck, back, and glutes as well.
Do DYNAMIC stretching, to release as much tension as possible from the hips and glutes.
Keep warm with plenty of layers (sip a carbohydrate drink when you warm up to avoid dehydration), and slowly build up the intensity of a warm up, so that around 30 minutes before the fight you are doing a 100% round on the pads.
Keep warm and keep moving until you are called out for your fight.

TRE Exercises

You’ll want to pilot this one, well in advance of your fight as it can make you feel drained.
To get rid of that tension we talked about in your hips and psoas muscles, TRE appears to be the way forward.
You basically do some stretching and light exercise, then some deep breathing exercises, and then lie in a pose that fatigues the psoas muscles.
Give it a go and see if it helps.  Don’t try it the day before the fight for the first time however!  You normally feel really good for a few days, and then tired, but give it a try outside of a fight camp first.
This is a technique used to treat PTSD and all kinds of things, but in general appears to be a great way of releasing muscular tension around the hips. 

Endurance Training
It can certainly help, a lot, if you have good endurance.  If you are ‘fit as a fiddle’ you can potentially fight through the adrenaline dump and maintain a good tempo.

If you go straight from training in the gym, to a pro-rules MMA fight, you are going to poop your pants unless…you’re used to fighting on the street or having experience competing in other contact or combat sports.
I’d recommend competing in wrestling, BJJ, etc competitions before competing in MMA.
Go and watch fights too, and ask your team mates, to recreate a ‘fight’, with a walk-in, stare down, etc in the gym. Obviously don’t try and KO each other though.

Deep Breathing
Sounds cliche, but it does work.
Kron Gracie is a great advocate of breathing to control nerves.
This video has a good explanation:

Try 5g of taurine before training. See how you feel. It should act as a muscle relaxant.  If this has a positive effect on your training, consider it 30 mins or so pre-fight as well. Adaptogens such as rhodiola rosea and/or ashwagandha might be worth researching, but trial well before the fight.

About Drew

MMA, Fitness & Marketing enthusiast from North Wales, UK. A Stoic Hippy with no hair. Not to boast but - 1st Class Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough, MSc in Nutrition from the University of Liverpool. 20 years experience of weight & fitness training.
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