Boxing Psychology Training – Dealing with Pre Fight Nerves – Weeks Before the Fight!
Every fighter whether it be a novice or a World Champion will get some form of pre fight nerves. These feelings are those of adrenaline, which pump around your body in various stages of intensity. As far back as when you sign your fight contract, send off your application form or confirm your opponent by a telephone call you will get a surge of adrenaline in the belly.
This is called “Think Fight fear”, you get this in anticipation of confrontation. It can have a corrosive effect on your body and mind. It is like a dripping tap and the build up is gradual and slow. It can hit you anytime. When you are watching TV, driving, lying in bed. You will get a sudden burst of it from nowhere and you have got to deal positively with it or it can wear down your resolve. Normally a good run, punching the bag or some type of workout will channel this think fight adrenaline positively and it helps get rid of any negative shit that has crept up on you. By using this nervous feeling in a positive way you will feel more confident and mentally stronger. At the end of your workout the feeling of unease will be gone but beware just like a bad penny it will come back again and once more will crept up on you when you are least expecting it. Be prepared for it. If it gives you negative vibes, tell it to f_ _k off. Tell it you are fit, strong and going to win your fight. Positive self-talk is a powerful weapon in combating Think fight fear.
I have seen umpteen people talk themselves out of training, competing, sparring or fighting because of this type of adrenaline. It can be a killer. My advice to anybody going to compete for instance in say the amateur trials is to get that application form immediately. Fill it in. Send it back and now the commitment is made. No second thoughts. ‘No hmmming and hahhing. No backing out. This is the way to conquer Think fight fear.
Coping with nerves of your first fight
I would recommend to pretty much everyone; reading a book called the Chimp Paradox …
It will help with performing well in sports, as well as help you with issues like aggressiveness, jealousy and anxiety.
As soon as your emotional/chimp brain recognises a threat, it takes over. This means you go into Fight, Flight or Freeze mode, as the ‘chimp brain’ takes over.
Conor Mcgregor is a master at making people feel threatened, in one way or another. Jose Aldo would never normally charge at a fighter like a mini-bull, but that’s exactly what he did in their fight.
The logical part of the brain – the neo-cortex, was ‘shut off’ thanks to nervousness and anger, and the chimp brain, did it’s thing. Conor seemed to anticipate this and stepped ‘into the pocket’ and countered Jose’s left hand with one of his own.
The chimp-brain, makes technical, ‘fine motor’ skills difficult to carry out, and logical decisions go out of the window – that’s why people go mental and smash stuff up after an argument.
The chimp brain makes it easier to carry out ‘big’ movements – like a deadlift for example, but will also burn all your energy up, VERY quickly and your decision making skills, accuracy and dexterity will all be lost to the chimp. The little fcuker.
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.
Speaking of kicking, I couldn’t actually throw a roundhouse kick. Kicks were above the waist only and despite training loads on high kicks, thanks to all the tension around my hips (due to the fight or flight response), kicks just weren’t happening.
The kickboxing fight was in front of a decent size, drunken and aggressive crowd, and I felt pretty threatened as soon as I walked into ‘the arena’ (felt fine 2 minutes before).
Compare this to an MMA fight I did on a Sunday afternoon, in a sports hall, in front of a dozen or so people – much calmer and technical (sorry for terrible video quality)
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.
– Narrowing of the field of vision (which is a physical effect with psychological consequences)
– Inability to make logical decisions.
As the ‘Chimp 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.
Muscular tension can be a big problem. If your 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
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
This can make a huge difference. The vagus nerve controls many ‘automatic’ processes in the body, including digestion and heart rate.
Stimulating the vagus nerve is a direct and effective way to make you feel more calm and relaxed.
You can stimulate the nerve by massaging your ear lobe, by pulling the ear lobe outwards and down. Please see this video for the details:
Train and spar in front of friends and a small ‘crowd’ if possible. Research shows that ‘practising with anxiety’ improves performance in stressful situations (link to study here). Remember to keep things simple and don’t introduce new techniques – we can do less things when we’re anxious, so for your first fight – focus on the fundamentals.
Trust in the Process Not the Outcome
Trust in the process – trust in your training, your routines, your techniques. Do not focus on the actual outcome. This will help you focus on what you need to do in the run-up to and during the fight.
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-out 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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t take my advice though, trial any supplements in training, and/or strsssful situations yourself. Never take caffeine before a fight, muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure etc will go mental.
Have 2 or 3 Default Techniques
Just in case you go into ‘freeze’ mode, make sure you have a couple of techniques to fall back on.
Your mind has gone blank? Then go to your default stand up technique of jab and circle, or dummy the shot and throw an inside leg kick.
You may also want to think about a way to control the fight or flight response too. If you can acknowledge the ‘chimp brain’ in your daily life, there’s a chance you’ll have the emotional intelligence to acknowledge it during a fight.
In this is the case, ensure you have a strategy to handle the chimp, and make sure he doesn’t steal all your energy. Pick your shots, and remember not to fly in with punches. Take a deep breath if possible too.
For an advanced level of relexation int he weeks and days before a fight – you can look to use “Yoga Nidra” (see Youtube) for “deep rest not sleep” recovery and rest. To remove tension from the body there is also a technique called “focussing” by Eugene Gendlin. The foucssing technique is probably best to use a few weeks out before a fight, as in theory, it can bring up past trauma that you’ve yet to process.
You can read more about focussing here -https://focusing.org/sixsteps
- If it’s your first fight, be prepared for an adrenaline rush, and then dump. Unless you are used to high-risk situations (e.g. in the military, or Police), then this will almost definitely happen. Prepare for both the rush – trying to pace yourself, and the dump – when you feel exhausted, have a way of dealing with this technically (like picking your punches, circling, clinching), and psychologically
- Do NOT let your sporting performance become entangled with your self worth. Keep it separate, be humble in victory and defeat
- Remember – it’s not actually a life or death situation. Motorcross, even mountain biking is more dangerous.
“Fight because you want to test your skills, not because you want to brag about winning”
It can be a great insight into this subject watching fighters behind the scenes waiting to go out to the ring or the cage, much can be learnt. Also I advise younger fighters to speak to the more experienced guys and ask them how they deal with pre fight nerves, it can be a worthwhile thing to do.