Post fight recovery

A lot has been written about the pre-fight training, dieting, drilling and more, but what happens afterwards? Many have trained to fight, some have fought, and only a few have racked up enough experience to develop their own post-fight recovery strategy. Having seen and been through the sensation of the adrenaline dump after the fight many times, I have started to notice patterns in mine and others behaviour after a competition.

What should happen:

Unless you were lucky enough to score a first-round knockout, you will likely have bruised shins and thighs at the very least, possibly a black/swollen eye or broken nose, and possibly even a facial wound that requires stitches. It is an important time to start treating your injuries as soon as the fight is finished. Your legs should be elevated, with ice on any haematomas (bruises/corks). While this is happening, the doctor should give you a check-up to see that you haven’t sustained any injuries, and will stitch you up if you received any cuts. This is a good time to rehydrate and replace the electrolytes in your body that you no doubt lost during the fight to ensure you have the best possible post-fight recovery.

What actually happens:

This will vary a little depending on whether you won or lost your fight, but once you step out of the ring, there will usually be lots of pats on the back from friends and supporters, followed by a very similar conversation being had with many different people. It’s not uncommon to hear things like this:

“I thought you had him in the second round, but he held on and came back well.”
“You should have thrown a head kick and knocked him out”
“Dude, I love you, man.” – the drunkest guy in the room.

At the end of it all, the only opinion that truly matters is one of your corners, and they will tell you whether you did your job well or not.

As mentioned earlier, straight after the fight is the best time to rehydrate, so most fighters rehydrate by heading straight to the bar to polish off the first of many beers that they will have throughout the evening. Not only does this make the fighter too busy to go and ice those bruises, but the alcohol itself also causes injury recovery time to increase. Most fighters do themselves no favours by celebrating with alcohol immediately after the fight, but they feel they deserve a little reward for sacrificing their social lives for the weeks/months leading up to the fight, and who can blame them!?

My personal post-fight recovery strategy usually falls somewhere between what was covered in “what should happen” and “what actually happens”. I have begun to realise that my body recovers more slowly than most other fighters, so it is important that I start icing immediately after the fight. I’ll try and elevate my legs and put ice on any bumps that I feel, no matter how small they seem at the time. When I go to sleep that night, I also sleep with my legs elevated on some pillows and put compression socks on my legs. I have noticed that this process has helped me with my recovery the most throughout the years.

I also usually have a beer or two on the night of the fight, but my stomach is usually a little upset from the adrenaline dump and I never feel like more than a couple of beers. I do however tend to have a celebration the next day where I hang out with a few mates and have a barbecue with some drinks. In the earlier days, I used to go out and celebrate by trying to drink as much as I could, but that doesn’t happen any more, as I don’t want to put up with the aches and pains the next day.

Using anti-inflammatories to aid post-fight recovery:

Anti-inflammatory medication such as Voltaren can help with recovery, but there is a catch.

My trusted physio (who regularly works with some of Australia’s top-performing sports teams and athletes) explained to me how Voltaren works like this: It stops the injured/inflamed area sending a signal to the brain, meaning that the brain doesn’t tell the body to activate its inflammation response (eg. swelling). This means that you won’t have the inflammation to get rid of, but the inflammation is part of the healing process, so sometimes it can be a good thing. He usually suggests to me waiting a few days before using Voltaren, but like most things, this would be different for everyone, so it may be best to consult with a doctor or physio before you start popping pills.

If you want to use a more natural method of limiting unnecessary inflammation, you can start with your diet. Avoiding processed foods and alcohol is a big one, but if you are like most fighters, these are the first things that you consume post-fight. It depends on how soon you want to get back in the ring! Do you want to be back to training in a few days, or a few weeks? Is it really that important that you get hammered after you fight, and polish off a Large Big-Mac meal? These are questions only you can answer.

Should I try and massage the sore areas?

This is a bit of an age-old debate, and many old-school Thai trainers like to try and massage out the swelling the very next day after the fight. I personally have found this to be too early and has inhibited my recovery, and my physio tends to agree. If you massage the area too hard and too soon, while the muscle is still damaged you will only increase the damage. Once the recovery process is well underway however, you can use some massage to help move the swelling and also relax the corked muscle to get your range back. The way I have found works best is massaging away from the sore areas. So if you were to imagine the corked area to be like a volcano, with the centre of the sore area being the tip of the volcano, you will mostly try to keep pushing “down-hill”. In other words, start at the centre and slide away with pressure (some oil/lubrication can sometimes make this easier). Be careful not to go too hard or you may just end up causing more inflammation.

I highly recommend seeing a sports physio in the week following your fight. If your legs are particularly swollen they may not be able to tell you much until the swelling goes down, but there have been many times throughout my career where I had something that just felt ‘sore’ which turned out to actually be a major injury, which was only picked up by my physio. I was then able to start treatment immediately and prevent further damage.

Bottom line is, the better you execute your post-fight recovery strategy, the sooner you will be able to return to the ring. I have seen fighters be so disciplined that after they fight, they are immediately back on their diet to try and fight again as soon as possible. While I envy this commitment, I also believe that it is easy to lose motivation if there are no rewards. As long as I get myself back to training within 2 weeks, I won’t have set my body back too far, but I also will feel refreshed from the break, and motivated to get back into my training again.

– Ben Johnston – Muay Thai fighter and trainer.

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