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How Shannon lifted to defend her World Title.

Recently I was lucky enough to watch Shannon Gardiner retain her WBC Superfeatherweight Muay Thai World Title. I've been helping Shannon with her strength training since she had shoulder surgery late last year.


I thought it would be good to look back over her injury rehab and into her preparation for her latest title defence.


Shannon had shoulder surgery, more specifically an open stabilisation Latarjet procedure in August 2023.


This meant she was out of action for a number of week.


Following this we were limited to just the bike to maintain conditioning as impactful movements such as running were not recommended.


So, after an initial bike time trial I programmed two days of intervals per week based off the time trial results. This varied between shorter intervals like 8 x 30s with 30s rest and longer more fight specific intervals such as 4 x 3mins.


At this stage my job was to get Shannon some wins in the gym, keep her moving, motivated and let her feel like she was at least getting something done. And she was.


Our strength work was mostly muscular endurance based. Trying to hit all our movement patterns, relatively low load, higher rep and tinkering with what exercises made sense for someone with one arm out of action.


A big point to make here is that we still trained her uninjured arm hard. Research has shown a phenomenon known as the crossover effect which results in reduced strength losses in injured limbs when the uninjured is trained. The wonders of our nervous system in full effect.


Further to this I employed the use of two specialist pieces of equipment to target the lower body. Namely the Safety Squat Bar which allowed me to load both the squat and hinge pattern without the need for Shannon to hold load across her shoulders or in her hands. The Safety Bar Good Morning got a serious workout and we were constantly nudging Shan's physio to give us the green light for Deadlift variations.


Speaking of Physio, all this time Shannon had been diligently working away at her physio exercises which looked to slowly introduce range of motion and load into the shoulder. These exercises included things such as basic stretching and plenty of banded external rotations, performed daily. This slowly transitioned into exercises like high planks, cable movements, skipping and shadow boxing.


Because Shannon was diligent, positive and always looking to do more her recovery went really well and she quickly transitioned back into her regular Muay Thai training obviously starting out on light duties. It was great to see and meant that we could proceed with getting stronger and more powerful albeit with a relative strength deficit.


This is where I began bringing in jumping movements to pair with our strength movements. I'm a big fan of strength power complexes. That's a high force movement like a Squat followed by a dynamic movement using the same pattern, such as a Box Jump. It was important we didn't throw Shannon under the bus too quickly so I employed the use of the Box Jump and Banded Broad Jump initially in order to dampen the landing requirements while we built greater tolerance for the dynamic stuff.


We were continuing with the unilateral (one sided) work but now we could also train the injured side. As I mentioned before there was a clear strength deficit from side to side but Shannon worked hard to overcome it and celebrated each little victory of a heavier dumbbell weight or more reps as the deficit slowly evened out.

Shannon was getting back into full Muay Thai training and it was basically green light time to start really ripping in without limitation other than a strength deficit. We progressed by slowly introducing movements such as Landmine Press, Plate Press and with the approval of her Physio, Deadlift variations.  By December Shannon was back Bench Pressing 30kg for reps and performing Med Ball throws. This was only a 3/4 months after surgery, a great result! A quick side note Shannon decided this was about the right time to run a Marathon just to give herself a gut check. Much to my disdain but champions do champion shit I suppose! She was back!

Muay Thai athletes, through the nature of their sport training already do a tonne (like a shit tonne) of unweighted dynamic movements: kicks, knees, elbows, punches using various techniques that require transfer of force through the ground across multiple joints through the "core" and into their intended target. Normally while breathing pretty bloody hard.


So the question becomes; What are they missing? And this goes for most athletic programs. Typically it's a cross section of high force (heavy lifting) and maximal power output (rapid displays of force) without the added fatigue of a sports training session. This is what will drive increases in an athletes strength & power.


So my job ended up being simply to get Shannon strong and powerful. Say no more.


We continued from this point progressing our main lifts and using Strength/Power complexes that included plenty of jumps, throws and even overspeed plyometric work with the use of bands. Whilst we never tested her maxes I used an estimate and programmed her main lifts to progress a touch each week basically all the way up to 2 weeks out from the fight. Obviously with gym work being such a small part of her overall training there is always an option to autoregulate our training loads based on how she is feeling. This is especially the case when working across different coaches, locations and squads. And that's not to mention the stuff Shannon likes to tack on herself like say, marathons! Anyway we were well an truly in the green zone in terms of relative intensity so I was happy to progress pretty linearly until a couple of training niggles meant dialling it back just a touch.


All in all it's been a pleasure helping Shannon so far. Her bounce back from surgery to defend her World Title shows the focus, determination and work ethic of a true champion. Personally I think we still have so much strength & power to gain which is a very scary prospect for whoever is next.

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