Phases of Preparation

Here is my Savate training schedule, in which I explain my stages of preparation for a tournament and how and why I integrate psychological themes into my physical routine.

Savate tournament training plan

James Southwood, World Champion in Savate Assaut

Phase one. Distance preparation: 8-10 weeks out.

Running: I run 5k, 10k distances a couple of times per week. This improves my cardiovascular capacity and, moreover, it sharpens my psychological endurance. Running supplies a mild stress that can be borne by attending to the present moment – which is a useful practice.
Strength: I do weighted reps at the end of workouts. And bodyweight exercises every day. These are the tools that are going to build better technique.

Bag work and technical drills. A little every day. I school the basics, get used to the strikes again and return to improving my elementary technique.

I reflect on what went well last time and what I need to improve. If it can be changed, then I will focus on it.

Phase two. Intensity training: 4-7 weeks out.

Running. I run in intervals (eg. jog 20s, run 10s for 4 minutes) or at middle distance (800m-1500m) a few times per week.
Circuits: I make my bag work harder by inserting stair runs or circuit exercises between rounds. These exertions mimic the conditions of a fight. Psychologically too, the waxing and waning of intensity mirrors competition.

I vary my sparring rounds with new partners and themes to invigorate my response to the unexpected. This is good ring preparation.

Sparring will also demonstrate my relationship with fears and excuses. Is my work easy or laboured (which might suggest psychological resistance)? When I slack off, is there an excuse I am protecting?

I also watch boxing matches and other fights online, paying attention to the strategies and to each fighter’s response to the key events.

Phase three. Fine tuning: 1-3 weeks out.

All my fitness training is condensed into sparring or bagwork with interval circuit exercises. If sparring doesn’t tire me out, I work harder. This prepares me for working at my fullest capacity very soon.

I refine a handful of combinations and execute them under pressure (eg. after a difficult exercise).

When I meditate I simply observe my fears and anxiety. I don’t try and do anything with them. This ‘me’ will have to do. I will need him soon.

Phase four. Rest: 1 week out.


By this time, sparring will have taken residence inside my head and I will be rehearsing fights in my mind’s eye. Inside this personal cinema I can tailor strategy for the expected opposition.

Specific competitive anxiety will gather as the fight nears and I see it as things falling into focus. I meditate on the state I find myself in. I familiarise myself with what it is like to exist with this anxiety and what it is telling me. My physical preparation is set and any gaps are both inevitable and too late to fix. It is still possible to apply full effort and that is where my attention should be.

Ready? No. Not yet.

Not until the referee says ‘allez! ‘

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