Photo: Eric Coleman
As a multiple world title-winning MMA, kickboxing and Muay Thai fighter, Tiffany Van Soest is fearless in the ring. But when it comes to confidence outside of it, the five-time Muay Thai World Champion battles the same insecurities as the rest of us.
Here, the 29-year-old Californian and two-time GLORY bantamweight Kickboxing World Champion chats training drills, confidence in the ring, and overcoming social anxiety outside of it.
Can you tell me about your background and how you found Muay Thai and MMA?
I started karate when I was 8-years-old. I discovered Muay Thai around 15, when they began teaching classes at my karate dojo. The first time I saw MMA was around the same time when some friends were watching some old PRIDE (Japanese MMA organisation) DVDs.
You almost played football for a living but chose martial arts – do you ever miss it?
I do miss soccer! It’s a beautiful game and so universal. No matter where I am in the world when I see a pitch or people kicking a ball around it always evokes nostalgia and a warmth.
Your Instagram feed includes videos of you doing a variety of cool speed, balance and agility drills – how much of this makes up your training?
I typically do agility ladder drills and other various hand-eye coordination drills such as tennis ball drops, medicine ball catches, etc at least twice a week. It makes up about 1/3rd of my strength and conditioning training.
Do you have a particular priority or focus within your training?
It really just depends which phase of training I’m in or how close I am to a fight. If I’m further out, it’s typically more about strength and correcting imbalances and weaknesses. As the fight gets closer it gets more about cardio, speed, etc.
What kind of cardio sessions do you do outside of the ring?
I do various forms of cardio such as stair sprints, hill sprints and swimming.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
I do two training sessions per day Monday to Friday, one on Saturday and I rest on Sunday. Usually I have three days consisting of strength and conditioning along with my technical training and sparring. I also use cryotherapy, active release and yoga for recovery.
You fight in MMA, Kickboxing and Muay Thai – do you have a favourite discipline?
I enjoy Muay Thai the most. I love being able to throw elbows and I don’t have to worry about anyone trying to take me down.
What’s a typical day in your life look like?
I typically wake-up between 5:30 and 7:00 am. I like to surf or run in the morning. Depending on the day, I teach my class (Tiffany teaches boxing to men and women with Parkinson’s disease) then usually have two training sessions with a break in-between.
Do you like to feel calm or pumped up ahead of a fight? And do you have any pre-fight rituals?
I like to feel calm and relaxed. I always listen to music on my way to the venue. I practice visualisation daily leading up to the fight. My pre-fight rituals begin the night before the fight with sweet potato fries and one Heineken. On fight day, I do a morning warm-up and always have my right hand wrapped first.
What goes through your mind as you’re entering the ring?
At that point I don’t really feel much. I am in my zone and hyper-present. I think more than anything I just remind myself not to fall climbing over the top rope to get into the ring!
How do you ensure you recover properly from training and fights?
I get massages and acupuncture as needed. I use cryotherapy and active release multiple times per week.
How do you deal with the pressure and mental demands of what you do?
Seeing my sports psychologist is helpful. I also ensure I make time for myself to surf or express myself in a different form whether it be writing, art or taking a dance class.
Does maintaining your fighting weight mean you have to follow a particular eating programme?
Yes. I have a nutritionist who manages my diet while I’m in training camp to ensure I have enough energy for training while cutting and maintaining my fight weight.
What’s the most common misconception about you personally, and what you do as a fighter?
I experience and feel all of the same emotions as someone who doesn’t fight. As fighters a lot of the time it’s automatically assumed that we’re just tough and heartless, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Tough, yes. Heartless, definitely not.
You’re a multiple world champion yet you’ve opened up about suffering with social anxiety and body confidence issues – can you talk about your experience and how it affects you?
My social anxiety mainly affects me in group settings – large and small, especially when I don’t know anyone. I get racing thoughts, sweaty palms and physically uncomfortable.
I always compare my body to how I look when I’m in ‘fight shape’ and obviously it’s not quite the same as when I’m not, and it effects my confidence. I will avoid wearing certain things and just generally dislike and be unhappy with the way my body looks.
Do you feel like you have a different, more confident persona inside the ring?
I am definitely a different person in the ring. I walk the line between cocky and confident like a tight rope, and a mean streak comes out.
Have you found any strategies for coping with social anxiety?
Releasing my spoken word piece publically was a big one (see Tiffany’s YouTube video below). I felt like I finally got to tell everyone about the elephant in my room. I still struggle with it, but now I’m a little better at recognising situations and triggers and how to utilize breathing exercises to help cope.
Can you tell me about the work you do with people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease?
I volunteer with a program called Rock Steady Boxing. It’s a national non-profit organisation that helps improve the quality of life for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease through boxing.
What are your favourite items of kit for training and fighting?
I love my gladiator-style fight skirts! I only wear them in fights, so it really feels like a special occasion.
You can follow Tiffany’s training and upcoming fights via her website, www.tiffanytimebomb.com, and social media accounts: www.instagram.com/tiffanytimebomb, www.twitter.com/tiffanytimebomb and www.facebook.com/tiffanytimebomb.