Bodybuilding & Muay Thai: Can You Do Both?

November 14, 2021

If you want to be big and also have the ability to throw deadly strikes with the art of eight limbs, then combining bodybuilding and Muay Thai might be exactly what you’re after.

You can do bodybuilding and Muay Thai together. However, both activities will negatively affect each other so you may not become great at either sport.

Let me explain further why bodybuilding and Muay Thai may not be complimentary activities and why you might be better off choosing one or the other.

Can You Do Both Bodybuilding And Muay Thai?

Bodybuilding And Muay Thai

Doing both bodybuilding and Muay Thai is possible. However, you will find these activities are not complimentary and will take from each other. Meaning you won’t become a very good bodybuilder or Muay Thai fighter.

Doing both activities is known as concurrent training. Professional athletes in many sports use a concurrent training approach because of the demands of their sport. You are likely using a concurrent training approach within your own training.

That is training two or more distinctly different physical qualities within the same session, day, or week. However, this can cause what is known as the interference effect also known as the concurrent training effect [5]. This effect has shown that when performing weight training and cardio instead of just weight training, fewer strength gains are seen.

If you are purely a hobbyist who enjoys both activities, this is fine. Many weekend warriors dabble in multiple sports and activities for the enjoyment. But if your goal is to become good enough to win competitions and fights, or even become a professional, then doing both bodybuilding and Muay Thai is not a good idea.

You must also be aware that doing either bodybuilding or Muay Thai will take energy away from the other. Meaning, blasting your chest and triceps on Monday will hamper your Muay Thai training later that day or the following day.

A hard sparring session on Friday evening will hamper your bodybuilding session on Saturday. Each activity will take from the intensity you can operate at the following session or day.

Is Muay Thai Good For Bodybuilding?

Is Muay Thai Good For Bodybuilding

Muay Thai is not good for bodybuilding. If your goal is to put on as much muscle mass as possible, then Muay Thai will take away from that process. Especially at the intensity of many Muay Thai training sessions and the volume of Muay Thai conditioning that you need to do to be fight-ready.

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Bodybuilding stimulates the mTOR pathway which signals anabolic processes [3]. This anabolic process is how muscle is built. It’s signaled by the key mechanisms of hypertrophy (muscle growth). These are mechanical tension and metabolic stress [1].

Mechanical tension is simply that. Muscle tension. This is maximized by the high generation of force with stretch (i.e. lifting heavy weights through a full range of motion). Metabolic stress is the build-up of by-products that are produced through energy production [2].

You may associate this with the feeling of the “burn” when getting near the end of your lifting set. This lifting will activate the mTOR pathway. Muay Thai on the other hand will activate the AMPK pathway.

The AMPK pathway inhibits the mTOR pathway meaning it will blunt the muscle growth response which isn’t great for bodybuilding [4]. Considering that the mTOR pathway can be activated for up to 18 hours, the heavy cardio response of Muay Thai will likely inhibit your ability to maximally grow muscle [4].

This means Muay Thai is not a good activity to do if your main goal is bodybuilding and getting as big as possible.

Can You Lift Weights And Do Muay Thai?

You may be wondering if you should even lift weights for Muay Thai if Muay Thai itself will inhibit the anabolic pathways. I’m here to tell you yes. You should be strength training for Muay Thai without question.

Muay Thai strength training is not about maximizing muscle growth or even strength for that matter, it is about strengthening tendons for the rigors of Muay Thai. Developing robustness in muscles and joints to reduce the risk of injury. And increasing physical performance such as rate of force production and power output so you can be stronger in the clinch and throw harder strikes.

Therefore, lifting weights is a must as a Muay Thai fighter to improve your Thai boxing performance.

Summary

Bodybuilding and Muay Thai can be done together if you don’t mind not becoming great at either activity. Each session spent performing the other activity is time spent expending physical and mental energy that could be spent getting better at the other sport.

If you are looking to gain as much muscle as possible and get on stage to compete, then a sole focus on bodybuilding is a must. If you want to become a great Thai boxer with a gas tank to match, then solely focus on Muay Thai and use strength training as a complimentary training session to enhance your Muay Thai.

References

1. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(10), 2857-2872.

2. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Potential mechanisms for a role of metabolic stress in hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training. Sports medicine43(3), 179-194.

3. Methenitis, S. (2018). A brief review on concurrent training: from laboratory to the field. Sports6(4), 127.

4. Baar, K. (2014). Using molecular biology to maximize concurrent training. Sports Medicine44(2), 117-125.

5. Hickson, R. C. (1980). Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology45(2), 255-263.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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