October 18, 2020

Strength training generally isn’t part of the Muay Thai training culture. As much as skill is the number one factor for better Muay Thai, a strength training routine can aid in punching and kicking harder and help prevent injuries often associated with Muay Thai.

Strength training for Muay Thai should focus on improving reactive and explosive strength to enhance the ability to use the stretch-shortening cycle as it directly influences kicking and punching performance.

Performance is one aspect of strength training. The other is making sure that you mitigate common injuries from voluminous Thai boxing.

Muay Thai Injury Profile

Injuries in Muay Thai are bound to happen. It’s a combat sport. Much of the injury data from Muay Thai has been collected from questionnaires in amateur to professional fighters.

If we know the most common injuries in Muay Thai, we can try to reduce the risk of these injuries through strength training depending if they are soft tissue in nature.

A 2001 study investigated beginner, amateur, and professional Muay Thai fighters (self-identified) and their injury history [1]. They found that regardless of the level, contusions and cuts were the most common. Sadly, there’s not much that can be done about that.

The second most common injuries were sprains and strains in beginner and amateur Thai boxers while in professionals, it was fractures. This is likely due to professional fighters being well-conditioned to the sport and being able to hit harder.

In terms of the distribution of injury for beginners, the legs were the most commonly injured (75%), then the trunk, the arms, and finally the head only making up 2.3% of all injuries.

Amateurs and professionals however incurred the common injuries in the legs (64% for amateurs and 53% for professionals) but the second most common injury was head injuries. The trunk was the least commonly injured site.

Injury rates for beginners run at 59 injuries per 1000 participants, 7 injuries per 1000 participants in amateurs, and 21 injuries per 1000 participants in professionals.

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However, only 7% of beginner injuries required time off training while only 4% and 6% of injuries in amateur and professional required time off.

A 2016 study showed that most injuries occurred during sparring in Muay Thai athletes of various levels [2]. It should be noted these athletes were mainly training for health benefits and the main injury mechanism were contusions.

Another 2016 epidemiological study looked specifically at injuries sustained during a fight in a group consisting of 50/50 professionals and amateurs [3].

55% reported sustaining an injury after the sampled fight which were predominantly contusions or cuts as per the 2001 study.

The primary cause of injury was being struck by an opponent (67%). About 10% of injuries were when striking the opponent.

The more fight experience an athlete had, the higher the frequency of injury which could be seen is contradictory to the study above.

Only one study tried to quantify injury rates by weight class in amateur Muay Thai competition [4]. Unfortunately, their sample size was very small for the heavier weight classes which skewed the injury data to the higher side.

Further, being amateur fights, full protection was worn which doesn’t provide a full representation of injuries in the sport which has been confirmed by the 2016 epidemiological study where protective gear was shown to reduce the risk of injury.

Sadly, due to the nature of common injuries in Muay Thai, it seems training to prevent these common injuries is to no effect. However, a 2015 study investigated foot and ankle problems in Muay Thai boxers from Thailand [5].

They found that the extensive barefoot training causes tight heel cords and gastrocnemius muscle tightness (one of the calf muscles).

Muay Thai Calf Injury

If this isn’t addressed, it can cause problems through the arch of the foot and add further problems to the forefoot which is already overloaded from bouncing and kicking.

Now we have something that can influence our strength programming for Muay Thai.

Muay Thai Strength Profile

Sadly, there isn’t any research showing strength standards in elite Muay Thai athletes or comparing elite to non-elite Muay Thai athletes regarding strength.

So in order to gain a true understanding of how to strength train for Muay Thai, we must understand the Muay Thai actions.

Firstly, we know from my previous article “How To Punch Harder” that elite boxers and knock-out artists have greater contributions from the legs than less experienced boxers or “players” and “speedsters”.

However, we know that Muay Thai is the Art of 8 Limbs. This means punching is only one-quarter of the striking arsenal available to a Muay Thai fighter.

Enhancing the power of kicking may be heavily influenced by the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC).

For example, switch kicking or double kicks or knees [6].

Enhancing SSC efficiency is the name of the game. How do we do that? By training reactive and explosive strength (fast and slow SSC). Reactive strength occurs at speeds of <250ms which are the contraction times when punches are thrown.

Explosive strength occurs at speeds of >250ms which is where most of Muay Thai movements occur [6].

In doing so, not only can we increase muscle and tendon stiffness (more stiffness = greater elastic energy), but also enhance the excitatory effect of the muscle spindles which improves force output.

This increased stiffness doesn’t just enhance force and power output, but actually reduces the energy expenditure during continuous SSC activities [6].

Furthermore, reactive strength training as well as maximal strength training can desensitize the protective mechanism in the tendon that limits the muscular and tendinous stretch much too soon in untrained individuals.

All of this combined creates a huge stimulus for your body to adapt to and to become more powerful.

Strength Training Guidelines For Muay Thai

Muay Thai Strength Profile

Most strength training programs only focus on one aspect of strength. Maximal strength. Do a quick search on the internet and you’ll see some Muay Thai strength training programs only focus on this one aspect.

They have high volumes of lower body strength exercises, exercises to failure, and a program too general to address injury issues and performance enhancements specific to Muay Thai.

Instead, I’m going to give you the blueprint for designing a proper Muay Thai strength training program to not only improve your Muay Thai performance, but to make sure you aren’t completely fatigued that you can’t train Muay Thai.

It is important to note that while being strong in the weight room has its role, it is not as important as it’s often led to be.

I’ve worked with many athletes that would be considered “weak” in the weight room but absolutely dominate their sport and can manhandle other human beings.

With that said, having a basic level of strength can help decrease the overall risk of injury while enhancing Muay Thai performance so it is a worthwhile investment.

Like with most martial arts, strength training is best performed twice a week to allow enough time and recovery to train Muay Thai multiple times a week.

I’ll split this into Phase 1 and Phase 2. Phase 1 is to prepare you for more intense work in Phase 2. It’s important to do this preparatory work first as starting with intense plyometric variations can cause injury problems quickly.

Phase 1

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Extensive (sub-maximal) Plyometric/Jump Circuit

Cell
Cell

A1) Squat Jump

1-2 x 10

Bodyweight

A2) Ankle Pop In Place (Pogo)

1-2 x 10

Cell

A3) Rolling Hop

1-2 x 10

Cell

A4) Ankle Pop Forward

1-2 x 10

Cell

A5) Lateral Squat Jump

1-2 x 10

Cell

A6) Ankle Pop Backwards

1-2 x 10

Cell

Main Strength Work

Cell
Cell

B1) Squat Variation

3-4 x 3-5

@75-88% 1RM

C1) Low Incline DB Bench

3-4 x 5-6

Cell

C2) Row Variation

3-4 x 5-6

Cell

D1) Romanian Deadlift

3-4 x 4-6

Cell

E1) Calf Raise w/ 3 sec Pause at Bottom

3 x 10-20

Cell

E2) Split Stance Med Ball Anti-Rotation Rebound

3 x 10-20/side

Cell

E3) Hanging Knee Raise

3 x 10-20

Cell

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Extensive (sub-maximal) Plyometric/Jump Circuit

Cell
Cell

A1) Split Squat Jump

1-2 x 10

Bodyweight

A2) Single Leg Ankle Forward

1-2 x 10

Cell

A3) Extensive Box Rebound

1-2 x 10

Cell

A4) Single Leg Ankle Backward

1-2 x 10

Cell

A5) Tuck Jump

1-2 x 10

Cell

Main Strength Work

Cell
Cell

B1) Single Leg Squat Variation

3-4 x 5-6/leg

@75-88% 1RM

C1) 1-Arm DB Press

3-4 x 5-6

Cell

C2) Chin-up

3-4 x 5-10

Cell

D1) Assisted Nordic Drop

3-4 x 3-5

Cell

E1) Calf Raise w/ 3 sec Pause at Bottom

3 x 10-20

Cell

E2) Band Rotation

3 x 10/side

Cell

Phase 2

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Intensive (Maximal) Plyometric/Jumps

Cell
Cell

A1) Continuous Hurdle Hop

2-3 x 6-10

Cell

B1) Box Jump

3-4 x 3-5

Cell

C1) Explosive Rotational Med Ball Throw

3-4 x 3-5

3-5 kg

Main Strength Work

Cell
Cell

D1) Power Jerk

3-4 x 2-5

@70-90% 1RM

E1) Kettlebell Clinch Pullup

3-4 x 5-10

Cell

F1) Squat Variation

2-3 x 2-5

@75-88% 1RM

G1) Romanian Deadlift

2-3 x 4-6

Cell

H1) 2 legs up, 1 leg down Calf Raise w/ 3 sec Pause

3 x 6-10/side

Cell

H2) Hanging Leg Raise

3 x 10-20

Cell

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Intensive (Maximal) Plyometric/Jumps

Cell
Cell

A1) Low Box Drop Jump

2-3 x 3-6

Cell

B1) Explosive Med Ball Punch Throw

3-4 x 3-5/side

2-3 kg

C1) Loaded Squat Jump

3-4 x 2-5

30-40 kg

Main Strength Work

Cell
Cell

D1) Single Leg Squat Variation

2-3 x 5-6/leg

Cell

E1) Low Incline DB Bench

2-3 x 4-6

Cell

E2) Row Variation

2-3 x 5-6

Cell

F1) Nordic Drop

2-3 x 3-5

Cell

H1) 2 legs up, 1 leg down Calf Raise w/ 3 sec Pause

3 x 6-10/side

Cell

H2) Landmine Rotation

3 x 5-8/side

Cell

This program addresses performance enhancements specifically for Muay Thai by enhancing the SSC with appropriate preparation for more intense jumps and plyometrics.

Further, every session addresses typical foot and ankle problems associated with extensive Muay Thai. Shortened calves pulling on heel cords.

References

1. Gartland, S., Malik, M. H. A., & Lovell, M. E. (2001). Injury and injury rates in Muay Thai kick boxing. British Journal of Sports Medicine35(5), 308-313.

2. Sieńko-Awierianów, E., Orłowski, Ł., & Chudecka, M. (2016). Injuries In Thai Boxing. Central European Journal of Sport Sciences and Medicine15(3), 27-35.

3. Strotmeyer, S., Coben, J. H., Fabio, A., Songer, T., & Brooks, M. (2016). Epidemiology of Muay Thai fight-related injuries. Injury epidemiology3(1), 1-8.

4. Gartland, S., Malik, M. H., & Lovell, M. (2005). A prospective study of injuries sustained during competitive Muay Thai kickboxing. Clinical journal of sport medicine15(1), 34-36.

5. Vaseenon, T., Intharasompan, P., Wattanarojanapom, T., Theeraamphon, N., Auephanviriyakul, S., & Phisitkul, P. (2015). Foot and ankle problems in Muay Thai kickboxers. J Med Assoc Thai98(1), 65-70.

6. Turner, A. N. (2009). Strength and conditioning for Muay Thai athletes. Strength & Conditioning Journal31(6), 78-92.

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.


Tags

muay thai


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