I’ve not had much time this week as I’ve been preparing fighters for a show at the weekend,  so this post quickly summarises a simple strength development approach introduced to me by Gil Stevenson, a director of the UK Strength & Conditioning Association. If you struggle to understand how to train for strength rather than bulking up muscles, then this very simple structure can help you out.


3 — 5 sessions per week

3 — 5 exercises per session

3 — 5 sets per exercise

3 — 5 reps per set

3 — 5 minutes rest between sets

This is a simplified, easy to remember structure that helps you to design a strength training session. The combination of  numbers used depend on your phase of training, training experience and so on, but as a rough template it helps you get started.

Between 3 to 5  strength sessions a week provides enough stimulus to increase strength (although – I generally recommend 2x sessions per week for Thai boxer, as this allows sufficient developmental stimulus, without eating significantly into sport specific training). And using between 3 to 5 different multi-joint exercises with maximum effort gets results. Your exercise selection is beyond the scope of this post, but you should include a lift for the lower body, an upper body push, an upper body pull and something for the core.

Performing between 3-to-5 sets of each exercise ensures there’s sufficient volume for a strength adaptation. Using a weight that you can only lift a maximum of between 3 and 5 times with good form will provide an intensity that loads the central nervous system (CNS) sufficiently to cause an adaptation. You’ll get much stronger without putting on body weight — and a greater strength-to-weight ratio will make you more athletic and provide the foundation needed for speed and explosive power.

Resting for a minimum of 3-minutes between sets of the same exercise allows your CNS to recover enough to work at the intensity required to develop strength in the next set. If you take shorter breaks, although you won’t feel tired, your CNS will still be shot and unable to transmit a strong enough signal to lift heavy enough. Your wiring simply can’t transmit the spark to your muscles without enough re-charge time. I like to superset two non-competing exercises back-to-back without rest to condense workouts. I still aim for a 3-min rest period before repeating the same exercise again. Your whole session should take an hour or less.

As a rough and ready outline you could do a lot worse than applying the 3-to-5 structure to your strength training sessions.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.



    Part 1 | The Optimal Performance Pyramid
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    Part 3 | Relentless Endurance & The Optimal 12-Week Fight Camp

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  • Don Heatrick BSc. (Hons) Level 4 Strength & Conditioning Coach, Muay Thai Coach


    Don Heatrick, owner of Heatrick Strength & Conditioning, is a renowned Level 4 Strength and Conditioning coach, Muay Thai coach and former pro Thai boxer from the UK.

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