Following over a months lay off from training due to a persistent illness, I’ve lost a lot of muscle. Stepping back on the scales I’m nearly 5kg lighter. My composition remains good, but I need to get my weight back were it was so I’m competitive in my weight category at 75kg max (day before weigh-in).

My strength has dropped proportionally with the muscle loss, so I need that back too. I simply don’t feel robust enough to ward off injuries from training or competing. My next block of training needs to both build strength and add muscle mass in key areas (that will aid my Thai boxing performance rather than merely slowing me down). I need to focus on strength and functional hypertrophy.

3-weeks in and I’ve added nearly 2kg of muscle in only the places that I need it. No wasted bulk — and I’m beginning to feel sturdier.

I thought I’d share with you an overview of the routine I’m using.


I’ve been supersetting a strength exercise with a higher volume hypertrophy exercise, that is working sets of each exercise back to back without rest. The strength exercise is performed for 5-reps followed by 8-reps of the following hypertrophy exercise. Then taking 2-minutes rest before repeating the next set for a total of 4 work sets.

I’m training 3-times a week in the gym, alternating two session plans three times a week. So in the first week I perform session (A), then session (B), followed by session (A) again on non successive days. In the second week I perform session (B), (A), then session (B) again. The exercises used in the two sessions are as follows.


Front squat x 5-reps
Rear foot elevated split squats (Bulgarian split squats) x 8-reps each leg

Incline bench press x 5-reps
Dumbbell chest press x 8-reps

Pull-ups x 5-reps
Dumbbell bent over rows x 8-reps each side

Candlesticks x 5-reps



Deadlift x 5-reps
Single leg suspension squat x 8-reps each leg

Standing over head press behind neck x 5-reps
Barbell push press x 8-reps

Barbell bent over row x 5-reps
Suspended rows x 8-reps

Coreplate (landmine) twists x 5-reps


 Part 2 of this article elaborates on the routine, complete with videos of the exercises.


  1. Morag Kitson January 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    I would be interested in learning more about what some of these moves are, such as Candlesticks which I have not heard of before (or at least not called that), also as at the moment I do not have the strength for pull ups how I can build my strength to be able to do them. This seems to otherwise be a workout I could follow and I would like to try it for a few weeks and let you know how I get on.

    • DonHeatrick January 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Morag,
      The names used for exercises are a common problem! The exercise I refer to as Candlesticks I think are also known as Dragon Flags or Bruce Lee Sit-ups.

      I put a video together on a previous post. Please check out:

      Regarding pull-ups… how many full rep chin-ups (shoulder width grip with palms facing you) can you do? I can then recommend a progression scheme for you :)

      • Morag Kitson January 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm - Reply

        At the moment none. I lack in upper body strength for moves like this however with moves such as bicep curls, or dumbwaiters I can manage up to 15k.

        • DonHeatrick January 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm - Reply

          Isolated bicep curls will provide only minimal carry-over to chin-ups or pull-ups (as these are compound, multi-joint movements). You must develop a strong back as your focus, the arms will just come along for the ride. If you are currently unable to do a body weight chin-up you have some options:
          1. Perform suspended rows
          2. Use a lat pull-down pulley machine
          3. Perform chin-ups using assistance from bungee bands or cable pulley
          4. Perform chin-ups, jumping yourself up to the top position and lower slowly (this eccentric lengthening will make you sore!)

          Twice a week on non-consecutive days, perform 3 sets of between 3 to 5 reps of your chosen exercise variation, building in intensity.

          Periodically perform a body weight chin-up test to see if you can complete a full rep.

          • Morag Kitson January 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm

            Thanks for this, Dom, I shall let you know how I get on. The video was also really helpful as was the information on Max loading.

          • Morag Kitson January 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

            Apologies for the typo Don

  2. Andy Brown January 15, 2013 at 6:51 am - Reply

    Hi Dom, slightly unrelated but I’m currently doing a weights routine 2-3 times a week after my mt class. I just usually do 3-4 compound exercises and do 3 sets of 5 reps, with a couple of minutes rest in between and make sure I’m doing the contracting as quick as possible. as fat as I’m aware this is the best way to build power, I was recently recommended by someone to try doing 8 reps of everything. Will that still be in the Power rep ranges? Also I don’t want to put any weight on (nor lose any) I’m not really eating any extra but am taking in a little Moore protein in my post weight meal, this programme shouldn’t make me gain weight should it? If it does can you tell me how I can improve power without getting heavier, by bmi and everything else is spot on and I’m probably the perfect weight for my build. Hope this all makes sense, thanks Andy

    • DonHeatrick January 15, 2013 at 10:54 am - Reply

      Hi Andy,
      It’s Don by the way, rather than Dom ;)

      The combination of load intensity and number of reps determine the effect on the body. I’ll need to write a post to break this down better. But briefly, working with a load you can lift a maximum of 5 consecutive times will develop strength without building size or therefore increasing body weight.

      Strength is the foundation of power, but is a different quality. It’s essentially how explosively quickly you can move against a resistance. Power training aims to develop how quickly you can apply your strength. Even when training for strength, always intend to move the load as fast as possible – it’ll just move slowly because it’s heavy. I will put a post together to help.

      Everyone adapts to training differently, but generally, performing 8 reps at an intensity of between your 12 and 8 rep max will result in hypertrophy (increased muscle mass) as well as strength – which is why I added this loading to my supersets in this routine. So if you don’t want extra size and weight stick to a maximum of 5 reps per set. Take a look at my post Strength Training Simplified – for some good guidelines.

      • Andy Brown January 15, 2013 at 10:58 am - Reply

        That’s great, thanks for help DON ;) all interesting stuff

        • DonHeatrick January 15, 2013 at 11:17 am - Reply

          No problem Andy :D

  3. Adam Whitford January 15, 2013 at 8:11 am - Reply

    This sounds like something I’d like to try- could you elaborate on what loading should be applied for each set? I’m guessing the first half of the supersets should be quite a high loading maybe 1 rep less than maximum, but what about the 8 reps? Also is there a good substitute for the coreplate exercise? (Lack of equipment!)

    • DonHeatrick January 15, 2013 at 11:04 am - Reply

      Hi Adam,

      Another good question. I left such detail out of the post to keep it simple. Again, I’ll add a follow up post to better explain how to programme the intensity. But briefly, I use between 9 and 5 rep max loading for the first (strength) exercise in the superset, and between 12 and 8 rep max loading for the following (functional hypertrophy/strength) exercise.

      Before the Coreplate/Landmine gizmo, we all just propped a barbell in the corner of the room and placed a plate on the free end ;)

  4. […] Last week’s post outlining my hypertrophy (muscle building) phase of training for MuayThai generated a lot of interest, and warranted a follow-up providing extra detail. I’ll begin by clarifying the exercises in the programme. […]

  5. Randy September 12, 2013 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Hey Don

    First of all thanks for the amazing post! I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time now. Really good job! :)

    I have some questions though.

    1. Can I substitute Bulgarian Split Squats with Walking Lunges? Just because I love them.

    2. Can I substitute either the overhead Press or the push press with cuban presses? I feel like I get a lot more shoulder activation with the cuban presses.

    3. I’m used to do pullups right after my deadlifts (to deload my spine). Can I rearrange the workout so that I do pullups after my deadlifts?

    I really hope you can help me out.

    Other than that, have a nice day.
    Peace :)

    • DonHeatrick September 12, 2013 at 10:26 pm - Reply

      Hi Randy,
      Thanks for the positive feedback. :)

      1. Yes, just keep the number of walking lunge to 8 reps per leg, and at the same intensity level (loading) specified.
      2. Cuban presses are great for developing the muscles stabilising the shoulder, but won’t be particularly effective for building functional muscle or movement. The overhead press develops functional strength and the push press adds volume for hypertrophy (growth) and adds some power development too.
      3. Yes, swap the ‘pulling’ exercises (listed as superset 3) between the two sessions, and re-order these pulling supersets after the lower body exercises, then follow with the upperbody pushing exercises (listed as superset 2) before finishing with the core exercise.

      Best regards,

  6. […] alternative exercises for some of the ones I’d put together in my previously posted functional strength and hypertrophy […]

  7. […] Building Functional Muscle for Muay Thai […]

  8. Chris September 26, 2016 at 2:40 pm - Reply


    Would not be better if instead of supersetting 2 push movements then 2 pull movements to superset 1 push / 1 pull(repeat sets until done) then 2nd push / 2nd pull?


    • Don Heatrick September 26, 2016 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Good question Chris.
      If my target was strength development then I would superset pushes with pulls just as you’ve said, but in this instance we’re after hypertrophy. So to encourage growth we aim to boost the volume of work going into the muscle – hence the supersets target the same body parts. They also use rep schemes that target both strength and myofibrillar hypertrophy… the kind that increases strength proportionally to the increase in size:

      I hope that makes sense?

  9. […] Muay Thai Muscle Building Routine A >> Muay Thai Muscle Building Routine B >> […]

  10. […] Building Functional Muscle for Muay Thai […]

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