Fighter Weight Training in a Nutshell

Thai boxers, like most athletes,  don’t have much time to dedicate to weight training sessions. It’s therefore critical to train specifically in the gym — be the most productive and get out again. Fighters must focus on strength and power development in the weights room, as these adaptations aren’t maximally stressed during Thai boxing training and will otherwise leave untapped physical potential.

Being hard pushed for time, you’ll be lucky to get 2 or 3 weight training sessions per week, as well as balancing technical and tactical Muay Thai training and energy systems conditioning. To get the biggest bang-for-your-buck you should train the entire body in each gym session, rather than isolating muscle groups (bodybuilder style). In this way your whole body gets a training stimulus 2-3 times a week rather than just once with a split muscle-group routine. More stimulus simply means much more progress.

The exercises selected for each session should be compound, multi-joint lifts, not  isolated joints. For example, think squats and deadlifts for the legs rather than leg extensions or leg curls. By training movements (multi-joint lifts) rather than individual muscles, you’ll also get an important sports performance benefit; improved muscle-group synchronisation to better coordinate movements delivering strength and power. The muscles must work together with precision timing — develop efficient motor patterns.

It’s important to balance the intensity and volume of these multi-joint movements to reduce the likelihood of injury and optimise performance. In a typical week you should perform an equal number of sets and reps of all the following movements:

  1. Lower body knee dominant — e.g. squat
  2. Lower body hip dominant — e.g. deadlift
  3. Upper body horizontal push — e.g. bench press
  4. Upper body horizontal pull — e.g. rowing
  5. Upper body vertical push — e.g. standing shoulder press
  6. Upper body vertical pull — chin-ups
  7. Core anti extension e.g. — candlesticks
  8. Core anti-rotation e.g. — landmine (coreplate) twists

If you’re not sure what I mean by any of these exercises, please take a look at the videos in this previous post.

Each training session should target the whole body, using an exercise for each of the following movement categories:

    • Lower body (either knee dominant or hip dominant)
    • Upper body Push (either horizontal or vertical)
    • Upper body Pull (either horizontal or vertical)
    • Core (either anti-extension or anti-rotation)

Don’t perform whole-body weight training sessions on consecutive days, you’ll over-train. You can train other energy systems without any problem, but give your CNS (central nervous system) a rest.

If your sessions are structured in this way you’ll have a balanced, athletic body, with equal strength development on both sides of all your joints. This helps protect you from injury and allows fast powerful movement by balancing agonist and antagonist muscle groups.

Unless you have an injury re-hab issue, there’s no need to isolate any other areas of your body, as working these multi-joint movements hard will develop all necessary muscles. For example, arms are a typical area that people tend to isolate, and there’s no need. Your biceps get a lot of work during the upper body pulling movements (both vertical and horizontal). Your triceps are hit when training upper-body pushing movements (both vertical and horizontal). Simply put all your effort into these lifts and save your self a heap of time. Remember the objective is to develop strength and power, not just bulk up and slow down.

Further Resources

Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

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