Your training must be specific to your sport. This is straight forward if you’re either a sprinter (power) or a marathon runner (endurance), but we’re Thai boxers and we need it all! Conflicting physical adaptations are part of our game, and managing this is crucial if you’re to get the best out of yourself.

Your body is a very clever system. It adapts to the stress that you place it under to become more efficient at future bouts of a specific stressor (allostasis). Progressively overloading makes you fitter, stronger and more powerful – but you can’t simply train everything at once. Training certain physical qualities simultaneously creates conflicting adaptations and poor progress.

Another important consideration is the recovery time required for each type of stress. Inadvertently repeatedly stressing the same system without allowing sufficient recovery quickly leads to overtraining, injury and lack of progress. You train to get better, not just for the sake of training! Don’t fall into the trap of merely working out. Each session should have an objective which fits into a longer term plan designed to improve athletic performance.

The process of planning training for optimum adaptation and improved athletic performance is called periodisation. Training is typically structured over the entire year to coincide with known or anticipated fight dates, and then reverse engineered to break the season up into specific training phases or blocks. Going further into this is beyond the scope of this article, for now I’ll stick to explaining which individual training sessions are compatible with each other and which confuse your body’s adaptive responses.


Attempting to develop aerobic fitness and anaerobic lactic fitness simultaneously is doomed to failure (Olbrecht 2013). Aerobic activity requires your muscles to utilise mitochondria cells to efficiently process oxygen for long lasting energy. Your body adapts to this stress by increasing the number of aerobic energy cells (mitochondria) in those specific muscles. Exceeding your anaerobic threshold (increasing exercise intensity) demands energy faster than your aerobic system can supply it, and requires the anaerobic lactic system to take up the slack. Unfortunately, as your body develops to handle the demands of anaerobic lactic activity, it kills off the mitochondria, reducing your aerobic fitness (Jamieson 2009)!

Before you assume that Thai boxing is an anaerobic lactic sport and therefore aerobic development isn’t important, this conclusion is completely wrong and stems from a misunderstanding of how the energy systems interplay. It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into this right now, but trust me on this, you need a massive amount of aerobic fitness as a fighter. Don’t kill off your aerobic fitness with an excessive amount of all-out anaerobic lactic sessions. The more energy you can produce aerobically, the less you’ll need to rely on the anaerobic lactic energy system.


Following a training session (stimulus), your body is fatigued and attempts to adapt to the stress you’ve placed on it. This adaptation occurs during the rest and recovery periods between sessions. If you train the next day without allowing sufficient recovery, you can become overtrained. The trick is to get the balance just right to continually improve without either overtraining or detraining.

Your body takes a varying amount of time to recover, depending upon what kind of stress you applied; metabolic, neuromuscular or structural. The good news is that each stress type can recover independently to the others. By training different recovery systems on consecutive days, you can train hard each day, maximising progress without overtraining. To find out more about recovery, take a look at my article Timing Training to Boost Recovery & Performance.


Avoid combining extensive aerobic training and anaerobic lactic training on the same day. They conflict. Ideally you should have a phase of aerobic conditioning which you later convert to power endurance. Extensive flat out pad/bag/sparring rounds, and extreme ‘metabolic’ circuits will demand an anaerobic lactic contribution and are best trained closer to your fight date when you’ve already built an efficient aerobic engine. Reducing the pace to below your anaerobic threshold, and avoiding overloading specific local muscle groups with consecutive repetition will reduce the anaerobic lactic demand.

You can train maximum strength, power, plyometrics and low volume aerobic work on the same day without detrimental effect. Thai boxing training on these same days should be largely technical and aerobic based with bursts of power lasting no longer than 10-seconds for a particular movement. All such training then demands neuromuscular recovery at the same rate, along with a little metabolic recovery (which rapidly recharges). You’ll also train to produce explosive power and recharge it aerobically, rather than continually switching to an anaerobic lactic supply by default – which has a more limited capacity.

You need to be able to tolerate working in the anaerobic lactic energy system without grinding to a halt, but training extensively in this range will force your body to produce more energy this way, and then you’ll be prone to gassing out. Instead, build an effective aerobic capacity, and then tax it with explosive bursts and generous recoveries. Then gradually shift the emphasis to lactic work much closer to the fight, by extending the work periods and reducing the rest periods.

Thai boxers need to be a jack of all trades, we need a rounded performance profile. Just be aware how training the different energy systems and different physical qualities impact each other, or you could be working very hard and cancelling out your efforts.

The key to winning that title is not wasting time…
getting coaching that directs you straight at your goal.


  1. Colin July 8, 2013 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Great read mate! Thanks for taking the time. Its interesting how training can adapt or be adapted to act differently towards needsand goals when not fighting. And of course during fight training.

    • DonHeatrick July 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm - Reply

      No problem Colin. There’s a lot to how and what you structure in to training programmes. I’ll continue to highlight some key considerations in future articles.

      • Colin July 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm - Reply

        Great :) while were on this topic. Training aids (eg Training masks). Lot of mixed reviews and opinions doing the rounds but the facts seem to stack in favour of it been a useful training aid (if used correctly, keeping in mind this article). Have you used one before? If so, whats your take?

        • Alex Vidoni July 8, 2013 at 10:26 pm - Reply

          Great article! My fight team is matched up for a big show in Aug. if u would put this theory in a weekly split program. How would u organise it?

          • DonHeatrick July 10, 2013 at 12:24 am

            Hi Alex,
            Thank you :)
            Without knowing detail of other regular training commitments etc, it’s difficult to put something together – but I’ll look at putting together a generic example. I’ll probably make this a free bonus download for the #TeamMuayThai members. http://heatrick.com/team/ :)

          • DonHeatrick July 24, 2013 at 9:03 am

            I’m in the process of collecting some information to help produce a recommended schedule based on typical training practice…

            To this end, please all fill in my ‘Typical Training Form’ so I can make this as realistic as possible based on how most of you train.


            Many thanks!

        • DonHeatrick July 10, 2013 at 12:47 am - Reply

          Colin, I haven’t used training masks as research has shown that there are no physiological benefits from training with them. No increase in:
          Aerobic fitness (VO2 max)
          Anaerobic power (Wmax)
          Anaerobic lactic power (OBLA)
          The ability of your body to transport oxygen

          Although It feels like you’re are working really hard wearing a mask, with a reduced air intake your physical intensity will be much lower. Less intensity = less stimulus and less adaptation.

          The only benefit that I can see is a psychological one of pushing hard despite the handicap. But then I’d still prefer to push just as hard with a higher physical intensity and a corresponding degree of physical adaptation and performance improvement!

          Just my take, but I haven’t seen any studies that back up the claims of such devices.

  2. […] manner. Training cycles concentrate on building the foundation for each successive cycle, without conflicting adaptations. Learn as much as you can from as many different sources as possible — you can start with […]

  3. James McKie March 24, 2014 at 1:39 pm - Reply


    Hi Don,

    S & C student, currently writing a 17 week plan before my trip to thailand.
    So far I’ve been planning in 4 week blocks of strength, power, endurance.
    But I’m unsure on how to periodise cardiovascular training into this, ie – which energy systems to train in what blocks and for how long etc. as clearly training aerobic and anaerobic together is not beneficial.

    Any thoughts??


    • DonHeatrick March 28, 2014 at 6:11 am - Reply

      Hi James,
      There’s certainly a lot of confusion around the (cardiovascular) conditioning side of the training. For me, this is specifically energy systems work.
      In the weighs room I’m focusing on Anaerobic Alactic development (strength and power), while everything else also targets Aerobic and Anaerobic Lactic development. I like to use a ‘conjugate’ periodisation plan for Muay Thai training, in which all qualities (energy systems) are trained throughout, but the emphasis shifts in each phase or block.

      Avoiding conflicting adaptations within a block is a concern, you wouldn’t target aerobic and anaerobic lactic system development equally in one block for example, but aerobic and anaerobic alactic systems development can happily co-exist. The biggest ‘no, no’ is training conflicting demands in the SAME day or even the same session! Pick an objective and focus on it. I find this approach not only gets the best results, not only because of complimentary physiological adaptations, but also because your body recovers better:

      Regarding which energy systems to train, it depends on what you personally are lacking. As a general guideline, build sufficient aerobic capacity intitially then shift to aerobic power (rate of recovery) with repeated short anaerobic alactic bursts with large rest periods. Gradually increase the work periods while reducing rest periods to shift to power endurance and anaerobic lactic system utilisation.

      I hope that helps. I’ll try to put together a blog post to explain more (my list is getting a bit long)!


  4. Ross November 22, 2014 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Hi Don, really interesting read! I’ve previously gone with Ross Enamait’s (ross boxing) approach where he talks about working the 3 (strength, anaerobic and aerobic) systems simultaneously in circuits. Sounds like this isn’t the best for results though..

    • DonHeatrick November 24, 2014 at 9:21 am - Reply

      Hi Ross,
      There’s a distinction in the anaerobic energy systems between anaerobic Alactic (strength/power) and anaerobic Lactic (power & muscular endurance). Strength and power (Alactic) training will not compromise aerobic development. However, extensive power & muscular endurance (Lactic) training will.

      It also depends on your phase of training – closer to a fight, taxing all three systems is a good idea, as you can target building power endurance while attempting to maintain aerobic capacity as much as possible.

      It’s a case of shifting emphasis, and understanding the trade off you are making in terms of specific fitness. I just wanted fighters to understand that despite what they may think, constantly smashing out lots of lactic work won’t help build the fight performance they want. Structuring things differently, and saving Anaerobic Lactic training for the final push will make for much better results.

  5. very angry December 4, 2014 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    everything in greco clinch is good for muay thai and more.
    where is the conflict

  6. […] to the conflicting nature of some of the physical adaptations to training, it's impossible to remain at peak levels for all physical qualities simultaneously. […]

  7. Want To Avoid Gassing Out? - September 27, 2015 at 10:07 am - Reply

    […] in the muscles to sustain power for longer. But it’s important not to overdo this or you’ll kill your aerobic fitness and gas out! It’s a peaking type of training block that should be used just prior to a […]

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