Programming strength and conditioning for Muay Thai

Strength & conditioning programming for Muay Thai isn’t simple. If we were marathon runners things would be a lot more straight forward, but our sport uses a complex mix of athletic qualities and energy systems. Strength, power, aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness and muscular endurance all contribute to your Thai boxing performance. Lacking in one of these areas leaves you unable to achieve your full athletic potential as a fighter.

Such variety certainly makes our training interesting, each session is an opportunity to work on a different aspect of your fitness. But how should all of these qualities be organised in your training programme? It may appear the solution to this problem is too train all of these qualities at the same time. However, your body doesn’t respond well to this concurrent approach, it confuses your adaptive responses making progress very slow or non-existent.

Planning training volume and intensity to maximise your athletic development over the long-term is called periodisation. Linear periodisation, where sequential training blocks focus on building successive qualities – starting with strength, converting to power before finally converting to power endurance – works well for sports with an off season in which you can spend several months on specialised phases of training targeting each quality.

This isn’t practical for Thai boxers. We don’t have an off season, we fight all year round and often take fights at short notice too. We therefore need to keep all athletic qualities sharp – I like the analogy of plate spinning. We can’t afford to spend too long focused on one quality, getting that plate spinning, only to allow another to slow and fall (detrain). We must keep an eye on all the plates, keeping them all up to speed so that none fall.

So what’s the best way to structure training for a Thai boxer? My favoured approach is conjugated periodisation, which breaks training phases into shorter, linked blocks that sequentially emphasise individual qualities (with the majority of the training volume) while maintaining the others with limited training volume. We focus on getting one of our plates spinning well while making sure none of the others fall. I feel this is the best compromise between progressive long-term improvement and short-term readiness for fighters.

Even though the training blocks are relatively short (typically 3-4 weeks), it’s still likely that a fight will crop up at a less than ideal moment in the periodised plan. The focus of each training block must sequentially building strength, power and finally power endurance – each preceding training block is designed to enhance the following one. This is the way our physiology works, each quality laying the foundation for the next. To peak before a major fight you should have built strength and converted it into power, and then finally power endurance.

Training should also be progressively phased from general movements and energy systems development to sport specific movements and energy systems as the fight approaches. It’s only realistic to fully peak a maximum of 3-times a year, so pick out your major title fights and plan around those. Fights that fall between peaked periods should be treated as ‘friendlies’ of less importance, and viewed as preparation for the major fights.

Periodisation is a jig-saw with many pieces that should be put in the right place. To do so, you need to see the bigger picture (the overall plan) and not get too bogged down with the specific detail of an individual session. Start with broad strokes, laying out the overall plan for the year, then layer-by-layer drill down to determine specifics. Have fun training a bit of everything, but make sure the intensity, quantity and the order builds progressively both over the short-term and the long-term to make you the best athlete you can be.

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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