Squat variations

I was recently asked a great series of questions regarding substituting alternative exercises for some of the ones I’d put together in my previously posted functional strength and hypertrophy routine.

As a result I thought I’d run though my exercise choices and explain why I’ve selected them. Strength and conditioning maybe the practical application of sports science, but it’s also very much an art. Your choice of exercises can (and should) be a personal thing.

I change the exercises prescribed to each fighter depending on their training and injury history, those I suggested in my routine assume a basic understanding of lifting patterns and a healthy, injury free Thai boxer.

When putting together a programme or routine, you should have a reason for every exercise you’ve chosen, otherwise you’re wasting valuable training time and energy that would be more productively spent doing something else — possibly even resting!

I’ll begin by reminding you that the aim of this particular routine is to build some muscle mass while maintaining or developing strength. Any increased muscle must directly contribute to Muay Thai performance, i.e. be functional. Therefore the exercises I’ve selected must all be compound, multi-joint lifts that develop musculature responsible for driving movements in Muay Thai – no isolation movements working just one joint.

Thai boxers also don’t have a lot of time to train with weights, I therefore like to work the whole body in each session and target all the major movement patterns to both prevent injury and enhance performance.

So let’s run though some of my thoughts regarding my exercise selection for Session A.

Front Squats

I chose front squats over back squats because they target the knee dominant lifting pattern more specifically than back squats (which employ more hip action, and I pick that up in the next routine). Front squat technique also tends to be far better (and safer) than most back squats – and my primary objective is always injury prevention.

Front squats are also a progression toward the clean and jerk olympic lift. This exercise serves as the strength component in the lower body superset, so a stable, bilateral lift allows you to train with more intensity (load).

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats

This second lower body lift is designed to add to the volume of work to stimulate muscle growth (hypertrophy). I chose a unilateral lift to simultaneously develop 1-legged stabilisation, a much needed physical ability for fighters.

Incline Bench Press

I must admit I’m not a big fan of bench pressing for fighters. We already get a great deal of horizontal pressing work throwing punches, and believe it or not, laying on a bench and pressing horizontally isn’t as specific for Thai boxers as standing and pressing overhead (which coordinates the whole body from the ground up). But, in this case we’re after building some meat too, and I’ve made it more specific by making the lift an incline bench press.

When throwing a punch, you don’t extend your arm horizontally (unless fighting someone much shorter). Your fist finishes at the height of your own chin or nose, with your fist higher than your shoulder at an angle of about 10 to 12 degrees above horizontal. Setting an incline bench to this angle will make this lift more specific for punchers.

Dumbbell Chest Press

This lift again adds the volume required for muscle growth. I elected for a flat bench for this supplemental exercise to his the chest at a different angle to aid hypertrophy. The use of dumbbells also demands far more stabilisation than the bench press with a barbell.

Pull Ups

Pull ups develop the strength for Muay Thai clinch work. Correctly executing this movement also works the muscles stabilising the shoulder blades, which get long and weak when spending a lot of time in a Muay Thai stance.

Bench Dumbbell Bent-over Rows

Bench bent-over rows are a horizontal pull rather than vertical like the pull-ups, but they once again target the scapular stabilisers. This gets some volume and growth into those muscles that need balancing up from excessive punching and stance posture.


This is a true core strength exercise, that works anti-extension in the sagittal plane and places some demand on your hip flexors too — all of which is specific for Muay Thai clinch work and knees.

That concludes a brief look at my reasons for selecting the exercises in Session A, part 2 of this article explains my thoughts behind those I used in Session B.

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.

Follow Don Heatrick on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/donheatrick/

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