Muay Thai metabolic training

Metabolic training, popularised by Crossfit, has become a buzz word these days — particularly with fighters. Such circuit training typically moves from one exercise to the next with minimal rest. It satisfies our need to push on hard (building work capacity) and loads with an intensity higher than body weight. All is good then, why not just throw yourself into it? In my opinion, metabolic training can be valuable for Muay Thai if applied correctly for the right reasons. Done badly it’s a recipe for overtraining, injury, and destroys athletic progression.

The Right Reasons

Muay Thai metabolic training is about reducing injury and improving performance, with some key benefits as follows:

  • Develops mental toughness
  • Helps a boxer to make weight
  • Helps time-restricted fighters train strength and power
  • An opportunity to balance movement patterns
  • Can be used as a ‘finisher’ while not destroying learned movement motor patterns
  • Can be trained with a group to bond your fight team

The Right Way

Metabolic training is much more than a circuit training beasting. It’s an opportunity to add something to a fighter’s programme that isn’t satisfied otherwise, to build underdeveloped qualities and movement patterns. As always, the focus should be quality and purposeful practice. Muay Thai metabolic training should make you better in some way, not merely burning calories and wasting recovery. More is not better, better is better! Here’s my recommendations:

  • Keep to 3 to 5 quality exercises
  • Perform between 3 to 5 circuits
  • Conduct a power exercise first
  • Follow with strength exercises
  • Selected exercises should be of low complexity (relative to the individual)
  • Exercise order should decrease in difficulty
  • Include a balance of movement patterns
  • Allow sufficient rest – approximately once or twice as long as the work interval
  • Periodise to match training phase

Resistance training is an opportunity to train the curve, developing strength (force) and power (rate of force development) which can’t be effectively developed using Muay Thai training alone. Starting with a power exercise under minimal fatigue ensures you can explode as fast as possible with good coordination, getting the greatest training effect.

Following with strength exercises in decreasing order of difficulty again allows you to get the best benefit from each exercise. The objective is high exercise quality despite building fatigue. The selected exercises should be low complexity so that they can be performed correctly from start to finish. Although the intention of metabolic training  is to induce fatigue, it should not be at the expense of exercise quality. Motor patterns must be preserved to prevent bad movement habits being learned. This is further managed by allowing sufficient rest between circuits. Exercise choices should also balance movement patterns to both improve performance and reduce injury.

If strength and power is the focus, then stick to 5 heavier reps of each exercise and perform the routine at the start of your session, before Muay Thai training.Of course, if Muay Thai technique is your focus, then perform the routine at the end of the session. If metabolic conditioning is the focus, err towards 10 lighter reps and perform as a finisher at the end of your session. Both methods produce central fatigue, although higher reps will also produce greater local fatigue in loaded muscle groups. Other than exercise selection, in this way you can periodise to better match your training phase, enhancing performance adaptations rather than creating conflicting ones.

Some further suggestions:

  • Record the time it takes to complete each circuit
  • Progress by either increasing load (as long as movement quality is maintained for the desired number of reps) or increasing the number of times though the circuit
  • Consider sophisticating with single limb (unilateral) exercises
  • Use a heart rate monitor to determine how long you rest between circuits (until HR drops to 120 bpm)

Example Metabolic Workout

Here’s an example of a highly effective metabolic workout that I’ve put together, that should take just 10 to 15 minutes.

3x circuits, 2mins rest

  1. 5x Dumbbell snatch (Power/hip dominant)
  2. 5-10x per side Dumbbell lateral squats (Strength/knee dominant/lateral)
  3. 5-10x Dumbbell push-up rows (Strength/horizontal push/horizontal pull/core anti-extension/core anti-rotation)
  4. 5-10x per side Dumbbell Russian twist (Strength/core anti-extension)

You can view a video of this workout by clicking here.

The main thing to remember is that your sport is Muay Thai, not Crossfit or circuit training. You’re training to improve your Muay Thai performance not just exercise performance. Any supplemental weight training and conditioning work should always target physical qualities that will make you a better Thai boxer. Don’t waste time, effort and recovery capacity detracting from this — quality over quantity every time.

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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