Skill vs Strength & Conditioning

How Muay Thai fighters should best spend their training time is a common debate, and one often biased by opinion based on limited experience of either Muay Thai or strength and conditioning (S&C) training.

I hope as both a strength & conditioning coach and Muay Thai coach/fighter, I’m able to offer a balanced view on the relative importance of both training modalities to your ability in the ring – based on both theoretical knowledge and practical experience (which continues to grow everyday).

To crystallise what Muay Thai technical skill training and strength and conditioning bring to the party, I’ll begin by using a motor racing team analogy.

Strength and conditioning is like taking a racing car into the workshop and increasing the size and power of the engine, improving the fuel economy, fuel tank capacity, upgrading the brakes, suspension and tyres etc. Both improving the car’s performance and making it more robust and less likely to breakdown. Whereas Muay Thai technical skill training is like getting the most talented driver and placing him in that car.

I hope you can see that both aspects are important, both are critical to winning or losing. Arguing that one is superior to the other is naïve. The best technical tactician can’t win a race in small family hatchback against high performance sports cars, just as a learner driver in a sports car can’t expect to make it quickly around a lap of the track without crashing.

New boxers can lack sufficient strength, stability or mobility to even practice Muay Thai correctly in the first place. This not only prevents correctly patterned skill rehearsal, but also exposes the fighter to an unnecessary injury risk. For individuals that fall into this category, S&C training provides them with the physical qualities required to begin training in Muay Thai.

Once a fighter is sufficiently prepared to undertake Muay Thai training, technical skill will become a focus (and be an obvious differentiating factor between new boxers). Hours of skilled, purposeful practice is essential for both gaining  technical skill and tactical advantage, and for efficient, skilled movement. It will do you no good to remain focused on getting stronger if you lack the proficiency to use your current strength correctly.

However, it’s a big mistake is to believe you can continue to develop the required cardiovascular fitness, strength and speed etc. by simply practising Muay Thai. After initial gains, you must seek other training modalities to bring about further improvements.

As your Muay Thai career advances, differences in technical skill level are less pronounced and physical capabilities become increasingly important… you need to make sure your racing car is just as highly tuned (or even better) than your opponent’s.

The problem here though, is that unlike tuning up a car, you can’t build physical capability overnight with some last-minute overtime by the team of mechanics. Your body can only develop as a result of systematic, progressive overload over a long period of time. The earlier you start S&C training, the greater potential you have for hitting that race with a better car than your opponent.

To be the best fighter you can be, you must use a holistic approach with a shifting emphasis. Respect the contribution that all aspects of your training make to you as a fighter, and practice both S&C and technical Muay Thai from the start.

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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