Olympic Lifts and Kettlebell Training for Muay Thai

Quan A Nguyen recently asked on the Heatick S&C Facebook page:

“What do you think about Olympic lifting, and kettlebell training? Is Olympic lifting appropriate for MT? If yes, how should I modify my weight training schedule to include them?”

Both Olympic lifting (snatch, clean and jerk etc.) and kettlebell training (swings, snatches and jerks etc.) are appropriate for Muay Thai, they have good ‘transfer’ to striking movements. And although Olympic lifting and kettlebell training may appear similar, both play different roles in a fighter’s programme.

Before moving on, you need an understanding of the force-velocity curve and how this affects exercise selection. If this is a new one on you, take a look at the following video and post.

Force-velocity curve post: Training For Strength, Power & Speed

Olympic Lifting — Power

Let’s begin with Olympic lifting. It’s the most effective way of developing power at the strength-speed end of the curve, IF an athlete can properly execute them. In my opinion, it’s  important to have technical Olympic lifting coaching. These are skilled movements requiring lots of practice. Without good movement mechanics, you’ll develop bad movement patterns that don’t transfer well to Muay Thai and will most likely injure you. Always remember we’re Thai boxers first, not Olympic lifters. Strength and conditioning work plays a supporting role (although an important one).

Olympic lifting is by no means for everyone, and there are other ways to train strength-speed and speed-strength qualities, such a jump squats, sled pushes and pulls etc — even kettlebells if trained with the right intensity and volume. But if you have the resource, Olympic lifting is certainly a highly valuable addition to your programme. It’s important to understand developing power requires short work periods (typically 10-secs or less) and long rest periods (3-mins or greater). If you fail to observe this relationship you’re won’t improve power. So reel in that ego Thai boxer and train specifics!

Kettlebell Training — Power-endurance

Once you’ve built a quality, then learn to endure it. Olympic lifting is NOT the tool for this job — despite what you may have seen in some CrossFit workouts. In my opinion, this is where kettlebells come to the fore, they’re the weapon of choice for building power-endurance. Basic kettlebell swings, push presses and jerk presses are all great power-endurance tools, but the more sophisticated cleans and snatches demand more skill and require deliberate practice. Again, invest in proper coaching.

 Planning Training

As a general guideline, use the right tools for the job — begin by developing power using Olympic lifts and then transition over the coming training blocks to power-endurance with kettlebell training. I also like the unilateral one-arm loading that you can get when kettlebell training (which is more Muay Thai specific) closer to a fight. The kettlebell rack position also has some transfer to a body-wedge guard position.

Power training is most effective when conducted at the beginning of a training session when you are fresh. You must move as explosively fast as possible without fatigue slowing you down. If you begin to slow you’re not training to improve your power. Remember, short work periods and long rest periods.

Power-endurance training can be conducted at the end of a training session, the objective is to try to maintain power output even when fatigued. Use long work periods and short rest periods.

Don’t train power and power-endurance in the same session, this creates conflicting adaptation and messes up progress. Target each quality separately and progressively overload it.

There’s isn’t one training tool/method that satisfies all the many needs of our training, just a selection of tools that suit different purposes. It’s about understanding which physical quality you’re trying to improve in each session and selecting the exercises (tools), work/rest intervals, sets and reps to achieve that goal. I hope this clarifies a few things regarding the use of these two training tools as a Thai boxer — I love them both!

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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