Muay Thai & The Serape Effect

It’s not the strength of the arm that throws a punch, or the strength of the leg that throws a kick…

It’s the amount of power that a fighter can wind out from the trunk and hips – unleashing power via the rotary action of the hip via the trunk to the striking limb.

And this is all due to the criss-cross or ‘serape’ orientation of the core musculature. The body produces force by connecting the right shoulder to the left hip, and vice-versa.

Simply standing on one leg demands a degree of core stability, but horizontal, rotational (transverse plane) demands challenge your structure in a different way. Without this reactive, rotational stability, you’ll never reach your true power potential as a fighter.

Generating and controlling rotation is what Muay Thai is all about, and this requires core stability along these diagonal (serape) lines. Not just strength and stability, but reactive power, the ability to use the stretch shortening cycle or elastic recoil in the torso.

Serape Training

When I talk of rotational core demands, you could be forgiven for thinking training must rotate the shoulders relative to the hips – rotating, twisting the spine. But spinal movement isn’t want we want to encourage, rather the opposite, anti-rotation stiffness.

Reactive stiffness allows the stretch shortening cycle to come into effect. Muscles mustn’t give-way, or the stored elastic recoil in tendons and muscle fascia will be lost, along with your power.

First train your body along the diagonal serape lines for strength, to develop the prerequisite core stiffness. Secondly train the same lines for reactive power. Here are some example exercises you can include in your programmes.

Serape Strength Exercises
  • Turkish Get Ups
  • 1-legged Deadlifts (dumbbell held in opposing arm to the leg)
  • 1-arm Bent Over Dumbbell Rows
  • 1-arm Dumbbell Chest Press
  • 1-arm Suspended Rows
  • 1-arm Push Ups
  • 1-legged Squats
  • Landmine Twists
  • Cable chops
  • Cable lifts
  • 1-leg Hip Lifts
Serape Power Exercises
  • 1-arm Kettlebell Swings
  • 1-arm Dumbbell Snatches
  • Sledge Hammer Hits
  • Medicine Ball Side Toss
  • Medicine Ball Chop Throws
  • Medicine Ball Shotput Throws
  • Tornado Ball Slams
  • Scissor Jumps
  • Rotational Jumps
  • Shoulder Butts
  • Hip Butts

Muay Thai Drilling

Think diagonal opposites, I use this a lot with fighters during Muay Thai training too – patterning lead-arm to rear-leg, and rear-arm to lead-leg.

For example, practising jab then rear leg round kick, or lead hook then rear knee; Cross then lead leg round kick, or Rear hook then lead knee.

The free arm following the punch, can flail into a pre-stretch, torquing the serape musculature and maximising power – if the timing is right.

This timing is unique to you – it depends on your strength, reactive stiffness and elastic power – you must learn to feel it through practice.

Mistime your action, or lose torsional stiffness, and power will leak.

Putting It Together

Combine training the serape effect both in the weights room and in the Muay Thai gym to build the foundation strength and power requirements, and enhance your own personal timing.

Programmed training phases should begin with building strength, before shifting emphasis to the heavier power exercises, before moving through the lighter, highest speed, power exercises. Always work general to specific.

As you build core stiffness and elastic power through this process, you’ll learn how to efficiently coordinate your limbs through your torso, and synchronise with your own unique timing to ride your elastic power.

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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