Not all types of supplemental training will transfer well to Muay Thai. The training adaptations that your body makes are highly specific. You instinctively know training as a long-distance runner won’t improve your sprint performance. But it goes so much further than this coarse example.
The concept of transfer specificity is misunderstood by many coaches and trainers, and I hope this article will help improve your understanding of Muay Thai specific strength and conditioning.
But There’s Nothing More Specific Than The Sport Itself?
Nothing except Muay Thai training will have a 100% carryover, however some activities have a higher percentage carryover than others. This depends on the similarities in neuromuscular recruitment patterns, energy systems, and biomechanical characteristics.
So why bother with anything other than Muay Thai training?
The training in Thailand is usually offered up as the gold standard in Muay Thai preparation. And I know Thailand purists will dislike my enthusiastic use of a variety of training methods to boost fight performance. And that’s ok.
We all form opinions based on our personal experience, that’s all we can do. My experience is unique to me just as yours is to you. I’ve trained in Thailand and have also extensively researched and practically applied sports science in my own competitive Muay Thai career and to those I coach.
I’ve deliberately experimented with all manner of training methods to achieve a more balanced personal experience, and that’s what I’m sharing with you today. So I ask you to consider this example. Thias run, perform push ups, and lift weights with their necks – all non-Muay Thai activities. Why?
Of course it’s because it’s necessary to overload a fighter to improve Muay Thai specific fitness. But I know it’s possible to take this much further than the rudimentary approach typically demonstrated in Thailand.
If you really want to exploit ‘transfer specificity’ and get the most out of your athletic engine, you must use all the tools available, and use them effectively. Regardless of how good the Thais undoubtedly are, there’s plenty of athletic performance being left on the table too.
Muay Thai Specific Conditioning
When I speak of conditioning, I’m referring to your energy systems development – your fight cardio fitness. And just like all physiological adaptations, your conditioning is highly specific to your training.
The first episode of the UK TV show, Eternal Glory, demonstrates this perfectly. In fact, the whole show is based on training specificity, pitting sporting legends from various disciplines against each over various different events.
In the first episode, one event saw rower James Cracknell, footballer Matt Le Tissier, javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread, long jumper Jade Johnson, middle distance runner Liz McColgan, rugby player Shane Williams, badminton player Gail Emms and sprinter Christian Malcolm all competing against each other in a shuttle run race, involving hurdles.
But there was a twist. If an athlete’s heart rate exceeded 85% of maximum, martials held them back until their heart rate dropped below 85% again.
So which athletes do you think completed the race the quickest?
Although there was a strategic element to the race too, the differences in physiology dictated who was most likely to succeed.
The race may appear to favour explosive, sprint athletes, but the heart rate factor levels the playing field. Athletes with the most efficient aerobic capacity are better able to recover from the repeated hurdling shuttle runs – reducing heart rate quickly if it temporarily exceeds 85% of maximum.
So here’s how it went down.
1. James Cracknell – rower
2. Shane Williams – rugby player
3. Gail Emms – badminton player
4. Jade Johnson – long jumper
1. Matt Le Tissier – footballer
2. Liz McColgan – distance runner
3. Christian Malcom – sprinter
4. Fatima Whitbread – javelin thrower
The short duration, explosively fast athletes struggled while those with greater aerobic capacity could work harder for the same cardiac demand. This demonstrates how conditioning must match the event – train inappropriately and your performance suffers.
Muay Thai is an intermittent, repeat-sprint type of sport. Thai boxers must be both explosive and have great aerobic capacity to recover between rounds and individual attacking/defending combinations.
The right balance of both aerobic and anaerobic power is needed to give you the best match for Muay Thai. Athletic performance profiling will highlight how far from the ideal balance you are. Take a look at these previous articles if you’d like more detail on these energy system terms, or the profiling itself.
In my next article I’ll look at Muay Thai specific strength and power training, and how specificity applies to your periodised training program too.
Don Heatrick, owner of Heatrick Strength & Conditioning, is a renowned Level 4 Strength and Conditioning coach, Muay Thai coach and former pro Thai boxer from the UK.
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