Muay Thai Specific Strength and Conditioning Part 2
Not all of your supplemental training will transfer as directly to Muay Thai performance as others, but it also doesn’t need to. In fact, you’ll run into problems if all your training does.
So what’s the deal, should your training be Muay Thai specific or not?
In part 1 I discussed energy systems conditioning, so you’ve already got a handle on that. But let’s now look at exercise movements themselves.
Training specificity is a continuum, from general to highly specific. There’s a time and a place for all of it, but the trick is to understand what to do and when. It’s also important to understand what exercises and drills help, and which ones hinder your Muay Thai athletic development. Oh yes, some practices do more damage to your Muay Thai than they enhance!
Hindering Progress – When Specificity Hurts You & Your Skill
Using specific exercises at the right time can boost your athletic performance massively. But on the flip side, inappropriate exercise use can lead to problems. Here are a few points to consider, avoiding the pitfalls of training specificity.
Using Muay Thai specific exercises all the time will cause overuse injuries. All that wear and tear from Thai boxing training combined with extra training volume from exercises directly loading the same body tissues in the same way will break you! Trust me, I’ve learned this one personally the hard way.
Choose the right time to apply your Muay Thai specific exercises – when they’ll be like spraying jet-fuel onto a fire that’s already burning. Don’t use them to light the fire in the first place.
Don’t try to overload Muay Thai techniques with extra resistance. You’ll change how you pattern that skill and pollute your hard earned technique. Above all else, quality of movement should remain intact. Overloaded, crappy form is just crappy form. Do it enough and it’s your new (crappy) habit!
I see plenty of YouTube videos of fighters loading up fighting techniques with weight or resistance bands – a practice that despite appearances, slows you down and messes with your technique!
When a specific skilled technique is overloaded, your form changes (gets ragged). Repeat this enough and that form becomes a permanent (bad) habit.
Resistance bands in particular train your strikes to slow as you extend into them (because the resistance increases as you stretch the band). This is the opposite of what you want in your strike, which should accelerate as you throw it.
Projectile training where you release the loaded implement (such as medicine balls) are a much better idea for strikers.
Programming Training – General to Specific
At a basic level, your strength and conditioning program moves from a general physical preparation, through general strength onto specialised strength and finally sport skill. All of your supplemental training will have a transfer to your sport skill, but the degree of ‘dynamic correspondence’ or transfer will intensify over the training phase.
First build the qualities needed with a general emphasis, and then tweak these continuously throughout the training process as you progress through your program to convert them into sport specific skill.
Here’s an excerpt from one of my educational videos for my online Muay Thai S&C program, discussing training specificity during the speed and power-endurance phase of training.
Planning your training, or periodisation, puts the right things in the right order at the right time. Training blocks should begin with general preparation, and move through blocks of strength, followed by power, before finishing with speed and power-endurance. A periodised training program also represents a shift in specificity – or at least it should!
Here’s an example of a strength exercise specificity-progression (general to specific) for a vertical pull:
Alternate Side Chin Up & Travelling Alternate Side Chin Up
False Grip Chin Ups & Clinch Grip Chin Ups
Hopefully you can see the progression towards Muay Thai clinch skill. And it my be tempting to jump straight in at the more ‘sexy’ looking specific exercises, but that would be a mistake.
If everything was 100% specific, there wouldn’t be enough overload to force your body to adapt its physiology to accommodate the stresses placed on it – to improve athletic qualities. You won’t get significantly stronger just clinching, but pull ups and chin ups will certainly achieve that goal.
If you can do more than 5x bodyweight chin ups, then you must add weight to make it harder. Then your body will adapt again (get stronger). This is the most efficient way to increase strength.
Pulling with two arms equally will allow more strength to be built quickly. Shifting emphasis to single-arm strength will transfer the strength you’ve already built specifically to Muay Thai clinch work. But, a single arm emphasis isn’t the best way to build strength in the first place. Use the right tools for the right job at the right time.
You must earn your right to use sport specific exercises and not waste their effect too early on in your program. Don’t play your ace too early; once it’s gone, it’s gone. Programming training is about sustainable long-term progressive improvement, not short-term temporary boosts that quickly revert backwards again. Anyone can make you tired, but is that session making you better?
Every session should make you better, should move you towards a goal. The objective is not to have a flash-in-the-pan performance boost for a month that’s lost again; it’s to be an absolute unmatchable beast in a year. Get your supplemental training right, and this is your future!
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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.