Strength and conditioning maybe the practical application of sports science, but it’s also very much an art. Your choice of exercises can (and should) be a personal thing.
I change the exercises prescribed to each fighter depending on their training and injury history, those I suggested in my routine assume a basic understanding of lifting patterns and a healthy, injury free Thai boxer.
When putting together a programme or routine, you should have a reason for every exercise you’ve chosen. Otherwise you’re wasting valuable training time and energy that would be more productively spent doing something else — possibly even resting!
I’ll begin by reminding you that the aim of this particular routine is to build some muscle mass while maintaining or developing strength.
Any increased muscle must directly contribute to Muay Thai performance, i.e. be functional.
Therefore the exercises I’ve selected must all be compound, multi-joint lifts that develop musculature responsible for driving movements in Muay Thai – no isolation movements working just one joint.
Thai boxers also don’t have a lot of time to train with weights. So I like to work the whole body in each session and target all the major movement patterns to both prevent injury and enhance performance.
I chose front squats over back squats because they target the knee dominant lifting pattern more specifically than back squats (which employ more hip action, and I pick that up in the next routine). Front squat technique also tends to be far better (and safer) than most back squats – and my primary objective is always injury prevention.
Front squats are also a progression toward the clean and jerk olympic lift. This exercise serves as the strength component in the lower body superset, so a stable, bilateral lift allows you to train with more intensity (load).
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats
This second lower body lift is designed to add to the volume of work to stimulate muscle growth (hypertrophy). I chose a unilateral lift to simultaneously develop 1-legged stabilisation, a much needed physical ability for fighters.
Incline Bench Press
I must admit I’m not a big fan of bench pressing for fighters. We already get a great deal of horizontal pressing work throwing punches, and believe it or not, laying on a bench and pressing horizontally isn’t as specific for Thai boxers as standing and pressing overhead (which coordinates the whole body from the ground up). But, in this case we’re after building some meat too, and I’ve made it more specific by making the lift an incline bench press.
When throwing a punch, you don’t extend your arm horizontally (unless fighting someone much shorter). Your fist finishes at the height of your own chin or nose, with your fist higher than your shoulder at an angle of about 10 to 12 degrees above horizontal. Setting an incline bench to this angle will make this lift more specific for punchers.
Dumbbell Chest Press
This lift again adds the volume required for muscle growth. I elected for a flat bench for this supplemental exercise to his the chest at a different angle to aid hypertrophy. The use of dumbbells also demands far more stabilisation than the bench press with a barbell.
Pull ups develop the strength for Muay Thai clinch work. Correctly executing this movement also works the muscles stabilising the shoulder blades, which get long and weak when spending a lot of time in a Muay Thai stance.
Bench Dumbbell Bent-over Rows
Bench bent-over rows are a horizontal pull rather than vertical like the pull-ups, but they once again target the scapular stabilisers. This gets some volume and growth into those muscles that need balancing up from excessive punching and stance posture.
This is a true core strength exercise, that works anti-extension in the sagittal plane and places some demand on your hip flexors too — all of which is specific for Muay Thai clinch work and knees.
Session B fills in any gaps in the fundamental movement patterns left untrained by session A, to reduce the likelihood of injury and balance athletic performance
The deadlift loads the hip dominant lower body pattern, the opposite extreme of the knee dominant front squatting pattern used in session A. The deadlift builds significant strength in the glutes and hamstrings, and serves as a foundation movement for future olympic lifts.
I’d like to take the opportunity to explain that I personally don’t like Thai boxers to use weightlifting belts while lifting. I prefer you to develop sufficient strength and stability in your own musculature to hold your position without depending on a belt. You don’t wear a lifting belt while you fight, so in my opinion you shouldn’t wear one in training either.
Single Leg Suspension Squat
This lift adds the muscle building volume to the preceding deadlift strength exercise. Being a suspended squat, you can sit back into the exercise to allow greater glute and hamstring contribution. You can also easily trim the amount of arm assistance to achieve the required intensity for the given number of reps. Being a unilateral exercise, the single leg suspension squat also builds stability on one leg, a must for Thai boxers, and is another progression toward full pistol squats.
Standing Over-head Press Behind Neck
I favour pressing from behind the neck as it better trains the muscles stabilising the scapulae, that tend to become long and weak from our fighting stance posture. It’s also a progression toward the overhead squat and snatch (olympic lift). Pressing behind the neck is only a problem if you have injured or unusual shaped scapulae (shoulder blades), most people are fine.
Like I mentioned earlier, if your shoulders have a problem pressing behind the neck, either press in front (military press) or use dumbbells instead.
Barbell Push Press
The barbell push press allows you to knock out the remaining hypertrophy volume reps with the same weight you used for the preceding strength lift. It also begins to build power, coordinating the triple extension drive from the legs against the floor up into the arms (specific to punching power). This leg drive also transfers to kicking techniques too.
Again, if you have an issue working from the behind the neck position, press in front from the military press position, or use dumbbells instead.
Barbell Bent-over Row
The bent-over row not only adds strength to the horizontal pulling pattern (balancing the amount of horizontal pressing Thai boxers perform with all that punching), but also significantly strengthens the postural muscles stabilising the back and the scapulae — helping counteract the effects of a Muay Thai stance on long-term posture.
The suspended rows add the volume required for muscle hypertrophy and allow for simple ‘trimming’ of the amount of resistance for the desired number of reps. The core muscles are also once again used to stabilise the body.
Landmine (Coreplate) Twists
Landmine twists are another true core strength exercise, this time working anti-rotation in the transverse plane — which is specific for all punches, kicks, elbows and knees. This exercise can be a real game changer.