by Don Heatrick

I see many fighters consistently working on the wrong things.

And this not only slows their progress to a crawl, but ultimately limits how far they can go.

So in this episode, I’m going to explain how you can break limits in Muay Thai…

For a fighter to make the best progress possible, they must 80/20 their training. That is apply the Pareto rule, that typically 80% of your improvement will come from 20% of your actions.

Far too many fighters just think that throwing hours at their training will mean they get better quicker.

That’s a mistake.

If it’s true that 20% of your training gives you 80% of your results, then 80% of your training only gives you just 20% of your results… and that’s a crappy return on your invested training time!

A fighter who focuses on the high-yielding 20% actions becomes a better fighter much quicker.

If your quantity of Muay Thai training is already adequate, doing MORE won’t move the needle significantly higher.

For example…

Instead, spending some of those training minutes each week on targeted mobility and stability work may well be game changing…

Or perhaps working on strength with resistance training is what’s needed to transform your clinch from barely adequate to super power!

The truth is, you need to work on what you personally need… Your priority 20% actions are different to everyone else’s.

To get better at Muay Thai quicker, it’s crucial you find your own limiting factors – these are your bottlenecks, your priority 20% actions.

Honestly exposing these limiting factors and working on them in priority order, is the fast track to superior Muay Thai performance. Yet many fighters struggle to face their shortcomings, especially more experienced fighters, and those that also coach.

It can be difficult to be seen to make mistakes, to need to correct something seemingly basic, when all eyes are on you every time you train – because you’re a role model at your gym.

But the irony is…

Regardless of how advanced your Muay Thai level is, being seen to honestly acknowledge mistakes and being prepared to work on them, sets a perfect example… and will stop you stagnating as a fighter yourself too.

Great fighters use every training session, and every fight, as an opportunity to honestly expose their limiting factors.

Don’t get touchy about critique, it’s where the gold is!

Lose your ego and work on those limiting factors, no matter how basic they seem to be, or how advanced your Muay Thai ability is.

My article “How A Novice Can Become An Expert – And Why Some Never Will” explores the continuum from novice to expert, and helps you to move along it as quickly as possible.

Once you’ve highlighted your limiting factors, you need to take steps to train them away!

You’re now focused on the 20% actions that will make the biggest difference to your Muay Thai game.

But these actions need to be high quality actions, not just high effort actions.

I see too many fighters mistaking effort for quality.

There’s a time and a place for maximum effort – and that should be designed into your training program – but it’s not the solution to every problem…

It’s not even the solution to most problems!

If your only gauge of productive training is applied effort, then your only progression is to do more… and more.

This will only take you so far before you reach a ceiling – you’ll either run out of hours to train, or you’ll get injured or sick.

This high-volume approach to training is simple, but ultimately flawed. And it’s the bedrock of training in Thailand – one of the cons I spoke of earlier.

It’s like spraying bullets at a target with an automatic rifle. You’ll get through a lot of ammo (or training hours) trying to hit your mark.


Shooting the target like a sniper with a scope, hits the target using minimum ammunition. Being accurate with your training minimises wasted time, gets the job done quicker, and at less cost (or fatigue).

Ditching the “do more than yesterday” mindset, and changing it to “do better than yesterday” changes the game.

Doing better means using a different measure of progress – one that requires a better understanding of what progress really is. And this is why it’s not common to see this approach in Thailand.

For example…

If your limiting factor is hip mobility – you can’t kick high enough or smoothly enough…

Measure your range of motion for the adductors and hamstring muscles, and video yourself performing problematic kicks on the heavy bag to establish a baseline.

Commit to a regular routine (at least 3 times a week for 4-weeks) of foam rolling/massage ball exercises, band distraction joint exercises, and stretching/strengthening exercises for the adductors, hamstrings and hip flexors.

Re-measure your range of motion, video your kicks on the heavy bag again, and review your progress.  Have you increased your range of motion? Do your kicks reach higher, look smoother on the video footage? Make changes to your training based on your results and repeat the process again.

If your limiting factor is stability – your stance buckles easily, you may have knee pain, you struggle on one leg…

Measure how many single leg squats you can do, and to what depth. Also check to see if your knee buckles inward.

Video yourself doing a set of 10 repeated tuck jumps – observe your knees, do they buckle in?

Commit to a routine of hip strengthening and activalton exercises, possibly ankle mobility exercises too if required, at least 3 times a week for 4-weeks.

My articles “Valgus Knees: Corrective Exercises If Your Knees Buckle In” and “Programming Single Leg Exercises For Muay Thai” explain what can go into this routine.

There are links to these in the description.

Re-measure how many single leg squats you can do, to what depth, and how you control your knees. Video yourself again doing a set of 10 repeated tuck jumps, and watch the knees.

Are you more stable? Are you feeling more stable in your Muay Thai training? Again, make changes to your training based on your results and repeat the process again.

If your limiting factor is upper body strength – you tire easily in the clinch, finding yourself using all out effort rather than technique…

Measure how many strict form chin ups you can do in one go. Video your clinch sparring against a typical training partner(s) – this is a more subjective measure, as you and your partners skill levels are more of a variable, but it’s still useful!

Commit to 10 mins regular clinch practice at the end of every Muay Thai session, and a progressive routine of chin up and core training at least twice a week for 4-weeks. My guide “Advanced Muay Thai Clinch Strength” will give you some pointers here. And there’s a link in the description

Re-measure how many strict form chin ups you can do in one go. Did you get more? Video your clinch sparring against the same training partner(s), are you becoming more effective? Make changes to your training based on your results and repeat the process again.

If your limiting factor is cardio fitness – you struggle to keep up on the pads, or with sparring partners, and it takes you a long time to recover between rounds…

Measure how far you can run in 12-minutes on a treadmill (perform a Cooper run). Measure how many beats per minute your heart rate drops in one minute once you stop.

Commit to two or three 30-60 minute steady runs each week for 4-weeks, or if you’ve already been doing that, some moderate interval running.

Re-measure how far you can run in 12-minutes and your 1-minute heart rate recovery. Can you run further in 12-minutes? Did your heart rate drop lower in a minute? Make changes to your training based on your results and repeat the process again. 

If you’re using a heart rate monitor rather than checking your pulse for heart rate recovery, then my article “Heart Rate Training Myths For Fighters” helps you get the best out of your device.

And my Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint will show you how to best progress your fitness at each stage of your fight camp to peak your performance on fight night.

I’ll put links to both of these resources in the description.

Closing Notes

Wrapping up now. You’re surrounded by a support team – your coaches, your training partners, even your friends and family… but these are just support.

The real responsibility for your own progress starts and finishes with you. Above all else, mindset, focus, makes the greatest difference to any fighter.

Two fighters working side by side on the heavy bags can achieve massively different results, simply because their focus is massively different!

One fighter can be smashing the bag with full power, pushing themselves to the maximum. Giving everything they have for the whole round until the timer sounds to rest.

On the face of it, you may be thinking, “That guy is achieving everything he can from his bag work.”. But it depends on what his limiting factors are and where he is in his fight camp.

Although this hard working fighter may be pushing his fitness, he’s not moved forwards technically and tactically.

He’s not spending time changing any habits. 

While another fighter may be calmly repeating the same kick. Starting from a well balanced stance, landing the kick with commited momentum and effective mass, before returning in complete balance to the starting stance again.

This fighter is working on a limiting factor – poor balance before, during, and after the kick.

Whether the changes you want to make are in your Muay Thai technique, your mobility and flexibility, balance, stability, strength, power, or speed… They all need a deliberate focus.

And the changes you need to make are unique to you

Getting the results you want doesn’t always mean maximum effort, it means the right effort at the right time… accuracy.

By accurately targeting training to go after your personal limiting factors, you improve much quicker. Then you can move onto the next thing, then the next, and so on.

Your progress accelerates, and so does your motivation.

Further Resources

I’ve already linked to many other articles in the main text that delve a bit deeper into some of the areas discussed. But there are some other resource you definitely should check out…

First, check out the article that triggered this one, to dig into how you can find your 20% limiting factors are: How A Novice Can Become An Expert – And Why Some Never Will here.

Then there’s my guide that will clear up the most important questions you’ll have on how to put together your own training programStrength & Conditioning for Muay Thai 101 – A Science-Based Approach to Accelerated Athletic Development here.

And here’s my fight camp guide to programming S&C for superior athleticism & ring dominance: Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint here.

And if body fat levels are holding you back, there’s my Fat Loss For Fighters Guide here.

If calculating your optimal fight weight class is an issue, check out my guide: What Is My Ideal Fight Weight Class? here.

If hip mobility is your sticking point, take a look at my article: How To Unlock The Hips For Powerful Kicks here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and have realised some ideas that will break your own limiting factors.

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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The Science of Building Champions video series
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