by Don Heatrick

How to surpass those that have been training longer than you in Muay Thai

I’m often asked questions like…

“Is 20 years old too late to start Muay Thai and become successful with it?”

So in this episode, I wanted to add a little flavour to answers I’ve given to this in the past…

I believe that measuring your potential impact in Muay Thai by the number of competitive years you have left in you isn’t a good indicator.

Personally, although I’d been training in sports all my life, and competed in American Football for 5 years, I didn’t begin training in kickboxing until I was 19 years old. And it took until I was 24 before Muay Thai became an option here in Suffolk in the UK.

And even then, the Muay Thai scene here was for the martial art itself, not fighting

And it took until I was 32 before I started fighting competitively, and… I didn’t have a coach (that’s a story for another time).

But despite this, studying for an engineering degree, getting married, my wife Deborah going through chemotherapy for a miscarriage due to a molar pregnancy, leaving my 18 year engineering career to open a full-time Muay Thai and S&C gym, and going on to have two healthy kids, I’ve had a modest competitive Muay Thai career…

I’ve represented England at the Amateur Muay Thai World Championships in Bangkok, I won a Silver European medal, and ultimately retired at the age of 40 while pro ranked 4th in the UK.

And I only had to stop because I needed surgery on a broken elbow to remove bone fragments and bone spurs.

Quite honestly, if you balance your training to become robust enough to stay in the game, you can have a long career in Muay Thai.

And if your approach to training is one of accelerated growth, you’ll go further than those that started much earlier but just racked up hours.

The number of years training doesn’t usually equate to ultimate ability or accomplishment.

How were those years spent?

For example, how many MT sessions per week did have during those years?

This is obviously where training full-time in Thailand makes a big difference, you can accumulate many more hours of training there.

But then there’s a big one…

How of those sessions over the years made you significantly better? And how many were just spinning your wheels…

Being busy for the sake of the grind, rather deliberately working on part of your game to get better?

And are you practicing Tactical Awareness, developing your own unique fight style and experimenting with solutions to various types of opponents?

Are you designing Muay Thai practice drills to test and hone your tactical ability?

And what level are your training partners and coaches at?

Previous athletic ability counts too.

Do you have a history of athletic training that will give you a headstart in applying yourself to Muay Thai, or are you starting from scratch in terms of mobility, movement, coordination, agility, strength, power, speed, and endurance, or even mindset?

Targeted strength and conditioning training will accelerate these qualities, increasing your performance, your ability to recover from training, and your resistance to injury (so you take less time off from training, not to mention significantly extending your competitive career too).

And what about Fight Experience — are you fighting against progressively more challenging opponents, or mismatching against easy opponents to protect a fight record that doesn’t mean anything?

Are you fighting at a frequency that moves you forward the most?

This is typically more frequently as a beginner, while the learning curve is steeper and psychological acclimatisation has the biggest impact…

And less frequently with greater fight experience – to give you time to practice enough in training to change an aspect of your game, rather than going out there to repeat the same mistakes.

There are a lot of aspects that can affect your rate of progress in Muay Thai.

And there are many plates you can spin that complete your development as a fighter… And some plates are completely overlooked by many, which is your advantage.

The mix of this that YOU uniquely bring determines your level of success. Don’t compare yourself to others, it’s irrelevant.

Speaking to Kevin Ross in the Science of Building Champions podcast, he felt he was too old when he started Muay Thai at 24 years old. But he’s achieved an incredible amount in his career, and continues to do so.

The truth is every long-term fighter goes through plateaus, where their progress stalls – they may have picked up an injury, the gym they train at no longer inspires them, or they just lose motivation for the challenge.

But those that can consistently maintain the most progress reach the highest level.

It’s about staying power, and taking responsibility for your own progress.

It’s easy to blame situation and circumstance for our lack of improvement.

We can all make excuses, but you steer your own ship.

If you stick at anything for the long-term, you’ll suffer doubts and setbacks. This happens to everyone at some stage.

How you deal with it determines how far you go.

Ultimately, being intrinsically motivated by the training and self-development itself, rather than extrinsically motivated by the titles or rankings, will lead to the best results.

The question shouldn’t be, “Can I win this fight?”

It should be, “How far can I REALLY go?”

Everything I’ve done, from studying an engineering degree, to winning titles and beating fighters half my age, or even sharing Muay Thai performance ideas online…

Started with a doubt that I was even capable of doing these things. But that was exactly why I felt the urge to find out.

And every time I thought I may have reached my limit, I scraped through again.

Only to set another objective just a little bit further out of reach, because I hadn’t failed yet.

Refusing to believe the story you tell yourself about your limits, and instead testing to truly find out, is what determines how far you go. Not how early you start.

Most give up on THEMSELVES without ever truly reaching their limits.

And if you make your Muay Thai training about finding your own limits, who cares how many fights you win, or what titles you get.

If you love training Muay Thai, do it.

And find your own limits. That’s the real reward.

To fill in some blanks for you, I’ve put some links to extra resources with this episode…

I’d love for you to dig into those and let me know how you get on.

When I find myself thinking anything is “too late”, I consider that old proverb…

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

And then I get my arse in gear.

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.

Follow Don Heatrick on Instagram:


Unlock Your Muay Thai Potential

with the Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint

Elevate Your Game Through Strategic Strength & Conditioning

Becoming a dominant force in the ring requires more than just sweat and hard work; it demands a precise strategy

Our 12-week fight camp blueprint is your roadmap to superior athleticism and ring dominance, regardless of your current level.

When you adhere to scientifically-proven training principles, you’re setting yourself apart from the rest. It’s not a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when’ you’ll reach your goals.

Navigating this path can be overwhelming, which is why we’ve compiled the ‘Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint’ into a comprehensive PDF guide to simplify your training planning.