Gear up for an eye-opening episode as we dive into the fascinating topic of “Squats vs Muay Thai Kicks.”

Join us as we tackle James’ query on integrating strength training with Muay Thai techniques.

Despite boasting impressive lifting numbers, James finds himself trailing behind professional fighters in terms of fighting ability and technique.

Should he rethink his approach, abandon heavy squats and deadlifts, and instead focus on Muay Thai and bodyweight exercises?

In this episode, we explore four crucial aspects that provide valuable insights…

Uncover the difference between power and efficiency, the transition from general to specific strength training, the significance of progressive overload, and the importance of balancing resistance training with skill development

by Don Heatrick

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Squats vs Muay Thai Kicks?

This episode is a Q&A I’m calling Squats vs Muay Thai Kicks, and it’s about integrating strength training with Muay Thai techniques. And it comes from a question that James asked and he’s reached out and said…

“My question is in regards to strength training for Muay Thai, and at what point do you get diminished returns from strength training?

“At the Muay Thai gym I go to, I’m the strongest there in terms of how much I lift.

“But when it comes down to fighting ability and technique, I still have some ways to go compared to the other guys who have all competed professionally. And yet, despite me being able to squat 200 kilos, they can kick with much greater force and power despite the fact they can’t lift that much in the squat.

“Should I stop doing heavy squats and deadlifts and instead just focus on Muay Thai and just do bodyweight exercises instead?”

There are four main areas I want to talk about to provide a useful answer to this question.

Power vs Efficiency

And the first one is that there’s a difference between power and efficiency. And I have spoken about this on a previous podcast and video episode, so I will link to that in the show notes with this episode.

But to go into that a little more now, I’m going to… rather than looking at an example of striking power… I’m going to look at the difference in terms of aerobic power, in terms of efficiency, to try and give an analogy that you’re really going to get your your head around here. So a test we do to determine VO2 max, which is your aerobic fitness, is a 12 minute Cooper run.

So, run as far as you can in 12 minutes. And then we use that to calculate and estimate your aerobic power. And that’s a real rough test. It gives us an idea of what your aerobic power output is.

But one of the things it doesn’t take into consideration is your running efficiency. So you wouldn’t necessarily see the most aerobically fit athlete covering the most distance in that 12 minute time.

Because if you’re running technique isn’t very good, you waste a lot of that fitness that you’ve got – and you don’t turn it into miles or kilometers on the test.

So a really extreme example, and almost a silly example, but it will hit home for you…

If we were to test your aerobic fitness, and I’d tell you to do your 12 minute Cooper run running forwards (like you normally would do). And compare that to doing the test again, but running backwards. Obviously your fitness isn’t any different between the two tests, but the economy of your running technique is massively different if you’re running forwards compared to running backwards!

So, the same is true of not only aerobic power but also explosive alactic power that you’d see in a striking technique.

You can have all of the underlying power there. But if your technique isn’t efficiently converting that power into the strike, it makes you look less powerful.

So you need a foundation athletic quality. But, how that efficiency converts into a striking technique – or fitness or your running technique, whatever it is – that efficiency is a crucial part of the equation too, and that comes from skill practice.

So we need to differentiate between the athletic development to boost those raw qualities and then the skill development to apply those athletic qualities in a beautiful, efficient technique.

General To Specific

Whatever you’re trying to do. The next bit I wanted to speak about… So, point two is that we have general to specific strength training exercises too.

If you’re looking to convert your raw athletic qualities into something that will come out in a fight, in your Muay Thai technique, we need to look at something called transfer of training – So, dynamic correspondence. 

How does your body convert those raw qualities into something that will come out in your real technique? And we need to progress that.

So a squat, which is a bilateral exercise, two limbs on the floor, two legs, is less sports specific than, for example, the other extreme in a program we’d have something like a single leg squat or a split stance squat, something like that.

That mimics more of what we’re going to see in Muay Thai. Muay Thai is in an asymmetrical stance. You’re often standing on one leg, punching, kicking, whatever we’re jumping with, we’re doing all these kind of random movements. So stability is part of the equation rather than just raw strength. So your training program shouldn’t just focus on squats alone, it should form a part of that progress from general to specific.

And we do need to move that dial, but it needs to be moved towards something that your body will be able to apply in the ring too. So, we should transfer in training blocks from raw strength into more single limb loaded movements, and that gives us lots of benefits.

Actually, I’ll just touch on here as well. So if you’re moving from general to specific, you’re not only converting, building up raw strength, which you can do a better job of with two limbs on the floor and then converting into something that we can then show in the ring…

But, it also reduces the likelihood of overtraining. So if you’re doing lots of things that are very similar in terms of stimulus, so if you did highly sport specific resistance training all the time, you could very easily create overuse injuries that would then sabotage your your progress and injure you and take you out of training.

So we need to kind of rinse and repeat on this cycle of general to specific, and we want the most specific work to come up before your most important fight.

We’re looking to periodise your training in that way, plan the training so that it gives you the best outcome both in the short term of a fight, but also long term in boosting you up.

Also, when you’re doing unilateral exercises, it allows you to compare the left and right sides to see if you’re too asymmetrical in your strengths.

So have you got a deficit on one side compared to the other?

It’s normal that you will do, but we don’t want it to be massively different. And being an asymmetrical sport in a stance – we’re not completely symmetrical in what we’re doing – we would expect to see some difference between right and left side.

And we’re not looking to make you perfectly balanced, but we also don’t want you to be too far out either. That could be a potential injury risk.

And then the other thing I wanted to touch on here as we’re talking about the strength development specifically, is that bodyweight exercises alone won’t provide enough progressive overload, especially if you’re already squatting 200 kilos. So, if you were to shift just a bodyweight exercise along with Muay Thai training, you’d find you’d lose some of your foundation strength.

And that’s not what we would do. You want to keep that, but then convert it into power and speed development, and increase the efficiency of your Muay Thai technique. And that leads me onto the final two points I want to talk about…

Transfer Of Training (Dynamic Correspondence)

As well as strength development, as you’re talking about with squats, we also want to work on power and speed development as well.

So that’s going to give you more transfer of training again. So, convert that raw strength (which is force production) through to power exercises – which would be loaded jump squats, trap bar jumps, kettlebell swings, Olympic lifting variants.

All these kinds of things will take the force that you can produce, and develop a body that can apply that force explosively quickly – rather than just slow grind.

And then ultimately, at the other end of the spectrum too, we have speed development. So that’s the plyometric springing movements which are completely unloaded, bodyweight, only that the fastest velocity you’re going to move at – and that’s for the lower body.

And then I like with the core, med ball throws and all these kind of actions as well, to develop high velocity movement. And the med balls are relatively light for that. So typically less than four kilos, 2 to 3 kilos for most folks, depending on their on their body weight.

Balancing Resistance Training vs Muay Thai Skill Sessions

And the final point, number four, is to make sure that you’re balancing the number of resistance training sessions to your Muay Thai skill training sessions. And we’ve got to focus on skill training as your priority.

The idea with the resistance training… As you’ve already seen, you can have a very strong resistance training performance, but it doesn’t convert into what you’re doing in your sport.

The economy of that movement, like we gave in the example of running forwards or running backwards, is vital to convert what you can really do into something that’s going to come out in the technique you’re trying to apply.

I always advise fighters to do as much Muay Thai training in the week as they can physically fit in – but with a caveat that we need at least two resistance training sessions each week.

As long as those two (resistance training) sessions cover all the bases of everything we need to train.

And I like to see those sessions working concurrent training methods… So, strength development, power development and speed development all in one session. And I’ve got an article I can point you towards that will explain how that looks like too rather than going into it now.

But the main thing is we want to 80/20 your training. So, we need a baseline threshold for health too, and two resistance training sessions does that job. It covers all the bases. It gives you everything you need from the strength training sessions. And then you can invest the rest of your time in Muay Thai training with the option.

If you’ve got extra time for between 1 to 3 cardio conditioning sessions as well, to boost that in a way that you’re not going to get purely from the Muay Thai training.

But, there is a lot of fitness development that you get in terms of the energy systems development in the Muay Thai training. So we’re not looking to add anything in your resistance training sessions, or your cardio conditioning sessions, which we’d call strength conditioning as the total umbrella there… We don’t want to add anything in the strength and conditioning that you’re already getting from Muay Thai trainingbecause that skill training too, and it’s vital that you’re getting as much of that in as possible.

The only time I’d add more resistance training sessions in a week, is if the goal was actually for some muscle building, for some hypertrophy. Then two resistance training sessions isn’t really enough volume for that. I’d add a third session and that would be solely for the purpose of building some lean muscle mass.

But for everybody else, two training sessions per week, resistance training, if it’s structured well, does everything you need it to do and build all the qualities that you need to then be able to practice your skill to the degree that you need to as well to become efficient.

So, there is a minimum threshold on those resistance training sessions. You must have two to get those benefits, otherwise you’re leaving that development on the table. But we’ve got to remember that you’re a fighter first, and that skill development is the most important aspect. Get as much of that in as you can. And if you’d like more detail on how to progress training from general to specific through strength, through power and speed, emphasis up to your most important fight…

Fight Camp Blueprint & More

I’ve got an optimal fight camp blueprint that you can download for free from my website, and I’ll give links to that with the show notes for this episode too (see below).

And there’s also a three part video series that accompanies that called “The Science of Building Champions”. That will go into a lot of detail for you as well.

And finally, if you have a question you’d like me to answer in the future episode, go ahead and send me a Voice Note using the link in the caption too.

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:


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