Muay Thai fighters are some of the fittest and strongest athletes in the world, wouldn’t it be great if you could find out what their workout secrets were? Luckily, they are quite well documented. Here’s a list of 5 tried and trusted Muay Thai exercises guaranteed to get you in fighting shape.
There’s a reason why basically every fighter you see will devote large periods of their training to skipping. It just works. Jumping rope is hands down the easiest way to work up a serious sweat and build that long-term endurance that sets the elite apart from the rest of us.
The best thing about it is that it only requires a skipping rope and your willingness to push through the pain barrier.
Try skipping for 10-15 minutes following a workout and watch how much difference it makes to your performance and physique.
2. Press ups
Press ups have been around basically since the dawn of time itself, meaning Muay Thai fighters have been implementing these since day dot. Push ups work all the pushing muscles of the body – chest, triceps, shoulders – and even your core as you have to maintain a straight body throughout the exercise.
Press ups can also help to build explosive punching power, a stronger resilience in fights and to top it off they make you look good too. That’s a winning combo if ever I heard one.
Try doing 75 press ups at the end of a push workout to really burn out the muscles. Once you can do that in 3 sets (25, 25 & 25), try adding a weighted vest.
Probably the hardest form of cardio and muscle building there is. But what an exercise! Burpees require you to sprawl to the floor from a standing position, then quickly shoot back and jump into the air.
They have been a staple in Thailand’s fight camps for decades, and they work the entire body at once which is brilliant for building functional strength, unbeatable cardiovascular fitness and enviable aesthetics.
Try doing 30 burpees every morning just after you get up. Doing this is a great way to get your heart pumping blood around the body, wake yourself up, and build that fight-ready fitness.
4. Bicycle crunches
It is common knowledge amongst Muay Thai fighters that a strong core may be what separates the good from the great. Having a bulletproof set of abs helps to generate extra power on your punches and kicks, it helps to brace when taking blows from an opponent and can even help your endurance.
Bicycle kicks are a fantastic way of building your abs and core as they are a functional exercise that keeps the body moving. It is perfect when compared to something like a plank where the body is stationary and it is also a cardio workout if you do them intensely enough and at a high enough volume.
If you want to challenge a fighters’ workload, do 150 of these back-to-back with a set of 50 burpees on a cardio day to really give yourself a test.
5. Body weight squats
Yes, heavy weighted squats can be good for building leg mass and power, but Muay Thai fighters want power and speed.
Heavy squats can slow fighters down with too much muscle which is why they opt for lighter weights and higher reps. This still builds that power but with it comes speed and endurance – perfect for long bouts were you need to be able to throw kick after kick, round after round.
Nothing fancy here, 5 bread and butter Muay Thai exercise that will boost your performance and have you looking like a pro fighter in no time - all you have to do is build the skill to back it up!
About the author: Darren Mitchell is a Muay Thai enthusiast and writer for the BestMuayThai blog. Darren has trained Muay Thai for several years at gyms all over the world alongside some world-renowned fighters and coaches.
The shoulders are not usually a part of the body that people focus on when trying to lose weight or tone up, but having shapely shoulders can do wonders for your overall physique. Try this shoulder workout to sculpt and tone.
Seated Military Press
The military press, otherwise known as the overhead press or strict press, is the flagship shoulder exercise as it is a compound movement working all parts of your shoulders and as such will feature as the first exercise in any good shoulder workout. This variation on a classic will take the burn to the next level and will really test your limits. Your shoulders are completely isolated so there's nowhere to hide and no way to get away from the burn.
How to perform
If you have a partner to hand you the bar, you can do this exercise anywhere. If you are on your own, you will need to sit under a weights rack so that you can rest the bar above you.
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your back straight.
- Hold the bar close to your chest at chin height with both hands.
- As you exhale, push the bar up above your head until your arms are straight.
- As you inhale, slowly and with control lower the bar back down to chin height. That's 1 rep. Try to complete 10-12.
Because you are sitting on the floor, your legs and core will not be able to assist your shoulders and as such this is a completely isolating exercise, highlighting all weakness and really resting your strength. Start with a light weight until you increase your strength. It's meant to be tough!
Leaning Dumbbell Raise
This is a single-arm exercise which will target the deltoids and give shape and tone to the sides of your shoulders. Again, it is a highly isolating exercise and so will burn intensely but give great results.
How to perform
You will need to find something sturdy capable of holding your full weight that you can hold and lean away from. Any equipment bolted to the wall of the gym should work for this.
- Hold something study with one hand, with your feet together and close to the structure, lean your body until your arm is straight.
- With a dumbbell in the other hand, raise your arm from your side to shoulder height and back down again. That's 1 rep. Complete 10 on each arm.
- Complete all your reps on one arm before changing to the other.
Front Raise With Steering Wheel
You may well have done front raises at the gym before as they are very simple, easy to do, and yield great results. That's why we are taking it to another level by adding the 'steering wheel' movement to ramp up the burn. Take this exercise slowly to maximise results.
How to perform
- Stand up straight with your feet hip width apart and hold a plate like a steering wheel with both hands in front of you.
- Slowly lift the plate up until it reaches shoulder height.
- Hold the plate there and twist it slowly like you would a steering wheel.
- After a few twists, slowly lower the plate back down again. That's 1 rep. Try for 10-12.
If you regularly go to the gym or are serious about your training, chances are you've heard of BCAAs. We answer all your questions about BCAAs so you can decide if they're right for you.
What is BCAA and what does it do?
BCAA stands for Branched Chain Amino Acid and is a compound found in protein. All protein is made up on amino acids and there are essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids are named as such because the human body cannot make them, so we need to get them from food. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
There are 11 non-essential amino acids, which are amino acids that the human body can make itself. There are 11 non-essential amino acids: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, a substance that plays a crucial role in many biological processes and functions. We need protein to build and repair muscle, and if you workout hard and often get DOMS, protein is what will help you recover and stop feeling so achy.
Related: Can You Exercise When You Are Sore
Is BCAA good for weight loss?
Taking a BCAA supplement won't facilitate weight loss specifically. The only healthy way to achieve weight loss is to eat in a calorie deficit, meaning you are eating fewer calories than you are burning in a day. What BCAAs do is help your body recover quicker and better after tough workouts, as they supplement your amino acid intake which are building blocks of protein.
If you eat a rich and varied diet, you may well not need to take BCAA supplements because you will be getting all the essential amino acids from food. However, if you eat quite a restrictive diet and do a lot of weight/strength training, you may find that a BCAA supplement can help you take on all 20 amino acids, both essential and non-essential.
Do I take BCAA before or after a workout?
You can consume a BCAA supplement either 30-45 minutes before a workout or immediately afterwards. It's ideal to take on a hit of protein within 30 minutes of finishing a strength workout so that your body can absorb the protein and use it to help build and repair your muscles.
Try this upper body arm workout for women to blast your arms and get results! Including exercises for biceps, triceps, and shoulders. Perfect for toning and sculpting your arms and bingo wings.
Cable Tricep Pull Downs
This exercise is for isolating the triceps.
How to perform the tricep pull down
Using either a straight bar or rope attachment, attach to a cable machine in the high position. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, pull the bar down and keep your elbows tucked in. Push the bar down, fully extending your arms, then slowly raise the bar up back to the start position. Keep the movement control and feel the burn in the back of your arms!
Key exercise tips:
- Keep the elbows tucked in
- Fully extend the arms
- Exhale as you press down and inhale on the way up
- Too much movement of the arms – taking the elbows away from the body
- Shrugging the shoulders and using the trap muscles
- Going too heavy and using momentum
This is a great cardiovascular exercise that will trim and tone the arms whilst simultaneously working the core and blasting the shoulders.
How to use the battle ropes
Hold the ends of the rope at arm's length in front of your hips with your hands shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, soften your knees, and begin alternately raising and lowering each arm explosively. Keep alternating arms for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, instead of making waves, start slamming the rope into the ground. Make sure to keep breathing and don't hold your breath!
Key exercise tips:
- Tense your abs tightly during performance
- Concentrate on keeping your speed fast
- Don't hold your breath
- Sacrificing technique with fatigue
- Performing the exercise for too long
Dumbbell Bicep Curls
This is an isolation exercise for the biceps using a pair of dumbbells.
How to perform the dumbbell curl
In a standing position, holding a dumbbell in your hand and keeping your elbow pinned to your waist, curl your arm up to your chest, flexing your elbow then slowly extend it back down again. Repeat on each arm for 10-12 reps.
Key exercise tips:
- Keep your elbow in a fixed position
- Fully extend your arm at the bottom of the movement
- Moving the elbow out of alignment
- Going too heavy and sacrificing technique
- Swinging the body with the movement
Tricep Bench Dips
This is a body weight exercise that you can do virtually anywhere. It’s a compound exercise, which means it will hit all three of your tricep muscles as well as your shoulders and chest muscles.
How to perform the tricep bench dip
Position your hands at shoulder width apart on a bench with your hands facing forward. Extend your legs out, taking your bum off the bench balancing on your hands.
Lower your body down towards the floor taking your arms into a 90 degrees bend. Press your body upwards, extending out your arms back into the start position.
Key exercise tips:
- Keep your core tight to maintain an upright position
- Make sure your elbows track in line with your hand
- Breathe in as you lower and breathe out as you press up
- If you find it difficult to perform the tricep dip with straight legs then bend your knees placing your feet flat on the floor
- Rounding/curving back
- Not going low enough
- Hyperextending the elbows
The squat is one of the biggest exercises in fitness. It is a huge compound movement that can help to improve your fitness and strength in a number of ways. But what if you can't squat properly? How can you improve your squat?
Why can't I squat properly?
Squatting is a natural, functional movement that humans have been doing since the dawn of time. When we were young we would squat perfectly and naturally without even thinking about it. Just take a look at a child playing around, they'll drop into a squat and get back up again without a second thought. As we age, we get less and less good at it as we lose mobility and become sedentary in our lifestyle.
If you can't squat properly, it could be due to lifestyle or it could be due to your personal physiology. If you haven't done a squat since you were a child, you can't expect to do one perfectly first time you try. Like everything, exercises take practice, and you should ask an expert or fitness professional to give you guidance the first time you try to squat.
Some people have more reduced mobility than others, which may also affect your squat capabilities. If you have stiff or weak ankles, you will struggle to squat. Again, practice makes perfect, and with the right physio training, you'll be able to do a full, proper squat in no time.
Squats are a compound movement, meaning they use multiple joints and muscles to happen. A simple body weight squat utilises almost every muscle in the body and arguably once weights are added, no muscle gets left behind. It's a good idea to get well acquainted with the body weight squat before you add weight, so that you can be sure you have good form.
How to do a squat
- Begin with feet just outside shoulder width and toes pointing very slightly outward.
- Find a point to focus on looking straight ahead, don’t look down as this will compromise your spine.
- Head up, sink your weight back into your heels and bend your knees.
- Sink your bum down as low as your hips and flexibility allow.
- Your chest should stay upright and your back remains flat, the knees should follow the toes.
- Driving off your heels, straighten back up to the start position.
How to improve your squat
Lack of Range
A lack of range in your squat is usually caused by stiffness, inflexibility or even ankle instability. If your heels lift off the ground towards the bottom of your squat it is likely that you have either tight hamstrings, ankles or both. Stretching the ankles and hamstrings will help to achieve the full squat depth.
Knees collapse inwards
Your knees caving inwards during a squat is a common sign of weak abductors and gluteus medius, although there can be many other reasons as with any imperfection. Exercises which focus on activating these muscles such as lying clamshells, banded squat walks and single leg lunging can help to activate these areas. This being said, there are olympic athletes whose knees collapse inwards as they compete, who clearly don’t suffer from ‘weak’ anything. So it is not the only cause.
Back caves forwards when squatting
A weak posterior chain can lead to bending forward as the lower back attempts to make up for the weakness and ends up pulling you forward. Strengthening the hips, glutes and hamstrings will enable them to engage better and pull your body back to the correct alignment.
An arched back when squatting can be caused by a multitude of problems, a weak chest, poor posture, a weak trunk or even simply too great a weight can cause the shoulders to arch, compromising your squat technique. Trying to establish the cause of this imbalance can often be the most difficult task, but then there are simple steps which can be implemented in order to address the issue. A weak chest can be worked on by focusing on exercises such as flyes and pullovers, whilst fully engaging the pecs by forcing the shoulders back. A weak trunk can be improved by working on core strength using exercises such as the plank and hanging leg raises.
The barbell squat
Olympic squat, weighted squats, whatever you want to call it, this is when the squat becomes a game changer and has the greatest effects not only on strength but on weight loss, fitness and body composition. Weight training has a whole article of benefits of it’s own which you can read under “strength training”.
The first battle, do I use a neck wrap or not? To barbell squat you will need an olympic bar, collars and a rack. You will not need: Chalk, lifting gloves or a neck pad for the bar. If you hold the bar correctly you don’t need to use a pad to support your back, that’s what you’ve got traps for. What’s more - wearing a neck brace can damage your proprioception, you need to be able to feel the bar properly for effective balance. Padding makes the bar thicker, moving it upwards which causes a more forward lean and emphasises lower back stress. As your weight lifting gets serious and your strength increases a bar pad won’t be any help anyway. Heavy weights hurt.
Setting up to barbell squat
This is another common trait many will miss, despite the fact they’re in the gym, we can still call these people lazy, as they’re the ones who don’t want to faff with moving the rack to fit them properly, which can lead to poor technique. As someone who is 5 ft 2, I physically HAVE to set the bar up every time, as at most people’s height, I’d be trying to lift it over my head! The bar should be set at a height somewhere between your breast and collar bone. It needs to be low enough that when you stand with knees locked, the bar lifts off the rack, without you going on tip toes. It’s a squat not a calf raise.
Once you’ve set the bar up, it’s time to step under it, place the bar across your shoulders and select your grip. This is another vital piece of the puzzle. Follow these steps:
Step up to bar. Duck under bar. Make sure head is central. For a high placement, the bar sits across the neck, resting on your traps, for heavier weights the bar is usually placed slightly further down, so the weight is more central and therefore less likely to cause damage to the lower back. Keep your hands as close as possible without causing strain, which will flex the upper back and provide “cushioning”. Point your elbows down, straighten your wrists and keep your elbows in.
That’s the setup, so this is the moment where you have a stern word with yourself, big yourself up and then go for it. You should be able to straighten and un-wrack in just two steps, if you have to lift the bar any further out you could put yourself at risk.
The squat technique itself is almost identical to a bodyweight squat, except now you’ve got a badass weight on your back. The main factor here is to make sure you keep your head facing forwards rather than looking up, as this will cause compression at the top of your spine.
Once you have the basic squat perfected, the possibilities of where you can take it are endless. In our next post we will look at squat variations, so keep your eyes peeled!