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.
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!
What is a good strength training workout?
Strength training is a form of exercise where muscular strength, size, and endurance are increased by adding resistance against movement. This resistance can come in a variety of forms, from dumbbells to barbells to kettlebells, even sandbags and tyres.
A good strength training workout incorporates the 'big four' compound movements of the squat, bench press, deadlift, and shoulder press. It also incorporates a combination of barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells. This is to get a rounded workout and work your muscles in different ways by putting them under different stresses. Finally, the best strength training workout is safe and incorporates both a thorough warm up and cool down in order to maximise efficiency and reduce the risk of injury.
What are the benefits of strength training?
Strength training has many benefits, from being healthier to looking better.
Being strong is useful.
Being strong is a great asset in daily life. You'll be able to lift your kids with ease as well as heavy shopping and moving furniture. You will have fewer limitations and face fewer obstacles on a daily basis. It's especially useful if you work a manual job which involves a lot of heavy lifting and functional movement.
Strength training increases bone density.
The older we get, the more fragile our bones become as well as becoming more likely to break and develop osteoporosis. Strength training increases bone density which will help you stay healthy as you grow older and prevent bone-related health issues. Having increased bone density is also good for your joints as will prevent excess stress being placed on your knees and ankles when you run and walk. Strength training even stimulates the manufacture of new bone.
Strength training increases your metabolism.
Lifting weights raises your metabolism and it stays at an elevated level long after you're finished. Experts estimate that your metabolism stays elevated for up to 39 hours after your workout! This is because lifting strains your body so much that it needs extra time to recover and you burn calories even when you're resting after the workout.
Strength training improves blood flow.
Resistance exercise (such as lifting weights) produces a different pattern of blood vessel responses to aerobic exercise, suggesting that it may have specific and important benefits for cardiovascular health. Research has shown that strength training improves blood flow and can lower your blood pressure.
Helps control blood sugar.
A study by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tested the effects of resistance training in people with type 2 diabetes. The study found in subjects with type 2 diabetes, both the low and moderate intensity circuits reduced blood glucose concentrations. However, the low intensity circuit produced lower glucose levels with less metabolic stress. This finding is particularly relevant to overweight, often untrained individuals who are just beginning a diabetes management program. Even a single bout of low intensity resistance exercise offers clear benefits for blood sugar management. As the individual progresses, intensity can be increased.
Weight training can help lower your bad cholesterol. According to a 1987 study conducted by I.H. Ullrich and colleagues published in the "Southern Medical Journal," HDL and LDL cholesterol levels can benefit from weight training. This study took 25 men who weight trained for eight weeks, three times per week. The weight-training program showed a decrease in blood LDL levels.
Strength training increases serotonin, your happy hormone. A Harvard study once found that ten weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than counselling. This is particularly important for women since they are more than twice as likely to experience depression and only one out of three actually seek care.Not feeling good? Then train. Not happy? Then train. Need an instant mental and mood boost? Then train!
Can I do strength training at home?
You don't have to just do heavy lifting at the gym to benefit from all these fantastic health improvements. Resistance training involves any kind of weight or resistance, and this can include household items. You could use this surprising household item to switch up your training.
You can get stronger by using dumbbells and kettlebells in your own home and cables and resistances bands. If you do want to lift heavier weights or benefit from the expertise and experience of a personal trainer, find a local gym and enquire about strength training programmes that they recommend.
As a swimmer, your arm strength is paramount to your performance. Try this arm strength training session by our friends at Swimovate to really see results.