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Will Strength Training Help Your Muay Thai?


strength training muay thai

This is a question that’s often asked and I think is worth a solid answer to. There is a LOT of debate out there with many people saying Strength Training is unnecessary while others swear by it.

I feel that strength training can offer quite a few benefits — indirectly. Let’s look at why this is the case in detail. Rather than just TELL you that strength training is a positive thing, I’ve tried to give some solid scientific reasons behind the WHY of it.

This is sort of a prequel article to my How to Strength Train for Muay Thai article, which looks at HOW you can successfully combine strength training with Muay Thai for more maximal strength.

You might also want to check out the Strength Training 101 article if you don’t know what strength training is or want to find out more about it. In fact, if you don’t even know what I’m talking about, STOP and go read it, then come back.

And finally, if you want to increase your overall conditioning and fitness, absolutely check out my Muay Thai Conditioning 101 Series — the most comprehensive (and free) guide to ramping up your fitness so you never gas out, during training or a fight.

Let’s first clear up WHAT Strength Training is NOT:

Strength Training is NOT Bodybuilding

Strength Training is not Powerlifting

Strength Training is not CrossFit

Strength Training is NOT fucking around with some weights after or before Muay Thai training for a couple minutes.

So…what is it then?

Strength Training IS heavy resistance training done in a specific format with the express purpose of increasing your body’s MAXIMAL strength (as measured by various compound lift exercises) over time.

The Benefits of Strength for Fighters

Typically there are two types of fighters: explosive fighters who can explode with powerful knockout flurries but often gas out after a couple rounds and endurance fighters who lack the explosive strength but have boundless amounts of endurance to last all 5 rounds.  Now, there are of course exceptions to this, but in general this tends to be the case.

If you have a good amount of strength, chances are you are probably an explosive type fighter who may struggle with endurance in the later rounds of a fight. On the other hand, if you have great endurance as a fighter but lack explosive knockout power, chances are your general strength is probably lacking.

Both types of fighters can benefit from strength training, with the explosive type fighters able to become MORE explosively strong for longer periods without gassing while the endurance type fighters will be able to gain the explosive power they never had before.

Those who lack existing explosive power, however, will particularly benefit from Strength Training as they are likely do not possess a high level of strength — something that Strength Training, over time, can easily build. Genetics do play a part in Strength with some who are just naturally stronger and other who are not. But EVERYONE can become stronger and those who have never ever strength trained, in particular, can see quick and radical improvements in strength.

Strength training won’t necessarily build explosive power (and harder strikes) if you don’t have it naturally, but it lays the necessary strength groundwork to allow training for it.

One area that increasing your Maximal Strength by a substantial amount can show demonstrable results  is in the clinch where sheer strength can make a difference against a resisting opponent. While technique, skill, and balance are often great equalizers against sheer physical strength in the clinch, if both fighters have similar skill levels in the clinch, strength makes a big facking difference. For this reason alone, Strength Training is worth it, as the clinch game is a major part of Muay Thai.

The Relationship between Technique, Power, and Strength

First here are a couple definitions you should know:

  • Power is ability to exert maximum force quickly. In more scientific terms, power is the rate of force over time. Power, as it applies to striking arts, is simply the measurement of the force generated by your strike over that small time duration of your strike. INCREASING power would mean at the moment of impact the measurement of that force would be HIGHER (as compared to previous instances).
  • Strength is your ability to produce maximum force.
  • Force is simply a measurement of MASS x Acceleration.

Now, it’s pretty clear that there are a number of factors that can influence the power of your strikes in Muay Thai outside of your raw strength ability. But these all center around technique.

Better Technique Transfers Existing Raw Power More Efficiently

Proper Muay Thai technique can transfer your existing power more efficiently into your opponent better than poor technique will allow. That is, perfect technique allows a more efficient transfer of power. But at the end of the day, good technique (torquing of the hips when kicking/punching, correctly angling of your strikes for maximum velocity, keeping your limbs relaxed until impact, etc) will only optimize your existing physical power, NOT actually increase your physical ability to generate more power.

This is where strength training comes in.

Increasing Physical Strength (Maximum Force Production) Increases Raw Power Potential

The ability to produce maximum force (i.e. your strength) is highly linked to your ability to exert that force quickly. Various studies have in fact shown a strong relationship between maximal strength and power. That is, you can’t be powerful without first being strong.

In English: the stronger you are, the more potential power you have.

To generate power, you have to move fast which requires a lot of force to do so. The more maximum strength you have, the quicker your muscles can potentially accelerate and thus the more potential POWER you can generate with your strikes, assuming you don’t have a similar increase the mass. More force potential + same mass means an increase in acceleration and thus an increase in POWER.

Thus you have to have enough force in the first place to accelerate quickly. And this is what Strength Training does: builds the foundation of strength needed to increase your explosive acceleration. Having good general strength will give you the proper nervous system foundation to LATER train for more explosive power.

Besides more recruitment and coordination of muscle fibers, Strength Training will cause your body to release hormones which can help your body’s adaption mechanisms for increasing your biological power (read: more energy production), which is important when you overall conditioning (i.e. may benefit your overall conditioning)

The Relationship Between Your Maximal Strength (maximum force production) and Your Power (force used explosively)

The power of your strikes depends entirely on HOW quickly you can exert force. This means you must be able to increase the acceleration/velocity of your strikes.And this means your muscles must be able to generate explosive force quickly which requires significant strength first. At the biological level, this means your muscle fibers must be able to contract quickly. Your can’t train for power if you don’t have strength first. You can’t be powerful if you are not already strong. So if you want to add more velocity to your strikes (which results in more power), you are going to need increased strength to power this.

Training to Increase Rate of Force Production

Strength Training alone will (likely) not give you more striking power. 

This is where people like to knock Strength Training as being ineffective. And I agree here. Just because you have moved your bench press up by 20 kilos or can dead-lift and insane amount, doesn’t mean you can knock off someone’s head with a punch or kick, even assuming you have the proper technique to pull it off.

BUT: Strength Training can help build the foundation strength which you can then train for more explosive power, which CAN help your knock people out!

By building your ability to produce more maximum force (i.e. strength) through resistance training, then training specifically to increase the RATE of that force (ability to apply that force explosively against your opponent), you can improve your physical power production during a fight. That increased power might be manifested (depending how you train) say as more knockout power when you punch or kick.

The foundation that allows more power to be utilized comes from your strength ability (i.e. increasing your MAXIMUM strength); that is, increasing your strength will also increase your power potential.

Muay Thai Alone Can’t Increase Power

Yes, you can spend years training Muay to develop both the proper technique and the basic muscular adaptions to generate powerful strikes. But at a certain point, if you want to increase that power beyond a certain physical threshold that you already have, strength training is absolutely required. Muay Thai training ALONE will not provide enough stimulus to your CNS (Central Nervous System) to force your body to make these biological adaptions. To do so, you need to subject your body to resistance training to force these adaptions.

So Why Won’t Muay Thai Training Alone Build More Strength and/or Explosive Power?

The answer to this question comes down to the basic principles of human adaptability (in the fitness/s&c/strength training/bodybuilding world known as the ‘Progressive overload and accommodation principles ‘).

Zatsiorsky’s famous 1995 paper explains this principle: ‘This is a manifestation of the biological law of accommodation, often considered a general law of biology”. According to this law, the response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time. Thus, accommodation is the decrease in response of your body to a constant continued stimulus. In training, the stimulus is physical exercise.“(Zatsiorsky 1995)

In simple terms, this basically means you must apply stress (i.e. a stimulus) to force a biological adaption in your body to meet the demands of that stress. If the stress is not high enough, your body will not adapt (because it can already meet the demands) or will lose the adaption (revert to pe-stress levels).

The problem here, as you may already see, is the ‘Principle of Accommodation part,’ where you have to keep on progressively increasing the stimulus to force further adaptions once your body adapts to the new habitual stimulus. Eventually, the stimulus requirements become so high it’s impossible to force those adaptions — the time requirements are too strenuous or your body is simply unable to handle the increased stimulus.

Think of any sports activity — running say. If you’ve never run before, you can quickly go from being completely winded after 15 minutes of running to 30-45 minute runs within a short period of time. But to improve your level of running ability (faster runs in shorter times, longer runs, etc), you have to continually increase the running demands. Eventually, you reach a point where you have to put an incredible amount of stimulus (effort) to see improvements.

The same applies to Muay Thai and strength/power!

This is why Muay Thai only, beyond the ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ adaptions that happen when you are relatively untrained in the sport (i.e. you respond readily to the new stimulus of kicking, punching, and the training), can’t force the muscular adaptions, beyond a certain point, for additional  strength/explosive power. The stimulus just isn’t there anymore. Simply smashing the pads as hard as you can over and over in the same pattern won’t force those adaptions. Doing longer training sessions won’t either (this may increase your endurance, but not your strength).

To see those adaptions, you have to change your training and apply a greater stimulus — one that’s highly targeted towards your strength: Strength Training.

A Better Fighter Has Both  Skill, Technique, and STRENGTH

Physical Ability to Generate Force + Speed at which Force can be Applied (i.e. Power) + Technique = Striking Power

If you increase your physical ability to generate raw power combined with perfect technique to efficiently apply that power when needed, you are a better fighter.


And this is what strength training brings to the table: increased strength that you can with training turn into more power.

Yes, you can perfect your technique to trick out some more power with more efficient movement patterns, but you can ALSO increase your body’s ability to produce more force. And in order to do this, you must apply resistance training to your muscles to force those physical adaptions in your muscles which will give you more strength and thus more power potential when you strike.

Let’s make a bit of an analogy here.

Nak Muay Bob moves from the USA to Thailand and trains for 3 years to improve his technique. The improvements in technique result in 15 percent more power striking power with his punches and kicks at the end of his 3 year stint

This is fabulous. However, it took Bob 3 years of training in Thailand to see that improvement.

But what if Bob, instead of going to Thailand and training 3 years, instead takes up a strength and power routine for 6 months, and finds his striking power has increased 20 percent!

Bob saved himself almost three years of training in Thailand for the same results!

Basically what I’m saying is that the later option (strength training + power training) is the easier and far more in reach for most people than the former option (mastering perfect technique). Now, granted, you ideally want BOTH the technique and strength training to improve your power the MOST. Trying to become more powerful by lifting weights is not a cop-out to replace technique, it’s a way to enhance the results! So if you’ve already got the technique down, why not see even more improvements by strength training? And if you don’t have the technique down yet, you can still see improvements by working the strength side of things while also improving your technique!

Research shows (look at for these stats) that suggests fighters who can throw the most strikes (i.e. can produce the most TOTAL power) often wins the fight. So increase your usable power during a fight and you increase your chances of winning!

The Inter-dependency of Energy Systems, Power and Strength

I want to note here that there’s a lot involved when it comes to increasing the total striking power over the course a fight. You can look at one off explosive power (knockout strikes), you can look at the total number of strikes thrown (speed) or at the total number of punches thrown with power.

Strength and Power Training can give you more knockout explosive power by rewiring of Central Nervous System and various muscle fiber adaptions. They may even help you deliver more strikes with more power for longer periods by your muscle fibers adapting to more efficiently process ATP — up to a point (to really see huge improvements here, you have to work on CONDITIONING not just general strength). But there’s also a heavy interplay with the body’s energy systems responsible for SUSTAINING your striking power output. You might have brutal knockout power strikes for a couple seconds because of your explosive strength developments, but be unable to sustain that power output for more than a few seconds and afterwards be completely fatigued (gas out) with very little recovery. Unless you get that knockout, you’re in deep shit here.

This is where your Energy Systems are important in that they dramatically impact your POWER over time; if one of your energy systems is lacking (you haven’t trained it properly to sustain the ATP you need), you will gas out in a fight.

Strength Training and Power Training might help you develop more harder strikes. But if you want to SUSTAIN those higher powered strikes for longer durations than a couple seconds and quickly recover afterwards so you can continue to throw explosive flurries without gassing out, then you are going to have to work on the CONDITIONING aspect of your training.

That is, you will have to improve your Alactic, Lactic, and Aerobic energy systems so that enough continuous ATP (basically muscle fuel) can be effectively delivered to your muscles to keep up a steady power output.

Conditioning for Muay Thai (the training of your Alactic, Lactic, and Aerobic systems to better handle your muscles’ ATP needs) is a completely different (and highly complex) topic all together. To learn how to improve your conditioning, start with my Conditioning 101: Intro To Your Energy Systems article, which is the start of my improving fight fitness series.

About Author

Ben has been living, training, and fighting in Thailand for the past 3 years. He has fought in a number of different combat arts such as MMA, BJJ, Muay Thai, and Western Boxing. Ben follows the latest fitness and nutrition research and is especially interested in how it can apply to combat sports to improve a fighter's performance in the ring. You can read Ben's full bio page here.


    • I have the Strength Training for Muay Thai Article already written — I’ll post that up later today or tomorrow. Should have everything you need to know combining strength training with Muay Thai and how to manage both of these while fight training.



    lucas darroch on

    cool article! Little physics edit though, to transfer energy from one body to another you want high impulse (J) not power (P). Impulse is all of the force you transfer through the coarse of a collision. Power is the rate at which energy is consumed; saying that a strike had a lot of power is equivalent to saying that a strike used a lot of energy. Impulse is the sum of the force over the time of the collision. A high impulse is equivalent to saying the strike had a large force.

    • Good point, I know there is a different exact formula specifically for momentum which is probably what you are talking about. I tried and break it down in layman’s terms since the whole concept is confusing for the average person.

      I’ll edit though to make a note of this. Thanks!


    Hi Ben,

    Great site, some really useful bit’s of information – I’m so glad I found it!

    Relatively new to Muay Thai have only been training a few months, have read most articles on here (I think) but haven’t come across anything on the use of yoga. I was wondering whether you feel it is important/useful to perfect both flexibility and balance whilst fighting? At the beginning of any session I find my kick height is very restricted until my legs/groin really loosen up and sometimes I have difficulty getting enough height for a head kick without throwing myself off and I have read yoga can be really useful for this so I wondered if you have any thoughts on this or if I have just somehow managed to miss the article on here?


    • I’ve done SOME yoga, but it’s not something I regularly do, mainly because there are no Yoga places directly close to where I train. I haven’t written any Yoga for Muay Thai articles because I’m not a regular Yoga practitioner…yet. But I would do regular yoga if I could.

      I used to attempt to train Muay Thai, strength train, then do 1.5 hours of Hot Yoga (3 times a week) at night. But I found I was nearly passing out during the Hot Yoga because I was already so taxed from running over an hour a day, training twice a day Muay Thai, then lifting weights.

      Keep in mind, Yoga won’t be taxing for the average person who only trains Muay Thai 2-4 times a week. I only point out that certain types of Yoga could be, if you train full time (but outside of fighters or people training in Thailand regularly, this won’t be the case).

      Regular Yoga is good — I can see a lot of benefits doing 30 mins to 45 mins of yoga as an active recovery a couple times a week and maybe your day off.

      Flexibility is important — especially for high kicks. If you are flexible, you can head kick without leaning back so much, throwing kicks at hard to predict angles. Usually, we do 15 minutes of stretching before training to loosen up the muscles before the session starts.

      So YES, Yoga is a good thing and being flexible will only be beneficial. Where Yoga is not so good is if’s the taxing kind of yoga (power yoga, hot yoga, etc) where you actually are working out hard, sweating, etc. This can interfere with training because it will really tax your already taxed out body. Softer Yoga that’s more about stretching and flexibility is a good supplement I feel, a couple times a week if you can manage.


    Really a nice article this is a great site I like how thorough the speeches specifically, I practice k1 by nearly 1 year in the gym where I train this winter but I would try to do 3 weeks of training in thailand what do you advise me BEN , since I’m a beginner I would like to get some tips on where I might find me at my ease, in the sense where you train with good teachers. Thanks!


    hey, just finished your article and your mention of energy systems piqued my interest.

    now, i am just getting back into shape after two semesters of school where i did not do any exercise at all, so i may be just slow to recover my strength and endurance, but it seems to have dwindled to next to nothing and i’ve been having a hard time getting back into peak performance. for example, ill train some weights or hit the bag for like 5-6 two minute rounds and ill be tired for the next 2 days. i am eating in a surplus with lots of protein, but im also trying to lose weight, so whats a good way to get my body to utilize all of the systems of energy?

    • The old axiom is true ‘ if you don’t use it, you lose it!’ It’s far easier to maintain your fitness levels (assuming you’ve improved them) then it is to build them up from scratch.

      You misunderstand what I was talking about with the energy systems; those ‘energy systems’ I was referring to are related to the different pathways and mechanisms your body utilizes to generate the energy-on-demand for physical activities. They are not related to ‘weight loss’.

      To figure out how to really lose weight, read my article


    Thanks for this article. It is profound and SOOOOO needed for me since there is so much talk going on about punching power and the science is important for me. I have a question or two though.

    Since your strength dictates your power potential, and you’ve told us how to increase our power POTENTIAL, how can we tap into that power potential that we have gained? Power training?

    And one more question that may fit in. People see that speed has a lot to do with punching power, like they say the formula is mass x acceleration or something. Where does speed fit in with what you went over in the article? I mean, acceleration is explosiveness right, not really “speed”… This is a bit confusing.

    • You strength train to increase your maximal strength — this gives you the base platform to build more explosive power. But more maximal strength does not necessarily give you more explosive power (which is what counts for more powerful punches and kicks), but rather the POTENTIAL to increase your explosive power.

      So after you increase your maximal strength, you need to tune your workouts for explosive power — things like jerk and clean, snatches, etc. Basically, you change up your lifting from heavy weight lifted slowly to Less weight lifted explosively.

      Speed is the rate of motion, or the rate of change of position. Basically, speed is simply moving an object from point A to point B in X amount of time. In this case that object in this case being your fist or your foot.

      Acceleration is the rate of change at when you move an object from point A to point B. Acceleration requires force and that force is applied explosively by your muscle fibers. More acceleration = more speed = more damage.

      So basically we want to increase your acceleration to generate more speed and thus more power to your punches. And this is generated by increasing first your maximal strength which is then with explosive weight training, into the ability to apply more explosive force when you punch or kick which means for the same distance your are accelerating your fist/feet faster.

      I hope that clears it up.



        Thanks. You made it a bit more confusing me, sometimes answers lead to more questions…

        Wait, I re-read it again, I think I get it now.

        Strength dictates your power potential. Acceleration requires force, and your maximum force is your maximum strength, so the stronger you are, the faster POTENTIAL (?) you have for acceleration?

        Jeez, what am I saying, am I right?

        • Don’t worry, it IS confusing.

          Maximum strength does NOT give you more explosive power. It gives you the potential to build UP more explosive power. Think of powerlifters for example. These guys have a very high maximal strength. But that doesn’t mean they can throw a powerful punch or kick. Fighters without all that maximal strength (and quite a lot smaller) can throw far more powerful punches because they have more explosive power ability (let’s just ignore the fact that they also have proper technique and can coordinate their muscle movements more efficiently for that movement).

          So yes, the stronger you are the more potential you have to build up more explosive power. But you have to train for it.

          There are a few other variables. The goal here is to increase the speed so you have more powerful punches. Building up more maximal strength by adding more muscle weight will increase the force of your punches because you have more mass, but likely decrease the speed. We want to increase the SPEED, so that’s why we focus on strength training in which you can easily increase your overall strength without needing to add more muscle bulk.

          I hope that made things somewhat clear


            Thanks. It made things a bit clearer and I think I’m nearly there. Although your powerlifting example seems a bit weird for me. Because like you said, powerlifers have very high maximal strength, but you said they cannot use that maximal strength explosively… But aren’t powerlifters like the ultimate example of people who CAN use their strength explosively? Beause all their movements are explosive. Although they don’t have any punch or kick technique, so their punches and kicks would obviously not be as powerful.

          • It depends on the type of powerlifter (olympic powerlifting, for example is explosive), so maybe not a good example. Deadlifts, bench, and squats are all slower movements so lifters who specialize in this are strong yes but not explosively strong unless they train for it.

            Let’s just use a strong guy at the gym who can bench or deadlift a serious amount of weight. He has a high maximal strength but not necessarly explosive strength (he can lift heavy weight slowly but not less heavy weight explosively fast).

            Olympic lifters are the prime example of explosive lifters — they are strong and they lift that heavy weight very very fast.

            That’s not to say olympic lifters have powerful punches and kicks just because they have muscle fibers optimized for explosive power. Proper technique allows you to better translate all that explosive power into a more powerful punch. It’s kind of like a car with a lot of horsepower in the engine but the frame or wheels or chassis is not designed to take advantage of that horsepower vs a car that has less horsepower but everything about the car chassis is optimized for speed and efficiency. Which car then can go faster? It might not be the car with the most horsepower. Of course, if you have both the horsepower and the right chassis, then you are really talking.

            Sorry if these analogies are not making things as clear as you would like. It’s NOT an easy topic to explain.

            I hope that clears it up for you


    THANKS! Yes, that really clears it up. The analogies are better here, it’s just that I thought a powerlifter in the sense of those olympic powerlifters the prime example of explosive strong people and you agree.

    Just one more question. How come their are fast fighters who lack knockout power. Example, floyd mayweather. He’s very fast and doesn’t that mean fast acceleration too? But I doubt he’s strong so how can he accelerate fast (if he can), but also, really lightweight boxers, like under 130lbs lets say, they’re fast, but shouldn’t that mean they’re powerful?

    Thanks, I have to pick your mind though, because you have the knowledge of this science 🙂

    • Fast doesn’t necessary mean more powerful. Mass also effects power as well. More Mass = more power when you hit but usually in terms of punching more mass means less speed (heavier guys punch slower than lighter guys).

      But more speed and less mass can also mean more power as well. So you have to tinker with this equation.

      There is more to it here such as more speed = more kinetic energy while less speed = less kinetic energy.

      If it was all just speed = power than jabs would be the most powerful of punches, but they are NOT, so there is more going on with this.

      So really, the scientific term here is you want to maximize the KINETIC energy when we are talking to the power of a punch or kick, not necessary just the speed or the weight alone. Kinetic energy which basically is related to acceleration, force, distance and all the key things that we can use to describe power. More Kinetic energy = more devastating punching/kicking power. Building up more explosive ability as a fighter is really increasing your ability to produce more kinetic energy per punch or kick.

      Really, breaking this down exactly regarding Kinetic Energy needs an entire article to breakdown the exact science of it. So I’ll make a point of this in the next couple days. If you are confused, I can be sure many other people are.


    Are medicine ball throws with a weight you can throw around 20 times good for tapping into the power potential? Actually, how about One Arm Dumbbell Snatches for tapping into the power potential? You done a good job of explaining it, but how do we tap into this power potential specifically? Thanks.


    It’s me again…. I THINK I FINALLY UNDERSTAND WELL. Let me convey my understanding to you.

    Strength training increases your maximal force, power is the ability to apply that force quickly.
    Acceleration requires force, that is to say, explosive speed requires force, and the more maximal strength you have, the more explosive speed (power) potential you have.

    So when people say the equation for punching power is Mass x Acceleration, increasing your strength and then tapping into your power potential by increasing your rate of force development is working on the ACCELERATION part of this formula!!!!

    In other words, Strength training can help you get more explosive (powerful) and increase acceleration!

    Good technique optimise’s the power you have (mass you put in, as well as lots of other things obviously) whilst strength really deals with the acceleration aspect as it dictates the power potential.

    Have you seen this guys idiotic article?

    He wrote a part 2 as well. I’d love for someone to rebuttal him and call him out… “Why lifting weights WILL increase punching power if done correctly”.

    • Yes, you got it 🙂

      I actually like Johnny’s articles — he’s a great resource for guys wanting to learn about boxing. I’d say the best pure boxing resource on the web. I disagree with his article completely, but I understand the spirit of what he’s trying to day. Just lifting weights for bodybuilding won’t give you more punching power. I agree with this. However, if you take a targeted approach and lift for strength, then modify that for explosive power, you can see an increase.


        And my understanding has increased even further.

        You talked about kinetic energy to me. Now, I’m not sport scientist or anything like that but I’m understanding the science relating to punching power here.

        Acceleration is actually superior to mass when it comes to punching power because the equation for kinetic energy has Velocity squared, whilst Mass is NOT squared.

        So that means that if we were to double the mass of a person striking a punch whilst having the same velocity it would be twice as powerful, but have that person at his original weight where doesn’t weigh twice as much but this time he punches with twice as velocity, the punch is FOUR times as powerful!

        I am content with my understanding. How superior am I.


    Shit yea man that’s a top article. No one at my gym believes me when I bring up this strength for power argument

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