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There’s a lot of information about strength training for MMA right now, but very little in the way of Strength Training for Muay Thai out there.
These article I wrote back in 2014 has been one of the more popular articles on our site. As of 2017, I’ve updated this article.
Strength Training has an important, yet often under utilized, place in your Muay Thai training, no matter if you are just training for fun, fitness, or to fight. There’s a number of reasons why you might want to do strength training a couple times a week.
You can do it for the everyday benefits being a bit stronger brings to your life; or as part of a body transformation effort (i.e. to get ripped or keep muscle while losing fat); or to improve some aspects of your Muay Thai game (such as being stronger in the clinch by adding my maximal strength ability); or as part of a serious strength and conditioning training plan to improve your overall cardio and clinching and striking power during training and fights.
- To get the full breakdown on why read my WHY Strength Training can benefit your Muay Thai article.
- If you are looking at losing weight with Muay Thai, read my How to Lose Weight with Muay Thai.
- If you want at GENERAL strength training routine/training protocol for body composition or generic strength, then check out my Strength Training 101 Guide.
- If you want to do a strength and conditioning program to dramatically improve your overall Muay Thai fitness and conditioning, so you never gas out in training, sparring, or during a 5 round right, then head over to my Conditioning series which starts with Muay Thai Conditioning 101: Energy Systems
If you don’t need convincing and just want to skip to the actual strength training program, click here.
Why Strength Train?
Adding a weight-lifting regimen to your Muay Thai regimen is often a debated topic. On one side of the fence, you have those who will tell you that lifting weights won’t increase your striking power (i.e. lifting weights won’t help you kick or punch harder) and even negatively impact your Muay Thai. Those on the other side of the fence will tell you that adding supplemental weight training is pretty much the bee’s knees — it will increase your striking power, clinch strength, improve your Muay Thai fitness and hell, even do your taxes.
As someone who does a lot of heavy strength training in addition to serious Muay Thai training in Thailand, 5-6 days a week, I feel the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two arguments.
Strength Training, when utilized correctly as part of an OVERALL strength and conditioning plan, can provide serious benefits to your Muay Thai. And there is a host of OTHER benefits Strength Training can bring too.
Strength TrainingIS heavy resistance training done in a very specific format with the express purpose of increasing your body’s MAXIMAL strength (as measured by various compound lift exercises) over time.
But Wait. Won’t Lifting Weights Make You Big, Bulky, and Slow?
The common misconception is that weight training will make you bulky and slow, but this is not true.
Strength Training is NOT bodybuilding. It will not make you bulky (provided you are not overeating your calories). It’s entirely possible to become quite a bit stronger without gaining any weight even — there are many neurological adaptions that occur when you strength train that doesn’t actually have anything to do with building muscle fiber. These are adaptions to your CNS (Central Nervous System) which allow you to be stronger without adding more muscle mass.
But Thai’s Don’t Strength Train!
In traditional Muay Thai circles, strength training is typically completely ignored. Thai’s do NOT strength train for the most part.
But from what I’ve personally observed while living in Thailand and training at different gyms here, this is more from a lack of proper knowledge about strength training, lack of resources to strength train (no proper weight sets in some gyms), and the fact that most of them are just too fatigued to lift weights at the end of the day.
Thai’s in Thailand train insanely hard — they run for 10-12k in the morning, followed by a 2-hour session. They sleep until the next session in the afternoon, where they also run 4-5k followed by an even more grueling training session than the morning. This happens 6 and sometimes seven days a week. With a training regimen like this, it’s tough to add serious strength training to the mix.
But just because Thai’s don’t, does NOT mean strength training can’t benefit you. It can, and there’s a lot of research out there that shows strength training can seriously boost athletic performance across the board for different sports.
There is no disputing that Muay Thai is a sport that rewards timing, skill, and technique far more than just pure raw power and strength. This can be verified time and time again when you watch physically-superior guys get dominated in fights but much smaller guys with better skill/timing/technique. But, that doesn’t mean that there is NO benefit to strength training. If things like technique and skill are equal between two fighters, then the one who can generate more POWER during the fight when striking will likely be the winner.
This is where Strength Training can provide a significant boost — it builds an increased strength platform that can eventually be tuned (by training against resistance explosively) for more explosive power (the rate of force development), both in your striking and clinch abilities.
But before you can increase your power, you need to have the strength base first — you can’t add more explosive power in your muscles than you currently have without first adding the (extra) strength to enable that additional explosive force capability. And this is what strength training aims: to help you build your overall foundational strength.
Again, if you want to get into the WHY of it, do read my article on Why Strength Training Will Improve Your Muay Thai for the full explanation on why you need to first build up raw strength before you can train your muscles for more power. Every question you likely have is answered there!
Strength and Conditioning…Where Does STRENGTH fit in?
In the sports world, there is a lot of talk about Strength and Conditioning. Athletes are not only training their sport, but they are also doing supplemental training, commonly referred to as Strength and Conditioning.
Strength and Conditioning, as it applies to Muay Thai, is not about increasing your strength or your conditioning, but rather developing your body’s capacity to produce and more efficiently use energy in the specific way that applies to your sport.
This could be increasing your maximum force production (strength), your overall power output over the rounds (power endurance), more explosive power per strike (i.e. knockout power), or developing your body’s energy systems (i.e. increase your body’s ability to produce ATP) so they can produce more energy and utilize it more efficiently when you need it.
So strength training when looking at it from a Strength and Conditioning perspective is only ONE aspect of your S&C. That is Strength Training has the stated goal of helping you increase your overall MAXIMAL strength which can then be trained for more explosive power.
Strength Training, however, is only dealing with muscular adaptions for power. It WILL NOT improve other aspects like Conditioning, which comes down to optimizing your body’s three energy systems (and the support systems like your heart, capillaries, oxygen carrying systems), the Alactic, Lactic, and Aerobic Energy systems so you can produce ATP (muscle fuel) faster, more efficiently, and for longer periods.
Training your maximal strength causes increased recruitment and motor control of existing muscle fibers, optimizations in your CNS (Central Nervous System), and increased productions of hormones which allow your body to better adapt to potential conditioning. Without getting too deep into the science of it, Strength Training does a lot of good SHIT to your body in general, and a lot of it can help your general conditioning.
You can actually view your general strength training program as part of your overall Strength and Conditioning plan; it’s the precursor to building up explosive strength.
Having more strength can help make your conditioning work more effective once you start working on your Alactic and Lactic energy systems to better produce and handle ATP.
If you want to know more about these energy systems and how to improve them to transform your conditioning and fitness, so you never gas out, read our Muay Thai Conditioning 101 series for the best guide Muay Thai guide to strength and conditioning you’ll find online, bar none.
I want to be clear here that Strength Training for Muay Thai has a specific purpose: You are not trying to compete with power-lifters here on how much weight you can lift in the gym. The goal if you strength train is to become as strong as possible (and depending on your goals, with minimal or NO weight gain), as quickly as possible, all to improve your strength and explosive strength for Muay Thai WITHOUT negatively impacting your current Muay Thai training!
So If My Maximal Strength Increases, I Can Punch and Kick Harder?
Not exactly. There is a stated difference between your strength (that is your maximal force development) and applying that strength explosively in a fight (power).
It’s not enough to just be strong. I’ve seen guys who can bench-press hundreds of kilos and deadlift twice that, but they can’t punch for shit. Ignoring the fact that they don’t have the technique to correctly apply some of that strength to strikes, most of their raw strength can’t be used explosively.
Increasing ONLY your raw strength won’t likely give you more powerful strikes — yet. But what it will do is give your body the strength foundation which you can then train to be more explosive.
I will say there may be some direct relationship between your strength improvement and your clinch game however. If you have NEVER done any strength training before, it’s likely that you can within 3-4 months, become 20 or 30 percent stronger than you currently are.
This is because your body will readily respond to the initial training. After the a few months, your strength gains will level off, but you will be stronger. Becoming a little bit stronger (say 5 or 10 percent) might not make much of a difference in the clinch. But if you are 20, 30, or 40 percent stronger, this will ABSOLUTELY make a difference if you clinch guys your weight (ignoring any skill and technique difference)
Types of Strength Training
There are a number of different ways to go about Strength Training, each depending ENTIRELY on your stated goals. Someone who is training Muay Thai to get ripped has an entirely different goal than someone who wants to Strength Train for increased power in a fight. I’ll break these into three groups:
Strength Training for Aesthetics
There are some people out there who don’t care so much about improving their Muay Thai performance for fighting, but rather they want to build a muscular physique while training Muay Thai. They train Muay Thai to burn calories and for fitness but also want to lift weights for…well…body image reasons.
It’s true that doing a lot of cardio will hinder muscle growth. If you train Muay Thai because you love the sport but also want to add muscle to your frame or keep as much muscle as possible while losing fat, then Strength Training will enable that. Keep in mind that IF your body is your goal and NOT trying to improve the power of your strikes, then Strength Training is more of a permanent sort of routine NOT a training block that you cycle on and off depending on your current goals.
Strength Training can be used to build a better body (with proportional aesthetics and functional strength — unlike bodybuilding) very successfully if you manage the nutritional aspect. Unlike bodybuilding style training, Strength Training won’t hinder your actual Muay Thai performance but will provide benefits. But if you want to work on the aesthetics of your body, you are going to have to have the NUTRITIONAL part of your Strength Training down.
If this is your goal, you should look at the following articles:
Strength Training for Casual Muay Thai Student
If you love Muay Thai as an art but don’t plan to fight, then Strength Training still can offer you a lot of benefits. The chances are that you are the type of person who loves to spar, work on technique, and has a general appreciation of the sport. If this is the case, you can pretty much strength train as much as you like without needing to change it to Power Training, though you can if you wish.
Strength Training for the Fighter
If you fight, you have an entirely different set of needs. You strength train with the sole intention to give you an edge when you fight. That means having more explosive power in your strikes when you fight and more strength in the clinch.
If that’s the case, then Strength Training will only be one block of your training, likely lasting several months (2-3 months), when you are not fighting.
As soon as you have a fight, you will need to switch from a pure strength training routine to an Explosive Power training routine. In the context of training as a fighter to fight, Strength Training can be looked at as part of your Strength and Conditioning program (you’ll also be managing the conditioning training as well, of which strength training can overlap but is NOT the same).
For the most part, this means strength training is a sort of off-season style of training where you work on increasing your strength when you don’t have a fight in 4-6 weeks.
Strength Training for Muay Thai
At last, we get to the meat of the article!
Pay attention because class is in session.
You can read my in-depth article about Strength Training 101 for beginners for a detailed GENERAL strength training guideline. I break down some of the finer details involved. You should read it before continuing.
Strength Training, in general, is a pretty simple process. We can break it down into a handful of steps:
- Lift heavy weights such that reps you can complete between 3-6 and the sets anywhere from 2-5. Rests between sets to be between 2-3 minutes.
- Perform compound lifts that stress multiple muscles per movement (Deadlifts, squats, rows, weighted pullups, barbell curls, bench press, overhead press, etc.)
- utilize free weights which will allow you to maximize your weight loads that utilize the most muscles possible per lift (barbell and dumbbells)
- Recover — give your muscles adequate rest to recover between sessions.
- Increase the weight (stimulus) you lift every week if possible
The thing is it is quite bit more challenging if you try to combine a proper strength training routine WITH a full Muay Thai training regimen. The problem is that strength training can tax your body which can affect your actual training performance.
Keep in mind that strength training and endurance training (of which you can argue a grueling 2-hour session of Muay Thai is) both try and push physical adaptations in your body in different, often mutually exclusive, directions.
Strength training encourages physiological adaptions to increase your raw strength and is anabolic in nature (stimulates protein synthesis — muscle fiber development). These adaptations include changes to muscle fibers (making them longer), Central Nervous System changes to better coordinate muscle fibers, and a host of other changes.
Endurance training increases mitochondrial biogenesis (increased production of mitochondria) which allow more energy production that fuels aerobic movement.
Both of these adaptions are often competing, and you can only fully optimize for ONE, not two. Thus if you want to focus on strength, too much cardio will start to hinder your strength (and muscle gains). Strength training may inhibit endurance adaptations (and this aside, at the very least make you tired!). We talk about building up your endurance and conditioning in a separate series of articles.
That’s not to say you should strength train, just be aware that Muay Thai WILL may interfere with your ability to add strength. Having said that, strength training can still provide plenty of benefits.
Strength Training For the Casual Muay Thai Trainee
If you are not training like a fighter (you train 2-4 times a week and one session a day and do no cardio outside of training), then you can pretty much add a general Strength Training routine with 3-4 workout sessions a week to your current schedule with little difficulty or discomfort. The quantity of your training is not so much that both training programs start to impact the other.
I suggest you read my Strength Training 101 guide — you can pretty much follow that to the letter.
Strength Training for the Fighter
If you are a fighter and/or training 4-6 days a week (1-2 sessions a day) and doing heavy roadwork outside of class, then Strength Training is MUCH more of a challenge as you have to optimize your strength training workout to fit it in with your Muay Thai.
This is an area that I have a lot of personal hands-on experience as I’ve trained for fights while strength training. I’ve found that grueling strength training workouts can leave you fatigued for days and your cardio, power, and endurance done during your ‘strength training recovery days’ may take a huge hit when you train.
Here is what I’ve found PERSONALLY works, based on my own experience and working with other fighters who strength train while fighting in Thailand.
1. Compound Lifts Only
If you train Muay Thai every day, you don’t have the time or energy to live in the gym. The key is to get the most bang for your buck when you lift weights. That means utilizing lifts that stimulate multiple muscle groups at the same time. These are called compound lifts and make up the backbone of any strength training program.
- Overhead Press
- Weighted Pullups
- Weighed Dips
These are the movements that will build overall body strength, which is what we are looking to do here. The point is to become STRONG, not build a ripped physic (though building a more aesthetically pleasing body is a side effect of strength training, as you will put on proportional muscle on your body)
2. Lift Between 2-5 reps and 2-5 Sets per per exercise with 2-5 exercises per session
Strength training is about lifting weights around 80-90 percent of your 1-rep max (the maximum weight you can lift for an exercise only ONE time before failing on the next rep) 2-5 times. You can go HERE to calculate your 1-rep max. It’s this magic range of reps and weight that provides the maximum stimulus to your muscle fibers, telling them to GROW.
To build your strength, you’ll need to do the following:
- Lift 2-5 Reps Per Set
- 2-5 Sets Per Exercise (see the compound lifts in the section above)
- 3-5 Exercises per session
There are various other types of training like Hypertrophy training (building muscle size) and explosive lifts to build power, speed, and strength (i.e. Olympic lifts), but Strength Training is primary concerned with stimulating muscle fiber growth and optimizing your neural pathways for maximal strength improvements.
For my own personal strength training routine, I do five reps for three sets with 3-5 exercises per session and 3 sessions per week.
3. Strength Train ONLY 1-3 times a week, depending
Some strength training programs will advocate 4-5 times a week. But this is assuming you are only strength training and nothing else.
If you train MT 5-6 days a week, 1-2 times a day and do roadwork outside of the gym: strength train 1-2 times a week.
With all the regular training you do, you will quickly find yourself too fatigued to train BOTH strength training and Muay Thai effectively.
This puts so much stress on your body that it can’t recover. Your Muay Thai sessions will suck, and your strength will likely take a big hit in the gym, meaning you can’t push as much weight when you lift.
If you train once a day, 5-6 times a week AND do roadwork 4-6 times a week: strength train 2-3x a week
This is what I do personally, and I can train a solid 3x a week while also seeing strength improvements every week or two. My suggestions is to break your workout into 3x per week IF you can handle it. This works well as the default program to follow. If 3x a week is a bit too much, then switch it to 2x a week.
Let’s break each of these training options down specifically:
Three Day Strength Training Split
Functionally, it would be better to change the lifts around so Squats and Deadlifts are NOT on the same day so these don’t cannibalize your strength, but I’ve found it’s just too taxing spending a couple days recovering from doing heavy squats on Monday only to hit your body hard a few days later again with deadlifts.
This is true when you are doing a lot of running, and your legs are just brutalized all the time from the lifts.
- Close Grip Bench / Incline Bench
- Weighted Dips
- Weighted Overhand Pullups
- Overhead Press
- Barbell Curl
- Hammer Curls
- Weighted Close Grip Underhand Pullups
If you are training for a fight (fight training tends to be harder) and you are training MULTIPLE sessions per day, strength training 3x a week will be too much for most. You’ll have to train 1x a week or twice a week (2x is ideal, IF you can do this). This requires adjusting WHAT muscle groups you train into either a single session (full body workout routine) or two sessions.
If possible, I would opt for 2 sessions per week over one because you can lift more weight by focusing on different muscle groups (let’s say Push and Pull).
Two Day Strength Training Split
If three days proves too taxing (which will likely be the case if you are doing lots of Muay Thai training 4-5 days a week, once a day, and doing conditioning work as well), you’ll probably need to cut back to 2 days of lifting rather than 3. To see consistent improvements, 2x a week is about the minimum.
Session 1 Pull muscle groups
- weighted pullups (close grip underhand and / or overhand pullups)
- bicep curls
Session 2 Push muscle groups
- overhead press
- bench press
- weighted dips.
Sometimes, though, you are training so much you don’t have the juice to lift hard and heavy twice a week.
For normal Muay Thai training back home, this won’t be the case, but if you are say living in Thailand, training twice a day 6 times a week, lifting twice a week will be hard to do (trust me, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work).
In this case, you either pick the first day of the week or the last day of the week and smash your entire body with a full body compound workout. I prefer the twice a week sessions because, with the once a week full body workout, you won’t be able to lift as much weight with each compound exercise when you smash all the major muscle groups in a single, brutal session.
This means your squat will take strength from your deadlift, which will tire you on the Bench Press which will eat into your Overhead Press strength.
However, I have worked with a few fighters who successfully do 1 strength training sessions per week, and they do see strength gains from week to week. So it’s possible! It’s just not optimal for building the most strength in the shortest period.
One Session Per Week Strength Training
If you are training to the point where 2x a week is difficult (and effects your Muay Thai training performance), you can do an all out 1x a week training full-body-workout session. If you are NEW to lifting, you’ll still see a lot of improvements in strength.
If you have been lifting for a while, you probably won’t see as much improvement due to the stimulus of a 1x a week session at or under the threshold you need to stimulate greater strength gains. You may still see some strength improvements as an experienced lifter, but likely less than if you do 2-3 times a week.
Doing a full body workout also means that you can lift the most weight for your initial lifts, but your strength will decrease as you progress. This means you can’t ‘lift’ as much overall. You can mitigate this somewhat by rotating your lifts week to week, putting the last lifts first and first lifts last.
I typically like to start with my smaller lifts first before moving to the taxing lifts (squats & deadlifts). If you lift say deadlifts all out first, your lifts after will suffer. By moving these to the end, you’ll be able to lift more with the smaller lifts.
- Overhead Press
- Weighted Pullups
- Weighted Dips
If you can’t do all of these because of fatigue, then just keep the following 4 which will work your full body:
- Overhead Press
4. Strength Train in the Morning (before you Train Muay Thai)
To ensure you can lift the most weight and see the most strength gains (more weight lifted = stronger stimulus to CNS = more strength gains) you should lift weights BEFORE you train Muay Thai. Ideally, if you train Muay Thai in the afternoons that means doing your strength training in the morning, if you can fit that in. This also will give you between 4-8 hours before you start your Muay Thai training, giving you enough time to recover so your strength training doesn’t affect your Muay Thai training (at least not too much!).
If you are in a situation where you train Muay Thai in the mornings, then it’s best to do your strength training 4-6 hours after (i.e. the afternoon or evenings), so your body has a chance to recharge.
If you train Muay Thai twice a day, say somewhere like Thailand, and you are unwilling to skip morning sessions so you can strength train, then you’ll just have to strength train after Muay Thai. I’ve done this before. You can strength train AFTER Muay Thai sessions, but don’t expect to be pushing as much weight as you normally could as your muscles will already be fatigued from training. Because you can’t lift as much weight as you normally could, you won’t see as much strength gain as you could if you didn’t, but if you have no choice, it’s better than NOT strength training — you will still see results.
I’ve personally worked with several fighters who strength train AFTER morning Muay Thai training and they still managed to push heavy weight and see strength gains from week to week — so it can be done. It’s just not ideal.
5. At least one day of rest between each strength session
This is critical. If you don’t give your body enough time to recover, you won’t get stronger! It’s not lifting the weights that makes you stronger; it’s the times between weight sessions where your body rebuilds damaged muscle tissue that you get stronger. Don’t underestimate the importance of REST and RECOVERY.
I’m assuming you will be training at least 3-4 times a week with Muay Thai, maybe even 5-6 times a week.
You need to give your CNS (Central Nervous System) time to recover between strength training sessions. You can think of your CNS as the wiring connecting your brain to your muscles. Each time you lift heavy weights to increase your maximal strength, your CNS is fried and will be unable to send a strong enough electrical signal throughout your body to fully coordinate all your muscle fibers when you lift heavy — not until it’s recovered.
A schedule that I find works for me (I train Muay Thai Monday to Saturday in the afternoons with a 30-45 minute run before the session) is to lift weights:
I do my heaviest compound lifts on Saturday. The two-day break helps my CNS recover enough to push maximum weights on the dead-lift and squat.
If you strength train twice a week, I would suggest something like:
The above schedule gives you the 3 full days off from weight training between Monday and Friday and 2 full days off between Friday and Monday, allowing your body time to recover.
6. Heaviest Lifts done before day off
It’s a good idea NOT to lift your heaviest at the start of the week because your training will suffer for a couple of days after. I’ve personally found that when you lift for maximal strength adaptions, your body is completely shot for a good 1 or 2 days. If you train Muay Thai as usual, you might find your stamina during Muay Thai sessions will go down, you’ll be more fatigued, your muscles will be sore, less energy, etc.
A better strategy I’ve found that can mitigate the above negative effects is to lift your heaviest lifts (deadlifts, squats) on the LAST DAY OF TRAINING BEFORE YOUR DAY OFF which means it won’t negatively affect your Muay Thai training by fatiguing your Nervous System or Muscles for 1-2 days after your workout.
Assuming you do NOT train on Sunday, this day would be Saturday morning. If you don’t train Saturday and Sunday, then this day would be Friday.
If for some reason you are a genetic freak and don’t find your heaviest strength training lift days (deads and squats) don’t affect you, then do your heaviest compound lifts on Monday, when you are your freshest. This means, ideally, you can lift more weight which will stimulate more strength increase once you recover.
7. Optional: Consider Taking One Day Off After Three Days of Training
If you are training twice a day with Muay Thai and incorporating 2x-3x a week of Strength Training, you might want to consider having a full day off from BOTH Muay Thai and Strength Training sessions in the middle of the week.
This one day off will do wonders for your recovery. Rather than going hard for 3 days then having a shitty 3 final days of the week because you are so fatigued, you will be able to go hard from Monday to Wednesday, have Thursday as a full day off, then train HARD again Friday and Saturday. 5 Good days beats the hell out of 3 good days and 3 shitty days.
I’ve found this strategy particularly effective for ensuring I don’t feel over-trained in the middle of the week.
8. Take a FULL week off both Muay Thai and Strength Training every 6-8 weeks of training
I know a lot of people will chafe at this, but complete recovery is a critical part of your strength training regimen.
Heavy Strength training and heavy Muay Thai training takes a huge toll on your body. There is only so much stress your nervous system and hormonal systems can handle before they are unable to cope. If you do NOT take a recovery week, chances are you’ll start to feel run down, start to get sick, and your endurance, power, and strength will all dramatically decrease. Until you take an extended break, your performance will be down.
To give your body a chance to recover fully and your hormonal system to reset, you need to take a week off. I recommend every 6 weeks if you can, but if this is too much, then do so after 8 weeks.
If you REFUSE to take a week off from Muay Thai, then at least take 1 full week off from strength training after 6 weeks.
9. The Nutrition
This itself is a whole nother topic which I won’t cover extensively here and it’s out of the scope of this article to provide you with a list of what you should eat for each meal, etc. However, nutrition is important to nail down. If you don’t, you won’t see as much (or any in some extreme cases) strength gains.
I recommend you thoroughly read my How to Calculate Calories for Weight Loss to find out How to Calorie Count and How to Calculate Your Macros for information about putting together a proper nutrition plan that meets your goals (gaining strength/size, losing fat, getting ripped, etc).
I will say though; you need to keep your protein levels high (see our guide to protein supplements). I suggest around 1.5 grams of protein PER lb of bodyweight. This is a bit on the higher end of what’s needed perhaps, but it’s enough to cover all bases just in case. If you don’t get enough protein in, you won’t see the strength improvements you would otherwise see. Get your protein from natural sources if you can, but if you need to do a number of protein shakes per day to reach it, then do it.
At the macro level, you have a couple options when it comes to eating. These will affect your strength gain AND your muscle/fat gain:
Calorie Surplus: You can be in a calorie surplus, which means eating more calories than your body burns. If you strength train while on a calorie surplus, you will see the MOST strength gains and the MOST muscle size gains. However, this also means you will gain weight, which might not be a good thing if you FIGHT at a certain weight class. Not all weight will be muscle; you will also likely gain some fat, which is a necessary evil.
This option is good if you are NOT fighting and just seeking to add muscle to your frame
Calorie Maintenance: If you are eating roughly around what you burn, you won’t gain a lot of weight. If you have NEVER lifted weights before, you may see some initial muscle gain, and you will definitely see strength gains, especially the first 3-4 months as your body adapts to strength training. Eventually, however, your strength gains will stall as your body won’t have the nutrients to add more muscle (which means more strength).
This is good if you fight at a certain weight class but just want to increase your maximum strength without the associated weight gain. Once your maximum strength is up, you can train for more explosive power. This is probably ideal for someone who fights, and you are happy at your current weight.
Calorie Deficit: If you eat less than you burn, you are in a calorie deficit. Strength training can be challenging while on a deficit because your strength will, for the most part, not improve while on a deficit. You are mainly trying to hold on to your existing strength and muscle while you shed fat. If you cut calories but don’t strength train, your body will shed muscle — this is WHY you want to strength train while on a calorie deficit.
This option is good if you are trying to fight at a lighter weight class. By shedding fat and keeping your strength (and muscle), you improve your fat to muscle ratio and you might not have to cut as much before a fight if you shed BODYFAT as opposed to water weight. This is by far the best way to ‘make’ weight. Losing body fat als0 can allow you to reach even lighter weight classes than you normal couch reach by just cutting water weight.
I’m a firm believer that as long as you eat a balanced diet, you don’t need supplements. The one situation though where supplements can help is when you are training very hard, especially if you are on a caloric deficit.
When doing heavy training (I’m not talking about lifting a couple times a week at the gym, but training 5-6 days a week, hours per day), your hormonal system can misfire. Your body may produce more or less of some key hormones which can cause problems (sleep, appetite, fatigue, etc). In this situation, there may be a few supplements that can help.
I personally find the following useful:
- Protein Powder
- Fish Oil
(see our Guide to Supplements for Fighters)
If you strength train, you need to get your sleep in. It goes without saying that you should have at LEAST 8 hours of sleep a day. Training Muay Thai and Strength Training takes a huge toll on your body and you need sleep to recover. Protein Synthesis (i.e. muscle development) tends to happen at night while you are sleeping, so if you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t see as many strength gains.
Personally, I’ve tried both methods and I find I can train harder in my Muay Thai sessions if I save deadlifts + squats for the last day of training. Since I ensure I have 1-2 days off from strength training before I do these lifts, my strength is usually not negatively impacted when I do these lifts.
12. Strength Training and Fights
If you are a fighter and strength training is a MEANS to build more powerful strikes and more strength in the clinch, then you are going to have to plan out how long you strength train. Ideally, you should look at strength training as a BLOCK training — you train for 2-4 months with the stated goal of improving your maximum strength X amount, then switch to another style of training as you approach a fight.
If you want to convert your increased strength foundation into FUNCTIONAL explosive power, you are going to have to change your training from Strength Training to Power/Explosive Training. This means you should in fact be doing Power Training or Power Endurance training the last 3 weeks to 6 weeks before a fight and NOT strength training.
If you are strength training only before a fight:
You never want to strength train the week of your fight — it will tax your body, your training will suffer, and you may be tired during the fight. At the very least, you need 7 days between your fight day and your last strength session. You may find that fight training the last couple weeks coming up to the fight is so taxing that strength training sessions might interfere with training. If that’s the case, you may want to look at doing 1 full body session a week rather than 2 – 3, for the last couple weeks leading up to the fight.
Trust me on this, I’ve gone into multiple fights with very little time off from pure strength training and my body and strength took a big hit by the time of the fight because I was so over-trained. You don’t want this to happen to you!
Putting It Together
Strength Training will help you become stronger and this will only benefit your Muay Thai. However, if you want to fully reap the benefits of your increased strength by increasing your explosive power, Strength Training needs to be part of a coordinated Strength and Conditioning plan of which it is only one element. Ideally, after you build up a level of strength you’ve never had before, you will start to train your muscles to be more explosive to reap the benefits of that increased strength in your striking.
I’ll have a follow-up article in the future about Explosive Power Training for Muay Thai that will give you some basic guidelines on how to train your Maximal strength for Explosive strength.
As I’ve mentioned in my Will Strength Training Help Your Muay Thai article, just having more strength and explosive power is not enough; you have to have enough energy pproduction tosupport a sustained usage of it. If you have powerful striking but a tendency to gas out long before the fight finishes, then this is a serious limiting factor.
This is where the CONDITIONING part of your Strength and Conditioning comes into play. We’ve talked about the Strength part of it (and there is still more to cover in regards to building explosive strength and power endurance), but your conditioning plays JUST (and I’d say even more) important a role in allowing you to continually tap into that power and strength for all 5 rounds of a fight!
To take full advantage of explosive strength and power in a fight, your neuro-muscular system, your hormonal system, and your cardio vascular systems need a number of biological adaptions to dramatically increase their efficiency as they work together to supply your muscles with enough continuous ATP to support your power output. The better each system is optimized, the better your cardio. And the way to do this is to improve your body’s different energy systems (aerobic, alactic, and lactic systems) to better produce and process ATP.
People like to make out conditioning as a sort of exact science. It is, but it also isn’t! Anyone can improve their conditioning and using a good heart rate monitor, can easily coach themselves and see drastic improvements across the board for all levels of fitness, be it explosive, endurance, power endurance, and more.
Discussing the complex topic that is CONDITIONING is beyond the scope of this article. But fortunately for you, I’ve already written it. So to now read about the conditioning part of the strength and conditioning equation, start here for the first article.