Functional Training for Muay Thai, Boxing, Mixed Martial Arts

From Fighting to Fitness - A Scientific Approach
Written by Vince Soberano   

Muay Thai Fitness Science

Muay ThaiThai Boxing, the national sport of Thailand, also known as Muay Thai, is one of the most brutal sports in the world today. It is the most popular and dominant striking system of choice in no-rules, full-contact fight sports like MMA and Kickboxing. Although known as a hardcore and often dangerous sport, Muay Thai also presents a safer, more positive side to fitness as a totally effective and result-oriented exercise system. Muay Thai fitness training, without the full-contact fighting applications such as sparring and competitions, is a fun, stress-relieving, and physically demanding workout for ALL TYPES of people.

Overview of the Muay Thai Training Regimen


Warm upWarming-up is important to physically and psychologically prepare the participant for the increased demands about to be placed on the body. There are two types of warm-up: General and Specific.

  1. General warm-up consists of jogging, skipping rope, calisthenics, stretching and non-sport specific activity.
  2. Specific warm-up is performing the actual activity itself in a light, easy manner. A popular example of a specific warm-up is Shadowboxing.


ShadowboxingThis type is exercise is unique only to boxing and fighting sports in that it is a complete warm-up and stretching routine all bundled into one drill. The premise of this exercise is to move your body and limbs in simulation of a fight. You kick, punch, block and counterattack an imaginary opponent in front of a mirror or your shadow on the wall. This drill loosens up and stretches your muscles and joints, warms up your body and conditions your mind into a fighting mindset. Start slow with deliberate striking movements for the first few minutes for stretching and warm-up. Gradually build up speed and power for explosive energy and strength. Once you break sweat and your limbs feel limber, it is time for impact training on the heavy bags and/or Thai pads.


Thai Pads

Muay Thai padworkThai pad training is the most important drill in real Muay Thai training. It requires two people – one to hold the pads (the "feeder") for the one who is striking (the "striker"). Fighters may hold pads for each other and switch places at every set interval. This type of training is highly interactive and allows the fighter to simulate fighting with a "live" opponent. In Advanced training, the pad holder creates this “live” fighting condition by moving around, keeping the target pads moving, striking at the fighter to train blocking and countering, and making each training round highly intense. Beginner and Intermediate training drills aren’t as interactive and basically involve preset combinations of strikes with the pad holder staying in a stationary position.

Heavy Bags

When training alone, the next best thing to Thai pads is the heavy bag. It offers the same resistance and impact conditioning but it does not have the interactive elements that bring the workout to higher intensities. With the right training mindset and self-discipline you may still be able to intensify your workout on the heavy bag. Visualize a fight and move around the bag in the same way you would move with a real opponent. Strike at surfaces that are at similar angles and locations as your targets on a real person, such as the head, ribs, legs, etc. Throw barrages of rapid strikes in various intervals to generate explosive power and energy. Be as explosive as you can while regulating your breathing. Some other methods of training that are also important to Thai Boxing include running (especially sprints), speedbag, sparring, jump- rope, plyometric drills, medicine ball training, and focus mitts.

Interval Training in Rounds

In one round (each round is between 3 to 5 minutes), you will receive approximately 65% of your energy from the lactic acid system, 30% from the ATP-CP system, and 5% from the aerobic system. A typical Muay Thai training session will have a combined total of 20 rounds of the various exercises listed above.


Warm-Down is post-training exercise done in a continuous, easy, relaxing manner. It helps your body return to a normal resting state. It also decreases DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness), helps to alleviate the pooling of blood in the lower extremities and increases the removal rate of accumulated lactic acid. Warm-Down includes light shadowboxing and stretching.

Functional Training – a Scientific Approach to Muay Thai and Boxing

Functional TrainingStrength conditioning and developing muscular endurance are key objectives in Muay Thai and Boxing training. Strength is the amount of force that can be exerted by a muscle group for one movement. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to contract over a period of time. Without strength and muscular endurance, a fighter cannot survive a bout. A properly designed functional training program using some specialized weight equipment will NOT make you stiff and slow. Rather, this type of hybrid training will increase your speed, impact resistance and striking power. The top fighters in world today have integrated functional training into their regimen.

There are four basic principles to follow while on a functional training program:

  1. Overload – forcing the muscles to contract at near maximum levels.Through overload, the muscle will be forced to adapt.
  2. Progressive resistance – the training load must be progressivelyincreased to cause overload to the muscle.
  3. Specificity – the muscle adaptations are specific to the type of trainingdone. Therefore, the same muscles used in Thai Boxing need to be stressed while weight training.
  4. Recovery – a muscle fatigued from the effects of weight training needs48 hours recovery before resistance training is repeated.

To determine the proper amount of resistance to train with, a 1-repetition max(RM) is used. One RM is the maximum load that can be moved through the full range of motion for 1 repetition. A percentage of this 1 RM is then taken to determine a training weight. While lifting, the concentric contraction (shortening of the muscle and decrease in angle of a joint) should be performed in 1-2 seconds. The eccentric contraction (lengthening of the muscle and increase in the angle of the joint) should last 4 seconds. For example, while performing a pully biceps curl, the weight is lifted up in 1-2 seconds and lowered in 4 seconds.


Periodization is based on the theory that hard, high intensity work over extended periods of time can lead to burnout, injury and stagnation. This means that intense workouts such as functional training, weight lifting and impact training need to be scheduled in alternating periods. Better progress can be made following a periodization schedule. Develop periodization cycles in both weight training and Thai pad training to prevent burnout-related injuries.


By following a scientifically based training program, you can be assured of making optimal results. The main objective is to stick with it. On days you feel like skipping the workout, remind yourself of your goals. It's better to decrease the intensity and do the workout then to not do it at all. The primary reason for quitting an exercise program was given in a survey: The participants perceived the training as too hard and they burned out. There is no better way to lose new students than to crush their enthusiasm with a killer workout.