Traditionally, Muay Thai consists of very little, if any, strength training. A few calisthenics here and there, and most practitioners are happy. But targeted strength and power training are needed if you want to maximize explosive power for Muay Thai. But can't you just hit the bag and pads to become a power striker?
How To Build Explosive Power For Muay Thai
Here are the three main points you need to know when developing explosive power for Muay Thai.
Punch & Kick More Often
We know you can be as big, strong, and powerful as you like. Still, nothing compares to a technically proficient fighter with years of experience behind those punches and kicks. More experienced strikers are more efficient at enhancing effective mass .
It’s essentially the ability to transfer momentum into the target at impact. Old martial arts wisdom echoed the idea of effective mass without the label. For example, Bruce Lee emphasized the importance of relaxing the body when striking and tensing at impact.
This skill is developed over years of Muay Thai training. Hitting pads, bags, and other humans as often as possible with great technique will get you there.
Rest Longer After Power Strikes
This is probably the most underutilized weapon for developing extreme power for Muay Thai. Watch any training video, and you'll see fighters blasting the pads or bag with endless kicks and combinations.
This is all well and good for technique and work capacity. But to develop true power, you need to do less and rest more. It sounds counterintuitive to a typical Muay Thai session, but here is how it would look:
- 6-10 second bursts of maximal intensity striking w/ 90 sec - 3 minutes rest.
Leading punch performance researcher Seth Lenetsky also believes in this protocol for building explosive power in strikers. You can listen to his thoughts in the Sweet Science of Fighting podcast below:
Get In The Gym
Power is the product of force and velocity. Or strength and speed. A base level of strength is essential for underpinning power qualities since it makes up one side of the power equation. For example, trap bar deadlifting twice your bodyweight.
However, you will need more than just getting stronger or bigger on a typical Powerlifting or Bodybuilding training program to improve your ability to produce force quickly.
And due to the low levels of mass needed to overcome when throwing punches, kicks, knees, or elbows, chasing lofty absolute strength goals is typically not the best idea for striking arts like Muay Thai.
Instead, depending on your level of strength, you may focus on high-velocity strength training exercises. These would involve overcoming light to moderate resistance with maximum speed—for example, jumps, throws, and plyometrics.
Especially since Muay Thai movements are heavily influenced by elastic qualities such as switch kicking or double knees and kicks .
Lower and full body exercises should make up the staple of your training program. Many fighters focus on the upper body to improve striking performance. However, punching power comes from the lower body, as evidenced by advanced strikers having more significant contributions from the lower body to the punch than novice strikers .
We can extrapolate this data to include kicking performance. Overall, Muay Thai strength training should involve high-intensity and low-volume exercise to stimulate strength and power adaptations without a large muscle-building response and without hampering technical Muay Thai training.
High-intensity refers to heavy loading (>75-80% 1RM) or high speed (maximal jumping, throwing, and plyometrics). Low volume refers to the number of sets and reps. Depending on the exercise, you typically won’t exceed 5 reps and only perform 2-4 sets.
Sweet Science of Fighting Dominate The Ring Strength & Conditioning Program does precisely this and is designed for strikers like yourself.
Best Power Exercises For Muay Thai
I'm always weary of labeling anything the "best" as it is highly individual-dependent. What is best for you may not be best for someone else. So, this list covers some of my favorite power exercises that focus on reactive strength and accelerating light to moderate loads.
The drop jump is a relatively advanced plyometric exercise. You drop off a box typically 30 cm or higher, land on the floor, and bounce into a vertical jump as quickly as possible. The goal is to spend the least amount of time on the floor and simultaneously jump as high as possible.
You need a solid strength training background to get the same benefits as someone who has been in the gym consistently. Lesser trained individuals signal the protective mechanism earlier than trained individuals to reduce force production.
But heavy strength training desensitizes this protective mechanism allowing you to produce more force during this exercise. The goal is to develop reactive strength to rapidly turn an eccentric (lengthening) contraction into a concentric (shortening) contraction to take advantage of elastic energy.
The faster you can do this, the greater the potential power output.
The hurdle hop is like a continuous drop jump. But what I love about the hurdle hop is the built-in rhythm. It cycles periods of relaxation with periods of stiffness similar to what you'd do when striking, such as throwing multiple kicks or combinations.
Further, you can alter the rhythm by adding double bounces or different height hurdles for a greater challenge.
Unlike the hurdle hop and drop jump, the box jump has a longer ground contact time, developing slower elastic abilities often labeled as explosive strength. It’s very straightforward. How high can you jump?
It's a popular proxy for the expression of lower body power. But by landing on a box, you reduce landing impacts. Depending on your phase of training and injury status, this can be helpful.
The jump squat is the most versatile jumping exercise in my experience. You can load it over the entire force-velocity spectrum, letting you target speed or power based on load. For example, bodyweight or having the barbell on your back may target speed qualities.
Loading with 20-40% of your back squat 1RM starts to reach peak power territory. Loading heavier than that brings you into the strength speed category, where you move heavy loads quickly. Similar to Olympic Weightlifting. But without needing the technical expertise.
Medicine Ball Scoop Toss
Medicine balls should be in every Muay Thai training program. They train the sequencing of lower to upper body coordination and overload these movements. For example, the scoop toss for height teaches how to generate force from the legs and extend the hips to transfer force through the arms to the ball.
You’re not constrained to height. You can scoop toss for distance and also add a rotational element to the toss for height.
Medicine Ball Rotational Throw
The rotational throw is another example of sequencing where you overload the rotation of the hips through lower body force generation. Don't turn this into a sloppy upper-body exercise. The power should come from the legs and hips when throwing the ball.
Don’t fear the iron. The fears of becoming big, bulky, and slow and typically founded in poorly designed training programs focusing on Bodybuilding or Powerlifting style programs. To develop explosive power for Muay Thai, you need a strength training program specifically designed for the sport.
Be sure to check out Dominate The Ring for developing explosive punches and kicks, and join the community with world-class combat coaches and Ph.D. researchers ready to help you!
- Lenetsky, S., Nates, R. J., Brughelli, M., & Harris, N. K. (2015). Is effective mass in combat sports punching above its weight?. Human movement science, 40, 89-97.
- Filimonov VI, K.K., Husyanov ZM, & Nazarov SS., Means of increasing strength of the punch. NSCA Journal, 1985. 7: p. 65-66.
- Turner, A. N. (2009). Strength and conditioning for Muay Thai athletes. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 31(6), 78-92.
Author: James de Lacey