Muay Thai Conditioning

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Like most competitive full contact fighting sports, Muay Thai has a heavy focus on body conditioning. Muay Thai is specifically designed to promote the level of fitness and toughness required for ring competition.

Training regimens include many staples of combat sport conditioning such as running, shadowboxing, rope jumping, body weight resistance exercises, medicine ball exercises, abdominal exercises, and in some cases weight training.

Training that is specific to a Muay Thai fighter includes training with coaches on Thai pads, focus mitts, heavy bag, and sparring. The daily training includes many rounds (3-5 minute periods broken up by a short rest, often 1-2 minutes) of these various methods of practice.

Thai pad training is a cornerstone of Muay Thai conditioning which involves practicing punches, kicks, knees, and elbow strikes with a trainer wearing thick pads which cover the forearms and hands. These special pads are used to absorb the impact of the fighter’s strikes and allow the fighter to react to the attacks of the pad holder.

Wrapped hands of kick boxer at Muay Thai

The trainer will often also wear a belly pad around the abdominal area so that the fighter can attack with straight kicks to the body at anytime during the round.

Focus mitts are specific to training a fighter’s hand speed, punch combinations, timing, punching power, defense, and counter-punching are also used to practice elbow strikes. Heavy bag training is a conditioning and power exercise that reinforces the techniques practiced on the pads.

Sparring is a means to test technique, skills, range, strategy, and timing against a partner. Sparring is often a light to medium contact exercise because competitive fighters on a full schedule are not advised to risk injury by sparring hard. Specific tactics and strategies can be trained with sparring including in close fighting, clinching and kneeing only, cutting off the ring, or using reach and distance to keep an aggressive fighter away.

Due to the rigorous fighting and training regimen (some Thai boxers fight almost every other week) professional Muay Thai fighters have relatively short careers in the ring. Many retire from competition to begin instructing the next generation of Thai fighters. Most professional Thai boxers come from the lower economic backgrounds and the fight money (after the other parties get their cut) is sought as means of support for the fighters and their families. Very few higher economic strata Thais join the professional Muay Thai ranks; they usually practise the sport as amateur Muay Thai boxers.

Kickboxing: Muay Thai, along with savate, karate, and taekwondo heavily influenced the development of kickboxing in Japan, Europe, and North America. However, unlike Muay Thai, many kickboxing competitions do not allow elbow strikes, knee strikes, or kicks below the waist (especially to the testicles). These rule changes have led some martial artists to consider kickboxing a ‘watered down’ version of Muay Thai, if even that.

Mixed martial arts: Starting in the 1990s, Muay Thai has enjoyed a boost in popularity worldwide as it has been very effective in mixed martial arts fights, such as those held by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and PRIDE Fighting Championships. Mixed martial artists such as Marco Ruas (of Ruas Vale Tudo), Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (of the Chute Boxe Academy) have combined many striking elements of Muay Thai with grappling, submission, and choking elements from Judo, Wrestling, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into a hybrid synthesis that has been highly effective in defeating practitioners of “pure” martial arts, at least in a sports-centered context.

Other fighters that have used Muay Thai as their primary style in mixed martial arts include Duane “Bang” Ludwig, Kit Cope, and Spencer Cooper. Shoot-fighters and professional wrestlers who have trained and been influenced by Muay Thai include Satoru Sayama (the original Tiger Mask and founder of shooto), and Yoshiaki Fujiwara.