Mastering the Simple but Effective Conditioning Exercises for Muay Thai  (Part 1: The Pull-up)

Muay Thai is a game of skill but also of strength and physical fitness…Bruce Lee said it best..

“Physical conditioning is a must for all martial artists. If you are not physically fit, you have no business doing any hard sparring”Martial Arts Bruce Lee

To be a Muay Thai fighter (or a martial arts practitioner) your body needs to be strong. Why? Because in martial arts, your body is the weapon. Specifically, your muscles need to be powerful and efficient to control and strike down your opponent. While not sexy compared to the stuff out there nowadays, (i.e. – CrossFit), these simple exercises are the staple of a good Muay Thai conditioning program. More importantly, they’ve been tested on fighters throughout the ages.

Muay Thai Strength and Conditioning Exercises:

Pull-ups (Target: the back muscles and grip) Grip strength of the hands and pulling strength of the back are critical in controlling your opponent inside of the Muay Thai Clinch.

Jump-rope: (Target: Calves and Feet, Legs) The calves and ankles are the foundation of every strike in Muay Thai

Crunches (Target: The Abdominals): The abdominals strengthen the area of the body between the two largest parts of the body, the shoulders and hips. If this part of the body is weak, we won’t be stable in executing our Muay Thai strikes, causing us to hit weaker than we could and tire out easy.

Close Grip Pushups: (Target: The triceps and abdominals): The triceps put the power behind punches. The abdominals stabilize in plank position, hitting both sets of muscles. Something that I’ve seen a lot of Muay Thai fighters do in between rounds.

Running: (Target: The leg muscles and cardiovascular system): There is nothing more effective and simple than running for developing overall strength for Muay Thai

Muay Thai pull up

World Champion Buakaw Getting in his Pull-Ups (Note the diameter of the bar)

For this article, I will focus on describing how to get started on doing the pull-up so you can develop rock-solid grip strength and clinch muscles. I can’t stress enough how important the grip is for the clinch.

When I would clinch with the young men at the Muay Thai camps, I would get routinely demolished. They’d throw me down, knee me, and there was nothing I could do about it. They would latch onto my head and it was literally down-hill from there! (Note: I had about 50 lbs on many of these guys!) My instructor told me that I needed to work on my strength if I wanted to survive in the Muay Thai clinch. The other guys were just waving my advances away. He guided me to the pull up bar. The same guys that were crushing me in the clinch were also owning the 2″ diameter pull up bar. From this experience, I learned I’d better get pulling!

Build Head-Cranking Strength for Muay Thai

  1. Before you even think about doing pull-ups, you first need the capability to at least hang from the bar for at least 1 minute. If you can’t, I’d suggest doing this first to build up your grip. Do this hold a few times a week, not too much where you’re not giving them enough time to recover.
  2. Next, once you’ve built up enough grip strength, start to do pull ups, aiming for 10. Remember, one pull up is all the way down until the arms are extended and then all the way back up, with the chin being level to the bar. Once you hit ten, go for 20, then 30.
  3. At this point, you will have built up very strong grip and back muscles. (Of course this will also depend on how much extra weight your carrying around – If you’re obese and can do 30 pull-ups that is very impressive!)
  4. This is where things get superhuman – Next, you’ll want to switch things up – find a thicker bar to do pull ups on, again starting out with being able to hold on for 1 minute. If you can’t find a thicker bar to do pull-ups on, I’d suggest trying a weighted vest or weight belt to really push your muscles to superhuman strength.

That’s it! Follow this and you’ll have head-cranking grip for Muay Thai. As you can see, the regimen starts off pretty basic but gets more intense to shock the muscles into growing more. I’d recommend a few days between training them just to make sure they’re adequately recovered. Again, in Muay Thai, your body is the weapon. Forge it in the fires of your training and you will soon turn to steel.


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