Way Back before I was training Muay Thai, I had the body of a bodybuilder. Literally, an honest omission…my friends used to call me ‘Tony Gunz’. (I cringe now when I hear that name.) Well, when I got into Muay Thai, all of those years of hitting the weights hard had really made my muscles tight, my joints and tendons inflexible. To add insult to injury, I worked a corporate 9-5 where my feet were pigeon-toed into dress shoes for most of my waking hours. It wasn’t until later training years that no matter how hard I trained, unless I ‘broke’ through those barriers, (which I didnt’ know about at the time) that my training would just dabble at where it was at. And now, I want to share with you what I’ve learned so you don’t waste hours, weeks, years of your life dabbling in training like I did.
The two biggest physical challenges to learning Muay Thai:
1. Developing Super-Human Strength In The Balls of the Feet
2. Looseness in Hip Rotation
That’s right. It’s really that simple. No, it’s not running on the treadmill more or doing more sit-ups.
It’s Literally Super Human Foot Strength, down from the flexibility of the toes, through the balls of the feet, and up to the calves. The power of all of the strikes actually comes from the ground up, starting from the toes, working it’s way up to the shoulders. Think of a ripple effect…drop a pebble in a lake and it’ll make ripples far out. That’s the same for the foot strength and striking with Muay Thai. The subtle movements of the feet create huge changes up throughout the entire ‘kinetic chain of the body’.
Why Footwork is such a Challenge for Most People
There are a lot of reasons but for the most part, it’s because of modern footwear. What most people wear to work (tight dress shoes) cramp the toes together and suffocate circulation to the feet throughout the day, that we lose strength and flexibility needed to move fluidly in Muay Thai. As a species, we’ve evolved to walk around on the balls of the feet. With modern footwear, we heel-step our way around all day, and never actually engage our feet. Then when we go to Muay Thai training, we try to turn it on and there’s nothing there. Here are some tell-tale signs that your feet aren’t as strong as they should be.
- Your toes are literally stuck together when you take your shoes off – (pigeon-toe)
- Your calves are disproportionately smaller than the rest of your body
- You can’t comfortably rotate your ankles around clockwise and counterclockwise
A Simple Approach to Correcting Pigeon-Toe and Weak Feet…To Watch Your Muay Thai Skill Rapidly Accelerate
Start walking around bare foot as much as possible. This will prevent you from walking around on your heels which is painful. Take time to flex your toes and try to spread them out so they aren’t touching. In training, try during one class, just gripping the floor with your toes, to feel what it feels like to have them engaged. It’s going to take awhile, (after years of abuse) but I’ll tell you from first hand, you can regain strength and mobility in the feet. To this day, I focus specifically on continuing to strengthen my feet since it’s so critical for everything in Muay Thai, from balancing on the balls of your feet, rotating into strikes, and catching your weight for agile movements. (As a imaginary game, during training, I sometimes imagine I got king kong feet grabbing the ground 😉
Loose Hip Rotation – The Key To Mastering Basic and Advanced Striking in Muay Thai
If you can’t move through your full range of hip rotation effortlessly, you’ll have more than just your opponent to fight with. Whatever tension or tightness you have in the rotation of your hips…you’ll literally be fighting against that tension to deliver power out of your body. It’s really that simple. And just to clarify, what I mean by hip rotation is that feeling you get in your hips when you change the direction of your foot, not necessarily if you can do a split. It’s that turning rotation that’s so prevalent in all of the strikes of Muay Thai that most of us aren’t accustomed to.
Think about it…we spend most of our day moving our legs forward and back as we walk around. Rarely do we get to fully exercise this sort of range of motion except in Muay Thai training.
How to Maximize Hip Rotation for Muay Thai Striking at Your Potential
Really, there are a lot of ways to attack this. But for Muay Thai specifically, the best way to stretch out that hip rotation, is slow, super slow shadowboxing. It will force you to move your hips through the motions without overcompensating inflexibility by flexing your muscles harder. Just do repetitions of the same strike, loosely, slowly…with intent. The intent not to strike hard (your just hitting air anyway) but for the sake of ripping away at that tightness in your joints, tendons and muscles. The good news is that this flexibility can be developed actually pretty quickly, a lot faster than the footwork.
Alright, as always, leave a comment for feedback or whatever your struggling or frustrated with about Muay Thai training. I probably have a good solution to help you and I’ll get back to you in an article that will help others out too. Later!