Boxers and martial artists have always been warned about developing heavy, slow and inefficient muscles by lifting weights. Beyond pushups, pullups, and situps, Thai fighters themselves rarely engage in other forms of resistance training to supplement their conditioning. There is some merit to this: simple weight lifting methods alone will not produce much useful muscle for Muay Thai. Why? Because traditional weightlifting movements are generally slow and sustained while Muay thai’s actions are fast and explosive. However, when used with the correct protocols, training with weights can tremendously increase peak speed and power output. It’s all in the programming…
The main problem with traditional slow-weightlifting is that while it conditions muscles to contract harder/more strongly, it doesn’t necessarily condition the nervous system to contract muscles faster and more efficiently.
To adapt the benefits of resistance training for Muay thai, you’ll need another type of exercise to transform stronger muscles into explosive Muay thai muscles: plyometrics. “Plyos” train your nervous system to ignite your muscles to react fast and explosively. Initially developed by Russian and Bulgarian strength trainers, protocols combining plyos with resistance training exercise are often referred to as complex training – perhaps the fastest way to build raw Muay thai muscle power.
Complex Training with the Bench Press
Everyone is familiar with bench presses – used mainly for building muscle and strength in your chest, shoulders and arms. Since bench pressing is similar to punching, it can potentially improve your punching power. I’m going share three plyometric exercises we use in combination with bench presses to increase the explosiveness of our fighters’ punches.
Plyos typically involve explosive jumps and throws, and are often freakin’ nose bleeding high impact. They’re not about gentle rhythmic bouncing, but abruptly changing directions as explosively as possible. The goal of plyos is maximum speed and projection. If you go too fast, you won’t get good distance from your launch. If you push too long to get more distance, you’ll lose speed. Plyos are about finding and developing the perfect balance of speed and force.
Complex Training Instructions
Do this workout 1-2 times per week, never when sore (esp in your joints). You are going to do a set of benches followed immediately by a set of one of the plyo exercises, then rest. Do up to 3 sets of these pairs, gradually increasing weight as you go along. Stick to the same plyo for the whole workout, trying to improve with it for 4 weeks (more distance, more speed, heavier resistance)
1] Warm-up with 10 minutes of rope jumping or running.
2] Do 2-3 warm-up bench press sets. First set is with the bar for 20-30 reps. Rest and stretch for 60-90s. Second set is with a weight where 12-15 reps gets challenging. Third set is around 6-10 reps.
3] Load up a weight you can only bench press 3-5 times (ie, 85-95% of your “one-rep max”). Get a spotter to help if you can. The goal here is not speed, but smoothly cranking your muscles to maximum contraction: lift smoothly, and lower slowly, savoring the tension. After you finish, rest 2 minutes before starting your plyo exercise.
4] Do 10 (no more) reps of ONE of the 3 plyo exercises: all-out, no holding back, every rep your absolute hardest. Rest for 2-3 minutes. Then do 2-3 more sets of bench presses with the same plyo. Quality, no quantity.
The plyos shown by World and former Lumpini champ Neungsiam “the Rock” Samphusri in the videos below are in increasing difficulty. Work with one for 4 weeks before progressing. Don’t jump ahead, trust the Russians.
1) Medicine Ball Thrust
This plyo will make your punches more flicking whip-like. Use a 15lb+ medicine ball. The goal is to get the ball back up as fast and high as you can. Imagine the ball is super-hot and you don’t want to touch it. The higher impact you can achieve, the better. You can get a partner to catch the ball and throw it back down at you. Ouch.
2) Heavy Bag Thrust
Now you have to explode with your whole body, using your abs and back leg to ground your power. Try to smack the bag as brutally hard and briefly as you can, without pushing on it. You can get a partner to swing the bag back at you to make your muscles react harder. Oomph.
3) Depth Pushups
You can also use a medicine ball as the prop. Your goal is to hop lightly off the blocks and then bounce off the ground as hard as you can, snapping your elbows straight to blast yourself right back up to the blocks. The hardest part is keeping your body perfectly straight — be sure to keep your abs tight on impact. Use higher blocks to make it harder. Warning: This is a high impact exercise that is very hard on the joints. Doing the other exercises for a couple months will prepare you best for this.