If you’ve ever watched Muay Thai fights, particularly those with Thai fighters, you’ll have noticed that most of the fighters don’t seem to have the aggressive bulk seen in many other martial arts.
Why are Muay Thai fighters so skinny? Muay Thai fighters are skinny because muay thai training is not designed for increasing muscle mass. It is designed to be quick and to develop endurance. Any extra body weight would slow down the fighter.
So if you start Muay Thai skinny, that’s how you’ll stay unless you lift weights separately!
What’s The Purpose of Muay Thai Training?
If you spend some time in Thailand, then you’ll know that Muay Thai is not the preserve of gym-trained individuals but nearly everyone in the country will learn it at some point. Muay Thai is taught as an actual fighting discipline – it’s not for show, it’s for defending yourself when you need to.
Muay Thai fights tend to be fast and brutal. That means the lighter the fighter, the more punches and kicks they can get in, in a very short period of time. This means that a smaller fighter is often at a big advantage when compared to a larger one.
Some people might think that this makes for a disadvantage. Surely a skinnier, smaller fighter with less muscle weight can’t hit hard enough to make it count? This isn’t true. In fact, body builders train their muscles less for punching strength and more for sculpted aesthetics.
It’s perfectly possible to train rather more average sized muscles to punch much harder than muscles that have been over trained.
What Does Muay Thai Training Consist Of?
There isn’t a single school of Muay Thai training and to pretend otherwise would be ridiculous but if you were to visit Thailand (which is where the most authentic training takes place) you would quickly discover that your average Muay Thai fighter doesn’t get a highly equipped gym full of custom equipment to train with.
In fact, they will be lucky to find the bare minimum equipment in a local barn. Thus, their training tends to focus only on exercises that will benefit their fighting style, given that building muscle mass isn’t a priority because it neither provides speed or strength advantages, it’s usually ignored.
A typical training session in Thailand will include:
- Stretching and warm up and warm down exercises – this is a sensible precautionary measure for any form of exercise, not just Muay Thai
- A communal run – running is a great way to help ensure that the fighter’s legs are strong enough to move around on the canvas
- Rope work – skipping is a super way to build endurance and get your heart beating faster
- Shadow boxing – it’s a great idea to move around and get your muscles in proper condition before you start punching
- Sparring – you can’t learn to fight without practicing fighting and Muay Thai fighters will practice fighting every time
- Bag work – if you want to punch quickly, you got to throw a lot of punches and the bag work in Muay Thai practice gives fighters the opportunity to do just that
- Clinch practice – getting out of a clinch is a serious part of Muay Thai fighting and it makes sense to practice it
As you’ll probably have noticed none of these activities are likely to build large amounts of heavy muscle. They’re all activities which burn calories and keep a fighter fit and active.
You may be thinking that this schedule appears quite light but, in fact, it can take up most of a day! Serious Muay Thai fighters spend as much time working out and practicing as any Western fighter does. These high-intensity workouts tend to leave very little room for unnecessary practices like bulking up.
It’s worth noting that in some gyms, you will find Muay Thai fighters working out with weights but they tend to give it very low priority and the exercises they do are still not designed for bulking up but rather for honing particular movements.
In short, Muay Thai practice leads to being skinny and strong rather than being big.
Why Thais Would Struggle To Bulk Up When Training Muay Thai
Thailand, until recently was a very poor country, and even today when it enjoys the status of a middle-income nation many Thais don’t have a huge amount of disposable income.
This means that the Thai diet while both tasty and exciting tends to contain very little meat and it contains no dairy products to speak of at all.
It’s hard to take in a huge amount of calories when most of what you eat is fruit and vegetables. It’s also very hard to consume large amounts of protein which are the building blocks of human muscle.
So, even if the Muay Thai workout tried to focus on muscle building, it would be very unlikely to result in a payoff. The calories a fighter does take in are burned off with their traditional training and there are none to spare for bulking up and there is no protein available to create more muscle mass.
The Benefits Of Muay Thai Training
If you follow this path to its logical conclusion, you will have already worked out that if you want to take up a martial art for weight loss purposes then Muay Thai might well be the best option for you.
If you were to take classes in the West, not only would you drop around 1,000 calories in a session but you’d also find that your metabolism was significantly boosted at all other times leading to even more calorific burn across the day.
Move to Thailand and get involved in “authentic” Muay Thai training and you could be burning through as many as 2,000 calories in every brutal training session. It would be almost impossible not to start losing weight, if you had any to spare, on that regime.
In addition to being skinny there are some other benefits to training Muay Thai, and they include:
- Better cardiovascular conditioning – if you want to take care of your heart then a vigorous workout is ideal. Muay Thai fighters are going to spend almost all of their training time involved in activities which boost their heart rate and get them breathing harder. It can take quite some getting used to at first and newcomers are often short of breath in their earlier training sessions but over time, you get used to it and your heart will thank you for it.
- Boosted core strength – you might not be building bulky muscles, but you are going to give your core the most thorough work out it has ever had and you’re going to do that over and over again. The better developed your core is, the faster you will be able to react and to throw punches and kicks, you’ll also find it easier to stay on your feet when attacked.
- Better awareness – Muay Thai fighters won’t last long if they can’t focus and there are plenty of mental exercises you will learn that keep you in the moment and fully aware of your opponent and what’s going on around you.
- Lower levels of stress – this is true for nearly all forms of vigorous physical exercise and Muay Thai is no exception. The more you work out, the more your body will create endorphins (the body’s natural happy chemical) and the less stress you will feel.
- A sculpted body – you don’t have to big to look amazing, in fact, you’re going to notice that without any body fat, your muscles all start to develop a defined edge to them. You’ll have better posture and balance too. When you walk tall and your body is banging, the world’s your oyster.
Why are Muay Thai fighter so skinny? Thai fighters are quite small compared to their Western counterparts but mainly it’s because Muay Thai wasn’t designed to add muscle bulk. The martial art is fast and requires lots of endurance – any extra body weight would just slow you down.
Muay thai training leads to improved cardiovascular conditioning, better core strength, boosted awareness and focus, and lower stress. It is not meant to increase muscle mass.