Strengthen Your Muay Thai Clinch

Clinching; The True Art Of Muay Thai

Clinching; The True Art Of Muay Thai

According to the principal of specificity, the exercises you perform should always be specific to your training goal. Of course, that’s all pretty obvious. So, in terms of Muay Thai exercises, you need to choose movements that will carry over to the sport.

In this case, we’re looking to improve your strength in the clinch. The best way to determine what exercises to perform is to first analyze the muscles involved in the movement. For the clinch specifically, neck strength is extremely important seeing as how your opponent is trying to violently pull your head down and knee you in the face.

To decrease the chances of that happening, there’s a couple exercises you can do. The first – and most important exercise – is rather unorthodox but extremely effective. I don’t even know what to call it to be honest so I’ll just make something up..

Weighted Neck Extensions: Yea, that sounds about right. There’s a few ways you can perform this. Most modern gyms have cable column attachments that you can attach barbells too and wrap around the back of your head. What you’re going to do is lower your head down – chin towards your chest – and then extend your head back up against the resistance.

That’s the western way – now for the Thai way. The Thai’s basically insert a rope through some barbells and tie up the ends. Rather than wrapping the rope around their forehead, they just put a cloth over the rope and put it between their teeth.

They then proceed to move their head up and down against the resistance. Not only is this effective for strengthening their necks, but it strengthens the jaw as well – which is obviously beneficial for fighters who gets punched in the face on a daily basis.

This exercise works and it’s something you absolutely have to do. When I first arrived in Thailand, I was a 225lb bodybuilder type and I foolishly assumed that I would be able to toss people around in the clinch. Not only was I unable to dominate in the clinch, but I was actually getting toss around by Thai guys who weighed 70lbs less than me.

Sure, their technique was better, and that was a big part of it but they were literally overpowering me as well. Most of my muscles were strong, but my neck was weak. Like most guys, my efforts in the gym were geared around obtaining big “beach muscles” to impress the girls.

Well, seeing as how girls don’t go around lusting after guys necks, I didn’t even think to strengthen it. So for a Thai guy (who has been doing it for years) to yank my head down and toss me around – it really didn’t take much effort on his part at all.

Close Grip Chin Ups: The weighted neck extensions are to prevent people from jerking your head down in the clinch and these – the close grip chin ups – are so you have the strength to do it to your opponent. Close grip chin ups – with your hands facing you – basically mimic the clinch.

Think about it, when you grab hold of the back of your opponents head – otherwise known as a Muay Thai “plumb” – you’re working your biceps, shoulders and your lats (muscles within your back that help pull your arm downwards). Close grip chin ups work all these muscles.

I personally find that it’s best to mix up your rep-ranges and even the type of muscle contraction when performing the exercise. You can perform as many “dynamic” repetitions as you can, then as you fatigue, you can perform what’s known as an “isometric” contraction.

An isometric contraction is when the muscles are contracting, but the fibers aren’t lengthening or shortening. In other words, it’s a muscular contraction without movement. You can even occasionally just perform the isometric contractions alone, without the dynamic reps.

For this particular exercise, what you would do is start by holding yourself up with your chin over the bar – hence the term “chin ups”. Hold the position for 5..10 seconds – whatever you can do. From there, lower yourself down about 6 inches or so and continue to hold for another 5 seconds or so. From there – you guessed it – lower yourself down about another 6 inches and hold for as long as you can. You’ll notice that the lower you hold yourself, the greater the contraction you’ll feel within your biceps.

Pre-Thailand Training Tips

muay thai in thailandComing to train in Thailand is something every Muay Thai enthusiast wants to do at some point. It’s really the ultimate. The individual attention you get here and the training intensity is rarely matched by the Muay Thai gyms in our home countries.

Five minutes of skipping, some stretches, hitting the bag (while unsupervised) for a few rounds, some padwork with one of your fellow students holding the pads and some technique instruction in a class with a 20-1 student to trainer ratio – that about sum up a typical Muay Thai workout in a western country?

Well, as you might expect, the training in Thailand is a lot more intense. Having been to about 10 camps throughout the country (so far), I’m able to give you a pretty good idea of what to expect when you come.
I figure that by knowing what to expect when you get here, you can better prepare yourself in your home country before you catch that flight.

A typical day of Muay Thai training is broken down into two different sessions – a morning workout and an evening workout. Both training sessions usually begin with a run (although it’s always optional) and skipping. The runs are unbelievably long – usually between 10-15km in the mornings and around 5km in the afternoons.

To be honest, I personally think that’s way too much considering they’re training for a high intensity sport that implements 3 minute rounds. While low intensity, long distance training certainly has its place when it comes to training for high intensity sports, there are certainly more productive, more specific things that you can be doing instead of running 15 km per day.

So personally, I replace a lot of the runs with sport-specific resistance training later on in the evening. In addition to the excessive running, Thai boxers do a lot of skipping and you’ll be expected to do so as well. So naturally, before you come, you’ll want to invest in a skipping rope and skip at least 5 times per week. If you’re not used to skipping for long periods of time, you’ll find that your calves will fatigue rather quickly and oftentimes cramp up the next day.

The skipping is usually followed up by about 10 minutes or so of shadowboxing. From there, you’ll either hit the heavy bag for a few rounds or you’ll be called into the ring to do padwork with the trainer – where you go from here just depends on how busy it is.

Most camps will put you through 5 rounds of padwork. Fairtex and Tiger Muay Thai both use 4 minute rounds while most of the other camps use 3 minute rounds – which is how long the rounds in actual Muay Thai fights last.

To prepare yourself for the high intensity rounds, I recommend you break some of your workouts down into high intensity 5 minute intervals. Padwork, circuit training – there’s all sorts of things you can do. Padwork is pretty self explanatory but as for the circuit training, here’s an example of what I’m talking about..

  • Barbell Squats
    Perform 15 repetitions
  • Straight Leg Deadlifts
    Perform 15 repetitions
  • Walking Knees (Muay Thai Style)
    Perform 40 repetitions (each leg)
  • Skipping
    Skip for 1 minute straight
  • Clapping Push Ups into Regular Reps
    Do as many as you can
  • Pull Ups on Assisted Pull Up Machine
    Perform as many as you can, then increase the assistance and continue

This circuit should take you approximately 4-5 minutes to perform. You don’t take a rest period as you transition from exercise to exercise. Only once you’ve completed the entire circuit are you able to rest – and you’ll only be resting for about a minute before you repeat the circuit again ..and again! You’ll want to go through this circuit – or a similar circuit – a total of 3 to 5 times (as to prepare yourself for the high intensity rounds you’ll be doing when you get to Thailand).

In addition to the resistance training circuits, you’ll also want to do a few long jogs throughout the week. Go for about an hour or so – or however long you can go for – and try to mix up your running speed. Go at a medium pace for a while and then mix things up by incorporating some sprints.

Beta Alanine Supplementation

John Wayne Parr Knows A Lil' Something About Supplementation

John Wayne Parr Knows A Lil' Something About Supplementation

Think back to the first time you did a few rounds of intense pad work. If you’re like most people, you were probably gasping for within only minutes and hanging with your arms over the ropes between rounds.

It’s a frustrating feeling to be honest. You want to push forward and continue but you just can’t. I’ve felt like this after only the first round in a five-round pad work session.

Sure, you dig deep and drive through it so because you don’t want the trainer to think you’re a quitter but their comes a point where you strikes get so weak that upon hitting the pad, the trainer sort of chuckles and says “no power”.

Well, there’s a reason for that. With high intensity training comes the accumulation of lactic acid. Lactic acid is a bi-product of anaerobic metabolism that has a negative effect on muscular contraction.

If you’re new to training at high intensities, your ability to buffer this lactic acid accumulation will be poor. The more you train, the more you adapt. Eventually – with the proper training routine – you’ll be able to increase your lactate threshold and continue through all 5 rounds with ease.

Well, there’s now a supplement out there that will help you buffer this lactic acid accumulation. It’s called beta alanine and it’s being touted as the next “wonder supplement”.

Beta Alanine Supplements for Muay Thai Fighters

Before I even get into the science aspect of how it works, I’ll go on record to give beta alanine my personal testimonial and say that it does work.

Upon taking a couple pills about 30 minutes before my training session, there’s a noticeable difference in my stamina. If I take it for a few days straight and forget for a day, I notice myself getting fatigued a lot quicker.

The benefits of beta alanine are not from the beta alanine itself. Rather, the beneficial occurrences are from a dipeptide known as carnosine. Carnosine is formed through the combination of beta alanine and histidine (another amino acid).

Carnosine has been shown to effectively buffer lactic acid accumulation (discussed above), allowing you to train at a higher intensity for a longer period of time before fatigue sets in.

Muay Thai, as we all know, is a high intensity sport so prolonging the inevitable rise in pH levels through beta alanine supplementation are fairly obvious.

The elevated levels of carnosine – which are triggered through beta alanine supplementation – have also been shown to enhance the maximum contractile speed of your muscle fibers. Faster and more efficient muscle contractions – sounds beneficial for a Muay Thai fighter, doesn’t it?

If all this wasn’t enough, beta alanine supplementation may also lead to enhanced neural recovery between training sessions. It’s long been thought that the nervous system takes longer to fully recovery from intense workouts than your muscles do.

This delayed neural recovery can be quite a hindrance. While you’re muscles may be fully recovered, oftentimes the nervous system isn’t.

It is speculated that the elevated carnosine levels – which are triggered through beta alanine supplementation – protect the nerve cells against oxidative damage. In other words, supplementing with beta alanine may help your nervous system to recover at the same rate as your muscles – which in turn will allow you to train more often.

5 Best Punching Power Exercises

You Got Knocked The F@ck Out!

You Got Knocked The F@ck Out!

The Thai’s – with the exception of a few – aren’t exactly known for their punching ability. However, that’s not because they can’t punch hard. Rather, it’s because their traditional boxing ability is overshadowed by their devastating kicks, knees and elbows.

However, having spent as much time at the Muay Thai camps in Thailand as I have, I’ve seen plenty Thai boxers rocking the heavy bag with nothing but punches. They’re small but they can certainly pack a punch. The reason why they’re able to punch so hard – while being as small as they are – is due to their technique.

Punching isn’t an isolated movement. You don’t punch with just your arms – you punch with your entire body. Knowing that, and by analyzing the movements of a technically sound punch – you can then design a workout program that will help you punch harder.

Punch Harder – 5 Great Exercises

Punch Harder – Movement #1 = Chest Press: If you want to punch harder, the barbell bench press exercise is an awesome choice. Power – which is what we’re going for here – is a combination of both strength and speed. The barbell bench press exercise is great for developing raw strength. The goal here is to keep your repetitions low and the resistance high.

Of course, you can perform chest press movements with dumbbells and machines as well. There’s one variation – where you press with one dumbbell at a time – that works the core as well. Basically what you do is your position your upper back (only your upper back) on a flat bench, elevate 1 leg and perform a pressing movements with your opposite arm (left leg elevated, right arm pressing). This variation works the chest, shoulders and triceps – all of which are involved when throwing a punch – as well as the bracing strength of the core.

Punch Harder – Movement #2 = Core Rotation Exercises: Developing the rotary strength of the core is key if your goal is to punch harder. The core – which is considered to be your “strength center – plays a major role when it comes to the power of your punches. If you think about it, when you throw your punches, you turn your body – which is where a lot of the power comes from.

As for actual core rotation exercises, there’s all sorts of things you can do. Have a look at these ..

  • Olympic Bar Rotation
  • Seated Medicine Ball Twist
  • Lying Leg Twists

Those are just a few of many. There’s actually an eBook available that profiles all sorts of fight-related core exercises using kettle bells, medicine balls, sandbags and even sledge hammers. The book isn’t free but it’s something to consider if your workout routines are lacking creativity. You can view it here.

Punch Harder – Movement #3 = Resistance Band Punches: Your exercise selection should always be specific to whatever your goal is so if you’re trying to punch hard, then punching against resistance certainly seems like a logical solution. I’ve seen a lot of people shadowboxing with dumbbells in attempts to increase their punching power but that’s ineffective and quite foolish when you think about it.

When you’re shadowboxing with dumbbells, you’re doing so against a downward resistance. While weighted shadowboxing will help you increase your shoulder endurance, it doesn’t actually do much for the power of your punches.

If you want to punch harder – which is clearly the goal here – you need to punch against the resistance. Resistance bands are a great way to accomplish this. To perform the exercise, wrap a resistance band around a pole (a cable station is great for this), grab the handles and ensure that the bands are positioned under your arms. Basically from here, you just start shadowboxing. I have you have training partner, get him/her to hold pads for you and do your pad work using the resistance bands.

Punch Harder – Movement #4 = Plyometric Push Ups: As mentioned above, power is a combination of strength and speed. You use exercises like the barbell bench press (heavy loads) to build your strength and you use exercises like this one (plyometric push ups) to develop speed.

There’s all sorts of different ways to do this and you’re really only limited by your own creativity. The most popular method is by performing what’s called “clapping push ups”. As the name indicates, you just push yourself upwards, clap quickly and get your hands back in position for the next repetition.

Another way to do it is to push yourself upwards and quickly slap your chest. I actually find this one to be a little more difficult as you have to push yourself up higher in order to allow yourself the time to slap your chest and get your hands back into position.

The third – but certainly not final – plyometric push up variation requires a couple steps from the aerobics room. You position each step about 4 feet apart from each other and you get yourself in a push up position in between them.

To perform the exercise, you just push yourself upwards and place each hand atop a step. The higher up the steps are positioned, the more challenging the exercise is to complete. This might be one of those exercises you need a visual of in order to understand what I’m talking about so click here to see a video of it being performed.

Punch Harder – Movement #5 = Smith Machine Throws: This is another “plyometric” exercise to develop speed. You don’t want to go too heavy with this. You only want to use about 25-30% of what you would normally lift when performing traditional repetitions.

To perform the exercise, you basically throw the bar up as high as you can, catch it, lower it until your arms are at a 90 degree angle and toss it up again. You want to perform the repetitions as quickly as you can.

Technique in Focus: Muay Thai Kicks

Buakaw Por Pramuk, doing what he does best!

Buakaw Por Pramuk, doing what he does best!

Muay Thai kicks are one of the most devastating techniques in all of the fighting arts. No other kicking technique generates more power than the style popularized by the Thais. What makes the kick so powerful is the rotation of the hips.

Turning the hips over as you kick puts your body weight behind it and rather than just kicking your target, the goal with Muay Thai kicks is to kick through your target.

Unlike Karate, Taekwondo, and other fighting arts, the roundhouse kicks in Muay Thai land with the shin rather than the foot. That in itself makes a huge difference.

Think about it, there are over 20 small, vulnerable bones in your foot and only 2 long, durable, sharp bones within the shin. Kicking with your shin not only reduces your risk of injury but it hurts your opponent a lot more.

Aside from kicking with the shin and turning the hips over, there’s a lot of steps that should be followed as well. Follow the list below, watch the video and most importantly ..practice, practice, practice!

Muay Thai Kicks: A Step By Step Guide

Note: The guidelines below are for kicking with your rear/power leg. In this case, the description is based on kicking with your right leg.

  1. Step forward and to the left of your target (opponent) and elevate up onto the toes of your left foot.
  2. Swing your right hip forward, your right leg upwards towards your opponent and your right hand back
  3. Turn your hips over, elevate your left arm so it blocks the left side of your face, “snap out” your shin and make contact with your target.

It’s very important that when kicking, you don’t telegraph the movement by kicking too wide. If your opponent sees the kick coming, he’s just going to side step, catch your leg and most likely, punch you square in the face or toss your leg aside and kick you in the head.

A good way to ensure that your kicks don’t come in a wide, predictable angles is to stand right next to the ropes while you’re doing your pad work. If you’re kicking with your right leg, stand with the right side of your body about a foot and a half away from the ropes.

Written instructions are great and all but given the complexity of the movement, video instruction is a must and who better to learn Muay Thai kicks from than a former Muay Thai champion with over 300 fights.