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.