When training to build better endurance for muay Thai, many Thai boxers and coaches look directly at energy system development i.e. the development of metabolic or cardiovascular system via running or sprint training. However, it’s important to focus on the strength of the movement before we attempt to endure it.
Endurance is literally possessing the ability to perform an action over and over. Good endurance is the ability to repeat that action over and over while maintaining a high power output.
For example, in muay Thai we are given 15 minutes to repeatedly strike and grapple with our opponents – 15 minutes to perform as much work as possible without a significant decrease in power. Our aim is to reproduce intense efforts for the duration of a fight.
Skill-level aside, the winner of the fight is always the athlete who is able to maintain high levels of power righ until the end of the fight.
Muscular strength is the foundation of every movement we make – including the actions we perform in the ring. Without strength training, we are unable to reach (and sustain) our full potential in terms of performance and in staying injury-free.
As discussed above, we need to be able to retain good power output throughout the entire fight. Therefore, we must first get powerful – and strength training is a prerequisite for high power output (1).
So, when we consider that poor maximal strength is the biggest limiter to power output (2), along with the fact that we are competing in weight categories AND in the knowledge that muay Thai is an unpredictable sport which requires us to reproduce powerful efforts in a short amount of time, then relative maximal strength predominates as the number one limiting factor. Relative strength simply means being strong in relation to our body weight.
Less Relative Force Production
With increased maximal strength, we don’t need to produce as much force to perform the same task, decreasing the demand for energy.
Take a pull-up, for example; let’s say you can bang out 20, having not strength trained. You start adding weight onto your pull-ups and perform less reps with a higher load. You then go back to your pull-up test and find you can bang out 50.
Your body weight didn’t change. What changed was your maximal strength in that movement.
Your ability to pull maximal weight in that movement increased which meant that the weight of your body is much lower relative to that maximum. In other words, you are producing less relative force per repetition.
Strength training increases a Thai boxer’s fight-endurance due to a reduced energy demand for the same amount of muscular work. Tweet
Remember that the majority of force produced by a muay Thai fighter is generated from the ground up via the triple extensors (hip, knee and ankle musculature) and, to a lesser extent, torso rotation, so we’re essentially always fighting against our own body weight.
When we throw a kick or a punch or perform any type of movement in training or in a fight, if we have good relative strength, we are able to generate less relative force each time we do so. If we were weak then that mechanical movement would require a high metabolic demand and we would tire quicker, and our power levels drop in order to maintain homeostasis.
What this all means is, a strength trained fighter’s energy systems aren’t stressed as much as a non-strength trained athlete, and so he is able to reproduce that movement with less decrements in power output, and he has better endurance. Ultimately, there is less demand on the strength trained fighters musculature system for the same amount of work.
The Muscle-Tendon Unit – Free Energy
We know that tendons attach muscle to bone, but that isn’t their only job – they also store and release energy.
This is a very important quality to think about when trying to reduce the metabolic cost of the muscular contraction.
However, tendons can’t work alone to produce energy as they are not contractile, they require the muscle to generate force in order for them to stretch and shorten, whereby they produce elastic energy.
The stronger the muscle contraction, the more energy accumulates in the tendon which is ready to be released, minimising the metabolic cost of the movement. Think of this process in the context of stretching an elastic band – the further you stretch the band, the more recoil the band has when you release it.
The muscle-tendon unit gives Thai boxers ‘free’ energy to reproduce efforts with less fatigue. Tweet
The tendon produces “free” energy during this course of action which spares oxygen. Therefore, we will have more oxygen available to continue to produce more powerful efforts.
A lack of relative muscular strength means that the Thai boxer will be unable to sufficiently stretch the tendon and take advantage of its elastic properties. The consequences of this are that the boxer produces less power, forces the muscle to work harder, and creates a higher amount of metabolic stress when performing the same (or less) mechanical work.
Muay Thai has, for a long time, been one of those sports which is traditional in nature and where strength training is often overlooked as a performance-enhancing training method. A few common misconceptions still prevent muay Thai athletes from strength training such as its confusion with bodybuilding training and the fear of becoming big and slow.
However, times are slowly changing and, as athletes become more knowledgeable, their performances improve along with a reduced injury rate.
Neglecting strength training is a missed opportunity to get ahead of the pack.
- Thai boxers require good relative strength
- Good relative strength allows the athlete to produce less relative force in the ring
- Generating less relative force per movement decreases energy demands
- Less energy demands during a fight means more endurance
- Tendons store and release free energy
- Good relative strength is required to stretch the tendon sufficiently and release the energy
- Energy released from tendons spares oxygen and allows for more repetitions of high power strikes/movements
- All muay Thai athletes should strength train to maximise performance