Out of all the muay Thai camps I’ve trained at in Thailand, I’ve noticed that all of the top Thai fighters share the same habits.
I believe that these are the things they do throughout their training week that make them the fighters they are, and have propelled them to huge success in Thailand and around the world.
Although Thais live a very different life to most of us (especially in terms of muay Thai training and fighting), we can learn from these habits, adapt them, and apply them to our own routine to fit around our own lifestyle.
10 Habits of Thai Fighters
1. Rarely “Maxing Out” in Training
Contrary to popular belief, Thai fighters don’t train like crazed animals 100% of the time. They understand that what they do today effects the training they are able to do tomorrow, next week, next month, and so on.
When I watch the best Thais hitting pads, I rarely see them hitting as hard as they possibly can, or trying to get as much volume in as possible. They know how to peak for their fights and they reserve their energy for the right phase of their preparation.
Yodsanklai has an unbelievably powerful kick, but he doesn’t use that power in every session.
Our fight schedules aren’t normally as hectic as the Thais so we can afford to go hard a little more often, but must be in accordance with our training phase.
Running is an essential part of a Thai fighter’s training. Thais put so much emphasis on this type of conditioning work that no fighter is allowed to fight without hitting the road twice a day – it’s a non-negotiable training element in Thailand.
Running has many beneficial physiological training adaptations that cannot be obtained by any other method.
One of the most important reasons for running is to stretch the left ventricle of the heart by increasing blood supply to this cavity for at least 40 minutes, thus increasing diastolic filling time which increases stroke volume (the volume of blood which is pumped out of the heart in a single beat).
The more blood this cavity can hold, the more blood can be pumped out in a single beat, and the more oxygen will be sent to our muscles. The more oxygen that is supplied to our muscles, the more work we can do.
All of the Thais high-intensity work is built on this aerobic engine they have built through years of road work.
3. Playful Sparring
Thai fighters rarely spar hard. The muay Thai sparring in Thailand is normally performed with no protective gear, and is very light and playful.
Because they fight regularly, they need to make sure they don’t injure their partner in training. The advantage of this type of training is that they can try a variety of techniques without the risk of being knocked unconscious or having their shins take a battering and being unable to kick pads for the next number of days.
This sparring focuses on technique, rather than power, and gives the fighter the opportunity to increase their skill-set in a controlled environment.
Thai fighters don’t need hard sparring very often due to the high volume of fights they have throughout the year. They are also very experienced, with most fighters reaching around 200 fights before retirement.
Fighters training outside of Thailand who don’t fight as often as Thais (once or twice per month) need to add some hard sparring into their routine as their fight approaches. An important part of being a fighter is being able to take a hit while keeping your cool, and retaliating in an intelligent manner.
The dynamics of a sparring session also change when the strikes are faster and more powerful, so hard sparring increases reaction-time.
However, at least 50% of sparring should probably be of a more relaxed nature.
4. Watching Thousands of Fights
How does a young Thai boy walk into a gym and instinctively know how to kick?
Thais grow up watching the sport and continue to watch thousands upon thousands of fights throughout their life – this is one of the most important habits on the list which is often neglected by beginners just starting out in western countries.
A coach can only take you so far in this sport. Coaches might show you correct kicking technique ten times in a session, but watching the best fighters in the sport kicking each other fight after fight will do much more for your kicking technique.
Showing up to training isn’t enough.
Here are some fighter highlights for anyone looking to analyse some of the great fighters of the golden era:
Anantasak Panyuthapum – Great all-round fighter. Very strong, good puncher, and has amazing distancing and timing with his thigh-teep (my favourite fighter).
Veeraphol Sahaprom – Muay Matt (boxer). One of the greatest boxers in muay Thai history. Very aggressive with excellent KO power.
Namkabuan Nongkeepayuyuth – Muay Femeu (technical/stylish). Another all-time great. Awesome ring movement (hence the name “ring genius”), with a well-rounded skill-set. Very powerful.
5. Implementing a Morning Routine
All Thai fighters implement a strict morning routine. It consists of a long run with light muay Thai work back at the gym such as shadow, bag, pad work, and in some cases – clinch. The tougher training is saved for the afternoon sessions.
This morning session installs discipline in all of the gym’s fighters, while allowing them to get extra work in before the temperature rises later in the day.
The session is followed by a good feed and a nap before rising around mid-day for another meal before afternoon training.
Por Burapha Gym in Chon Buri has a very organised morning routine; being a military muay Thai camp, all fighters rise at 5:30am to go for a 10km run before performing light training back at the gym. After eating, the gym is cleaned to an immaculate condition before all fighters (who are all soldiers) are stood to attention in three ranks and are stood down until afternoon training.
This is a little more extreme than a regular muay Thai camp in Thailand, but all the same principles apply.
The morning time can also be a great opportunity for us to get a run in before work or school/college.
6. Training Basic Technique
No matter what the level of fighter, every Thai trains basic technique during every training session.
Every session in Thailand begins with shadow work with fighters repeating the same basic moves over and over in order to keep them sharp.
Training the basics in this way strengthens the foundations upon which everything else is built.
All Thai fighters have lost several fights. Their focus is not on picking fights with people they know they can beat. They are not fighting to achieve an unbeaten record, nor are they in the sport to gain a reputation or recognition from their friends.
They understand that losing is an important part of self-improvement, and is an essential part of becoming a successful fighter.
Being able to handle a loss and get back in the ring a few weeks later is something which can be nurtured in the west too. It just isn’t necessary for most people to do that because the financial reward is not normally required.
The trick here is to think like a Thai.
One area the Thais are generally more skilled in than westerners is the clinch.
In the authentic gyms in Thailand, fighters train the clinch for at least an hour every day.
In the west, clinch-training initially requires a large amount of instruction. I think this is because the knowledge of the clinch outside of Thailand is still currently lacking, and clinching is harder to learn from fights than other areas of muay Thai.
Once students have a decent level of knowledge in the clinch, it is essential to learn “Thai style” – spending hour after hour clinching with partners.
A focus on recovery is a must for any level of fighter. The most basic of recovery methods are sleep.
One of the strictest routines I’ve ever seen in a muay Thai camp was at Meenayothin Gym in Bangkok. There were about 20 Thai fighters training at the gym during the time I visited; they’d all group together around the TV in the evening, chatting and laughing. Then at 9pm sharp it would be silent – they were all tucked up in bed.
Interrupted or impaired sleep can reduce performance on physical and mental tasks, as well decreasing your ability to solve problems – which is what a fight is all about – continually solving problems.
A lack of sleep also weakens the immune system, leaving you susceptible to illnesses which prevent you from training altogether.
10. (Trying) to Find a Balance
I don’t mean biomechanically (although that is extremely important in muay Thai!). I’m talking about balancing important areas of our lives.
This is the most important habit on the list (and probably the most difficult to get right). Getting the right balance of all the most important elements in life is different for westerners than it is for Thais;
Thais are able to achieve a fairly good level of balance in their lives, considering the cut-throat industry that is fighting in Thailand. This is because muay Thai is their work – it brings them financial reward, social engagement, fitness, and several mental skills. And, although Thais have a strict routine in their gyms, they often take breaks of 1-2 weeks to go home to see their family and take an extended break from training.
The area that many Thai fighters are unable to focus on is education, as many boys begin fighting full-time when they are around 8 years old and do not attend school.
The balancing act for us is very different. We normally have to prioritise financial stability or education first, and everything else comes second.
I’ve been on both sides of the fence; I’ve lived in Thailand for an extended period and got extreme tunnel vision, making no time for socialising, relaxation, or having fun. I got very sick and run down, and had to leave Thailand altogether.
I’ve also worked hard manual jobs with ridiculous hours and had to train in the evenings when I felt like crap.
Neither of these scenarios will result in optimal training, but sometimes we need to pull back from one thing or another to let other areas of importance in. Doing so will have a positive impact inside and outside of the gym.
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