Muay Thai Sprints: Alactic Power Intervals

Muay Thai Sprints: Alactic Power Intervals

Photography: F.A. Group Gym

We all know that muay Thai is an incredibly powerful sport which requires a rapid supply of energy at key moments, and I’m sure we’d all like to produce energy a little quicker so we perform better in training or in a fight.

Training energy systems isn’t just about getting tired. A hard training session doesn’t necessarily mean it was productive. We need to take a methodical approach to conditioning and train with a specific adaptation in mind.

The alactic energy system, also known as the ATP-PC or creatine phosphate system, can produce energy quicker than the oxidative or glycolytic systems. This is the dominant energy system during rapid bursts of activity, such as a combination or throw in muay Thai.

Just like the other two energy pathways, the ATP-PC system has a power component and a capacity component. The power capabilities of an energy system determines how quickly it can provide our muscles with energy, and the capacity of the system is how long it can continue to provide that energy for.

As I mentioned, the ATP-PC system is extremely quick at producing its energy, therefore, it has tremendous power, but its capacity is very small. Although the power element of this system is trainable, it is the least trainable out of all of the energy systems i.e. it is largely genetically defined.

Sprints For Muay Thai

One way we can increase the power of the ATP-PC system is by performing high-intensity sprints. When I use the term “sprint”, I’m not only referring to it in the traditional sense (running), I’m talking about a variety of exercises which are performed at high-intensity for a short period of time. So sprints can also be performed on a bicycle or rower, for example.

It is evident that, as muay Thai practitioners, we require a rapid rate of energy production to fuel the fast-paced movements we perform during training or in a fight. Although the ATP-PC system goes through relatively few chemical processes to produce its energy (and so there is less room for improvement than the other systems), it can still be trained to become quicker at providing us with energy.

Remember, though, that the capacity element of this energy system also needs to be trained, along with the power and capacity components of the oxidative and glycolytic systems. And, the oxidative system plays a large role in phosphocreatine resynthesis and allows us to reproduce these high-intensity efforts.

However, this post focuses on the power component of the ATP-PC system.

Training The Power Component

If we want to train the power element of this system, we need to perform activities in short bursts as powerfully as possible, implementing long rest periods. This means working at maximum intensity during the “work” phase, and resting for long periods in between sprints in order to fully recover before the next bout.

Failure to work maximally during the sprint will not increase the rate at which this system can generate ATP significantly, and failure to take adequate rest between sprints will prevent you from working maximally during the subsequent sprints due to fatigue. Remember, this type of training isn’t supposed to induce fatigue, it is designed to allow you to work at 100% intensity during sprint episodes.

To maximally stress the ATP-PC system during sprints we generally need to be working for <8 seconds and resting for 2-5 minutes.

Coming to a complete stop in between high-intensity sprints may hinder recovery as you’re still in oxygen debt at this point, and your heart has to work extra hard. Instead, perform low-intensity work during your rest periods helps push the blood back to the heart and speed up the aerobic processes for a faster recovery time.


Sprints (Running)

Sprinting shares many similarities to muay Thai in terms of kinematics and kinetics. For example, sprinting is characterised by small ground contact times and rapid horizontal movement where the hamstrings and glutes dominate for large periods. In muay Thai, small ground contact times (the time your foot spends on the ground when landing and pushing again) are essential to strike or move quickly, and the glutes and hamstrings are extremely important for producing power in muay Thai.

Find a large stretch to perform the sprints maximally for the work period and jog on the spot for the rest periods. Alternatively, work the sprints into your aerobic training, properly adhering to the work:rest durations outlined at the bottom of this post. Begin the sprints right at the beginning of your run, not at the end.

Skip Knees

We can take this type of training a step further and actually work the sprints into our muay Thai training sessions. This gives us the opportunity to generate as much power as possible in a short space of time without becoming fatigued and sacrificing quality. If you only have one pad man in the class, multiple students can be trained simultaneously due to the small work periods and large rest periods of the drill.

Lovingly wrap your arms around your trainer’s neck and perform alternating knees on the pads as powerfully as you can. This would be a good time to use some more specific (and convenient) work for your active rest period such as shadow boxing or skipping. Remember, this is your REST period, so don’t throw hard shots, use rhythmic movements with low power.

Alactic Power Protocol

Try one of these training templates below and let me know how you get on. Remember, working maximally is essential during the work phase, and low intensity work must be performed during rest periods.

…And don’t think that it’s not working just because you don’t feel tired, that’s not the point of the drill. Enjoy.

Exercises: (Choose one combination)

  • Sprints/Slow jogging
  • Jump squats/skipping
  • Skip knees/Rhythmic shadow work

Work/Rest: 6 seconds/2 minutes

Sets: 6

Frequency: 2-3 times per week

About Aaron Jahn

Aaron is an active muay Thai fighter and coach from the UK. He holds a BSc (hons) degree in Strength & Conditioning and is currently studying a Sports Therapy Master's degree in Leeds, UK. Aaron has fought over 20 times in Thailand and has spent years training at different muay Thai camps all over the country.
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