Basic Strength Program for Muay Thai

Ambush Basic Strength is a strength program that is designed to be directly applicable to the strength needs of a Muay Thai fighter. Our program is very simple and uses minimal equipment, only kettlebells and bodyweight. It is very simple to apply as it revolves around a small set of core concepts and categories of movements. It also provides a framework to easily generate functional strength routines that implement the concepts.

Acknowledgement: Our strength program heavily borrows ideas from kettlebell programs StrongFirst and Dragon Door, strength coaches Pavel Tsatsouline, Dan John, and Pat Flynn, and Muay Thai strength coach Don Heatrick. Please see their articles, books, and videos for more detail on the concepts we present here.

Kettlebell Movements

Kettlebell movements are divided into two general categories: ballistics and grinds.

Ballistics Grinds
Executed fast. Executed slow.
Generate power in a dynamic fashion. Generate power in a sustained fashion.
Performed in a wide range of motion. Performed with constant tension.
  • KB swing
  • KB snatch
  • KB clean
  • plyo jumps
  • Turkish get-ups
  • military press
  • pull-ups
  • deadlifts

There are also some movements that can be considered "hybrid", these are often compound movements that combine a grind with a ballistic. Examples are KB thrusters, KB deadlift/high-pull, KB clean/press, etc.

Muay Thai striking is comprised of ballistic movements, hence we tend to weight our strength program toward the ballistics. Muay Thai clinching is grind movements, therefore we do also include grinds into our program.

Human Movements

Functional strength training focuses on training movements rather than muscles. Functional human movements are divided into these five categories:

  • Loaded carry
    • Focuses on total muscle interaction.
    • Moves up & down, forward & back.
  • Squat
    • Focus on front of lower body.
    • Maximal knee and hip bend.
    • Moves up (eg, front squat).
  • Hinge
    • Focus on back of lower body.
    • Minimal knee bend, maximal hip bend.
    • Moves forward (eg, deadlift, KB swings).
  • Pull
    • Focus on back of upper body.
    • Moves back (eg, row) & down (eg, pull-up).
  • Push
    • Focus on front of upper body.
    • Moves forward (eg, push-up) & up (eg, press).
Kettlebell Bodyweight
Carry KB turkish get-up
KB farmer walk
KB rack walk
KB waiter walk
KB duck walk
Squat KB goblet squat
KB front squat
KB OH squat
KB lunges
hindu squat
pistol squat
Hinge KB 2H swing
KB 1H swing
KB start-stop swing
KB snatch
KB clean
KB suitcase deadlift
KB 1L deadlift
plyo jump
tuck jump
broad jump
Pull KB row
KB high-pull
negative pull-up
pull-up hold
supine pull-up
Push KB strict press
KB push press
KB push press
hindu push-up

The movements are listed in order of impact for general functional strength. However, for Muay Thai specific strength the hinge movements are the most important, in particular the KB swings are extremely beneficial and should be trained very frequently. Pull movements are also particularly important, in particular pull-ups and their variations, as this develops strength for Muay Thai clinching.

Core Movements

Core work is important for Muay Thai, both to develop explosive power as well as to condition the body to absorb strikes. Core movements are divided into three categories: upperlower, and oblique.

Upper Lower Oblique
1/2 get-up
wheel rollout
leg raise
flutter kick
reverse crunch
hip lift
Russian twist
side plank
side crunch
KB side bend
KB OH side bend

Rep Schemes

When planning a strength training session, choose a rep scheme that best reflects your intent and goals. In general, grind sets will be smaller while ballistic sets can be higher. For grind sets, reps/set goals are:

  • Strength: 1-8 reps/set
  • Muscle: 5-12 reps/set
  • Endurance: 12-20 reps/set

Ambush Basic Strength is largely focused on increasing strength, total grind reps will be in the 9-32 range, depending on weight. Common rep schemes are 5x5, 3x5, 5x3, 4x8, 8-6-4, 5-4-3-2-1, 2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3, etc.

Ballistic sets can be higher, generally in the 10-20 reps/set range, and total ballistic reps per movement will be in the 50-100+ range.

Core sets are similar to ballistic sets and can be higher, commonly in the 15-30 reps/set range, and total core reps per movement will be in the 75-150 range.

Routine Formats

Routines can be structured in a variety of ways to offer different challenges and diversity. Formats include:

  • Sets or supersets: Perform each movement for # of reps & # of sets w/ rest between each set, or alternate movements between sets for 'active rest' and  to use time more efficiently.
  • Complexes: Perform compound exercises that are performed successively and without interruption.
  • Intervals: Perform a movement or multiple movements for # of reps on a specified interval of time. For example EMOM, or "every minute on the minute".
  • AMRAP: Or "as many reps/rounds as possible".  Perform a # of reps of a movement or a compound movements as many times as you can within a designated amount of time.
  • For time: Perform a designated volume of a movement or compound movement in the shortest time possible.
  • Challenge: Perform a movement or compound movement with a specific time or rep goal. Once the goal is reached, increase weight/volume or decrease time until the goal is reached again.

Routine Framework

We generally structure our strength routines into the following phases:

  • Core work
  • Stretch & movement prep
  • Strength work

For core work, we pick 1-2 movements from each of the 3 categories (upper, lower, oblique). We perform each core movement for 20-30 reps each for 3-4 rounds.

For strength work, we structure routines with the following guidelines:

  • Choose 1 movement from 2-5 of the 5 human movements (loaded carry, squat, hinge, pull, push).
  • Choose a total # of reps for each movement based on weight (lower reps for high weight, higher reps for low weight) and movement category (lower reps for grinds, higher reps for ballistics).
  • Choose a workout format and divide the total # of reps accordingly.

Guidelines for average KB weights are:

  • Women: Start w/ 8kg (18lb), work up to performing most workouts w/ 16kg (35lb).
  • Men: Start w/ 16kg (35lb), work up to performing most workouts w/ 24kg (52lb).

Sample Routines

These sample routines demonstrate the concepts and framework described above. Note how although the routines are diverse they all follow the described structure, and continued application of the structure can easily generate many more routines.

  • "The Gunslinger"
    • (core, x3 rounds)
      • x25 sit-ups
      • x25 1/2 get-ups (each side)
      • x25 leg lifts
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (strength, complex, x5 rounds)
      • x5 KB clean, to KB front squat, to KB push-press
      • KB waiter walk
      • (repeat other side)
  • "Roger Murtaugh"
    • (core, x3 rounds)
      • x25 leg-overs (each side)
      • x25 side crunches (each side)
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (strength, x5 rounds)
      • x10 KB 1H swings
      • x5 KB clean
      • x5 KB lunge (down & back up)
      • x3 KB push press
      • (repeat other side)
  • "B. A. Baracus"
    • (core, x3 rounds)
      • x25 bicycle crunches
      • x25 flutter kicks
      • x25 plank side bends (each side)
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (strength, superset, x8 rounds)
      • x12 KB swings
      • x6 KB goblet squats
      • x3 4-count pull-ups
      • 0:20 plank push-up hold
  • "Ellen Ripley"
    • (core, x3 rounds)
      • x25 KB sit-ups
      • x12 KB side bends (each side)
      • x25 4-count flutter kicks
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (strength, superset, x5 rounds)
      • x6 KB push press (each side)
      • x12 KB goblet squats
      • pull-up hold as long as possible
    • (strength, AMRAP)
      • KB 1H swings for 5 minutes (switch as needed)
  • "Connor MacLeod"
    • (core, complex, AMRAP 6 minutes)
      • x1 half get-up (each side)
      • x1 reverse crunch
      • x1 plank side bend (each side)
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (AMRAP 15 minutes)
      • x1 KB clean
      • x1 KB 1H swing
      • x1 KB snatch
      • x1 KB push press
      • x1 KB front squat
      • (x3 cycles, then switch hands)
  • "Simple & Sinister"
    • (core, x3 rounds)
      • x25 sit-ups (elbows stay touching the ground)
      • x25 leg-overs (each side)
      • x25 russian twists
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (strength)
      • x100 KB 1H swings, switch as needed, goal < 5 minutes.
      • x10 KB Turkish get-ups, goal < 10 minutes.
    • note: This is "Simple & Sinister" from StrongFirst coach Pavel Tsatsouline.
  • "Max Rockatansky"
    • (core, x3 rounds)
      • x20 half get-ups (each side)
      • x20 reverse crunches
      • 0:30 side plank hold (each side)
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (strength)
      • 400m KB 1H farmer walk, switch hands as needed
      • x15 KB 2H swings EMOM 15 minutes
  • "El Mariachi"
    • (core, x3 rounds)
      • x25 flutter kicks
      • x25 bicycle crunches
      • x25 side crunches (each side)
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (strength, x4 rounds)
      • 1 minute KB 2H rack walk
      • x10 KB 2H dead stop swings
      • x6 KB goblet squats to 2H push press
      • max pull-ups
  • "Ivan Drago"
    • (core, x3 rounds)
      • x25 flutter kicks
      • x25 leg-overs (each side)
      • x25 Russian twists
    • (stretch & movement prep)
    • (strength, every 12 seconds for 10 minutes)
      • KB 1H thruster, hold KB OH at extension until next interval, switch hands as needed
    • (strength, x5 rounds)
      • x5 KB 1L deadlift (each side)
      • x5 negative pull-ups (ladder down each round: x4, x3, x2, x1)

Challenge Rounds

These challenge rounds can be integrated into regular strength routines, they can also be good solo routines when time is short. Each of these routines have a measurable goal whose results can easily be compared from session to session, as well as providing clear guidelines of how and when to progress.

  • "The Terminator"
    Max KB 2H swings
    Perform as many KB 2H swings as possible, until you can't hold onto the KB any longer. Once you can consistently hit 100, move up in weight.
  • "Conan"
    100 KB snatches for time

    Perform 100 KB snatches for time, switching hands as needed. Once you can consistently finish in < 5 minutes, move up in weight.
  • "Predator"
    KB 1H swings AMRAP in 3 minutes

    Perform as many KB 1H swings as possible in 3 minutes, switching hands as needed. Once you can consistently hit 100, move up in weight.
  • "RoboCop"
    KB 1H farmer walk for time
    Perform a KB 1H farmer walk for as long as possible. Once you can consistently hold on to the KB for 2 minutes, move up in weight.
Ambush Muay Thai