While Muaythai is basically a full-body sport, my feeling is that it's no sport that developes the whole body equally without imbalances. I notice this most strongly about my legs and maybe the lower core. Is this assumption basically correct? What additional exercises will help to develop the whole body in a balanced way?

I'm aware that many gyms (including where I train) do a bodyweight set or similiar as a finisher - one classic is crunches, squats, pushups and supermans. Since gyms will vary widely about this, I would prefer if we talk about the imbalances created by the sport specific movements (throwing kicks, punches, elbows and knees, clinching, moving while sparring) and then about wether specific supplementary exercises make sense.

3 Answers 3


I notice two omission from the previous well articulated answers: 2 major imbalances in muay thai are:

1) Muay thai is not a seasonal sport like wrestling or baseball -- so there is a time imbalance. There is no off-season, thus no extended unloading phase...there is not a dedicated time to do the basic strength training that @Dave recommends. Often, in sports in general, you train hard and compete hard knowing that you will have a good 2 months, at least, to regenerate and work on re-balancing your body.

2) Muay thai is not physically symmetric -- once side of your body is trained to perform differently than the other. If you are right-dominant, the sport will ask you to train your right side for power, leaving your left side for stability/speed. Similar to pitching, practicing free-throws, etc, one side will always perform differently than the other. This is not a bad thing, just an indicator of the exercises you may consider doing to regain balance either in between fights or during preparation.


You can kind of answer your own question, with a little basic knowledge of anatomy and the mechanics of Muay Thai. The best way is to break each movement down into their component muscle groups.

  • Feet/Calves/Shins - I group these together as many of the tendons and muscles for both run through the same area. The calves and other extensors are used to "bounce" while sparring, and to extend (point) the foot for some kicks. When you are doing kicks where the striking area is the ball of the foot, then you use the shin (flexor) muscles. Depending on foot orientation (My feet are somewhat duckfooted, which emphasizes medial development), then you may notice more development to the medial (inside) or lateral (outside) area of the calf muscle (Gastrocnemius/Soleus)

  • Quadriceps/Hamstrings - These would be utilized for kicking, obviously. Any kick that extends the leg from a bent to a straight position (front, round) or brings the leg forward at the waist (Many shin/knee/side of leg targeted straight leg kicks) will utilize the quadriceps more, while kicks that bring the leg backwards or from a straight to a bent angle (wheel kicks, hook kicks, axe kicks) will emphasize the hamstrings more.

  • Glutes - Almost any kick will utilize the gluteal (butt) muscles, but kicks such as back kicks, donkey kicks, side kicks will use the gluteal muscles for the majority of their power. They are also used for movement and stabilization.

  • Abdominals/Obliques/Lower back - These muscles are all used extensively as an anchor/base for almost all techniques, as well as adding rotational force to any technique.

  • Pectorals - Punches and similar motions (spearhands), and normal (As opposed to upset) ridge hands, some elbow techniques. The primary function of the pectorals is to adduct (bring into the center) the upper arm. There isn't going to be much more involvement for the pectorals than that.

  • Triceps - Extension of the arm, so any movement that takes the arm from bent to straight will utilize them. Punches, hammer fists will be primary among these.

  • Deltoids (shoulders) - Used for stabilization, and to contribute to any arm technique. Front/medial will be used more for the active motion (such as a punch), while medial/rear will be used to bring the arm back to the body after the execution of a technique. Can also be a primary motivator in some elbow techniques

  • Biceps - Retraction of the upper arm, and any technique that brings your arm from straight to bent, which is somewhat limited, mostly being back/reverse elbow techniques.

  • Neck muscles - Stabilization of the head, either to resist motion when struck, or as a base for other movements.

  • Upper back (Latissimus) - The primary function here is also adduction of the upper arm, in a different plane than the pectorals. The major involvement here is going to be a lot of the reverse arm techniques, and back elbow type strikes.

  • Forearm - Mostly in stabilization and rotation of the lower arm during punching and blocking techniques.

Stabilization - For martial arts, pretty much every muscle in the body will be used in some form or another, (see this question: What are the primary muscles worked when hitting a Heavy Bag?), so to find deficiencies, you need to look at what the activity promotes. For example, tae kwon do is very heavily leg focused, so to balance I would have the practicioner do more upper body work.

For muay thai, it is a very intensive, full body art. About the only places I might see weaknesses are the biceps and the lats, as they are underutilized for their comparative size. Your lower back may be comparatively neglected as well, depending on what calisthenic type exercises you do. However, if you heavily favor the striking side of muay thai, then your legs may be comparatively weaker, and vice versa if you are primarily a kick oriented fighter. Overall, I would say that muay thai actually is one of the better arts for full body development, and there wouldn't be much to supplement for, unless you notice that you are lacking comparative power in certain techniques, that one portion of the muscle is being more developed than other (Such as the medial portion of the calf as opposed to the lateral portion).

The one other caveat, is that muscular development can come at a cost, either in mobility, flexibility or speed. If you do add in weight training, make sure to still emphasize speed and flexibility work. If these are neglected, then weight training over time can restrict range of motion, and possibly change muscle fiber composition to a small extent.

  • great and exhautive answer - of course I'll have to look at the specificy of my training to find my definitve solution.
    – mart
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 16:09

Whatever imbalances or omissions muay Thai creates will be washed away by the use of basic strength training. Heavy resistance is simply dramatically more effective than technique work at growing muscle.


I find that proper muay Thai technique involves a hunched upper back and frequent pushing (punching) movements. These are best balanced with pulling movements like rows (bodyweight or weighted), deadlifts, and pull-ups. Any imbalances in leg development that may be produced by training would be obviated by heavy lunges and/or squats.

If you think that core or ab work is missing in your training then that would be a good area to supplement. I'm not very knowledgeable on that topic so I would recommend looking into Ross Enamait's advice. I've found Infinite Intensity to be a good source for S&C advice for fighters.


Even though training involves a lot of punching, push-ups, and other pushing movements it's still a good idea to improve the strength and efficacy of one's pushing movements with dips, handstand work, or weighted presses. Power training such as Olympic lifts (cleans, snatches, jerks, and their variants) with a dumbbell, barbell, or kettlebell would also be useful for improving speed and explosiveness.


So then we're left, as usual, supplementing a combat sport with fundamental resistance training: weighted lower body work using heavy dumbbells or barbells, pseudo-gymnastic work for the upper body, and eventually power training. This is universal: there is little need to make a muay-Thai-specific approach to strength and posture training.

A general approach will optimize your strength and mobility for muay Thai as well as correct any imbalances that muay Thai might be producing.

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