HIIT: This is Next-Gen Training for Muay Thai


Guest post by Ashley Reign

If you want to cut weight, boost your metabolism, and build muscle, then incorporating HIIT style workouts into your Muay Thai training is a solid way to go.

In case you’re unfamiliar, HIIT (or High-Intensity Interval Training) involves mixing short bursts of intense, beastmode-level exercise with periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise.

HIIT is so effective that it’s a great way to get in a next-level workout even when you're short on time. Studies show that the average HIIT workout can have just as many (or more) health benefits as a moderately-intense workout that’s twice as long.

One of the best things about HIIT is that it's a style of training that can be applied to a wide variety of exercises. As a fighter, that means that you can reap all the benefits it has to offer simply by using it to practice your favorite moves and combos in a specific way.


How do you go about creating your own customized HIIT workouts?

One of the easiest ways is to build your training session from a series of Tabatas. If you have no idea what that means, then rest assured you aren't alone. 

Upon asking the kids in my martial arts class if they were familiar with Tabatas, half of them mistook them for a girl they knew in elementary school. A vast majority of the others insisted that "Tabatas" were a rare Latin delicacy that their grandmas sometimes made.

In reality, Tabatas are simply a way to measure the timing of your HIIT workouts. Here’s how you do one:

  • Perform a given move or combo as many times as you can, with maximum effort, for 20 seconds.
  • Then, rest or do the same (or another) move or combo much more moderately for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat the above until you’ve done it a total of 8 times.

Once you’ve completed these simple steps, give yourself a big “hell yeah!” because you’ve just completed your first Tabata. The whole thing should take you a total of four minutes. 

To construct a full workout, follow the first Tabata with as many more as you chose, making sure you take a breather in between each one. Exactly how long you rest in between Tabatas is up to you, but most people rest anywhere between 30 seconds and a minute.

You can do as many or as few as you want, depending on your fitness goals or time constraints. Even if you opt for a shorter training session, you’ll still get plenty of work done. One study found that doing just a 20-minute Tabata-inspired workout burned an average of 15 calories per minute.

At this point, you may be wondering how you are supposed to keep track of all those seconds. Fear not, because Google and Apple both offer killer Tabata timers you can download to your smartphone for free. One website even hosts a free desktop timer you can use at home if the desire should arise.   


These days, it’s possible to find some incredible free, full-length workout videos online. In my personal opinion, this 60-minute Muay Thai workout from Sean is one of the best there is.

But what if you’re just starting out or really want to work on a specific technique? That’s when shorter videos are gold. For instance, check out his 20 Muay Thai Combinations For Beginners video. While it runs at just under 4 minutes, you can use it to create hours of different HIIT workouts.

Say, for instance, you want to train for a solid 30 minutes. Depending on how long you decide to rest between each, you should be able to get in a solid 6-7 Tabatas total.

Before you begin, give the above video a watch and pick out which combos you’d like to use.  Then, arrange them any way you want to create a series of Tabatas. 

 For example, a 30-minute Tabata workout could look like something like this:

Sample Workout 1

Tabata 1: Jab/ Roundhouse (4 minutes)

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 2: Cross/ Switch Kick(4 minutes)

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 3: Teep/Roundhouse (4 minutes)

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 4: Jab/ Rear Elbow (4 minutes)

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 5: Double Roundhouse (4 minutes)

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 6: Jab/ Cross/ Hook/ Roundhouse (4 minutes)

Rest (1 minute)

Cool Down

Of course, these are just 6 out of 20 great combo choices, so chose whichever moves work best for you. You can also choose to repeat some movies if you want to make your workout more specific. This can be a great way to master new combos.  In that case, your workout might look something like this:

Sample Workout 2

Tabata 1: Jab/ Roundhouse (4 minutes)  

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 2: Cross/ Switch Kick (4 minutes) 

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 3: Jab/ Roundhouse (4 minutes)  

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 4: Cross/ Switch Kick (4 minutes)  

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 5: Jab/ Roundhouse (4 minutes)  

Rest (1 minute)

Tabata 6: Cross/ Switch Kick (4 minutes)  

Rest (1 minute)

Cool Down

You could conceivably even do the same combo for every Tabata, especially if you plan to do a shorter workout. Here’s a nice little 15-minute example:

Sample Workout 3

Tabata 1: Jab /Switch Kick/ Cross/ Roundhouse (4 minutes)

Rest (30 seconds)

Tabata 2: Jab /Switch Kick/ Cross/ Roundhouse (4 minutes)

Rest (30 seconds)

Tabata 3: Jab /Switch Kick/ Cross/ Roundhouse (4 minutes) 

Rest (30 seconds) 

Cool Down

As you can see, the possibilities here are pretty endless and your choices aren’t at all confined to combos. You could do a full Tabata with nothing but roundhouses and follow it with another that featured nothing but teeps.

No heavy bag? No problem. Tabatas can also be done as shadowboxing or pad work. Check out this advanced combos video for some great examples of combos you can do solo, with a partner, or on your bag.


The main point isn’t so much what moves you chose or what kind of equipment you do or don’t use. It’s to awaken your inner beast and repeatedly unleash it for 20 seconds at a time.

That said, if you’re new to the Tabata game, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • Spread the Love - If you opt for a longer training session, try to choose moves that incorporate as many different parts of your body as possible.

Should you decide that doing 40 minutes of nothing but roundhouses is the best idea ever, be prepared for your leg muscles to take revenge for days afterward. 

  • Please Tabata Responsibly - No matter how effective HIIT may prove to be for you, it’s not designed to be something you do every day.

Most experts recommend sticking to a maximum of 1-2 (maybe 3 if you’re a damn machine) HIIT sessions per week. HIIT is not for the faint of heart and is designed to push you headfirst past your limits.

This doesn’t mean that you have to stop training altogether, just that you should stick to a normal level of training for a few days before you go all Tabata crazy again. That will give your body time to recover and rebuild before your next HIIT adventure.

  • Quality Over Quantity - Tabatas are great for those of us who were drawn to martial arts because we tend to get bored with traditional “workout moves.”

HIIT workouts in general offer a perfect blend of physical benefits and enough repetition to really help with technique.

That said, it’s important to note that repeatedly practicing a move the wrong way is the only thing worse than not practicing it at all.

Don’t get so caught up with getting in as many reps as possible that you end up sacrificing technique. If you need a little extra time to focus on doing a new or tricky move right, then take it.

As your technique gets stronger, so will your ability to fit in more reps. But in the beginning, it’s better to do 6 perfect, full-strength switch kicks per 20 seconds than to rush through 20 that all suck.

Granted, there may be days when you’re feeling feisty and want to focus more on speed and cardio. Right on. Just keep in mind that such days may not be the best time to focus on perfecting your cartwheel kick. Stick to basic moves that you know you can nail and you’ll end up feeling far more satisfied when you’re done.

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