There are few workouts more effective than High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The basic premise of a HIIT workout is this: periods of high intensity work, separated by rest intervals. The work intervals are higher intensity than "traditional" cardio which means they push the body beyond its usual limits. Thanks to the sheer effort required in the work intervals, they’re usually kept pretty short.
Now consider this: five three-minute bursts of incredibly high intensity effort, using all four limbs, directional changes, explosive movements and concentration separated by two minute breaks.
Sound familiar? Like a Muay Thai bout, perhaps?
Muay Thai is an accidental HIIT workout, so whether you’re a Nak Muay or a weekend warrior looking to drop a few pounds, it really could be the perfect workout for you.
The History of HIIT
The success of HIIT was built on the basis of anecdotal research done by the Finnish running coach Lauri Pikhala (right) when he coached two distance runners, Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen to multiple gold medals in the 1912 Olympics. Kolehmainen, in particular, cleaned up, winning gold in the 5 km, 10 km and cross country events.
What Pikhala did was to have his athletes base much of their training on short bursts of very high-intensity effort, followed by recovery periods. They would repeat these bursts over varying distances and with short rest periods. What the learned was that although their training volume dropped, their output increased and their running improved.
Over time, the sports science labs caught up and through scientific testing could confirm that not only did the method work, but the science could also explain how the method worked, explaining the success through principles of improved VO2 Max, hormonal responses, increased fat oxidation, etc.
Soon, these methods expanded and were used to train athletes across a wide variety of sports. To this day, coaches and personal trainers use HIIT to improve general physical preparedness of athletes and clients.
Muay Thai & HIIT
I mentioned at the top of the article that Muay Thai is an accidental HIIT workout, so I need to back up this claim more.
If we take the 5 x 3 minute rounds interspersed with two-minute breaks, it’s already starting to look like a HIIT session. Then we look into the nature of the fight more and we see the intensity of the effort in the round. In Muay Thai, we strike and defend with four limbs and eight striking points. It’s an all-body effort.
Add to that moving in range for attack, then out of range for defense. The lateral movements, the explosive movements when striking, the in-and-out movement to get in and out of striking range, not to mention the concentration of looking for openings while still not exposing yourself... They’re three of the most intense minutes of your life.
It’s no accident that almost every single nak muay is in incredible shape. In some combat sports, you can get away with carrying too much weight – anyone who has ever watched boxing will know that. Muay Thai is different, though; we have to be lighter, more explosive, more nimble and manuverable. When you train as hard as you need to in Muay Thai, you’ll find out why you rarely find an out-of-shape Thai boxer.
Muay Thai Training Techniques
You may be reading this because you’re interested in learning Muay Thai but are intimidated about competing. That’s understandable and sensible – you need to build up a skill set before competing. That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from attending Muay Thai classes though. As a fitness methodology alone, the training is one of the best conditioning workouts you’ll ever experience.
A nak muay has to be the perfect athlete: strong, great cardio, explosive and powerful, well-balanced and flexible. Our training builds that in us.
The conditioning element of sessions will turn anyone into an athlete. Sprints, weight training, body weight strength work and sparring will absolutely torch your fat stores and make you fitter than you thought possible. Even better, you’re learning a new skill, growing in confidence and, most importantly, having fun. Muay Thai is the ultimate accidental HIIT workout.
As you progress and your skill set improves, you’ll be fitter and will understand more about our sport. You’ll very, very quickly improve your fitness and where at the start you’ll probably feel sick at the workout intensity, within a couple of weeks you’ll be coping well, dropping weight and becoming more and more athletic by the day.
It’s perfectly reasonable to join a Muay Thai gym with a view to improving your fitness and seeing where the journey takes you. With some luck, you’ll fall in love with our sport and it’ll take you on a life long journey of discovery, pushing your physical and mental boundaries, growing your confidence and turning you into the very best possible version of yourself.
Darren Mitchell is a Muay Thai enthusiast and writer for the Best Muay Thai blog. He has trained for several years at gyms all over the world alongside some world-renowned fighters and coaches.
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