Cardio For Muay Thai – All For The Win


By Cormac Sheehan

Scenario 1:

Cardio can be the difference in winning and losing a fight.

You gasp for air, your throat on fire as each breath scorches your chest like napalm. Your hands feel like 10-ton breezeblocks and your shoulders ache like you’ve just done one hundred pull-ups.

You can barely lift your leg to check the kick you see telegraphed a mile away. You see openings – a low guard, an easy sweep – but when you tell your body to move, it ignores you.

“I can’t…I can’t…I can’t…”.

A sense of panic pervades. Your opponent, technically inferior, steps into the clinch and throws you to the ground. The final bell goes and it’s called as a split decision. You think you’ve done enough. But when the referee raises your opponent’s hand, you wish you’d done more.

Earlier: the alarm goes off and you slap it down, turning over and going back to sleep…you tell yourself ”I’ll run another day, I need a rest…”

Scenario 2:

Your opponent stands frozen like a deer in the headlights. He’s run out of ideas, and you’ve outworked him in all areas. All he has left is a desperate overhand, and each one is weaker than the last.

You punish his every attempt to attack you, choosing your shots and enjoying the high ground. You find yourself performing outrageous techniques that you’ve barely dared to display in sparring, yet your opponent has nothing left after trying to knock you out. The ref calls it, your hand is raised and you emerge victorious, high as a kite for weeks – hard work pays off.

Earlier: you focus on the fight ahead, following the beat of your shoes on the pavement, knowing that you’re doing all you can to outwork your opponent. While they sleep, you progress; this is what it takes to win.

Cardio to a fighter is like capital to a businessman. It’s like votes to a politician. It’s oxygen to a fire. You NEED it. Without it, there is no fight in you.

This is good news – because cardio is the easiest thing you can attain. All it takes is dedication, commitment and discipline.

Fighters at Lamai training camp in Thailand putting  in the road work.

For me, it took a loss I felt I didn’t deserve. Keeping a diary of all my fights, I realised that a common thread in my reflections on each one – whether a win or a loss – was that my cardio could have been better. So this year I dedicated myself to it. And started feeling the benefits. Not just in fights, but in training, in sparring, in confidence and weight control. Everything.

Yes, it’s hard work, but unlike the repetition and mental fatigue involved in improving in technique, unlike the physical pain and fear factor of hard sparring, unlike the miserable grind of cutting weight, it’s a simple equation: you just have to get out there and do it. And so this is my current routine (in kilometres – convert to miles here if you need to):

My Week of Muay Thai Training


5.30 am – get up & run 8-10km

6.50 am – leave for work

4 pm – finish work and travel into the city for training

5.30 pm – boxing

6.30 pm – Muay Thai technique, drills and padwork

8.15 pm – finish training

9 pm – get home and eat

11.20 pm – sleep


6.20 am – get up

6.50 am – leave for work

4 pm – finish work and travel into the city for training

5.30 pm – sparring

6.30 pm – Muay Thai bag sprints, heavy bag work and padwork

8.15 pm – finish training

9 pm – get home and eat

11.20 pm – sleep


6.30 am – get up & run 8-10 km

8 am – start work (work from home day – writing)

4.30 pm – finish work and travel into the city for training

5.30 pm – kickboxing

6.30 pm – Muay Thai technique, drills and padwork

8.15 pm – finish training

9 pm – get home and eat

11.20 pm – sleep


6.20 am – get up

6.50 am – leave for work

12 - 12.30 pm – lunchtime yoga

4 pm – finish work and travel into the city for training

5.30 pm – boxing

6.30 pm – Muay Thai bag sprints, heavy bag work and padwork

8.15 pm – finish training

9 pm – get home and eat

11.20 pm – sleep


7 am – get up

8 am – start work (different site, closer to home)

4.30 pm – finish work and travel into the city for training

5.30 pm – kickboxing

6.30 pm – hard sparring

8.15 pm – finish training

9 pm – get home, relax, watch a movie, have a drink


? am – get up when I wake up and run 12-18 km

A Simple Guide To Cardio – Sample Roadwork Workout

If you’re a total beginner at this, start slow and build up. Go running three times a week. Here’s one potential schedule

Week 1: Monday 2km / Wednesday 3km / Saturday 4km

Week 2: repeat.

Week 3: Mon 2.5km / Weds 3.5km / Sat 5km

Week 4: Mon 3km / Weds 4km / Sat 6km

muay thai cardio workoutKeep building up and what once felt really hard will soon feel easy. By month three, aim to do three runs of 6km / 8km / 10km. Keep building up. Don’t allow excuses. Find a way to make cardio work around your other training and work/school/family schedule.

There are two important elements to cardio – aerobic and anaerobic. Simply speaking, aerobic is long term energy: “endurance cardio”. Anaerobic is short term energy: “burst cardio”. As a fighter you need both. Aerobic is trained by longer runs. Anaerobic is trained by resistance training and intervals: running sets of steps, hills or sprints interspersed with jogging.

As you get closer to a fight, you need to place greater emphasis on your anaerobic systems. This could for example consist of a 6km run – 2kms to warm up (followed by a good stretch), 2 kms of sprints (sprint 15m / jog 15m / repeat), 2kms to warm down.

Start your anaerobic program three to four weeks out from your fight, and finish it one week before your fight, giving your body and legs time to recover.

Cardio For Muay Thai Tips

Running in new areas and cities keeps your cardio from getting stale.

ALTERNATIVES: Perhaps you have bad knees – if this is the case, replace some sessions (or all sessions, if it’s really bad) with swimming or cycling.

RECOVERY: Make sure to space your sessions out. Ideally have one full recovery day a week. I try to run as early as possible on a Saturday so I get close to 48 hours of full recovery before my training week starts again on Monday morning. I’ve started to take magnesium which I find helps with muscle recovery plus protein shakes after running and training. Stretch well.

SHOES: They can make all the difference between pain and even in preventing serious injury. You don’t need to spend a lot of money and the jury is out on whether gait analysis is actually worth it (I’ve found it helpful), but make sure you try a few different types of shoe (high arch, low arch etc).

MUSIC: When I began running I just couldn’t do it to music. It would fuck up my breathing, put my rhythm out and distract me. But then I read an article about how it could improve your times substantially so I made a playlist and experimented. I started smashing my previous times, and feeling intensely motivated – even looking forward to getting the earphones in and pushing hard.

Differing people have different opinions, but I absolutely love it!

I have a big mix to which I’ve added over the years and it’s currently 128 songs and 589 minutes long, which keeps me from getting sick of it since I use it on random three times a week. I listen to everything from techno to metal to rap to pop to funk to punk to instrumental soundtrack music – it really helps me get in the flow and push harder when one of the really inspiring tracks comes on. Ten selections from random mode:

  1. KILLING JOKE – Requiem
  1. THE NOTORIOUS XX – Dead Wrong Intro [the notorious b.i.g. vs the xx]
  1. DAFT PUNK – Get Lucky
  1. VATICAN SHADOW – USS Carl Vinson Night Tide Funeral
  1. STANDISH/CARLYON – Industrial Resort
  1. VATICAN SHADOW – Not the Son of Desert Storm, But the Child of Chechnya
  1. BJÖRK – All Is Full Of Love
  1. DEPECHE MODE – Barrel of a Gun
  1. HANS ZIMMER – Dream Within A Dream (Inception Soundtrack)
  1. NANCY SINATRA – These Boots Are Made For Walkin’
Mix up your running routes to add some variety to your runs.

FOCUS: Running is a great time to set your intentions. I find it’s an indispensable part of my mental focus and training. Before my first fight I would repeat as a mantra in time with my breathing and footfalls,“I will win, I will win, I will win”.

The power of intention is massive. Focus on positivity. Visualize killer techniques. See the ref raise your hand. Give yourself a pep talk. Praise yourself for your hard work. This is your life, your fight, your win. If you don’t believe in you, why should anyone else?

BEAUTY: For me, there’s a point about 4 km into a run where my heart opens up to the universe. The runner’s high; it’s endorphins basically. But you can ride this to a higher plain – find somewhere near your house that’s beautiful, or take your bike or car and go somewhere nice for a run. It makes a huge difference to run in a place of natural beauty.

It’s also GREAT fun to run in a new city, and if you travel a lot it’s a brilliant way to land and ground yourself after a long flight while loosening your body and keeping your cardio game on point– for all of these functions, Map My Run is an indispensable tool.

The Takeaway

Cardio is a battle…it’s a grind. But it’s an investment.

Getting up at 5.30 am on a cold Monday morning and doing interval sprints in the dark, needle sharp rain driving into your face…doing the same again in the middle of the week…having no rest at the weekend until after your distance running is done on Saturday morning…it takes dedication. It never gets easier, because you have to keep pushing harder.

The only way to make it work, for me at least, is by making it a rule.

Every Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, first thing in the morning: cardio. 8-10 km twice a week, 12-18 km once a week: switching to interval sprints in the lead-up to a fight. No matter what the weather or what else you have planned. Because if you give yourself excuses you WILL find a way out.

It’s a tricky business but ask yourself – why are you here? Maybe you just like being able to tell people that you fight. Maybe it’s just for fitness and a bit of fun. Maybe it’s cos you love the sport. But are you here to win? If so, you know what you have to do.

Cardio is the fighter’s palette: express yourself.

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