Can You Build Muscle with Muay Thai?

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One of the biggest reasons that people start to train Muay Thai is because they want to get into shape. It’s pretty common knowledge that martial arts, especially Muay Thai, are great for getting fitter and burning fat. One less obvious thing is, can you build muscle with Muay Thai?


Can You Build Muscle With Muay Thai?

The answer to this question isn’t a straight forward one for a variety of different reasons. This is because an average Muay Thai training session actually combines a lot of different training modalities.

The first is what I’m going to call skills training, which encompasses bag work, pad work, shadow boxing and sparring. Clinch training is another massive part of Muay Thai skills training that works your muscles differently from other skills training.

Muay Thai classes may also include some kind of running, either slower-paced jogging or sprinting. This is more prevalent in Thailand Muay Thai camps.

Almost every Muay Thai class incorporates a lot of calisthenics. Training sessions often end off with bodyweight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and burpees. There are also some Muay Thai gyms/classes that include some kinds of weight or kettlebell training. 

With all these kinds of training, it would be hard not to develop some kind of muscle. Intense workouts usually lead to a process known as hypertrophy which is the increase and growth of muscles. 

How to Build Muscle with Muay Thai 

To get a solid answer we need to break down the different modalities of Muay Thai training. For this article, we are going to specifically talk about 1) the skills portion of Muay Thai and then 2) the strength training part.

Skills Training

build muscle with muay thai
Ognjen Topic putting in the work at PKSaenchai Gym

Skills training in terms of striking in Muay Thai can build muscle but it is more endurance work. Heavy bag work and pad work in Muay Thai are HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts that are cardio-intensive.  

While it also promotes muscle growth, Muay Thai training burns lots of calories in the process. This makes it better suited for fat loss overall and on skinnier individuals, it can create a more tone look. 

The clinch work in Muay Thai on the other hand is a different story. Clinching is a form of stand-up grappling in Muay Thai. It requires skills but also upper body muscular strength and endurance for the best performance.

Clinch training is better at building up a larger volume and a more visible amount of muscle. It is effective in developing the biceps, triceps, and shoulders. So if muscle development is your goal, try your best to clinch as much as possible.

Strength Training

Seksan Or Kwanmuang performing neck-strengthening exercises

As mentioned earlier, a proper and complete Muay Thai training program also encompasses strength training. 

Strength training is key for building muscle. This is because as you gain strength, you are actually building up muscle mass. 

Most Muay Thai training sessions will end off with some bodyweight exercises but except for push-ups, the focus is usually on building core strength. 

On top of basic Muay Thai training, Muay Thai fighters also perform basic weight lifting. There is usually a basic set of weights lying around in a Muay Thai gym. If you want to see quicker results, then you must incorporate weight-lifting into your training regime.

Can I Get Bigger By Training In Muay Thai 

build muscle with muay thai

There is a difference between being big and being muscular. There’s “big muscular” like Arnold Schwarzenegger and there’s “lean muscular” like most Muay Thai fighters. 

If you have a goal to be as “big muscular” as possible, you are going to need to do more than just Muay Thai. If your goal is to be as big as Arnold once was, then you are going to need some “special supplements” such as anabolic steroids. Just to let you know, it’s probably not worth it

Most untrained individuals who are just getting into Muay Thai will most likely lose fat on top of building muscle. Losing fat will help have your muscles show more, providing a toned look and solid abs. 

The thing is that the amount of muscle you can put on only doing Muay Thai is limited. The hypertrophy developed after training Muay Thai for a decent amount of time drops off dramatically.

This means that you are going to have to increase the intensity of your Muay Thai sessions drastically. That increase in intensity will probably be too much for most people. Additionally, you will need to double or triple your food intake to compensate for the calorie-loss. 

If you want to make yourself as big as possible you are going to want to add some weight training. This doesn’t mean a bunch of bicep curls, but compound training to get stronger. This will not only help you increase your muscle size but can even help your Muay Thai performance! 

Diet to Build Muscle with Muay Thai

Your body is a result of your lifestyle but focusing on exercise alone is not enough. 

In order to grow stronger and build muscles, you also need the right diet. Food is fuel for the body, providing you with the energy for intense activities. Food is necessary for muscle recovery and growth, by providing nutrients to repair, build and maintain muscles.

Both the quality and quantity of food matter in a diet. 

At the same time, Muay Thai is a cardio-intensive sports where you can easily lose 600-1000 calories per training session. If there is a calorie deficit in your daily diet, you will end up losing not just fats but also muscles.

The best solution is to eat as much of the right protein-dense food as you can. This way you will gain muscle and minimize accumulating body fats. For food recommendations, check out “How to Gain Weight While Training Muay Thai“.

Another hack to boost your muscle-building process is to use supplements. Pre-workout supplements can supercharge your training while post-workout and whey protein shakes can provide the necessary amount of nutrition that you may not be getting from whole foods.

You can read “Supplements for Muay Thai” for more information.


If you want to build muscle with Muay Thai, the key is intensity and consistency. Just put in the work regularly, always giving your best and then let time do its work. 

Chok dee!

Images courtesy of Kyle Ching:

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