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Running for Muay Thai: The Benefits, Working Your Way Up to It & How To Prevent Injury

Does your cardio suck? Do your legs give out in the middle of training? Do you wish you could last an entire training session without getting as tired as you do?

Or perhaps you want to become more serious about Muay Thai? You want your coaches to take you more seriously? It’s in your plans to train in Thailand at some point?

There are many aspects to becoming more serious about Muay Thai that are non-negotiable to most coaches. The one that has been talked about by all, dreaded by many, yet tried-and-true, is running. At the top of the Muay Thai pyramid, professional fighters in Thailand do long runs every morning, and have been for decades. It seems like anyone who is to be taken seriously in the sport needs to run a lot, or, at the very least, is expected to at some point.

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If this is news to you, you may feel uneasy or even in a slight state of panic.

But, ugh, I hate running! Running sucks!

How much do I have to run, exactly? I’m not a good runner.

My knees and hips suck. Is it possible to work around these issues? I want to put in the necessary work.

The “bad” news is that, like many other things on your Muay Thai journey, you will do a lot of things you don’t like doing but have to because of the benefits they will give you in the long-run (no pun intended). Running is one of them for most people. Nobody wants to wake up at the crack of dawn to work out, nobody wants to eat healthy most of the time, nobody wants to always do what’s uncomfortable. But people follow through with these anyway because the short-term discomfort will turn into long-term assets, and may even save them a lot of unnecessary discomfort down the road.

The good news? There are ways to work around (or even fix) pre-existing conditions that make running difficult. And with running, you will see a significant change in a little as two weeks when it comes to improving your cardio. However, you will notice small improvements in your ability to go longer and do more in as little as a few days.

The following article contains links to published scientific studies, providing research and data to the claims being made. Research was done to show that there have been many correlations to the assertions made in this article. It is also critical to note the importance of providing reputable sources to any claim or piece of "information" - there is too much bad advice and myths going around, even from the most well-intentioned of people. You are encouraged to go to the links provided to read more on the studies if you wish to learn more about a certain piece of information - they were included for that purpose

Contents

The Importance of Running

It’s no secret that being consistent with your road work will improve your performance in Muay Thai training and fighting. Here are just some of the benefits of running that are backed by science:

  • Running can help build strong bones, especially in the tibia bone. The tibia is better known as the shinbone. The shinbones are an important weapon for Muay Thai practitioners for throwing painful kicks and blocking incoming ones. Strong shinbones are important in Muay Thai because they allow the person to strike hard with low risk of bone fracture or breakage (fighters, like Anderson Silva, have broken their shinbones before in competition).
  • Increasing your cardiovascular fitness allow your body to uptake more oxygen, meaning you can sustain physical activity for longer. Running is one of the most accessible ways to do just that.
  • Running burns a lot of calories, which helps with weight control. Weight is not a determining factor of how healthy you are, but if you are a fighter or are thinking of becoming one, you know just how inseparable weight is from competing.

Running in Thailand

When it comes to training in Thailand, trainers harp on long runs, especially in the morning. They believe long runs build strong legs, improve general fitness, and that the consistency with running directly relates to how well the fighter trains (intensity, capacity, etc.). That ultimately translates to how well the fighter performs in the ring.

It is common for Thai professional fighters to run for at least an hour right after waking up in the morning, averaging about 10-12 km during this time. There is not much emphasis on speed as there is on endurance, but most camps do make sure the fighters are running at a respectable speed.

Because of how ingrained long-distance running is in many Thai training regimens, anyone who wishes to be taken seriously during their trip to the motherland is urged to show up to these runs. There’s a popular saying that goes, “No run, no fight.” This is the mentality of most Thai trainers: if you do not put in the time to run, you will not be in good enough shape to fight. Some hardcore trainers will even take it a step further to refuse to train you if you skipped your run that morning!

Showing up to run also extends beyond the physical aspect of running and training – the discipline of running and training twice a day is not something everyone can adhere to, and those who are willing to go out of their comfort zones, especially as a foreigner, will be specially recognized for their efforts. People who are willing to be uncomfortable are seen to have more “heart”, which is valued a lot in Muay Thai. (Learning a few phrases in Thai will also get you some brownie points. Conversational is a good start, but Muay Thai terminology is always fun and relevant.)

Rob Lin
PT, DPT, CSCS Doctor of Physical Therapy | NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist | Muay Thai fighter
TheRobLinTechnique.com
@The_Rob_Lin_Technique

Although running is not the only form of conditioning, it is a big component of building cardiovascular and mental fortitude. I personally have put in tons of roadwork as a fighter but have also had to make modifications in distance, speed, or frequency during various fight camps. Our body needs to be prepared for the amount it can handle and programmed accordingly. You can’t just show up in Thailand without any training and put in the same distance as the pro champs right off the bat!

Running & Injuries

Running gets a really bad rep for being hard on the joints, namely the wear and tear in the hips and knees. Moderate amounts of running can have a protective effect on the joints, helping to prevent injury. But those with a history of injury/joint instability or high BMI have a higher chance of developing joint issues. Fortunately, those with known injuries and joint instability issues know exactly what they need to focus on in terms of pre-hab exercises in preventing further injury. And although it’s easy to develop overuse injuries with running, these injuries are highly preventable thanks to their being studied and documented by sport scientists and journals.

Here are the most common overuse injuries from running:

  • Medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints)
  • Tendon injuries, such as Achilles tendinopathy (the most prevalent among runners) and patellar tendinopathy (“jumper’s knee”)
  • Plantar fascitis
  • Ilitibilial (ITB) syndrome
  • patellar femoral syndrome (“runner’s knee”)
  • stress fractures

Ways to Prevent Injuries

As mentioned above, overuse injuries are highly preventable. With a little extra work – many of which will also benefit your Muay Thai training – you can get started on upping your road work while putting your concerns about injury at ease.

Prehab or injury prevention is important for building a strong base for training and longevity in the demanding sport of Muay Thai. Rehabilitating an injury properly is essential for wellness and ensuring you can use all of your weapons effectively without developing new issues.

Rob Lin
PT, DPT, CSCS Doctor of Physical Therapy | NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist | Muay Thai fighter
TheRobLinTechnique.com
@The_Rob_Lin_Technique

Disclaimer: The following is not a substitute for for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The content was created for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional if you have a medical condition and/or before making any lifestyle changes.

Strength training

Those who incorporate strength training into their lives have better chances at keeping injuries at bay and improved running economy, compared to those who don’t strength train or only stretch. Here are a few moves to get you started:

Single-Leg Squats – 2 sets of 10

Lunges – 2 sets of 10 (each side)

Glute Bridge – 2 sets of 10

Deadlift – 2 sets of 10

It’s important to note that you can do deadlifts with different types of equipment – barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, etc. If you don’t have the equipment shown below, search for hamstring exercises with equipment you do have (even if it’s none!).

Balance & Stability Exercises

Multifaceted injury prevention programs that include balance and stability exercises have been shown to help at reducing lower-body injury rates.

Star Excursion Balance Test

Do this to see where you are currently at with your balance and stability.

Bird Dog – 10 controlled reps on each side

Plank – 2 sets of 1 minute

Side Plank – 1 sets of one minute (each side)

Stretching

While stretching, in and of itself, does not have any significant impact in reducing overall injury rates, it has been shown to significantly reduce musculotendinous injuries. The following is a flexibility program developed at the Runner’s Clinic at the University of Virginia. Hold each stretch for 60 seconds.

Hip flexors

Hamstrings

Quadriceps

Rectoris femoris

ITB

Gastrocnemius

Plantar Fascia

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling has shown to help with increasing range of motion and flexibility while alleviating muscle soreness and tension, all while improving blood flow. The following video shows some basic foam rolling techniques:

Tricia Davis, PT, and USA Triathlon and USA Cycling Certified Coach, demonstrates foam roller exercises.
Ronald Ting
LAT, ATC | Certified Athletic Trainer
@ronaldtingting

Rehab exercises and prehab are significant as continual maintenance for your body. It helps the little injuries stay small and manageable, or prevent them altogether.

Other Factors to Consider

Running Form

When you are doing something repeatedly over a relatively long time at least a few days a week, it’s important you do it in an ergonomic way. If you repeatedly do anything with bad form, it becomes a habit… and habits are difficult to break.

Having good running form will not only prevent lower-body injuries but will also prevent other parts of your body from overcompensating. Here are some basics on good running form, starting from the head down:

  • Head – Look straight ahead in front of you. This keeps your spine in good posture.
  • Shoulders – Relaxed, away from your ears.
  • Arms – Elbows bent at 90 degrees, arms swing alongside your body (as opposed to across) as you run.
  • Torso – Stand tall with your core engaged. This allows you to breathe better.
  • Legs – Your legs should be able hip-distance apart as you land with each stride. When lifting your legs, think of lifting from your hips. Keeping this in mind will also help to keep your ankles in good alignment.
  • Ankles/feet – Don’t overstride – this will lead to you landing on your heels, which puts a lot of pressure on your knees. Landing on your forefeet takes the pressure off your knees but puts extra pressure on the ankles. Try your best to land midfoot. Land softly on the ground.

Running Shoes

A pair of proper running shoes is one of the best investments you can make for your Muay Thai journey. When you have a pair of running shoes that fits your needs and makes sure that your ankles are in proper alignment, you will be saving yourself a lot of pain, possible injuries, and discomfort down the road.

The best thing for you to do is to head to a shoe store that specializes in running. Every city these days has a running shoe store. The employees will be able to use tools to scan your feet and look at your ankle alignment to suggest shoes that will be suitable for you based on your running activity, pronation (the way your angle turns in or out), and foot arch. This takes all the guesswork out for you, at no extra charge. Trying on these shoes in person (and giving them a test run on a treadmill that’s usually in-store) will allow you to see if you will be comfortable in these shoes. Running shoe stores also have sport orthotics you can insert into a pair of running shoes to make them just right for you.

Load & Volume

While research has shown that the 10% rule has little statistical significance behind it, people who increase their mileage by more than 30% per week were more likely to get overuse injuries than those who increased by less than 10% or between 10-30%. In plain terms, while aggressively increasing your distance over a short amount of time is “okay” statistically, doing so over an extended period may lead to injury. So if you’re new to running, stick with one distance for a while to allow your muscles and tendons to get stronger and adapt. Then increase how much you run.

Diet & Sleep

Everyone knows you should sleep at least 8 hours a night and eat healthy. The science behind doing these two things is so that your body has the resources to recover and improve. Sleep (and rest in general) is how your body recovers, and not getting enough of it will increase your chance of injury. The same goes for nutrition – getting adequate amounts of protein, essential vitamins, and minerals aid in recovery, reducing injury and illness.

Seeking A Healthcare Professional

If you have a history of serious injuries (think torn ligaments, major surgeries, etc.) or if you suspect you have anatomical or functional issues that are inhibiting your ability to run without pain (even if you’ve tried to take all possible solutions into your own hands), see a healthcare professional. You’d be surprised what the underlying causes contributing to the pain can be – uneven leg lengths, muscular imbalances, scar tissue that needs to be broken up… Make an appointment with an orthopedic, then see a physical therapist for short-term or long-term treatment on correcting, strengthening, and getting your body to where it needs to be. You may even need to see an orthopedic to get a proper assessment of your feet. There’s only so much you can do on your own if your condition needs the attention of a medical professional. Always better to play it safe than sorry. Prevention is better than rehab.

Nick Wang
Muay Thai fighter
@nickwang14

I developed a serious knee injury overtraining in Thailand that had me considering the end of my career. My massage therapist and strength trainer helped me treat the injury through manual therapy, active stretching, deadlifts, and single-leg strength and balance exercises. Now I’m back to training full-time and running regularly.

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Fighter, social media manager, content creator and writer. Currently training and fighting full time in Bangkok. Originally from NYC. instagram.com/angelasitan

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