Why Are Muay Thai Fighters So Skinny?


Muay Thai fighters while very strong are also quite skinny, why exactly is that? I had my theories but I researched the internet trying to understand exactly why Muay Thai fighters don’t have much muscle mass.

Muay Thai fighters don’t have much muscle as they train to maximize speed and power. They aim to improve their muscle, endurance and strength for a fight, not to increase muscle mass like a bodybuilder. Thai fighters are lean with minimal body fat, as they train for performance not for muscle gain.

Just because you don’t have a lot of muscle mass does not mean you are not strong. Thai fighters are VERY strong for their size. Thai fighters also don’t have access to the same gym equipment that we do in the west.

I will discuss all the reasons why Thai fighters are skinny.

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The Reasons Muay Thai Fighters Are Skinny

The answer to this question comes under different categories so I will explain each of these in turn.

Training For Performance Is Different Than Training For Size

A Thai fighter wants to maximize speed, power and endurance to best help them in a fight. Read this article here by Don Heatrick (Muay Thai Strength & Conditioning expert) for more information.

The more needless muscle a Thai fighter carries the more they will weigh, which in theory will make them slower in a fight. While a bodybuilder’s whole purpose is to get as big as possible even if this extra muscle is purely for looks and not functional at all.

Thai fighters also have to keep in their weight divisions (check my post here on how Thai fights work) so they have less incentive to put on muscle. If they gain too much weight they might be too heavy for their division increasing the amount of weight they need to cut, which can be very dangerous for the body.

Now, Thai fighters still lift weights, as you can see in my post here, but they will stay in the 1-5 rep range and aim to increase strength without increasing weight using multi-joint compound movements.

This is done via strengthening your central nervous system which will make your body more efficient at transferring energy to your muscles. This can be achieved without weight or muscle gain.

It is a big misconception that the bigger muscles you have, the stronger you are or the harder you can punch. Bodybuilders will train strictly for muscle gain which is called muscle Hypertrophy While fighters and athletes will mainly train for muscle strength as they don’t necessarily care about size.

Bodybuilders may have more in common with beauty pageant contestants than with athletes (no offense), as they don’t necessarily have to train functionally using big multi-joint compound movements like Thai fighters.

Instead, they can focus on single-joint isolation exercises like a bicep curl and focus on building their muscles as big as possible. Their sport is purely what their muscles look like, not what the muscles can do.

Thai Fighters Don’t Have Access To Weights

If you’ve been to Thailand you will notice the majority of Thais training will look like this

Thai Fighters Daily Training Schedule

This training is very taxing for the body and Thai fighters typically train twice a day with a mid-day nap in between the training sessions. Often Thais are too tired to weight train. They are simply exhausted after all the work they’ve done.

Even after a workout that will seem tame to Thais, I find I am exhausted and all my energy is gone. This hard attitude towards training will also make your weight training far less effective, as you cannot lift as much weight when you are tired.

Since Thai focus more on technique and conditioning, they don’t put a priority on weight training. Thai training is quite traditional and somewhat backward and has not caught up to recent developments in strength and conditioning in the west.

Also, in Thailand Muay Thai gyms will not have the same equipment as gyms in the west. My gym in London for example has a weight area, and most gyms in the west do also. In Thailand it is far less common, and only the bigger branded gyms like Yokkao or Fairtex will have the funds for a weight room.

This is changing however, see Don Heatricks post here. Ultimately, as most weight lifting equipment is manufactured in the United States, it is super expensive to export to Thailand as it’s on the other side of the world and Thailand is not a rich country to begin with.

Most Thai gyms will not only be not interested in the benefits of weight training for Muay Thai, but also will not have the funds to justify purchasing expensive weight training equipment. They would much rather spend money on Muay Thai equipment made in Thailand such as heavy bags and Thai Pads, as it is just of better money value for their gyms.

Thai Fighters Training Is Bad For Putting On Muscle

In my post here I wrote about the 12 ways Muay Thai gets you into shape. One of the reasons is that Muay Thai burns up to 1000 calories a class! A typical training day in Thailand (posted above) will burn WAY more than that, typically at least 2000 calories a day.

Thai fighters in Thailand will run two 5K/3.1 miles runs every day, and if you train at a Thai gym you are expected to do the same! The running alone will burn roughly 740 calories, and that’s not including the numerous other workouts like hitting the heavy bag and sparring!

Now you see if you train like a Thai fighter, putting on weight, and therefore muscle, is very difficult which is why Thai fighters are very strong but also quite skinny.

Ideally, you want to be eating around 100-200 calories past your maintenance calories to put on muscle. Check out my post on how to lose/gain weight with Muay Thai here.

Average Height Of Men And Women In Thailand

Average Thai Men HeightAverage Thai Women Height
170.3 cm (5 ft 7 in)159 cm (5 ft 2 1⁄2 in)

Since Thais are quite small people, without very carefully counting their calories to make sure they are eating a surplus of calories, it would be super difficult for them to put on weight and gain muscle.

The average fighter would have to eat around 3800 calories a day to gain weight because of the intense training. It is very difficult to eat that amount of solid food. Also, protein powder is a lot less accessible in Thailand so Thai will have a harder time eating the optimal protein amount to gain muscle.

Thai fighters typically will eat the same unprocessed food as a normal Thai person, like rice with some form of protein such as beef, fish, or chicken. I can tell you from experience as a skinny guy it is VERY difficult to gain weight if you’re mostly eating these rich whole foods.

In the west, we have access to things like peanut butter and whey which makes hitting our protein & calorie requirements much easier.

Does Muay Thai Make You Skinny?

Muay Thai can make you skinny as it may burn up to 1000 calories an hour. However, the only way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you consume. You will not lose muscle mass doing Muay Thai if you’re still eating the same amount of calories and doing your strength and conditioning.

I’ve mentioned my practical guide to losing weight with Muay Thai which you can access here, but Muay Thai will make you skinny depending on your goals.

Do you want to lose weight? Then Muay Thai is the perfect supplement to a calorie-restricted diet which is a proven method to lose weight. When you burn 1000 calories a class losing weight is a much easier process as you can eat more food while still dropping the pounds and not feeling like you’re starving!

However, you can maintain or even put on muscle just by doing Muay Thai! At the beginning of our training days, we will skip for 10 minutes and do bodyweight training throughout our warmup. This will build muscle if your body is not accustomed to being put under stress.

Muay Thai is also a fantastic workout for the lower body. If you want to see how to maintain and even gain muscle with Muay Thai check out my post here.


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