Muay Thai Cardio Workout at Home
Life often gets in the way of our exercise routines and goals. For me, COVID-19 is only the latest of a string of obstacles that kept me from going to a gym. Because I’ve been unable to get out, I have developed a good set of routines for at-home workouts.
In my last article, I covered some of the reasons why exercise is important and presented a routine for a Minimal Equipment Strength Training Workout you can do at home. I also noted that the different types of workouts complement each other. Strength training should be a priority, but cardio is also important. Here’s a quick recap of why:
- Strength training builds general health (and women generally don’t “bulk up”)
- Cardio training is great for your heart
- Diet is the key to weight loss
DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional fitness or health professional. In this article, my aim is to share my personal experiences and research. Consult your doctor before starting any exercise routine.
The goal of this workout is obviously a little different than my strength training routine. I’m a fan of minimizing equipment, but I’ve learned that it’s key to be doing something you enjoy or you won’t keep doing it. For me, that something has been Muay Thai.
Why Muay Thai?
Because it’s fun! Muay Thai is a dynamic sport that keeps you focused while building endurance, strength, and reaction time. Muay Thai and other martial arts have been shown to have multiple benefits, including lowering aggression and increasing focus.
The best thing you can do is find a gym where you can train, and that’s a whole article in itself. In short, don’t find a gym that pushes you around like this, or a gym that lets others push you around like this. You should never have to fight, though you should at least start sparring once you’re comfortable with your training partners. If you’re in the Denver area, I’ll give a quick shout out to a fabulous local gym, Train. Fight. Win.
Training for any martial art at home assumes you have at least some level of experience, since you want to be practicing correct form. But there are also things anyone can do to train for general fitness! This workout can be more Punch Punch Kick and less Van Damme since the main goal is to elevate your heart rate. I’ll share some tips below, and you should be able to adapt this to your sport and your level.
For this workout, you’re going to need some gear for a warmup, something you can safely hit, and padding to protect your hands and feet.
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I still want to keep the gear minimal so you can stow it all in a drawer with one exception:
If you really can’t find a place for one, it’s still possible to do this workout. Instead of punching and kicking a bag, concentrate on shadowboxing, footwork, and speed. You’ll still get a great workout. You should still buy boxing gloves since they add weight to your hands, which is a great added resistance. Plus, it’s good practice for when we eventually make it back to the training gym!
The standard is a 16 oz glove. You want ones of decent quality to help prevent injury . Better gloves will be more durable, though if they are well used you might be replacing them every two to four years.
You can also do this workout with MMA gloves if that’s your sport or you’re more comfortable in them. I occasionally work out with only my hand wraps to build up natural hand strength. Having full weight boxing gloves improves the workout by letting you punch harder, work with extra weight, and by protecting your hands better than anything else.
Some people wear gloves without also using wrist wraps. Those people have very stinky gloves. Wrist wraps are great for absorbing a lot of hand sweat (eww) and can be washed frequently. Boxing gloves are also great at absorbing hand sweat, but they are very difficult to clean well. Wraps, used correctly, also protect the knuckles and provide added support to your wrist joints. Plus, you look like a badass with them on. For how cheap they are, using them is a no brainer.
There are at least dozens of ways to wrap your hands. I find this method to be easy and effective. Don’t wrap so tight your fingers turn red, and make sure you get long wraps that have a thumb loop and velcro. Wraps that say “this side up” on them are a bonus. Trust me. You’ll spend less time re-wrapping your hands if you have the right gear.
I know several groups that practice with no shin guards. Their shins are way tougher than mine, and I’m ok with that. With proper shin guards, you can work out harder with less concern for injury.
No boxing or Muay Thai gym would be complete without a jump rope. Here I’m going to include a beginner’s rope, which is usually a little thicker and heavier to help slow it down some. You can stay with that forever if you want. When you’re ready to level up, you can get lighter and faster speed ropes for about the same cost.
This is a carry-over from my Strength Training workout. I have the rings, so I use them as a nice way to open up and warm up my shoulders. Pushups and resistance bands are other great warmup options if you don’t have rings.
These are not required, but if you can work out with a friend, they are a great alternative to the heavy bag. They have the advantage of portability and can be stowed in a drawer when not in use. Though it can be hard to find a reliable workout buddy.
My goal during the warmup is to stretch and get my body ready to work. Muay Thai is an impact sport and I want my joints and my core to be ready to resist those impacts. I would warm up more if I were facing an opponent who was hitting back, but this has been my go-to when I’m the only one doing the punching.
This warmup is done in a “round-robin” style. Do one set of each exercise, then come back to the beginning and for your next round of sets. Keep moving throughout. You don’t need to get your heart rate up during the warmup, but you should work hard enough to start sweating.
For gear, I begin this workout with my hand wraps and shin guards already in place. Then I can put on the boxing gloves later in the workout without a prolonged break to gear up. That also helps keep my heart rate up during the main workout.
Start with a side plank variation for your core.
I start with these because my goal for the other warmup exercises is three sets, but you want to do an even number of side planks to balance your sides. If you start with one side, you can add a single additional set after the third round of exercises so that you end up doing two planks on each side.
I set a target time to hold this position. Start where you can, even if that’s 15 seconds with one knee down. My goal is to hold an advanced “starfish” position for one minute per side, with a fist on the ground.
Ring face pulls to get the shoulders warmed up.
Start with three face pulls per set and start out close to vertical for your first time. Increase the incline angle as you get stronger, but keep in mind this is still a warmup. You don’t need to work your muscles to exhaustion here. Save that for your strength training days! Aim to get up to three sets of eight face pulls.
Squats to get the legs warmed up.
Bodyweight squats may not feel like a lot of work after a while, but it’s still an all-around great way to get the blood flowing. Start with 3 sets of 5 and go up to 3 sets of 10.
On to the cardio!
Pairing 1: Jump Rope and Shadowboxing
My goal here is to start the cardio with some skill-building while keeping the impact relatively light. Start with 1 minute of jump rope, 1 minute of rest, 1 minute of shadow boxing, 1 minute of rest, and do three sets of that combination. The goal is to work up to three sets of 2 minutes with 15 seconds of rest between each exercise. No matter the timing, aim to keep your heart rate in the cardio zone.
Jump Rope is an excellent cardio workout.
You can practice any of the variations. Don’t beat yourself up if you are struggling with the jump rope. It can take a few weeks of practice to even get through a full minute of jumping without interruption. If you do get caught up in the rope, disentangle yourself and keep jumping. You’ll get it in no time!
Shadowboxing is a great way to practice.
Use this time to pretend to face all kinds of opponents. People bigger than you, faster than you, and work in the occasional Rocky Victory dance. I also like to use this time to practice the skills I’m going to drill in the next pairing.
Keep moving fast, keep your hands up, and keep that heart rate up.
Pairing 2: Speed Drills
Next I work on speed. I like “burnouts”, but I also like technical drills. You can incorporate slips and weaves in any of the sets described below as an added challenge. I continue with the same timing format as the first pairing with 1 minute of activity and 1 minute of rest, but again, the goal is to keep the heart rate up. I also like to occasionally use the middle set as a “strength” set instead of a speed set. Still fast, but the focus is on harder punches and kicks and knees and elbows and biting (just kidding).
Speed Arms is the first set. Pay attention to your footwork, but the focus is on punch speed. I like to do two primary drills here: burnouts and combinations.
Burnouts are wicked. Get into a good foot position, and try to use your weak foot forward some of the time. When you’re ready, punch left-right-left-right continuously. Go for speed and good form. With each punch, your opposite hand should come back up into the guard position.
Combination work makes for a fun variation by incorporating different types of punches. Most groups number their punches and use those numbers to call out combinations. In my practice, #4 is a strong arm uppercut. To work combinations into a speed drill, work the same combination, like 1-2-3-4 over and over, or call out combinations to yourself on the fly. Between each combination, make sure to move your feet around a little, reposition, or even practice moving into and away from fighting range.
And don’t forget to add in slips and rolls!
Speed Legs is the second set. This is all about kicks and knees, but be sure to keep your hands up in the guard position. Other than that this follows the same timing pattern. I practice burnouts with my kicks (round kicks or teep kicks mostly, but there are several options) or I practice combinations that can incorporate some footwork.
You should have no trouble keeping your heart rate up with this part of the workout. Remember to breathe!
Put it together: Heavy Bag Work
The final cardio segment of the workout is where I go for power. The time format is the same except there’s only one set, so start with 1 minute of work and 1 minute of rest, and do that three times. You can build up to the point where you’re doing at least 2 minutes with minimal rest in between and let your heart rate guide you. Three two-minute rounds with one minute of rest between rounds is the length of an amateur Muay Thai match. In Boxing, most divisions use three three-minute rounds for men and four two-minute rounds for women with one minute of rest. Shoot for whichever makes sense for you!
By now, your arms and legs are hopefully jelly, so this is the time to double down on technique and make sure you’re throwing high-quality punches and kicks. Work the bag like an opponent. You can also use this time to focus on skill work. Get those combinations strong and clean. Keep your feet moving. Keep your hands up and practice your leg guards and evasions along with everything else.
The absolute best time to stretch is after your muscles are warm. From the NHS: “There is some evidence that regular static stretching outside periods of exercise may increase power and speed, and reduce injury.” It’s also a good cool-down activity.
You’ll be able to feel which areas you need to stretch. I spend at least three minutes stretching my arms, legs, and core after finishing a workout, focusing on the tightest muscles. Make sure to get your breathing under control, and never push a stretch to the point it hurts.
That’s the end of the workout. Depending on the length of your pause and work periods, it should take a little under or a little over thirty minutes to do the whole thing. I hope you enjoy it and have some fun! If you’ve got any good drills you run with the same equipment, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
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