If you're wondering if muay thai is a good workout, you probably haven't tried the martial art yet — because the answer is a very loud, undeniable "yes." The national sport of Thailand is also known as the "art of eight limbs," since you can strike using your fists, elbows, shins and knees (four x two = eight limbs).
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"Muay thai is a full-body workout that conditions your heart, tones your muscles and challenges your mind," says Raquel Harris, six-time muay thai champion, co-owner of Strike'ng Fitness and trainer at Hit House, New York's first boutique muay thai studio. "You're constantly engaging and tightening your core when delivering punches, kicks, knees and elbows."
Still not sure about muay thai? Read this before heading to the nearest muay thai gym for an intense martial arts workout.
Does Muay Thai Improve Your Fitness Level?
Again, that's a yes! There are lots of different types of martial arts, all of which offer their own benefits, but muay thai is known for being both intense and approachable (more on the approachable part in a bit).
First, there's the amount of calories burned. A 155-pound person can expect to burn about 690 calories in an hour-long muay thai session. That's because you're moving constantly. If you aren't throwing kicks, punches and elbows, you're dodging your opponent's kicks, punches and elbows — so you better move fast. As you can imagine, that makes for a legit cardio workout.
But muay thai is more than just a solid way to break a sweat and burn calories. "Each strike in muay thai utilizes hip rotation that will increase your mobility," Harris says. "The movements also force you to rotate your core and explode on the ball of your foot, which makes the art a unique form of exercise that will test your entire body."
And a muay thai workout can also improve your balance. In other words, after all that kicking and striking, tree pose should be a breeze.
Read more: 9 Totally Awesome Benefits of Muay Thai
Does Muay Thai Tone Your Muscles?
Unlike other fighting styles like Krav Maga, which teaches you to use every weapon at your disposal, including guns and knives, muay thai is focused on the body — and the body only. This means muay thai tones your muscles like crazy, especially your legs, back, core and arms.
Kicking works your core, hips and glutes; upper-body strikes (punches and elbows) work your arms and waist and grappling (a.k.a. holding your opponent) is great for your core, arms and traps, says Dan Roberts, a personal trainer with a muay thai-inspired training plan called NUK SOO. See? Solid full-body workout.
How effective is a muay thai workout? Of course, the answer to this question depends on your goals. But if your goals involve learning an ancient fighting style, challenging your body (and mind), and scoring an awesome workout in the process, muay thai might be for you.
What Else Is Muay Thai Good For?
Even though the martial arts challenge your body in a multitude of ways (see: all the benefits mentioned above), martial arts training is much, much more than that.
Muay thai — and martial arts in general — is about respecting your opponent, practicing with purpose and discipline and competing with integrity. If you're only in it for the calorie burn, you might want to consider sprinting instead. (No shame: Sprinting has plenty of benefits, too.)
How Often Should You Do Muay Thai?
The martial arts vary in intensity: Muay thai can make you sweat like crazy while, say, tai chi is a bit more chill and can be used as active recovery. (Interested in tai chi, too? There are plenty of benefits of tai chi.) Either way, consistency and recovery are key.
"Muay thai is a practice, and the more you train, the faster you'll improve and see results," Harris says. She suggests training at least three times a week to start. "But if your schedule allows you to train more, then train more!"
As with any workout regimen, you just need to be smart about your rest your days. Harris suggests taking at least one rest day a week. "Whatever activity eases and relaxes your mind, body, and soul is what you should be doing on your off day," she says.
Read more: How Many Times Should I Exercise Per Week?
How to Find a Muay Thai Gym
Even though muay thai is an intense workout, there's no need to be intimidated. You can find beginner-friendly, black-eye-free muay thai gyms across the country. There's Hit House in New York, where Harris teaches; the Thai Boxing Institute in Santa Monica and Chicago Muay Thai Kickboxing Club in Chicago. (Just to name a few!)
If you can't find any muay thai gyms in your area, look up kickboxing gyms. Lots of kickboxers compete in muay thai competitions and vice versa, and Harris says you can score a great workout from either one of these sports. (Both include kicking and punching, and depending on the gym, some kickboxing classes will recruit the elbows and knees, much like muay thai.)
"It's all about how hard you work, the consistency of your training, and being a good student," she says. "As with any form of exercise or sport, you get what you put in."