Finding Balance: The Argument Against Muay Thai “Fight Camp”

Finding Balance: The Argument Against Muay Thai “Fight Camp”
Muay Thai Tuesday

In the world of combat sports, the term “fight camp” is used to describe the increased focus and intensity that a fighter brings to training when they are preparing for a fight. While this process, including the dreaded weight cut, is an inevitable part of fighting as a professional, many Western Muay Thai athletes take this process to the extreme. They approach their training in a way that would be considered unprofessional in most other sports and would often result in them being pulled from the active fighter’s roster in just about any of Thailand’s gyms.

This isn’t to suggest that every Western Thai Boxer falls into these bad habits, but the extreme all-or-none mentality we’ll describe in the next few paragraphs is common enough to merit a discussion. So, In this article, we are going to break down what a fight camp is. We’ll explain how and why the Western approach differs from the common Thai methods. Then, we’ll explain the negative aspects of the all-or-none “fight camp” mentality, showing you why this common attitude towards training inevitably hamstrings any Nak Muay’s attempt to become the best fighter they can be.


The Western Vs Thai Definition Of “Fight Camp”

After a fight, it is common to hear Western fighters say that they were “in camp” for about 6-8 weeks, and generally, they will emphasize the role that long runs and restrictive dieting played in their preparation.

In Thailand, this process doesn’t exist.  When someone in Bangkok says the word “Camp” regarding fighting, it is generally a synonym for Muay Thai gyms and the term takes a more literal meaning as professional fighters eat and sleep in their gym, literally living where they train twice a day, six days a week year-round. So, when a fighter from these camps is matched to fight, they are already fit and ready for the contest. All they need to do is work on the specific game plan for their opponent.


Where Did The Western Approach Come From?

In Thailand, fighters make a living from competitions. If they don’t fight, they don’t eat. While this is a restrictive way to live, it creates a valuable opportunity for those who love the sport and lifestyle—they don’t have any distractions to steer them away from full-time training.

Historically, Muay Thai has been a passion for fighters in the West rather than a source of income. Up until recently, fight purses generally covered the cost of taking a week off work to cut weight, and to travel. It is still incredibly rare for anyone outside of Thailand to make a living from Muay Thai alone. Because of this, fighters have to hold down full-time jobs whilst performing other mundane responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, and doing their groceries, all of which need to fit around their training.

Generally, it’s unsustainable to maintain a full “Thai style” training load year-round. It’s fairly common for fighters to fall out of a regular training routine after a fight while they try to catch up on all the aspects of life that fell to the wayside during their camp, and this can often lead to an unbalanced lifestyle with fighters becoming “all-or-none” with their diet, training, and focus. Between fights they lose strength and fitness, they gain weight and the razor-sharp technique they honed during their camp dulls.


The Drawbacks To All-Or-None Training

Just about every martial arts movie portrays the Westernised fight process in a stereotypical fashion; an overweight or out-of-shape fighter gets a call to action—there’s a big fight just a few weeks away and they barely have enough time for them to lose weight, get fit and regain their warrior spirit before the big day.

What follows is usually an upbeat montage where the hero goes from struggling with the most basic drills to somehow being the fittest, fastest, and sharpest fighter in their gym in a matter of weeks. This portrayal is heinously far from what happens in reality. If you let yourself get that overweight and out of shape between bouts, the entire focus for the camp becomes about making weight. You’ll be on such a restrictive diet that you simply won’t have the energy to focus on sharpening technique.  The pressure to get fit enough and thin enough to fight creates the perfect recipe for overtraining, meaning sickness and injury will be lurking behind every punching bag in the gym.

Even if fighters trapped in this cycle somehow make it through camp in full physical health, they will still be far their best on fight day. Of course, in the movies, the hero is almost always successful, but that’s because it’s a fantasy. As a viewer, you’d feel a bit cheated if they got battered by the villain because chronic over-training sapped their strength. In reality, a fighter who follows this style of fight camp will fatigue early and lack the speed or power to properly represent themselves in the ring.

Worse still, the low calories and overtraining over those few weeks have a flow-on effect. Fighters following this style of fight camp will have even less energy to commit to their responsibilities outside of training. They need more time off after a fight to catch up on their work and life outside of the gym, leading to a vicious cycle that repeats camp after camp, getting more severe each time.


A Balanced Approach

Taking the Thai approach to fighting isn’t going to be realistic for most Muay Thai athletes around the world. Some of the most successful Muay Farangs still need to supplement their fighting income by holding pads or working part-time jobs and just about all of them have unavoidable life commitments outside of the gym. That doesn’t mean that fighters in the West should avoid the Thai system entirely.

If you are looking to be the best fighter you can be, then you need to stay active in the gym year-round, not just when you fight matched up. This doesn’t mean that you need to run a marathon every morning or count calories at every meal, but you need to be mindful of your diet and commit to a healthy training routine between contests.

There isn’t a single cut-and-dry approach to this. The training routine between camps will be specific to each person but generally, it is a time to work on your weaknesses and play with new techniques and styles. Keeping consistent with your training and mindful of your diet in this way will ensure that you are in a good place when a match does get confirmed. You won’t have to obsess over your weight, and it will allow you to invest as much energy as possible into developing the specific techniques and game plan you will need for your opponent.



So, if you want to be the best fighter that you can be, then you need to find the balanced approach that works best for you. Keep training a priority, even when there aren’t any fight opportunities on the horizon, making sure that you keep a healthy diet so that you don’t need to obsess over your weight when it is time to take your training more seriously.


You may also like: 

Telegraphing Punches And Kicks: Common Mistakes And How To Fix Them