Saturday, April 27, 2013

Muay Thai vs. CrossFit for Fitness

The main reason I came to Thailand to do a 3 Month Fight camp was to get in shape.  I told myself that before I turn 32, I would like to be in the best shape of my life.

I started by living, eating, sleeping and training at a Muay Thai camp here in Thailand.  I lost weight, my cardio improved greatly, and I competed.   I hadn't drank a sip of alcohol in those three months and ate relatively clean.  So after my fight, I partied, relaxed, laid around waiting for my body to heal, and had to start all over again with my fitness a few weeks later when I finally recovered.

One thing I really like about CrossFit is how on most days we have a strength workout, followed by a conditioning workout.  In Muay Thai we'd often do the exact same workout 6 days a week and it really burned me out.  In Muay Thai, we'd run 3.7km everyday, do 5 rounds of heavy bags, 5 rounds of padwork, 100 situps, 100 pushups, and the only real variation is we'd change it up by doing boxing Sparring one day, Muay Thai sparring another, and Clinching another day.

Pros of Muay Thai:

Learning Muay Thai is a skill that you will benefit from for the rest of your life. Being able to protect yourself if you're ever in a bad situation, and having the confidence and knowledge to protect your loved ones is worth more than you know.  Just last week I was out drinking and a drunk German guy decided to hit a girl. We would all like to think that we'd step in and say something, but no one did.  I was actually in the bathroom at the time so I didn't even see it happen, but when I came out, she was crying and someone told me what happened.  There were 10 people standing around and no one did anything.  So I went up and slapped him.  I didn't want to hit him for real, so I figured a slap would suffice.

In the past, I've been in situations where stupid drunk guys have harassed and even hit girls right in front of me and I froze, not knowing what to do and being too scared to take action.  But now after all this Muay Thai training, especially after stepping into the ring six times, I didn't even hesitate and bitch slapped the guy for being a retard.  If he had got up and wanted to fight, I would have been confident to take him out.  But he just apologized and we moved on.

Other Pros of Muay Thai is that it's fun and really challenging.  A Muay Thai fight in a ring is the hardest thing you could ever put yourself through.  It's really just you and your opponent inside the ring, no team, nothing but what you've trained for.  So knowing that you're going to be fighting is a great motivation to train hard.

That's me in the red muay thai trunks

Pros of CrossFit:

The best thing about CrossFit is that the workouts of the day (WOD) changes everyday and you have a certified personal trainer watching you and a small group correcting your movements and posture.  Generally we have one strength WOD and one conditioning WOD everyday.  So we might start with strict pull ups, where we would do as many as we can, rest and repeat 3 times.  Or we might have strict shoulder presses, squats or dead lifts where we would ramp up to 5 sets of 5 reps of heavy weights, which is great for building strength, form, mobility and muscle.  Afterwards we would have our conditioning WOD which changes everyday to use different muscles, keep it fun and challenging.  They call it MetCon, which stands for Metabolic Conditioning, similar to cardio fitness but with using your whole body.

Typical MetCon Workouts would be competing for time, either to see how fast you can get through it, or how many reps you can get in a specific amount of time.  One day we might have a cycle of 15 Burpees followed by 10 Box Jumps followed by rowing 250m on a rowing machine and seeing many sets of those you can do in 12 minutes.  Another could be ten sets of 50 meter sprints for time, or a combination of sit ups and kettle bell swings.  Either way, I've never had a WOD that didn't empty my tank afterwards.  The nice thing about the daily WODs is you feel like you are competing everyday, either against yourself, the clock or your peers.  It really motivates and pushes you do to these things along side others.  The best thing is the lack of injuries in CrossFit compared to Muay Thai.  

Injuries in Muay Thai vs. CrossFit

In Muay Thai, even if you're not fighting and just training you get injuries all of the time.  First you have the long runs everyday which destroy your knees and back.  Your shins are always bruised from kicking pads and hard bags, and whenever you spar it's easy to get injuries here and there.  If you're actually competing and fighting, you could be out for three weeks or longer after each fight due to broken bones (even small fractures in your foot bone which is very common), bruised shins, swollen ankles, and more.  

In CrossFit, it almost feels like rehab.  I stared CrossFit after my last fight because I had a swollen ankle, bruised shin and small fractures in my left foot.  But during class I realized how inflexible I was in certain movements.  I can kick someone in the head and touch my toes, but I wasn't even able to squat and sit on my heels.  My ankles turned out to be super immobile, and my back as well.  They were things I never really thought about and never needed to work on, until I started doing squats, dead lifts and strict presses.  Now a good portion of my day goes to specific mobility exercises, using a foam roller, and other rehab type exercises that have made my body feel a hundred times better, even though I didn't even realize I wasn't feeling good in the first place.

I used to think CrossFit was stupid and dangerous, doing things like kipping pullups, olympic lifting of heavy weights for speed.  But now that I'm a member, I realize that they only do those things after really having the technique down perfect, and it's really up to you as an individual.  Even during the conditioning WODs I do all of my workouts or form and technique.     

So what's better for Fitness, Muay Thai or CrossFit?

The bottom line is, if you're interested in Muay Thai, K-1 or MMA Fight Sports such as UFC, sign up for a Muay Thai gym.  Come to Thailand and do a proper 3 month fight camp and you'll love it.  You will learn a lot about yourself, how hard you can push, self-defense, confidence, and a skill that you will keep forever.  

If you're just looking to lose weight, get ripped and have better fitness, CrossFit is the best workout I've ever done.  It's everything good about P90x, BodyRock, and Insanity but combined with a real trainer, workout partners, community and motivation.  There are very few people that can really push themselves constantly on their own, and it took me a long time to stop kidding myself and realize that I'm not one of them.  The strength WODs are also awesome even if you're not looking to bulk up muscle. Having more strength helps you burn fat and get shredded.  It's only been three weeks since I started CrossFit but already I feel and look like i'm in much better shape, and the best thing about it is, my injuries are recovered and I feel other all healthier.  

I will get back into Muay Thai and MMA again for sure, but only because I love the sports and enjoying training, hitting pads, sparring and competing.  If I'm just focusing on getting in the best physical shape possible, I will continue to do CrossFit.

If you're interested in what life training Muay Thai was like, read my book 12 Weeks In Thailand.

If you're interested in what it was like starting CrossFit, setting big goals and finally getting in shape, read my book Life Changes Quick.

Warm Regards,

Johnny F.D. - Like the book if you're thinking about traveling to Thailand


  1. AnonymousMay 02, 2013

    Agree with you on some points, but...

    It is silly to compare most Muay Thai "injuries" to the kind that happen in Crossfit. Your shins (or face) get bruised hitting pads? That heals in 2 days. Tear some ligaments doing excessive amounts of lifts with poor form? You're out for months. You cannot pretend that a full on MT fight is somehow the everyday norm for Muay Thai. The kind of person who would ask this question is not the person who would want to do a real MT fight. It isn't fair to lump that in there, especially since 3 months is not a long time.

  2. WHY THE HELL ARE YOU COMPARING MUAY THAI TO EFFING CROSSFIT! No...just NO!...and yes i read the article

  3. I actually googled "Muay Thai vs crossfit" so I think you did a really good job with this art

    1. Hey Effy, glad you enjoyed the article and that it's coming up high on search results =)

    2. This was the exact article I was looking for as well. Thank you.

  4. AnonymousMay 11, 2015

    I also just Googled this exact question! Thanks so much for this! I'm going with crossfit. :)

    1. Hey awesome! Glad you found the exact answer you were looking for!

  5. Hi I googled the same thing, because I want to know which is more effective on losing weight because doing both is really a slash on my pocket hehe. And your article is the answer! :)

    1. Hey you're welcome Jam! If you haven't already read my book as it talks about how I lost a ton of weight on CrossFit.

  6. Was great thanks! Chris grand bend ontario Canada

  7. Hi man do you think con i do muy thi and crossfit at the same day for 3 months because after cupll of months i well go to thiland and am gona stay like 3 months theare

    1. You can try, but you'll be exhausted =)

  8. I used to be superfit .. competing in 10k's and half marathon's .. at 5 ft 10 I had a 12% bf @ 77kg. Weight hovered from 77kg to 80kg also cuz I'm a massive foodie. Also used to hit the gym to maintain muscle mass so had a good proportionate chest size. All the running caused me a bad left knee .. loose ligament. Physio advised me to stop running altogether and stop sports .. either that or go under the knife. In a year of inactivity, I put on 10kg's so I became a proud owner of a fat tummy. I lost my shape and my zest. My old clothes didn't fit no more and I never ever thought that the weight would affect me but it had. Badly. Morale took a nosedive. Not exercising intensively, I wasn't the same person.

    I bumped into an article about Muay Thai online. Chanced upon it. I love martial arts but only ever done Tae-Kwan-do as a kid. Decided what the heck, quit my job and travelled to Phuket (Soi Tai-Ied) to give it a crack. YOLO moment. As a matter of self-discovery, Muay Thai did not affect my knee condition one bit. Also, I opted for skipping rope instead of running for warm up. It worked a treat. The 1st 2 weeks of Muay Thai were hell .. pleasure in pain type of hell where I felt sore and pain in areas of the body I never knew I could feel sore in. I enjoyed the intensity and after having been a year out of fitness I usually got nervous before pad work wondering if I'd have the stamina required.

    Now, after 2 months of Muay Thai (average 5 times a week as during the first 3 weeks I needed rest days in between to let the body heal) with absolutely NO other activity like crossfit or weights I've lost 12 kg's. However, my body now feels and looks different to when I was superfit thru running at more or less the same weight. I feel leaner now, but point to note is I'm 14% bf (2% higher than previous fit life), my body feels tighter, the whole body feels rock solid - not in a heavy way but in a feathery springy sort of way. I lost my slightly buffed chest but I kinda like the way it is now ... Diet wise I wasn't eating a 100% clean (I would say 70% -ish) but I've only ever touched beer twice in the last 2 months.

    Not sure how to say it but I feel reborn and I thank Muay Thai... turns out I happen to love this martial art. I'm going to continue Muay Thai even after I leave Thailand for as long as my body is able to. It is fantastic. It's a top art of self-defence and fitness coupled with respect and camaraderie. And I'm not training to fight either.

    1. Hey thanks for sharing your journey and experience! Congrats on finding Muay Thai and having it help you get back in shape without injury! I loved your comment so much I reposted it on the main page as a feature!

    2. Pleasure's all mine. I think you've done a great job with your website and I've fav'd it.
      Well done.


Hey if you've read this far, you might as well at least leave a comment. Even just to say what's up! If you have any questions about training in Thailand just ask it here in the comments and I'll answer so everyone can benefit from it.