Muay Thai Boxing and the Biomechanical Analysis of the Kinetic Chain

Written by Federick Brooks

Thai Boxing, other wise known as “The Art of Eight Limbs”, is the national sport of Thailand.  With its roots in military close-combat situations, this martial art was used to defend land and territories in Thailand against invading forces from Burma and Cambodia.  Today, the sport of Mauy Thai has grown in popularity for mixed martial artist, military and law enforcement, tactical athletes, as well as recreational athletes looking to learn a discipline or self-defense.  During a Muay Thai bout, both athletes are allowed to use both fists in punching, both elbows that may be thrown a number of different ways, both knees, both legs for kicking and reaping (leg sweep), as well as to engage in a stand up clinch guard.  With that being said, every limb on the body is a weapon, and the kinetic chain must be utilized properly in order to deliver effective and powerful blows to ones opponent.  

WHAT IS A KINETIC CHAIN?
Blazevich (2007, pg 240) defines the kinetic chain as, “linked segments of a body that move together”, and describe the two primary patterns associated.  The first is the push-like movement.  In a push-like movement, the joints are extended at once in order to make a single movement.  The summation of torques produced at each joint produces a high magnitude of force with great accuracy in a straight line.  For this technique, the rear or lead leg is flexed at the hip and knee to approximately 90
°, the plantar surface of the foot showing (dorsiflexion), with a slight extension of the lumbar spine.  The fighter extends the knee then forcefully pushes the plantar surface of the foot toward the opponent by extending the ipsilateral hips.  Because of the slow movement speeds of push-like movements, there is not a great deal of velocity or speed associated with the teep, however, when used more as a defensive tactic, it can produce a blow that can stop an opponent from advancing or push him backward to allow you time to counter or flee. [Related: Learn more about using energy systems in Muay Thai]

HOW UNDERSTANDING KINETIC CHAIN CAN IMPROVE YOUR GAME:
Although the teep is mainly a defensive technique, it can be used offensively as well.  Because of this fact, it is important to conduct a biomechanical analysis of the proper sequences for this technique.  A five step process, a biomechanical analysis helps the athlete perform the task better as well as assist the coach develop a specific program that is tailored to the individual athlete.  For the teep, a biomechanical analysis would look something like this:

5 ANALYSIS TO HELP MUAY THAI ATHLETES PERFORM BETTER:
Step 1:  Determine which portion of the movement needs the most improvement.  This is a short technique that does not have to be overly technical, but by understanding if there is a strength or mobility issue as the athlete raises the leg, we can determine the next course of action.

Step 2:  If strength or mobility is not the cause of the issue, the technique itself may be faulty.  This would present itself as if the athlete “snaps” the kick forward with the top of the foot instead of the sole.  Instructors can correct this by queuing the athlete to “chamber the knee up to the abdomen, swing the knee out, and push from the hip with a flat foot”.  This chambering creates greater force by working from the larger proximal muscles to the more distal segment of the foot (Cabral, Joao, Amado, & Veloso, 2010). The part-whole technique for coaching is an excellent way of correcting technical defaults.  

Step 3:  Going back to the strength or mobility issue of step 1, we can asses the athlete for personal characteristics.  Lack of flexibility in the hamstrings as well as insufficient mobility of the hips will limit the height the athlete can lift the leg.  Weakness in the gluteals will result in instability while standing on a single leg and teeping with the other.

Step 4:  Once identified, the appropriate corrections can be applied through either strength training or flexibility/mobility work.  This may include soft tissue work to alleviate constricted connective tissue at the hip, stretching techniques for the hamstrings, or unilateral strength training targeted toward the glutes.  

Step 5:  A reassessment of technique or personal characteristic amplifies the success of the movement by providing feedback on the areas that were just improved upon.  

The teep is just one of the many techniques used in Muay Thai. Each athlete will present different characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, so it is essential for a coach to be able to understand how to apply this technique with accuracy as well as understand the limitations and corrections of the application of the movement.  


Federick Brooks is a former fighter and coach for T.A.G. Muay Thai.  Federick moved to Washington State last year with his wife and (2 kids now) and is the Assistant Fitness Manager at 24 Hour Fitness in Lynnwood, WA.  Federick’s combat background began in the United States Marine Corps as a Martial Arts Instructor and Combat Conditioning Specialist who pursued Muay Thai nearly 4 years ago. After 10 years of honorable service, Federick finished his B.S. in Kinesiology (the study of Human Movement) at George Mason University.  As fitness enthusiast, he’s gained several certifications in Aerobics, USA Weightlifting, USA Track and Field, and Strength and Conditioning.


Reference:

Cabral, S., João, F., Amado, S., & Veloso, A. (2010).  Contribution of trunk and pelvis rotation to punching in boxing.  Conference Proceedings Of The Annual Meeting Of The American Society Of Biomechanics, 385-386.

Blazevich, A. (2010).  Sports biomechanics: The basics: Optimising human performance (2nd ed.).  London: A&C Black.