You’ve probably knocked back one or two mai tais in your time, but how much do you know about the sport of the same name that could give you the bikini bod and fitness challenge you’ve always craved? If you’ve watched athletes like Ronda Rousey battle it out in a UFC fight, chances are you’ve seen some muay thai techniques. Known as the art of the eight limbs, muay thai (or Thai boxing) is a full-body workout that’s not as scary as you think.

Model and muay thai fighter Lilian Dikmans started off taking beginners-level classes at her local gym and today boasts a 3-0 win-lose record. But you don’t necessarily have to step into the ring to see results. This ancient sport uses every part of the body – shins, elbows, knees and fists – to fight your opponent, which is where the eight limbs thing comes in. It’s also where Lilian’s ripped abs come from – the sport is known for its engagement of your core.

Lilian, a model and former lawyer who also runs the Real Food Healthy Body website, got into muay thai after seeing people sparring at her gym. Curious and looking for ways to maintain her fitness, she decided she should give it a crack. A form of martial arts, it’s a true all-over workout that has a strict training regimen to prepare people for fighting. And while that might not be exactly your jam, going to a couple of classes a week will soon start to show as you look and feel like a stronger, more powerful you.

A model workout 

A typical workout usually starts with some skipping to warm up, then a bit of shadow work a la Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. Going through the techniques solo sharpens up your form without the pressure of fighting an opponent. After that, bag work and pad work with your trainer help you get you used to the flow of typical combinations and techniques whether that’s a reverse foot-thrust, a knee bomb or a roundhouse kick.

“You want to work on creating reactions that occur naturally without having to think, because when you’re in the ring that’s what will come out,” Lilian explains.

That’s if you get to the ring. The prospect of actually participating in a fight might seem scary at first, especially if you spend more time with your yoga mat than a punching bag, but with the right preparation, you could surprise yourself.

“If you develop good technique from the beginning, you’ll have a strong foundation from which to progress and you’re less likely to get injured,” Lilian says.

Fight like a pro

A training session always ends with some sparring so you can get used to fighting an opponent. You’ll also do some conditioning work and practice how to perform clinches: when fighters’ arms or hands are locked together and some easy point-scoring can happen.

Lilian says she never got into muay thai to fight, but ended up falling in love with the sport, so bouts felt like the natural progression for her.

If you think your inner competitive spirit needs to be let out, she recommends finding a good sparring partner to begin with, someone who knows exactly what they’re doing and can adjust their own strength to suit yours. Usually this is someone more experienced, rather than a rookie like you. As for preparing for a fight, muay thai is no different to any other sport: if you’ve done the training, you know what to expect.

“My nerves mostly come from the fear of fighting badly and letting my trainer down,” Lilian says. “Winning or losing isn’t important to me, I just want to fight well and show good muay thai technique.”

Getting started

Lilian’s tips for getting into muay thai:

Find a gym with a good trainer.
Her favourites in Melbourne are Powerplay (Brunswick) and Fight Club (CBD), while in Perth she likes Kao Sok Muay Thai gym in Forrestdale.

Buddy up
If you’re lacking the confidence to try something new, make a friend go with you.

Believe in your strength
Don’t be daunted by the possibility of getting hurt – your conditioning has made your body tougher than you think.

Have some fun
Learning all those fight techniques and getting fit at the same time is a win-win. Embrace it.

Photography by Samuel Costin