One piece of Muay Thai equipment that is often underutilized are elbow pads. When you watch enough Muay Thai fights you will notice that most foreigners suck at elbows. This is understandable given the fact that outside of Thailand, elbows are not commonly used in Muay Thai fights.
Foreigners who end up fighting in Thailand often look like a fish out of water when their opponents start throwing elbows. Because most Thai fighters start using elbows in the ring as kids, you can imagine experienced Thais are very comfortable with elbow strikes.
In Thailand, fighters do not use elbows in training. Given the fact that fighters are fighting every 3-4 weeks, they don’t need to sharpen up their elbows in training because they are constantly using them in the ring. This makes it difficult to practice elbows when you train in Thailand and often makes it difficult for first-time fighters.
As a result of no elbows used in sparring, a lot of fighters I have talked to feel completely out of their element when they have their first pro rules Muay Thai fight. If you don’t ever get used to being hit with elbows in sparring, it can throw off your game when you have someone throw elbows at you in the ring.
Top Pick at a Glance
If you are looking to purchase an elbow pad for Muay Thai competition I recommend you check out Nationman Elbows pads.
The reason I suggest Nationman is because these are the de facto elbow pads that used in most amateur Muay Thai tournaments. So if you plan on competing in amateur competitions, you should get used to wearing these pads in training.
The Nationman pads are a universal size, which means if you have large arms I wouldn’t recommend you get these elbow pads.
The padding on these elbow pads is not the greatest, so don’t spar hard with these on unless your partner is wearing headgear. Overall, these are pretty much the standard elbow pad that you can expect to find on the market. Most of the brands in Thailand all produce this type of elbow pad.
Buy if you plan on competing or want to use competition elbow pads
The Nationman elbow pads are the standard elbow pads that you will find from most Thai brands. They have a light cushion around the elbow that will provide some protection, but you will feel hard elbow strikes if you use power.
For people who don’t grow up in the Muay Thai ring, elbow pads are the only way you can practice elbow strikes in training. Elbow pads are designed to soften the blow of elbow strikes and to protect fighters from getting cut. This article is going to break down everything you need to know about elbow pads and help you choose ones that can work for your training.
The Basic Rules of Sparring with Elbows
Before we talk about some of the elbow pads, it is important to understand some of the basic rules of sparring with elbows. The first thing you should know is that throwing a hard elbow strike at your sparring partner can cause damage even with pads on.
This is why a lot of gyms don’t allow sparring with elbow strikes. Too many injuries happen because guys don’t have any control over their technique. If you are not used to throwing elbow strikes, you will have little or no control over your techniques.
Rule #1. Only use elbows if both parties agree
You should never start throwing elbows in sparring unless your sparring partner is aware that you will be using elbows. Throwing an elbow strike at someone who isn’t expecting it is a douchy thing to do. Communication is important when you are working with guys in training. If you want to work on your elbows, make sure you let your partner know what you are doing.
Rule #2. Control Your Elbows
Whenever you are sparring, you should always control your elbow strikes or don’t use elbows at all. A hard elbow on the chin can result in an instant KO or an elbow to the face can easily break a nose. Pads only provide so much protection for your elbow strikes, so be aware whenever you are sparring that you are under control.
Rule #3. Use Elbow Pads
While you do see some high-level Thai fighters faking elbow strikes when they are clinching or sparring, they have enough experience do to it without the elbow strikes landing. Inexperienced fighters should always train with elbow pads if they plan on throwing elbows in sparring.
Elbow pads provide some protection, so you don’t hurt your sparring partners when you throw elbows.
Rule #4. Use Headgear if you Spar Hard
As I mentioned before, even with elbow pads on you can still feel the impact of the strike. If you plan on throwing harder elbows, you should wear headgear on to absorb some of the damage of the elbow strikes. Good headgear will ensure that you can develop your elbow timing without worrying about getting any permanent injuries.
Common Elbow Pad Issues
One of the reasons why a lot of people hate using elbow pads is they tend to slide around the arm. You might put on the pad and notice the pad sliding up or down your arm. What can happen when the elbow pad slides out of position is the padding that is used to protect the elbow (as well as your sparring partner) can shift out of place. If the protection shifts out of place, you can easily end up throwing an elbow that isn’t padded.
If you are a big guy with big arms, you will have a hard time finding a pair of elbow pads that fit you. Most elbow pads are designed to fit universal sizes, which makes it a tight squeeze if you have a lot of bulk on your arms.
To ensure the elbow pad stays in place, you often have to get a tight fitting elbow pad. The downside of this is that it can cut off your circulation if you leave it on too long. This is something that you have to live with when it comes to using elbow pads.
The issue with elbow pads is that everyone has different sized arms, which can make the fit difficult. If you have extremely large arms, you may have a difficult time finding a quality elbow pad that can work for your needs.
Besides sliding around the arm or being too tight, the padding on the elbow is usually just a cushion or a leather shell. Regardless of the padding used, it doesn’t feel that great being hit with an elbow.
Why You Should Train with Elbows
If you ever plan on having full rules Muay Thai fight, then it is important to understand how to give and take elbows. What is more important than knowing how to throw elbows, is knowing how to defend against elbows. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve witnessed guys freak out when their opponent hits them with an elbow. The moment this happens you will often find that guys start panicking.
When you are used to guys throwing elbows at you in training, it won’t phase you when it happens in the ring. This is something that you need to learn how to become comfortable facing as you progress and improve your game.
Our Top Elbow Pad Picks
I will admit that there is no perfect elbow pad.
Frankly, I hate wearing them.
The issues I described above, unfortunately, plague most elbow pads you will use. However, despite the cons of wearing elbow pads, it’s better to have some protection when you are sparring then nothing at all. Here is a list of some elbow pads you can have a look at.
Best Competition Elbow Pads
Most elbow pads made in Thailand all have the same basic design. These are one size fits all elbow pads.
When you put them on they won’t feel that comfortable, but these are the regular ones that people often use in amateur competitions.
The padding inside of the elbow pad is not that big, so if you land a hard shot on your sparring partner they will feel it. These are competition grade, so they are designed to be small and provide a limited level of protection. If you spar with these elbow pads on I would suggest you wear headgear to keep your sparring partner protected.
Buy it……If you plan on competing with elbows.
Training with elbows adds a lot more danger to the sparring session. If you never plan on competing and don’t ever plan on using elbows, then just spar with punches and clinching. Too many guys don’t know how to control their elbows which can lead to injuries.
Best Universal Elbow Pads
Venum is a quality MMA brand that has built a reputation for providing quality products that are designed to last. The Venum elbow pad provides a little more coverage than the competition grade elbow pads, but the universal size can create fit problems for guys who have big arms.
As I mentioned before, if you have really large arms you probably won’t be able to find a pair of elbow pads that fits well. They will be extremely tight and may cut off your circulation after a while. These elbow pads were ended for thinner Muay Thai fighters, not guys with a lot of muscle.
These elbow protectors offer a velcro enclosure to ensure that you can tighten the pads and they don’t slip up and down your arm. I’ve never used this feature so I can’t really comment on the effectiveness of it all.
Buy It……..If you don’t have big arms
Guys who have big arms need to choose an elbow pad that offer different sizes. The universal elbow pad sizes can make the elbow pads too tight on the arms.
Best Elbow Pads for Bigger Arms
Most elbow pads on the market offer a one size fits all solution. While this is great if you are average size and height like myself (5′ 10″), it sucks if you have a bigger build. Anyone who has bigger arms will have a lot of problems squeezing on a tight pair of elbow pads designed for someone 150 lbs.
The Ring to Cage elbow pads come in 4 size options to allow you to select a fit that works for you. They offer small, regular, large and x-large sized elbow pads. This means you can select a larger size if you happen to be a bigger guy.
The overall build and make of the elbow pads are average, but the available larger sizes make this an option for guys who don’t want to wear a universal fit elbow pad.
Buy it……If you want to select a larger size
If you have large arms you want to purchase a set of pads that offer you more sizing options. This will ensure that you can find a fit that doesn’t completely cut off all of your arm circulation.
Best Elbow Pad with the Most Protection
If you are looking for an elbow pad that offers you the most protection around your elbows you should consider the Combat Sports IMF elbow pads. These elbow pads have injected foam technology that is designed to provide more protection on the elbows of the pads.
The added protection makes these pads better for sparring if you end up landing a strike on your sparring partner. Combat sports offers two sizes of pads, and I would suggest you go bigger rather than smaller. Most people say that these pads fit fairly tight on the arms.
The neoprene sleeves ensure that these pads will be a tight fit on your arm with minimal movement. These pads have a larger padding area to give you more overall coverage.
Buy it………If you want the most coverage and protection
If you want to choose an elbow pad that doesn’t have the typical foam padding that the other pads have, this is a good option. The padding is better on these pads, and they have a tight fit.
Wearing elbow pads is a lot like wearing a safety helmet when you ride a bike. A lot of people would rather not wear them because they are not very comfortable, but they can protect your partner from injury in case you do land an inadvertent elbow.
From my experience, my guys have no control over their elbows in sparring. For this reason, I will never spar with someone who isn’t an experienced fighter, unless they are wearing elbow pads. Even with elbow pads on, I would prefer having headgear on as a secondary form of protection.
Trust me, all it takes is one bad elbow to land, and you can easily break your nose or cheek bone. Elbow pads do provide enough cushioning to prevent cuts, but they will start hurt your partner if you throw hard elbows on them.
Anyone who wants to improve their elbow defense and timing needs to spar with elbows on. Make sure you spar with someone you trust who has control over their strikes, so you don’t end up with an unnecessary injury.