One aspect of training people often doesn’t discuss is the important role of the pad holder. Having a lot of good pad holders at a gym can improve the overall level of everyone training. Every good pad holder at a gym is an asset that will make everyone better.
A good pad holder is independent of any instructor. They have been trained to use their brains when they hold pads and don’t need to be told what to do. This level of fluency is only acquired through experience and practice.
Pad holding is a skill just like sparring; the more you hold pads the better you become. One of the downsides to training in Thailand is you get lazy when it comes to holding pads. Because you have access to the best pad holders in the world, you never have to hold pads for other students.
On the flip side, being able to work with world class pad holders teaches you what makes a good pad holder. When you have had dozens and dozens of different pad holders working with you, you begin to see why pad holding plays such an important role in a fighter’s development.
The following videos feature my good friend Lanny Chan, demonstrating pad holding techniques and offering tips. Lanny is an excellent pad holder and the head trainer at Stride Conditioning. He’s been visiting Thailand since 2007, when he first visited Buakaw’s gym Por Pramuk. Lanny has been to Thailand multiple times for extended periods of time and has trained with some of the best trainers in the world.
The Role of the Pad Holder
To understand how to hold Muay Thai pads, we first need to understand the role of a pad holder.
At a basic level, the pad holder’s responsibility is to provide good targets for the person who is striking the pads. From developing better technique, stamina, power or timing, pad holders play an essential part of a student’s development.
Outside of Thailand, pad holding is an essential skill that everyone is required to learn. In most gyms, the head instructor will walk around the class teaching, while the students hold Thai pads for each other.
Because pad work is such an important part of Muay Thai, it is important that everyone learns how to hold Muay Thai pads correctly. The purpose of this article is to break down everything you need to know about holding Muay Thai pads. I suggest you watch the included videos to get a better idea of the concepts I am talking about.
Basic Pad Holding Equipment Needed
The only essential piece of equipment you need to hold pads in Muay Thai are a set of Thai pads. Thai pads are designed to allow the pad holder to absorb the impact of punches, kicks, teeps, and knees, without causing damage to the pad holder.
Depending on the person you are holding pads for, you may feel the impact of the kicks through the pads when they kick. To prevent arm injuries from heavy kickers, it is important to have a quality set of Thai pads for training. If you buy a bargain set of Thai pads, expect your forearms to be aching after hard kicks.
After the Thai pads, the next best piece of equipment a pad holder should have is a belly pad. Belly pads are great because they will allow you to hold for better knee strikes, teeps and body punches. There is a big difference when you teep a belly pad vs. teeping two Thai pads held together. While the belly pad is optional, it is something that most trainers use regularly.
Another great piece of equipment useful for pad holders are shin guards. Shin guards allow the pad holder to kick, which will help improve the student’s defensive timing and blocking abilities.
Outside of these core items, you can get more specialty items (leg kick pads or boxing mitts) once you start becoming more skilled in pad holding. Other accessories are useful for full time trainers, but are not necessary if you just hold pads at the gym. For 95% of people, Thai pads, Shin Guards, and a belly pad are all you need to hold pads at a high level.
How to Hold Muay Thai Pads
Before I talk about holding Muay Thai pads, it is important to point out that everyone holds pads slightly different. If you work with 10 pad holders, they will all have some variation to the way they hold pads. No two pad holders are the same.
The following tips are some recommendations, but they are not the final word. If you find something else that works for you, then go with whatever methods you feel work best.
I’ve found that some pad holders are great a holding pads for kicks and knees, but when it comes to punches they end up jamming your punches and not allowing full extension. And conversely, some pad holders are excellent at holding pads for punches.
While there are differences among pad holders, there are a few fundamental principles that are universal among good pad holders.
Positioning of the Pads
The first and most important part of holding pads is to positioning the pads correctly. If you are holding your pads too far apart for punches, you will force the person to punch at unrealistic targets. In some situations, holding the pad in the wrong positioning can even be dangerous for the pad holder. Beginners can often miss their targets, especially when they get excited and want to use 100% of their power.
Learning to place your pads in the right position will make it easier for the person hitting the pads. While every pad holder has a slightly different position, it is important to try to keep pads as realistic as possible. Good pad holding positioning will keep you balanced and allow you to take hard kicks without being knocked over.
Bracing for Impact
Learning how to absorb each strike on the Thai pads is another important aspect to pad holding. Each time someone strikes the pads, you should brace for the impact and provide good feedback on the strike.
Having loose arms, can result in the pads knocking back and hitting you in the face. Learning to keep your arms compact will help you absorb each strike and prevent you from being injured. You don’t want your arms to go flailing every time a strike hits the pads.
If you hold pads for someone who kicks hard, you need to be ready to absorb the impact. Heavy weight guys have a lot of power in their kicks and can easily injure a pad holder. One of my old training partners broke his arm holding pads with someone who was double his weight.
Letting the Strikes Come to You
One of the worst things you can do as a pad holder is trying to stop the strikes way before they reach the target. There are some pad holders who will catch a punch before it is fully extended and even step forward when someone kicks to reduce the impact. While these methods may soften the impact for the pad holder, they are bad for the person hitting the pads.
The goal of pad holding is to emulate a real situation. When you are sparring, does your opponent step forward into your kick? No, the don’t. You have to extend your strikes to reach whoever is standing in front of you. Full extension is important because it is necessary to develop the correct timing and distance to your opponent.
If you develop a habit of striking half way to the target, you will naturally reduce the range of your strikes. We want to try and increase the range of our attacks, not make them shorter.
This video showcases some common pad holding mistakes that you might encounter.
Another important part of pad holding for beginners is the timing of the strikes. When you hold multiple strike combinations, pad holders need to know the correct timing of how fast they should be doing the combination.
Remember that the goal of pad work is to try to simulate what you would do in sparring. After you strike a target, there is often a brief moment needed to reset before the next strike. The more you hit pads and spar, the better timing you will develop as a pad holder.
Kickboxers tend to throw off a lot of punch/kick combinations that are all in rapid succession. Remember that Muay Thai is about rhythm and pace. Explode and relax. Keep the combinations short and crisp. Emphasize hard power behind every strike and ensure your student is resetting their position.
How to Hold Pads for Basic Strikes
As I mentioned before, every pad holder has a slightly different way they hold pads. There is no universally correct way, it is just about finding what works best for you. The goal is to make your student/training partner better, so as long as they are improving that is what matters.
Holding Pads for Kicks
One of the worst things you can do as a pad holder is to step forward and block the momentum when someone is kicking. While this does take away some of the momentum of the kick (makes it easier for the pad holder), it doesn’t give the person hitting pads a realistic feel.
As a pad holder, let the person come to your pads and meet your target. This will teach them to develop more power and turn over their hips when they kick. This is something that a lot of pad holders do. Even in Thailand, I’ve had a few Thai trainers who stopped the momentum of my kick.
The follow video showcases basic pad holding for left and right kicks.
Holding Pads for Knees
There are multiple ways that you can hold Thai pads for knee strike. I’ve found that the best way of holding pads for knee strikes is to wear a belly pad and put hold one Thai pad on your belly pad at an angle.
This position allows the person hitting the pads to drive their hips through the pad and get a good impact when it lands on the pad. Depending on the person kneeing the pads, you will feel some impact from the knees.
This pad holding methods gives the person a really easy target to knee and allows you to stop some of the impact as well. When the person knees, make sure you brace for the impact so you don’t get winded.
Here is a video demonstrated how to hold pads for knees.
Holding Pads for Punches
When you are holding pads for punches you can use either Thai pads or boxing mitts. I find that boxing mitts give a better target and feel better hitting, but they are limiting unless you wear one Thai pad and one boxing mitt on each arm.
Just like kicks, you want to let your partner extend their full arms out so that they get used to reaching full extension. Before the person is about to strike the pad, bring it forward to give them some resistance on the pads. This ensures they have a good target that they are striking.
Keep the combinations as realistic as possible when you hold pads for boxing. Don’t use combinations that you would never see used in a fight. Try to get the person hitting pads to get full extension and snap on their punches to generate good power in the strikes.
Here is an example of using boxing mitts to hold for punches.
How to Hold Pads for Teeps
The teep is a strike that you can either hold with teep pads together or you can use a belly pad to create a nice target for the person hitting pads to strike. Belly pads are the best because the simulate a realistic feel when you strike the pads.
When you are bracing for the impact of the teep, it is important to stay balanced. A good teeper can easily knock you back a few feet, so be prepared for that. The key is to stay balanced and be prepared for the teep.
If you don’t have a belly pad you can stack two Thai pads together and hold for the teeps. This method doesn’t feel great, but it is still used in place of a belly pad.
The following video showcases how to hold pads for teeps.
How to Hold Pads for Beginners
When you hold pads for beginners it is important to slow things down. If someone doesn’t know how to perform correct technique, there is no need to try and make them do 30 kicks. When you work with a beginner focus on their balance, movement and try to give them tips on improving their technique.
Common things like turning the hips over, keeping the hands up, and snapping the punches back are all things you should look for when working with someone new. Try keeping everything simple as possible when you are working with beginners.
Here is a video that explains a few tips for working with beginners.
You need to remember that beginners are new and will make mistakes. By being able to correct the mistakes you will help them improve their technique and overall game.
This video showcases some common mistakes you can expect to see from beginners.
How to Hold Pads for Advanced Students
When you are working with better people on pads it is important to try and keep the pad holding as realistic as possible. Make sure your partner is on balance at all times and test them to see if they are able to block in a balanced position.
Testing your partners defense is important because it keeps them honest. Everything you do as a pad holder should reflect a real situation. Don’t call out combinations that will never be used, simulate your pad holding style to the ring as much as you can.
When you work with a good pad holder sometimes it feels like a sparring match because they throw so much offense at you.
Here is a video that offers some tips when working with advanced students.
More Pad Holding Tips
When you are working with someone on pads, it is important that you keep them honest. If someone gets away with dropping their hands after they strike, that is a habit that will carry forward when they spar. By keeping your student honest, you will prevent mistakes that can cause problems later on.
If you notice that they are doing something incorrectly, correct them in a positive way. If you are holding pads for someone who is at your level, offer the correction as a suggestion. Since nobody likes being told what to do, it is important that you try to be constructive in your critique.
This video talks about the importance of keeping your student honest on pads.
In addition to keeping people honest, it is also good to work on their strengths and weaknesses on pads. If someone has a really good right kick, perhaps you may want to work on other areas of their game, instead of only holding for right kicks.
Identifying areas of strengths and weakness can help you target different things to work on when holding pads. This will make you better are recognizing different traits that fighters possess.
This video breaks down the importance of working with your partners strengths and weaknesses.
Another great tip that you can use is to adapt your pad holding style to your student. The sign of a good pad holder is when they are able to change up their style to improve the person they are holding pads for. If you are working with someone who has the physical tools to be a good knee fighter, try to work a lot of knee strikes and help them develop that skill.
By looking at your students physical tools and natural abilities. you can see what pad holding style can suit them best. A knee fighter is going to need a very strong guard and always keep their hands up as they walk forward. As the pad holder, you should be throwing a lot of hard punches and forcing your student to block everything.
This can help prepare them for the rigors of a fight when their opponent will not hold back their punches. Conversely, if you are dealing with a skilled fighter, you will probably work on distance and try to emulate different fighting styles they may encounter.
This video talks about a few of these points in more detail.
Pad holding is an art that should not only be limited to instructors. Since you have to hold pads anyways, why not make a point to try and be a better pad holder? Good pad holders are extremely valuable at gyms.
One thing that sets the top Muay Thai gyms apart from the rest, is they have a lot of really good pad holders. Every good pad holder at a gym is essential a new ‘assistant’ instructor. Good gyms may have dozens students who can all hold pads at a high level, which improve the level of everyone at the gym.
Remember that a “rising tide, lifts all boats.” By being a better pad holder, you will create a “rising tide” that makes the people around you better.
Holding pad is a skill that requires practice and focus to perfect. Good pad holders can flow their pads and simulate an opponent standing in front of you. Since we all have to hold pads anyways, why not use the opportunity to try and perfect the skill? Instead of standing like a robot in front of your training partner, try to make your pad work come to life and make them improve.
Special thanks to Lanny Chan for being featured in the videos. If you want to learn more from Lanny or contact him please visit his website Stride Conditioning.