Just imagine walking into a Muay Thai gym for the first time and seeing all these strange pieces of equipment and not knowing what they’re for or how to use them. You could be very intimidated and inclined to leave.
Even when you get instructed on how to use something you may get confused about what you should be doing on similar equipment that looks the same but has a very different purpose.
A heavy bag looks very much the same as a jab bag but you do very different things on them.
Today you will learn the usual pieces of equipment seen in Muay Thai gyms and how you should use each one to the best effect. As you absorb this information you’ll feel more familiar with Muay Thai training equipment and therefore more relaxed about using it next time.
We will start with Muay Thai uniforms and go right through to training gear and fighter protection.
The uniform for Muay Thai is quite different to most other martial arts but does resemble the gear worn by Western boxers. The pants are much shorter than karate or judo pants and are even shorter than Western boxing trunks. This is to allow for free movement for kicking which is a high scoring and therefore much used technique. The tops are usually T-shirt or tank top style but this varies from school to school.
If you suffer from weak ankles or just want to kick with more stability then ankle guards can be considered an essential part of your uniform. They just look like the ankle supports you get from the chemist or physiotherapist when you have a sore ankle but just a bit thinner (and less expensive).
They’re not padded or anything they just give you extra support for when you’re on your toes which occurs a lot in Muay Thai kickboxing. I trained for years without them and kicked myself for not doing so because the difference is felt immediately. All the pros wear them so if I were you I’d get a pair.
1) Hand Wraps
Hand wraps are cloth bandage-like pieces of material a few metres in length and about five centimeters wide. They are used to wrap around and protect your hands and wrists when punching anything. These are the very least you should have to train with and should be purchased before gloves. They can protect the skin of your knuckles and the bones of your wrists and hands even if you’re not wearing gloves. Especially if you are just beginning Muay Thai and can’t punch hard yet. When you buy them they usually don’t come with instructions on how to wrap them properly.
The types of gloves range from bag mitts to twelve ounce gloves. The more padding you have in the gloves is determined by how you are going to use them. The less padded bag mitt is used to punch the equipment and the big gloves are used for when you punch another person so that you don’t hurt them as much.
3) Jab/Light Bag
The light bag is a hanging style punching bag that is used for light power techniques and usually hand techniques. You cannot hit it with full power Muay Thai kicking techniques because it can be damaged. Because it can move around a lot it is used to develop timing and distance and is a good bag to get if you are starting out and want to train at home.
4) Heavy Bag
The Muay Thai heavy bag is just how it sounds and is heavier than all other bags. It is a hanging type punching bag that weighs as much as a person. It is used to develop all techniques equally but the power techniques usually take favor because you cannot perform full power Muay Thai techniques on everything. This gear is only used when you can perform proper technique because doing bad technique with full power on a heavy object is just asking for injury.
5) Floor to Ceiling Ball/Speed Ball
This piece of equipment is not usually seen in most Muay Thai camps in Thailand but can be quite useful if it is used in the context of Thai boxing rather than western boxing. It is a leather inflated ball suspended by elastic cord from the ceiling to the floor. It is used to develop the speed and timing of hand and elbow techniques only, and to improve defense of techniques coming at your face. You hit the ball and it comes right back at you so you have to keep your hands up at all times. It’s also very very quick so your hand speed improves just by trying to hit it.
6) Top Bag/Speed Ball
This ball and the one above are called different things in different gyms. Some call the above a speed ball and this one a top bag. Some call the above a floor to ceiling ball and this one a top bag (as is the case where I train). Either way, this ball is the one that looks like a tear drop attached to an overhanging board and bounces back and forth at high speed. It develops timing, hand speed, hand eye co-ordination, and most importantly the ability to keep your hands up. That’s why this exercise is done at the end of a workout to mimic the feeling you have at the end of a fight when you want to drop your hands.
7) Hand Mitts
These look similar to a catcher’s mitt in baseball but they are much thicker and not so concave. They are used by a partner to catch your punches and elbows as you throw combinations at them. They aren’t big enough to do kicking techniques on but you can use them for elbows. They develop your sharpness of technique, stamina, and technical ability. Because techniques are done against a moving partner it more closely resembles a real fight.
8) Kicking Shield
Just like it sounds this is a padded shield held by straps by a partner that you kick into. Some kicking techniques used in Muay Thai are too powerful to use against the hand mitts so the shield is used. It can be moved by the partner to all parts of the body giving the kicker multiple targets.
9) Thai Pads
As the name suggests these pads originated in Thailand for the purpose of practicing Muay Thai. They are a most valuable tool as you can practice all Thai boxing techniques in a fashion that mimics a real fight as close as you can get without actually fighting. They are so important that if you have a partner to hold them they are the only piece of equipment you need to get ready for the ring.
They are sometimes called forearm pads as they are strapped to your partner’s forearms. They are made of very thick padding so full contact techniques can be used. You can throw punches, elbows, high and low kicks, and knees. The pad holder can also use the pads to test your defenses by striking at you. All round Thai pads are my favorite tool.
10) Belly Protector
This piece of equipment goes together with the Thai boxing pads or hand mitts and can be used to simulate a real fighting environment. It looks like a heavily padded version of a title belt you would get if you were a boxing or kickboxing champion of the world. It obviously protects your stomach against attacks to that area during pad work. Trainers wear this to help their fighters get practice rather than a fighter wearing it in sparring to protect himself. If you want to train full contact then this equipment is essential.
11) Shin Guard
Because in Muay Thai kickboxing we use the shin to attack and defend it is prone to punishment. You want to build up toughness in that area so most training is done without using them but there are times when it is essential. When sparring the likelihood of kicking a bone on your opponent is very high and severe bruising common. Just before a fight you want to go in fresh so guarding up is a good idea. Also the pad holder will want to wear them because he or she will be needing them more as he/she will be collecting full contact attacks from many fighters in the gym.
Using the above three pieces of equipment together will give you a huge edge with your Muay Thai kickboxing training.
If you’re thinking of having a Thai boxing match and can’t get to a gym very often, then a partner holding Thai pads, wearing a belly protector, and shin guards in your own back yard can give you some very good Muay Thai training indeed.
Get your gear on and go hard against the equipment you’ll be surprised with what you can do with just a few items. Some of the best fighters around do most of their training in a backyard or basement somewhere. You don’t need to go a fancy Muay Thai gym with all the latest gear and equipment to get a good workout. Just get out there and do it.
12) Groin Protector
An essential piece of equipment if sparring but also for pad holders. Kicks sometimes go off target especially if the boxer is tired. You can get groin guards that are just the plastic cup that you slip inside your underwear or the type that are surrounded by material that keeps the cup close to your body. The plastic cup by itself protects the genitals and the more expensive type can protect the kidneys and abdomen with extra padding.
13) Chest/Torso Protector
Female Muay Thai kickboxers can get protection for their breasts similar to the plastic groin protectors but their seems to be a little controversy about them. They look like a molded plastic bra that fits over the breasts to protect them from impact.
However some people report that impact to the chest protector causes it to cut in to the tissue and actually produces more damage than if you got hit without it.
I personally don’t know if this is true as I am male but I have been kicked to the groin guard sideways as my leg was up high. The plastic cup did indeed cut into my testes and cause more pain than usual. I have also noticed that most of the top female professional fighters today do not wear them so there must be a reason why.
There is another type of chest or torso protector which is used in amateur muay thai bouts which is similar to the protection worn in olympic tae kwon do. It is worn like a vest and protects the whole front section of the torso from the shoulders to the waist.
This is just a quick run down of what type of equipment you’re likely to encounter at your Muay Thai gym and what you’re expected to do with it.
But the only way you can learn how to use it properly is to actually use it.
All you have to do now is take some action and implement what you have learned.