Elbow pads are an underused piece of Muay Thai training gear. Watching Muay Thai fights reveal the fact that most non-Thai fighters are not good at throwing elbow strikes. This is understandable given the fact that outside of Thailand, elbows are not commonly used in Muay Thai fights. The reason for this is that non-Thai fighters usually don’t throw elbows in Muay Thai matches held away from Thailand
Non-Thai fighters who fight in Thailand quickly demonstrate their lack of elbow striking technique. Since Thai fighters begin using elbow strikes as children, they are well versed in using them, unlike their non-Thai counterparts.
What makes it even more difficult to learn elbow strikes is the fact that you can’t use elbow strikes during training sessions in Thailand. They don’t feel that it is necessary to use them in training because they fight often enough to keep their skills and their elbows sharp. This fact means that non-Thai fighters and first-time fighters struggle to master their elbow striking skills when training in Thailand.
The lack of elbow strikes in training causes many fighters to look totally lost when they compete in their first professional Muay Thai fight. Not being able to practice throwing elbows can hurt when you enter a professional ring and your opponent is constantly throwing them at you.
My Top Recommendation for Muay Thai Elbow Pads
Nationman Elbow Pads are my preferred Muay Thai Elbow Pads.
Nationman Competition Elbow Pads
I recommend Nationman mainly because their elbow pads are usually found in most amateur Muay Thai competitions. Any fighter planning to fight in amateur competition will need to adjust to using these pads.
The Nationman pads are made with one size, meaning that they won’t fit a fighter with larger than normal arms.
The amount of pad protection on the Nationman pads is subpar. Therefore, it’s not a good idea to spar full on unless your training partner is wearing head protection. These elbow pads are average in quality for this type of gear. Just about all Thai brands manufacture a similar kind of elbow pad.
My Recommendation: The Nationman Competition Elbow Pads are a good buy for Muay Thai fighters who will be competing in amateur events.
Nationman Elbow Pads are very typical of Thai-made protective gear. There is minimal padding for the elbow that will soften impact. However, regular sparring will result in you feeling the impact.
For most non-Thai Muay Thai fighters, elbow pads are the only way you can practice elbow strikes in training. Elbow pads will lessen the impact of elbow strikes and help prevent you from being cut. This article is designed to educate you on elbow pads and make recommendations on which pads are worth purchasing.
The Basics of Using Elbow Strikes in Sparring
To begin our discussion about elbow pads, we should talk about the general rules regarding elbow strike sparring. Right off the bat, it’s important to know launching a full-on elbow strike during a sparring session is dangerous and padding won’t lessen the danger.
Because of this fact, many gyms won’t allow you to spar with elbow strikes. A significant amount of damage occurs due to fighter’s inability to pull their strikes. Being unaccustomed to throwing elbow strikes means that you will not be able to pull your strikes, and likely end up hurting or being hurt. Here are some general rules to abide by in using elbow strikes in sparring.
Rule #1. Don’t Use Elbows Unless Mutually Agreed Upon
Don’t throw elbows in a sparring session unless your sparring partner knows what you’re going to do. Using elbows against a partner when they are not looking for it is terrible. Training partner must continually communicate with each other. Before you use elbows in a sparring session, always discuss it with your partner before the session begins.
Rule #2. Work on Controlling Your Elbow Strikes
When you spar, you must maintain control over your elbow strikes, or not throw them. An elbow strike landing on the right spot will lead to a knockout, or another one on the face could break your partner’s nose. The padding on the elbow pads can provide limited protection from these blows, therefore you have to maintain your technique so an injury will not occur.
Rule #3. Elbow Pads are Not Optional
When watching experienced Muay Thai fighters pantomiming elbow strikes while clinching or when they spar, remember that they can fake it without landing the strikes. Rookie fighters must use pads if they are going to use elbows.
This protection provides needed security so your partners stay healthy while you’re using elbows.
Rule #4. Headgear is Mandatory for Contact Sparring
Like I said above, wearing elbow pads does not diminish the force of elbow strikes. When throwing full-contact elbow strikes, you need to use head protection to diminish the effect of the strike. Proper head protection provides security allowing you to improve elbow striking while safeguarding against the possibility of injury.
Typical Elbow Pad Problem
A common complaint of elbow pad users is that they tend to move and not hold its place. It’s common to notice this as soon as you put the pad on your elbow. This is a huge problem because the padding on the protection could slide off the elbow. If that happens, and the protection is not in place, you can injure your partner by hitting them with an unpadded elbow.
A large man with large arms is going to have a difficult time buying an appropriately sized elbow pad. Elbow pads are usually made to fit standard sizes, making it hard for a bigger guy to have a comfortable fit while using this needed protection.
To make sure that the elbow pad does its job, the pad must fit tightly on the elbow. The problem with this type of fit is that it can easily lessen blood flow in the arm. Unfortunately, this is a common problem with no easy solution.
Since elbow pads are not made to give a custom fit, it is a persistent problem to find one that fits you without slipping. A large armed man will always struggle to find a decent fitting elbow pad.
Another problem in addition to the lack of a custom fit and having too tight on your elbow, the pad material is either a cushion or leather. That means that even with the best available padding, getting an elbow strike is going to be an enjoyable experience.
The Necessity of Training with Elbows
Anyone who is planning on competing competitively in Muay Thai must be able to throw and defend elbow strikes. The only thing more important that being able to throw elbow strikes is having the ability to protect yourself against elbow strikes. I have watched lots of fights where fighters lost their composure when hit by an elbow strike. It is not unusual to see inexperienced fighters panic when this happens.
If you are training elbow strikes, you won’t be surprised when you get hit by one in a real fight. Your Muay Thai skills will not progress until you can throw and receive elbow strikes.
The Best Elbow Pads (by category)
Admittedly, all elbow pads have flaws. All of them deal with the issues mentioned earlier in this article. However, even flawed elbow pads are better than none. The following are some elbow pads you should consider buying.
Best Fight Night Elbow Pads
Nationman Elbow Pads
Many Thai elbow pads have the same construction. They are generally sized. Therefore, fighters with large arms should not buy this brand of elbow pads. The Nationman Elbow pads fit similarly to ankle sleeves in that they are tight fitting.
They don’t fit comfortably when you’re wearing them. However, this brand is the elbow pads you are likely to wear during amateur Muay Thai fights.
The amount of padding is limited. This means that if you throw a full-on elbow strike, your training partner will experience the force of the impact. Since these pads are made for actual fights, they are smaller and provide less protection. The use of the Nationman Elbow Pads make using headgear a necessity so your sparring partner will stand less of a chance of injury.
My Recommendation: The Nationman Elbow Pads are a good buy for any Muay Thai fighter who plans to fight in actual fights.
Elbow sparring is dangerous. Someone who isn’t going to fight competitively and don’t need to learn how to use elbows should participate in sparring sessions where all they do is punch and clinch. There are too many fighters who don’t know how to throw elbow strikes, leading to your partner or you being injured.
Best Regular Elbow Pads
Venum Kontact Elbow Protector
Venum is known for being a solid Mixed Martial Arts gear manufacturer that is building a good name in the combat sports industry by making high quality equipment. The Venum Kontact Elbow Pad gives better protection than real fight pads. However, the regular fit is not going to work for larger fighters with large arms.
As stated above, fighters with large arms are going to have a hard time finding properly fitting elbow pads. These pads have an extremely tight fit, and are likely to create blood flow problems. They were designed for the average Thai fighter, not a more heavily muscled fighter.
The Venum Kontact are made with a Velcro strap that helps to tighten the pads and prevent them from slipping and sliding down your arm. Ideally, this straps helps to secure the pad to your elbow, and won’t allow it to slide if you have bigger arms or if you are sweaty from hard sparring.
My Recommendation: The Venum Kontact Elbow Pads are great for standard armed Muay Thai fighters.
Big armed fighters will need to buy other elbow pads that offer a range of sizes. Regular sized elbow pad sizes are too constricting and uncomfortable to use in training.
Best Large Arm Elbow Pads
Ring to Cage Elbow Pads
Many elbow pads only fit one size. This is fine if your height and weight are standard. I am 5’10”, and I have no trouble finding elbow pads that fit me. But someone larger and taller with struggle to fit in elbow pads made for someone my height and average weight.
Ring to Cage Elbow Pads are available in four sizes, which allows fighters to find protections that fits their arms. The sizes include small, regular, large and extra-large. The Ring to Cage pads will fit a larger fighter who would otherwise struggle to find elbow pads that will fit.
The construction and padding for these pads is standard. This is offset by their range of sized that allow bigger fighters to have other options besides trying to squeeze into one-size-fits all pads.
My Recommendation: The Ring to Cage Elbow Pads are a great option for larger fighters.
Bigger fighters have a legitimate option for elbow protection that will fit. These pads will provide sparring protection without the danger of losing blood flow due to over tightness.
Best Overall Protection Elbow Pad
Combat Sports IMF Elbow Pads
The Combat Sports IMF Elbow Pads are the ideal elbow pads if you are looking to maximize elbow protection. They feature injected molded foam that enhances the protection level of the padding.
This additional protection means that the IMF pads are great for those times when you accidently make too much contact with your sparring partner. This manufacturer makes two sizes. I advise you to buy the larger size. Fighters who wear the larger size say that they provide a snug but comfortable fit.
The IMF pads come with neoprene sleeves that the pads will fit tightly without sliding. They are well padded, giving you extra protection.
My Recommendation: The Combat Sports IMF Elbow Pads provides some of the best security from injury on the market.
This is the perfect pad for fighters looking for more protection than the average elbow pad. They feature increased padding and a snug fit.
The Final Word
Elbow pad protection is not unlike wearing a bike helmet. They are uncomfortable but necessary. They can mean the difference between a safe sparring session and one that ends in pain and injury.
I have watched many times the carelessness and lack of control from inexperienced fighters. Because of this, I refuse to spar with rookie fighters unless they use elbow pads. And that isn’t enough because I usually wear head protection as an extra safeguard.
Believe me, one wrong strike can cause significant injury to your nasal passages or other parts of your face. The padding will cut down on the risk of being cut, but won’t lessen the pain experienced by a partner hit by a hard elbow strike.
Elbow pads are a must if you are sparring and using elbows. This is the only way to perfect your elbow striking skills. But make sure that you and your partner can pull your strikes and won’t cause damage or harm to each other.