How Not To Use Thai Pads: The Art of Pad Work in Muay Thai
By John Duarte
The art of pad work is one of the most important aspects of any fighter’s arsenal. While it may seem like a simple exercise, there are many factors that go into its execution.
For example, if you’re not careful, you could end up with your hand or arm getting injured due to improper technique.
There are two main types of pads used in Thailand – cotton and leather. Cotton pads tend to be softer and more comfortable while leather ones are harder and can cause some minor bruising after prolonged use.
Leather pads are usually made from cowhide, which is tough but durable enough to last through years of hard sparring sessions.
Cotton pads come in various thicknesses ranging from thin to thick. They range from $1.50 to $5.00 each depending on their price tag.
Leather pads, however, cost much less than cotton pads at around $0.80 per pad (or even free) and are typically made out of goat skin or sheepskin. These pads are usually thicker and more expensive than other types of padding as they provide better protection against punches and elbows compared to other kinds of padding such as foam or neoprene.
Both types of pads provide effective protection for fighters, but each has its own distinct advantages depending on the user. For instance, some fighters don’t like leather pads because they can cause bruises, and if they are not cleaned regularly, they can develop an odor due to constant contact with perspiration.
Also, the thicker and harder the padding is, the less “give” it has and the more likely it is that a bone will break through the skin if enough force is applied to it.
In comparison, cotton pads are much more comfortable when used for long periods of time, such as during extended training sessions or fights. They can be a bit bulky and take longer to get used to compared to leather pads, but they are much easier on the hands and wrists.
Thick cotton pads can be just as durable as leather ones but thinner pads are just flimsier and more likely to break if you hit something hard enough.
Pad Work in Thailand
Pads in Thailand are much different than pads in the west in that they are typically smaller and worn around just one wrist or ankle. This allows for a full range of movement without encumbrance and the pads are easier to focus when thrown by a trainer.
While most are still made of cotton or leather, there is the option for wealthier fighters to have custom-made pads out of a variety of materials. These “fashion” pads can cost as much as $20-$30 each and are more of a status symbol than anything else.
Pad holding accessories are also not common in Thailand. Most gloves have pre-drilled holes to string a piece of rope through to hold the pads in place.
Sometimes, elastic is used to give the pads some give but most of the time, rope is the preferred method.
A small minority of fighters will use a brand of pad holders called “Huggers”. Huggers are used by placing your arm through a loop and then pulling the opposite end over your shoulder.
These hug your body very closely and are designed to allow you to throw elbows and knees efficiently. The problem is that they can cause the pads to grind against your body as you move around.
Also, Huggers were developed for MMA competition and aren’t really necessary for striking in Muay Thai. Good form, timing and proper technique will minimize the chance of injury.
If you are interested in using Huggers, be aware that they are much more expensive than rope or elastic based holders and you may have to buy a whole new set of pads just to use them.
Why You Should Use Pads
Pads are an excellent way to improve your overall striking technique, power and timing while also helping you avoid getting injured by bone on skin contact. Pads are a very important part of Muay Thai training for both westerners and Thais alike.
Most gyms in Thailand have a limited supply of Thai pads and it is understood that each fighter will get their own pair to use. Some gyms have a rotation system in place for shared pads but this isn’t the case at other places.
If you want to ensure that you get adequate training with pads then you should bring your own.
Purchasing a good pair of Thai pads isn’t too expensive and can last you several years with reasonable care.
It’s important to keep your Thai pads clean. Most of the time, you can just wipe them down after each use but they will need to be washed about once a month or so depending on how often you train.
Most Thai fighters just throw their pads into the ring area and leave them there until it’s time to clean them. If you are worried about your pads getting stolen then you can try taking them home to wash them.
Some fighters use large rubber bands to tie the two pads together so they are harder to steal.
Remember, the stitching for the Velcro can be vulnerable when wet so try not to get them too soaked with water. You can also try washing them at a Laundromat since the machines provide a barrier between you and potential thieves.
Brand Recommendations: Fairtex and Twins
Fairtex makes a great pair of Velcro Thai pads. The exterior is made of a heavy duty vinyl that is both water and tear resistant.
This quality material extends to the inner part of the pad that touches your body as well.
The Fairtex name is stitched onto the outside of each pad while the inside has a circle design which some fighters prefer since it gives the impression of a real person in front of you.
Sources & references used in this article:
Injury and injury rates in Muay Thai kick boxing by S Gartland, MHA Malik, ME Lovell – British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2001 – bjsm.bmj.com
Habit (us), body techniques and body callusing: An ethnography of mixed martial arts by E Krauss – 2006 – McGraw Hill Professional
Muay Thai: Women, fighting, femininity by DC Spencer – Body & society, 2009 – journals.sagepub.com