Elbow pads are an often underutilized piece of equipment in combat sports. While common fight gear, such as knee pads and helmets are used by almost all fighters, combat sports elbow pads rarely receive the importance they deserve. If you’re practicing MMA or Muay Thai, elbow pads should be a key component of your protective gear. BJJ and Judo fighters might also find that they require elbow pads to protect arms in the event that they hit the mat during a throw or takedown. Further, kickboxing, Taekwondo, and Karate may all require elbow pads in case of falling during sparring or because of a previous injury.
When to use elbow pads in combat sports
Whether you’re practicing MMA, Muay Thai, BJJ, Judo, kickboxing, Taekwondo, or Karate, elbow pads may be necessary if you want to avoid injury.
Muay Thai elbow pads are most commonly used by fighters practicing for “full rules” Muay Thai fights. While most gyms don’t allow sparring with elbow strikes, if you’re specialised in Muay Thai, you may one day need to know how to give and take elbow hits.
Elbow pads are designed to soften the blow of elbow strikes and prevent fighters from being injured. However, it’s important to note that giving a hard elbow strike can still injury your sparring partner, even with pads on. For this reason, it’s important to also wear appropriate headgear for intense sparring sessions.
Before sparring with elbows, you need to ensure that both parties agree and you’ve understood the basic rules of sparring with elbows. You need to exercise caution at all times and maintain clear and open channels of communication between you and your sparring partner. A hard elbow hit can cause lasting damage, so it’s extremely important that you take all necessary precautions and adhere to sparring etiquette when using elbows.
Other combat sports
While most discussion around elbow protection centers around sports such as Muay Thai and MMA, injuries to elbows are twice as common in other combat sports such as Taekwondo, Judo, and Karate. This is due in large part to joint injuries incurred with frequent training and repetitive stress on specific parts of the body.
When these kinds of injuries occur, it’s important to take precautions to prevent further injury. Elbow strains and sprains can be particularly long and difficult to heal. The NHS estimates that typical strains and dislocations take approximately six weeks to heal, although you should always check with your doctor before resuming training.
In the interim (if your injury is not particularly severe), or after the initial healing process, it’s important to protect your elbows from any additional stress or strain. In these cases, elbow pads can be hugely beneficial. A pair of elbow pads will protect from most common sources of injury, such as a fall during sparring, or hitting the mat during a takedown.
The problem with most elbow pads
Many fighters forgo using elbow pads for the incredibly frustrating reason that they tend to shift out of place when fighting. For this reason, it’s important that you choose a tight-fitting elbow pad which can be quite uncomfortable.
Most elbow pads when properly fitted will cut off the circulation if left on too long. This, unfortunately, is something one must become accustomed to as a protected elbow is always better than the discomfort caused by pads.
Many elbow pads are one-size-fits-all, so if you have abnormally large or small arms you might have difficulty finding a pair of elbow pads that fit you. However, there are a few brands which carry different size options to allow you to select a fit that works for you.
Despite drawbacks, using elbow pads is almost always preferable to injuring your elbows, or causing additional damage to an existing injury.
Why train with elbow pads
Elbow injuries can have serious and lasting consequences. A broken elbow can take you out of training for weeks, or potentially forever. Proper elbow protection is vital to sustaining a long and healthy career/hobby.
In addition to injuring yourself, training without proper elbow pads can also hurt your training partner. Being hit by a bare elbow can be incredibly painful and cause lasting damage. If you ever plan on fighting will full rules in Muay Thai, you need to practice giving and taking elbow hits. The first time someone in the ring hits you with elbows it can be quite jarring. Practicing elbow jabs with your training partner will get you used to this unique style of fighting, and ready to take on anything in the ring.
The best combat sport elbow pads
When choosing the best elbow pads for your needs, it’s important to note the amount of padding and fit. Certain elbow pads are best for competing, injury, etc. There are also specific brands that are better for fighters with bigger arms, and those who like a tight fit. Be sure you try out a few before making your final purchase and always exercise caution the first time you use your new elbow pads. Below we’ve highlighted our favorite elbow pads for various needs and fighting styles.
Bytomic Padded Elbow Guard
Featuring soft foam padding and a velcro strap for a secure fit, the Bytomic Padded Elbow Guard is a great choice for beginners. At under £10 they’re a great low-risk introduction to using combat sports elbow pads.
Macho Adult Elbow Guard
One of the best non-slip elbow pads on the market, the Macho Adult Elbow Guard is cut and seamed at the inside joint. This allows for better flexibility when bending your arm, without sacrificing a non-slip fit or protection.
Venum Kontact Elbow Pads
Easily the best universal elbow pads, the Venum Kontact Elbow Pads, are a great option for almost any fighter. They’re incredibly durable and the universal fit makes them a great option for arms of all sizes. They feature a velcro enclosure to ensure that you can tighten the pads so they won’t slip up or down your arms.
Shock Doctor Knee/Elbow Guard
The best elbow pads for maximum protection, the Shock Doctor Knee/Elbow Guard offers all the benefits of ShockSkin’s integrated fabric with adaptive padding. The series of pads throughout the center of the guard allows for additional flexibility when moving your knee or arm. Highly recommended for younger fighters, this guard offers maximum breathability and a natural fit.