Thinking about trying Muay Thai? You’re in the right place! Keep reading to discover how to get started and set yourself up for success.
What Is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai is a martial art that originated from Thailand, dating back to 1238. Muay Thai is a combat sport, which means it’s a competitive sport that involves one-on-one fighting. Many MMA fighters blend Muay Thai principles into their own training systems because of its effective elbows, knees, and clinching techniques. Muay Thai is focused on striking. Fighters throw punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. There is no ground grappling in Muay Thai like in Judo or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
Unlike other martial arts, you cannot earn a progression of belts with Muay Thai. While some martial arts schools will allow you to earn armbands to signify ranking, this is not a historically correct practice. Traditionally, Muay Thai fighters would wear an armband made of fabric from their mother’s clothes to signify protection and good luck. The fabric has nothing to do with rank or level of expertise.
The colorful armbands you’ll find in many Westernized studios are there to attract beginners to Muay Thai and help them track their progress. Each studio might have different colors to signify different rankings, so there’s no unified way to track progress like there is with other martial arts like karate. If you’re someone who is motivated by increasing your rank or reaching the prestigious black belt, Muay Thai might not be the best fit for you.
Is Muay Thai Good for Beginners?
The good news is that anyone without major physical limitations can start learning Muay Thai!
You don’t have to be in great shape, but you should be able to exercise for 45-60 minutes at a time with minimal breaks.One of the great things about Muay Thai is that it can help you get in amazing shape! It’s a full-body workout that helps improve cardio, strength, core, and flexibility. Additionally, you should have healthy knees, ankles, wrists, and elbows. Muay Thai places a lot of pressure on your joints which generally isn’t a problem for healthy individuals. However, if you’ve had past surgeries, major injuries, or any other health concerns, you should consult your doctor before hopping into a Muay Thai class.
Expect lots of cardio and to be very sore after your classes if you’re not used to heavy workouts.
How to Start Learning Muay Thai
The Muay Thai learning curve is similar to any other sport. There’s a slow learning curve for beginners as you learn essential foot movements, jabs, and teeps. As you practice more and the proper form becomes second nature, you’ll start to notice dramatic improvement. Eventually, as you reach expert levels, you’ll notice your improvements seem less drastic. However, you’ll always have something to learn or improve on, even after you’ve “mastered” Muay Thai.
Learning Muay Thai begins at a martial arts studio or gym. Don’t worry, you won’t get beat up on your first day! If you’ve been putting off trying a Muay Thai class for beginners because you don’t feel ready - just go in! Understand that everyone starts somewhere and the only way to improve is to start trying.
However, you can start conditioning yourself before your first class by doing some cardio and core exercises. Try the elliptical, bike, or swimming for some low-impact cardio so that you’re not working your knee joints hard 24/7.
Almost all studios offer a free trial class so you can check it out before committing to a membership.
The Fundamentals of Muay Thai
Read on to learn about fundamental Muay Thai gear for beginners, class structure, and training techniques.
Muay Thai Equipment
Gloves are required for sparring and bag work. If you’re going to invest in one item, make sure you get high-quality gloves. Many boxing gloves and Muay Thai gloves are interchangeable, but there are a few differences you’ll want to be aware of. Mainly, competitions usually require specific glove weights based on your weight class:
- Mini Flyweight to Junior Featherweight - 6 ounces
- Featherweight to Welterweight - 8 ounces
- Junior Middleweight and Upwards - 10 ounces
You won’t have to worry about this until you start competing, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re choosing your gloves. Additionally, some fighters prefer to use gloves that have an extra thick wristband on them.
Twins Muay Thai gloves are a cult favorite among Muay Thai fighters everywhere. They’re made from 100% Thai leather and have a durable velcro wrist strap for maximum hand and wrist protection.
Hand wraps are important for protecting the tendons, bones, and ligaments of the hand and wrist. Gloves alone won’t provide adequate support, so you absolutely have to wrap your hands.
In sparring and competitions, a groin protector must be worn at all times. At most competitions, they’ll require you to keep an extra groin protector at the ringside in case one breaks, so it’s good to have a couple of them on hand.
Heavy punching bags help you practice your technique and build strength. As a beginner, you can start off simply working on bags at the studio. If you decide you want to take Muay Thai seriously, you can purchase a bag so you can practice at home regularly.
Muay Thai Pads
Pads are for practicing your Muay Thai technique with a partner. There are different pads for practicing jabs, teeps, kicks, and elbows. You don’t need to worry about purchasing your own pads unless you’ll be practicing with a partner at home or outside of the studio.
Skipping Rope (Jump Rope)
A skipping rope is usually used for warming up. Skipping ropes are excellent for improving cardiovascular fitness while also toning muscle. It’s a good piece of equipment to have at home so you can get in some cardio when you’re not at the studio. Make sure you get one with a non-slip grip, like this Venum Challenger Jump Rope.
Any type of comfortable workout gear is fine for your Muay Thai workouts. Loose-fitting clothing like tank tops, t-shirts, and shorts are good choices. You usually won’t wear shoes while training, so there’s no need to worry about footwear.
You can purchase specific shorts for Muay Thai that have side slits for greater flexibility, like these:
Beginner Muay Thai Training & Techniques
The Muay Thai stance is extremely important. It requires different arm placement and leg placement than the classic boxing stance. You’ll stand with your hips square, facing forward with one leg slightly ahead. Your arms will be up higher and slightly farther away from your ribs than they are in boxing. Additionally, you’ll stand up tall with your knees slightly bent.
Jabs in Muay Thai are great for using on offense and defense. You can check the distance of your opponent with a good jab and also use jabs to deflect incoming elbows or punches. There are a variety of jabs you’ll learn in advanced Muay Thai training such as the defensive jab, axe jab, stiff jab, and many more.
The teep is another one of the essential Muay Thai techniques that you won’t find in other martial arts. The Muay Thai teep is more of a front push than a front kick. You might find the teep a hard movement to get the hang of, but once you do it will help you learn a variety of Muay Thai combinations.
Knees can be thrown to any part of the body, including the head. However, elbows to the back of the head and the groin are frowned upon. Dirty strikes will not be tolerated when you’re sparring with your classmates in the studio. In the beginning, you’ll learn how to perfect throwing knees using punching bags and pads.
A perfectly landed elbow is part of what makes Muay Thai such an effective combat sport. Like knees, elbows can be thrown to any part of the body. Sportsmanlike etiquette is similar to knees; avoid throwing elbows to the groin and the back of the head. To protect yourself and others, you’ll first learn how to throw elbows and elbow combinations with pads and an experienced partner.
Clinching is when two fighters lock arms and almost assume a hugging position. In Muay Thai, fighters push against each other to attempt to gain control and optimal arm position. You want to gain control of your opponent’s arms to prevent them from throwing elbows. It’s also beneficial to gain control of their head so you can throw knees to your opponent’s face. It’s easier said than done, though. Gaining control or getting out of the clinch takes a lot of energy and strength. It may appear as though the fighters aren’t moving or trying very hard when they’re in a clinch, but they’re actually using extreme amounts of strength to either maintain their position or defend against strikes from their opponent.
While you’re looking to maneuver yourself in the clinch to get the optimal position, you also have to be aware of your opponent's ability to throw elbows and knees as well. The clinch is an essential part of Muay Thai, so you’ll learn how to get into and out of a clinch in your Muay Thai classes.
Muay Thai Classes
How Do I Prepare For My First Muay Thai Class?
Before your first Muay Thai class, make sure you’re hydrated. You should also bring a reusable water bottle to class. It’s a good idea to have a small, balanced meal or snack 30-60 minutes before class so that your body has some readily available energy. You want to avoid heavy meals, though. You’ll be in close quarters with others so great personal hygiene is recommended. Many fighters choose to take a quick shower before class or sanitize their hands and feet before stepping on the mat.
Other than that, just show up on time, wear exercise clothes, and be ready to sweat!
What Will Happen in My First Muay Thai Class?
Before you start any type of technique-specific exercises, you’ll have to warm up. This often takes the form of jump rope or another form of cardio. Since Muay Thai classes can be very draining, it’s important to not waste all of your energy during the warm up.
Get a nice sweat going and get your muscles nice and warm, but don’t push yourself too hard.
2. Learn Basic Techniques
Before you start any type of pad work or bag work, you’ll need to learn some basic moves. Some studios will have you shadowbox and practice your jabs and teeps before putting on your gloves.
After you’ve gone over the Muay Thai basics, you’ll put on your hand wraps and gloves. Your instructor or more experienced classmates will help you wrap your hands if you’ve never done it before. After your hands are wrapped properly and you’ve put on your gloves, you can move onto bag work. Your instructor will guide you through practicing the different core moves on the bag, or you might partner up right away and start pad work.
Using the pads is similar to practicing on the bags, but you have to be more cautious to make sure you hit the bag and don’t accidently strike your partner. Working with the pads might seem more intimidating at first, but it will help you build your accuracy in the long run.
3. Core & Stretching
After working on your technique and strength, you’ll likely end the class with a core workout to help strengthen your abdominal muscles. Prepare to feel the burn! After that, you’ll cool down with leg and arm stretches. Flexibility is an essential part of being a successful Muay Thai fighter, so don’t underestimate the importance of regular stretching.
Tips for Muay Thai Success
1. Get Rid of That Boxing Stance!
In kickboxing and boxing, you stand with your hips angled. In Muay Thai, your hips face forward. If you’ve done boxing or kickboxing training in the past, it can be hard to out-train this habit. The best thing you can do is be aware of it and instantly correct yourself when you feel yourself slipping into a boxing stance.
If you’re prone to standing with your hips angled, let your instructor know so they can pay extra attention to your stance and help correct you.
2. Hand Wrapping Techniques
Hand wrapping can be difficult for beginners, so make sure you ask for help the first couple of classes if you need to. If you want to get a head start, you can purchase some hand wraps and start practicing wrapping your hands at home.
There are plenty of YouTube tutorials that show you how to wrap your hands like a pro if you’d like to try it yourself.
3. Use A Focus Mitt
The techniques used in Muay Thai take a lot of practice. To help guide your arm movements, you can use a focus mitt to make sure you’re keeping your arms and hands in the right position.
For guidance, you can watch this training video for beginners:
Focus mitts also help you improve your aim, ability to gauge distance, and simulate how real combinations feel against another fighter.
4. Don’t Stop on Your Off Days
Muay Thai classes can be grueling, but it’s important to stay active even when you’re not in class. If you’re trying to reach peak fitness, you’ll need to do more than show up to class 2-3 days per week. You’ll likely be sore after your first class, but at least try to do some light cardio, foam rolling, or stretching to help reduce muscle soreness due to lactic acid.
If you commit to doing some cardio or strength training on your off days and you’ll find your stamina will grow over time. Muay Thai Guy offers great training techniques and workout plans that you can start with little to no equipment.
Muay Thai is a great martial art for anyone to start learning, even if you’ve never done any martial arts before. If you’re interested, don’t feel intimidated by all of the punches, elbows, and knees. You’ll be surrounded by others who are just as eager to learn. What are you waiting for?
Start prepping for your first Muay Thai class today with a jump rope and practice shadowboxing! If you’d like to explore other martial arts, check out our guide on Which Combat Sport is Right For You?