Spar with elbows – they’re an integral part of any “complete fighter’s” arsenal! But, beware – elbows are prohibited in many gyms and competitions for a reason. They are deadly instruments. Here are some tips on how to integrate elbows into your sparring sessions. . .


Sparring is the quintessential part of any self-respecting Muay Thai gym. Among its many purposes and benefits, sparring:

  • tests your reaction time;
  • sharpens your offensive and defensive abilities, and;
  • helps you demonstrate what you’ve learned in a more realistic fashion.

However, many gyms purposely leave out an important weapon during their sparring sessions: elbows.

Elbows are often prohibited because of safety concerns. They are notorious for splitting heads open until blood is gushing down the face. They break noses to the point where they’re off-center permanently. Because of this, many gyms are (too) cautious, so these gyms don’t spar with elbows at all.

Amateur fights are often done without elbows, so it’s understandable why they’re not included in the beginning stages of being a fighter. If you’re not going to use them during the fight, why bother training with them?

But… if you are going to fight with elbows, why aren’t you training with them? If sparring helps you learn about range and movement when it comes to punches, knees and kicks, why should the elbows be any different?

With the use of elbow pads and exercising control, all serious Muay Thai practitioners should be sparring with elbows. Here are some thoughts on how to integrate elbows into your training:


A fallacy among many pad holders is that pads need to be held with extra pressureespecially when hitting the hands and elbows.

When too much pressure is applied, two things happen:

  1. The striker are prohibited from using their full range of motion. The pads are “jamming” them up.
  2. The striker does not get a realistic sense of range.

Your opponent is not going to “meet” your punches or elbows every time – that would make your job too easy! In reality, the opposite is happening – they are trying to avoid getting hit.

Unbeknownst to the common pad holder is that the aforementioned bad habit can condition fighters to expect unrealistic scenarios from a real fight. Because the striker is not in correct range from the pad holder, he or she will often find themselves too far away from their opponent, making it difficult to connect with strikes.

Can you imagine trying to hit someone and all you do is hit the air in front of them? This is not a good habit to form, especially if you’re planning to get in the ring.

An easy fix is to wear elbow pads during sparring. By giving your partner real motivation to avoid your strikes, they will learn which distances are effective for what. This is especially important with the elbows, which are the trickiest to land because they’re the closest-range strike.


Because elbows are struck at very close range, you can’t just start swinging them out of nowhere. You’ll be lunging forward with your elbows the entire time and they’ll be seen a mile away. So how do we hide our elbow intentions?

The elbows that land are almost always the elbows that are set up well ahead of time. Sparring with elbows will help you learn which combos/tactics work for you when it comes to closing the distance – and you’ll eventually land a few.

Oh, and let’s not forget about all the different types of elbows you could land depending on your opponent’s guard!


There is perhaps no better deterrent than pain.

Getting hit with an elbow, a very hard and pointy joint, is no laughing matter. Even if just a glancing elbow lands, your brain is programmed to avoid further elbows at all costs. That’s a recipe for a mid-fight surrender.

Therefore, it’s much wiser to learn this for yourself in the gym, not the ring. That way, you will learn (in a relatively safe environment) the proper ways to react, recover and retaliate.

Sharpen all eight weapons, not just six of them. With elbow pads and proper use of technique with little power, sparring with elbows can be a very safe way to up your game. It is one giant step towards attaining your ultimate goal: to be a complete fighter.

CLINCHING FOR MUAY THAI by Sean “Muay Thai Guy” Fagan

Thrash & maul your opponents with savage elbows in the all-important Muay Thai clinch.

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Angela Chang
Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.

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