Questions & Answers: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Muay Thai

Introduction

I remember my very first experience training Muay Thai. It was a trial session that I had arranged over the phone. After a few years of leading a sedentary lifestyle prior to Muay Thai, my physical fitness and stamina were non-existent but I showed up anyway. At the end of the 30-minute session with Kru Ple (Chaowalit Jocky Gym), I was so exhausted that I retched, embarrassingly. In the shower room, I could barely feel my legs – it was like I had run a marathon or something. The reckless or mindless thing I did right after that was to sign up for a year’s worth of gym membership. Maybe I was so worn out that I had no more in me to resist the sales talk.

via GIPHY

Less than a week later, I went for my first formal training session. And just like that, I began training Muay Thai without any form of physical or mental preparation. My first few months of training were rife with injuries and muscle strains. I often had to lay off the training for days because the pain was inhibiting. It was like, every part of my body took turns to call in sick and I was aching in places I never knew existed.

There were other challenges too. I was handed my first pair of gloves as a gym membership gift. The gloves were made by Raja, a reputable Muay Thai brand but because of my skinny wrists, the gloves weren’t the best option for me. Nobody taught me about wrist support and how vital it is. I suffered recurring wrist strains for a month or two also because no one told me that I should focus on my form first instead of power. But now I know.

Along the way, I began studying books, web articles and talked to instructors and gym mates in order to improve. I also kept a journal since day one to document my journey, and the insights I got. At some point, I realized I had gotten fitter, my shins were no longer bruising from kicking the bag in poor form, and I got used to the body aches that I was able to continue training through them.

Most Muay Thai beginners like yourself go through the same trials and tribulations that I did when I began. And that’s why I have set out to pen this article for everyone who’s about to embark, or has just embarked on this journey in Muay Thai. Reading this guide won’t keep you injury-free or set you on your way to becoming a pro fighter. But it promises to minimize unnecessary injuries, and agony from not being able to train, as well as empower you with knowledge to better appreciate Muay Thai.

Training Muay Thai is what you make it out to be. Whether you set out to fight, keep fit, lose weight, or because Muay Thai is the coolest sport/martial art in the world (it is), this here right now is where it all begins. It is both the most exciting and also vulnerable period for almost everyone who has ever trained in the sport, particularly people with no martial arts background.

Keep calm, read this guide and Muay Thai. This is going to be the best time of your life.


Part 1: Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

“Everyone starts at the beginning of the road.” – Tayeb Salih

“The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao-Tzu

“The expert at anything was once a beginner.” – Helen Hayes

What is Muay Thai? (A Brief History)

muay thai beginner guide

Not Mai Thai, Moo Thai, My Thai, or Pad Thai. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand. Muay (pronounced Moo-ay), means “boxing” in Thai, so the sport translates to and is also known as Thai Boxing. It has similarities with kickboxing but operates under different rules and scoring system; clinching, knee and elbow strikes are all allowed on top of punches and kicks. Muay Thai has roots in the ancient Thai martial arts system but has adapted into a modern sport during the last century.

Traditional Thai martial arts came about as a system of combat for self-defense and military application, believed to be developed around the 16th century in Siam (former name of Thailand). The ancient form of Thai martial arts is known as Muay Boran, a collective term consisting of several styles developed in various parts of Thailand. This includes Muay Chaiya, Muay Thasao, Muay Lopburi and Muay Korat, which were named according to the region from where they originate.

As fighting with neighboring territories subsided, the emphasis of the martial art shifted towards becoming a competitive sport. During the reign of King Rama V from 1868 to 1910, the sport became more and more popular where royal competitions were sanctioned, and winners rewarded with military titles. Over time, during the reign of his successors, the boxing ring, set rounds, and protective equipment such as gloves and groin protectors were introduced through the influence of western boxing.

Muay Thai gained popularity worldwide around the seventies and eighties after several international fights where Thai fighters defeated practitioners of other combat arts. Since then, foreigners have flocked enthusiastically to Thailand to train and fight competitively in the sport.

Is Muay Thai for Everyone?

Just a few decades back, the only people training Muay Thai were competitors. Lean, mean, killing machines, covered in tattoos. Or at least, that was what most people pictured in their heads when they think of Muay Thai fighters. With the rise of mixed martial arts, and also the middle class, the paradigm shifted. People start to discover the benefits and fun of training Muay Thai and Muay Thai gyms are now founded all around the world.

I started Muay Thai at the age of 37 and befriended many who were also in their 30s. In my time training, I have encountered a wide age spectrum from 4 year olds, a 70 year-old, and almost every age in between. Male, female, and every gender in between. Black, white, and every color in between. So, yes, pretty much everyone. If you can see, stand, move your limbs, jump and run, you will do just fine. No special ability is required.

Is Muay Thai Dangerous?
muay thai beginner guide

This question gets asked a lot. As a full-contact competitive sport, Muay Thai is notorious for being one of the most violent. Fights play out like a game of survival and black eyes, broken noses, bloodied faces are all part and parcel of a fighter’s life. These are, however, carried out under a controlled environment with referees to enforce rules and stop the fight when necessary. There are certainly health risks associated with a professional fight sport and to a lesser degree in amateur events, but rarely life-threatening. A majority of modern Muay Thai practitioners, myself included, do it purely for fitness, health and recreational purposes. Even so, injuries do happen from time to time during training/sparring due to mistimed kicks, over-exertion and repeated impact. But! These are usually mild and can be recovered from, usually in little time. To answer the question directly, yes, it is a little bit dangerous but isn’t it part of the allure of the sport?

What are the Benefits of Muay Thai?

Instead of feeding you with supposed claims of miraculous benefits, I would like to share with you the benefits that I have personally experienced in this time since I started training Muay Thai.

Improves Fitness
This was the most obvious benefit I gained. You can’t help getting fitter when training in a martial art as demanding as Muay Thai. My stamina improved, I had a lot more energy to carry myself throughout my day of work, and I was getting more muscular from the additional strength training I did to improve the game. Fitter, stronger, beter.

Fills Me Up With Joy
Muay Thai training is now my de facto stress management system. There are days when I feel down and the first thing that comes to mind is always “Muay Thai”. Everything about training makes my heart smile: from my kind instructors, to my awesome gym mates, the scent of my gym, to the grunts and heavy hitting sounds that fill the gym. But nothing works as well as getting completely exhausted from training to fill my entire being with a sense of joy. Or it’s just the endorphins, scientifically speaking. A thorough workout such as Muay Thai never fails to send a rush of endorphins that keeps me feeling relaxed. The improved quality of your sleep from working out hard also helps to keep my energy up throughout the day. So not only does it make me look good, Muay Thai makes me feel good too!

Builds Mental Strength
Muay Thai training is tough as hell and will often push you to your limits. You can either give up in the midst of training or you can stretch yourself and summon every last ounce of energy you have to push till the end. And the latter, is how training Muay Thai builds mental strength. Session after session, day after day, you just keep raising the bar for yourself. This continual process helped me to develop more focus and grit that translated to improved productivity in my work. This new found resilience made me wish I had started training Muay Thai at a younger age, as I can only imagine how much more I could have achieved. Better late than never.

Widens Social Circle
As my work is home-based over the past few years, I have had very little opportunities for meeting new people. There is a strong sense of camaraderie at the Muay Thai gym which makes it one of the best places to make new friends. You share a common interest and you are all working towards a common goal of improving your fitness or Muay Thai skills. Since I started Muay Thai, I have made friends of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom I have forged deep friendships with, due to our common love for Muay Thai.

Who are the top Muay Thai fighters of all time?
muay thai beginner guide

The GOAT (Greatest of all time) question. Every fight fan has his/her own favorite fighter and many are greats in their own right, so it would be impossible to list all the greats. But some fighters have been celebrated more so, than other fighters of their era. Here are my personal picks of the top Muay Thai fighters you should know:

Samart Payakaroon: Perhaps there is no better candidate than Samart for the honor of being Muay Thai’s GOAT. Many consider him to be the “Muhammad Ali” Thai equivalent. He is adept with every Muay Thai technique and truly a king of the sport. At the peak of his fight career, he transitioned to boxing and won the WBC junior featherweight title in the process. Proving his unparalleled ability in both sports.

Somrak Khamsing: Somrak is Thailand’s first Olympic gold medalist and hence a beloved figure in the country. Mad boxing skills, out-of-this-world Muay Thai moves, elusive and seemingly invincible like Neo in The Matrix, or Bai Mei in Kill Bill. Check out his fight videos and it becomes apparent why he is one of the top Muay Thai fighters of all time.

Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn: Holds what is believed to be the best fight record in Muay Thai history with an insane 285 wins out of 300 fights. Namsaknoi was also undefeated for 6 years at Lumpinee stadium, which is simply mind-blowing, given the tough competitive nature of the sport. On an interesting note, he was Buakaw’s senior at the once prominent camp of Por Pramuk Gym where they trained together for many years.

Petchboonchu FA Group: Muay Thai’s most decorated fighter in history with 14 belts of the highest level. Petboonchu is the clincher par excellence and an aggressive knee fighter. Besides a set of iron lungs and indomitable will, he was a smart fighter who used the scoring system to his best advantage.

Saenchai: A living legend who continues to fight actively at the age of 37 and entertain fans around the world. Saenchai is the most technical fighter you will ever see. I would likened him to Bruce Lee, and the living embodiment of speed. He may appear to be disadvantaged by his shorter stature but he makes up for it with gravity-defying moves and the most flexible kicks ever displayed in Muay Thai. Bar none, the most entertaining Muay Thai fighter to watch in the ring. If anyone in this era deserves the GOAT title, it would be Saenchai.

Buakaw Banchamek: The poster boy of Muay Thai. Buakaw is not necessarily the best Thai fighter but he’s certainly the reason millions of fans around the world started training in Muay Thai. There is no doubt that he is the most well-known Muay Thai fighter of all time. And given his popularity in the Kunlun Fight promotions, his legion of fans continues to grow in the massive Chinese market. His accomplishments have cemented his place in the sport’s hall of fame.


Part 2: Preparing for Your First Lesson(s)

“If we wait till we are ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.” – Lemony Snicket

There are two schools of thought when it comes to learning new things: You can either prepare for it or just dive in and let everything sort itself out. With Muay Thai, I kind of went with the latter. Despite a severely poor state of fitness, I simply showed up at each lesson, believing that the training will get me stronger. I mean, sure, my fitness leveled up along the way just doing Muay Thai and boxing. But if I could start all over again, I certainly would have done a little more research and pre-training. In this chapter, I discuss the prep work you can make before jumping right into training.

Can I train Muay Thai at Home?

Training on your own when you start out, is simply the worst decision you can make. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to self-learn but without proper guidance, it is easy to pick up bad habits, bad forms and techniques. Having someone to correct your form during bag work or pad work is vital. Even a martial art genius like Bruce Lee started out training under Kung Fu masters. At my gym, the instructors are all multiple-time champions of the highest level back in Thailand. I know I am learning the very best and authentic form of Muay Thai.

There are also other parts of training in a gym to consider. There is the social aspect, which can be a motivating factor in training. The power of the community can push us to train harder, reinforce the desire to practice and provide valuable support to newcomers. There is also a proper learning environment with the right equipment.

If you have trained for 1 year or more, you will be in a better position to consider training at home. With a heavy bag, a training partner to hold pads, and the drive to train on your own on a regular basis, this is a viable option. But definitely not for a beginner.

How to Find the Right Muay Thai Gym?
muay thai beginner guide

It actually depends on what you are looking for and what your training goals are. People train Muay Thai for all sorts of reasons: fitness, self-defense, recreation, or to compete. Each of which requires an appropriate match to the right type of gym. Choosing a gym also depends on your budget, and whether you need the add-ons like 5-star facilities, MMA classes, etc. that can end up costing a bit more. More and more Muay Thai gyms are diversifying and introducing other curriculums like BJJ to keep up with the times so if you are into MMA, there is no lack of gyms to choose from.

I had a few friends who train in Muay Thai, so the first thing I did was to ask them about their gyms. But here’s the thing: almost everybody rates his/her own gym highly! Why else would they choose it in the first place? Most people would have done their fair share of researching to find the best gym possible so based on that, you can narrow down your selection choices.

You can then check out review sites (like yelp), and Muay Thai forums (reddit, sherdog) for more opinions on the gyms. After reading a bunch of reviews, I would do a background check (i.e. Google) to see if the instructors are legit. The last thing you want is to sign up for membership at a McDojo. If everything is looking good, call up for a trial session. Almost every reputable gym offers free trial session and you should take advantage of this to check and compare a few gyms. But if the first gym that you go to hits you in the right way, that’s great too!

Some gyms are going to require you to sign for a full year’s worth of membership, while many others do a monthly subscription. If you are more comfortable with monthly fees even if it works out to be more than an annual fee, just go with whatever suits your financial profile.

Here’s a cheat sheet on the things to look out for before signing up:

  • Quality instructors: Motivational, a passion for teaching, solid fight experience, pad-holding skills. These are the qualities of a good trainer. Even with the best facility in the world, an unenthusiastic trainer is a deal-breaker.
  • Well-maintained facilities: A poorly maintained gym with tired equipment can be a potential hazard. For example, holes in the floor mats can lead to ankle or toe sprains. Torn leather on the heavy bags can also cause cuts. Look out for these signs of danger.
  • Hygiene: Cleanliness is an important factor because scrapes from training are open invitations to nasty bacteria in the sweaty gym environment. Do you like contracting skin infections? Well, I don’t think anyone does.
  • Convenient Class timings: Schedule is important because you can’t attend a class if the gym is closed during your free hours! Ask to see their timetable.
  • Location: If your nearest fight gym is a 2-hour drive away, then there really isn’t a lot of options for you. If you live in a big city, there will be a good number of fight gyms so take this into consideration. The more accessible it is, the less reason you have to skip training..3 How can I prepare for Muay Thai Training?

 

How to Prepare for the First Muay Thai Lesson?

After you sign up or even before you start your search for the right gym, you might want to consider some physical preparation. Muay Thai is a highly intensive sport. No amount of pre-training is ever going to be enough because you will be performing completely foreign moves that utilize every inch of your muscles. These are muscles that have been largely neglected in the daily course of life. However, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prep your body for the training ahead. If you are severely unfit, like I was before Muay Thai, you can consider giving yourself a month or two to build up your stamina before your first session. Running and swimming are both recommended exercises to level up on your cardiovascular endurance. While sprint training and skipping can build your anaerobic fitness and leg muscles which are vital for the sport.

Or alternatively, just show up like I did! In this case, the only preparation you really need is to be prepared to feel absolutely wasted at the end of every class for the first few weeks. Expect wobbly legs, sore knuckles, a few bruises, and muscle soreness after each lesson. Seriously, it almost felt like I was going to be crippled at the end of each session. It took about two months for my body to get conditioned enough but I was critically unfit so you might do better. So, again, if I were to do this all over again, I would definitely build up my fitness as much as possible just so I wouldn’t feel thoroughly spent after every session for the first couple of weeks.

What to Wear for Muay Thai Training?

If you are concerned about what you should wear for your training, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a pretty laid back dress code for Muay Thai. In general, anything you would wear for your gym workout works at a Muay Thai gym too. I personally prefer to train in a breathable top matched with a pair of Muay Thai shorts, or go topless if I was training in Thailand due to the hot weather. Muay Thai shorts allow for a complete range of lower limb movements and also offers great comfort. There are no rules or laws that call for a mandate of Muay Thai shorts but in terms of comfort and cultural modesty, they are the best options available. You can wear your fashion branded shorts, but just make sure you don’t feel any tightness when you do your kicks. Also ensure the material is tough enough as you will be throwing plenty of leg-splitting kicks.

Tip: When it comes to the Muay Thai shorts, always go for the thicker satin rather than nylon. Satin is more durable and doesn’t turn translucent when drenched with sweat. Underwear alert!

In a lot of modern gyms, women sometimes show up in trendy exercise wear like leggings, sports bra, or exercise shorts. These are all fine too. Sports bra paired with Muay Thai shorts = perfection.

Ankle supports are fairly common in Muay Thai. Fighters and casual practitioners alike wear them. They offer a good amount of support and protection but are optional. If you find some discomfort in your feet or ankles after your first training, you can give these a try.

Muay Thai training is conducted bare-footed on cushioned mats but there are gyms -especially those in Thailand- where the fighters go for a run as part of endurance training. In this case, you can bring a pair along or turn up in your running shoes if you want to join in the run.

How to Choose the Best Muay Thai Gloves?

Well, of course you need gloves! They are the only compulsory gear you need to train Muay Thai and preferably a pair of your own. The gloves at the gyms mostly stink terribly, so just stay away from them. The padding could have thinned out too and may not offer enough protection for your hands.

Choosing the right Muay Thai gloves isn’t rocket science. I would narrow it down to 3 deciding factors: weight (size) of the gloves, cost, and design. Punching gloves sizing are measured in terms of weight (in ounce) and for general-purpose training, they run from 8 to 18 oz. 12 or 14 oz is the norm and either is acceptable so long as they fit right. If you are on the heavyweight scale, you can also consider a heavier 16 oz or 18oz. Here’s a training gloves general (not definitive) size chart based on body weight for a quick reference:

Body Weight Recommended Gloves Size
100lbs & below 8oz – 10oz
100lbs – 120lbs 10oz – 12oz
120lbs – 150lbs 12oz – 14oz
150lbs – 180lbs 16oz – 18oz
180lbs & above 18oz

When trying on gloves, make a fist and see if it feels comfortable. Brand new gloves tend to be snugger but will break in after a session or two. If the gloves are pressing against your fingertips too tightly when you make a fist, the hand compartment is too small for you and you should try a different brand or model. On the other hand, ensure that the cuffs fasten firmly around the wrists for adequate support.

If you are on a budget, cost is a huge deciding factor. You can get decent to good quality gloves between 50 to 80 USD. The cheapest place to get Muay Thai gloves is of course, Thailand. That is obviously out of the question for most people and doesn’t make much sense to travel there just to buy. But if you are there, you are in a good place to stock up on gear. The next best option is from online stores. Amazon has the widest range of gloves and shipping is fast for most parts of the world. There are Muay Thai online shops that are based in Thailand with good deals but shipping can be comparatively slower.

The last factor is the aesthetic design. Not a deal breaker for many people and most brands offer a variety of designs to cater to most tastes. Modern fight brands like Top King, Yokkao, Venum and Hayabusa have a wide range of head-turning boxing gloves that tend to appeal to the younger crowds. Traditional brands like Fairtex and Twins tend to have more muted designs but are still favored around the world for their premium quality.

Tip: If you are absolutely clueless, my recommendation is to stick to the top three Muay Thai brands namely Fairtex, Twins and Top King. You can’t go wrong with any of these.

Chapter 3. Muay Thai Training

“Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Ali

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee

“Your mind will quit a thousand times before your body will. Feel the fear and do it anyway!” – Anonymous

I have to be absolutely honest: Muay Thai is not easy. Most of the movements are simple but training will exhaust you thoroughly. As I always say, anything easy is not worth doing. I remember this guy from my gym, Mikhail, who looked like the fittest dude. Really ripped guy. Mikhail just happens to be a triathlete and even he was feeling worn out after each training. So don’t sweat it.

What is Muay Thai Training Like?
muay thai beginner guide

No kicking of banana trees, no punching blind-folded, no meditating under waterfalls. Basically, none of that bullshit stuff you see in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer.

There is no standard curriculum or formalized structure for Muay Thai. Around the world, training is carried out mostly based on the trainer’s own training experience. These days, Muay Thai gyms are run by trainers of every level and experience imaginable. Back in Thailand, however, the fight camp style of training is executed in a similar fashion across almost all camps founded on time-tested formulas. Fighters train twice a day: once in the morning around 8am and again in the afternoon around 3pm. A typical session lasts for about 2-3 hours and looks something like this:

  • starts with a 5-10km run
  • skipping for 20-30 minutes
  • shadow boxing or practice of techniques
  • pad work with trainer lasting 4-6 rounds of 5 minute duration
  • bag work 5 rounds of 5 minute duration
  • technical sparring or clinching
  • general conditioning work such as pull-ups and sit-ups.

Bear in mind that such a strenuous training program belongs in the realm of pro fighters. General or casual Muay Thai practitioners simply do not have the time nor physical capacity to adhere to such a schedule. For most beginner and intermediate levels, classes run between an hour to 2 hours. Each session begins with running and skipping as part of the warm-up routine, after which you will be asked to perform a myriad of things. You will learn to execute basic techniques involving punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, and various blocks. These can be performed in the form of shadow boxing, partner drills, bag work, and pad work. There will also be various strengthening exercises involved such as push-ups, sit-ups, squats and any physical routine that your instructors are able to conjure. Basically, a watered-down version of pro training.

We are all born with different degree of athleticism, but training to the best of our abilities can help us achieve the best possible. Muay Thai training is a lot about conditioning and drilling. To get good at it, it’s all about the grind. Just show up and train.

What to Expect for the First Muay Thai Class?

It is not unusual to feel nervous when you go for your first formal Muay Thai training. For me, it was a bit like travelling to a foreign country for the first time: equal parts excitement and anxiety. Now, if you have concerns of being weak, out of shape, or clumsy, you might be a tad more nervous and it’s perfectly fine. The hardest part for most people, in general, is to actually sign up and start training. But once you get past this stage, and going for your first lesson, you have essentially overcome the greatest challenge.

You may quickly realize how uncoordinated your body movements are, when asked to execute certain basic moves. Everyone expects you to suck so you don’t have to be too hard on yourself. Your trainers will quickly take notice and should typically pay you more attention to correct your techniques, making sure you are taken care of. Just follow what is taught, try and catch your breath and have yourself a great time.

Any Beginner Training Tips?

As a matter of fact, I do have some training tips for beginners. I wished someone would have told me all of the stuff I’m about to share below. That will certainly reduce those early days of pain and agony, and definitely ease the curve in learning the art. Here are my top tips that you can apply easily that will surely enhance your early experience in Muay Thai:

Run, Forrest, Run!
In my own experience, just straight-up running has been the most effective exercise routine to improve overall performance. Running will power up your endurance and stamina, and you will see results within a short period of time. The best routine is to incorporate both long-distance running with sprint interval training. My tip is to go for running tracks as the impact on the knees is lower.

It’s A Wrap!
Always wrap your hands. Wrist injuries are common among Muay Thai and boxing beginners because the soft bones and tendons of the hands take time to be conditioned. One of my early wrist sprains took an entire month for it to be fully recovered because I wasn’t punching correctly and I didn’t pay much attention to wrapping my hands. Hand wraps are your first and most important line of defense against hand and wrist injuries so don’t scrimp on it.

Form
IMO, this is the most important thing to take note of. Many people start out over-enthusiastically with their fists of fury and football kicks only to end up with injuries. Instead, start with light punches/kicks especially on the heavy bag, and then slowly build up speed and power. It is often said that “Pain is the best teacher”, and that instant feedback you get with a poorly executed kick is the best lesson. But do it too frequently and you may damage your body. Don’t rush it. Once you make correct form a habit, power and speed will follow naturally.

Drink Up!
The adult human body is around 50-65% water, and it needs fluid in order to function. Muay Thai training is a powerfully effective body dehydrator. Dehydration can result in some nasty effects such as headaches, impaired brain function and reduced endurance. Researchers recommend drinking at least 2 litres (half a gallon) of water per day. Bring a bottle of water when you train and hydrate adequately.

Fuel
There were days where I could kick like a boss and then there were down days when I felt gassed out right after warming up! I found that there are several factors that can contribute to sluggishness and low energy. Chief of which, is failing to fuel up before training. That nauseous feeling you sometimes get after exercise can be caused by inadequate fuel. I recommend taking carbs 2 hours before training for energy. If you are open to supplements, you can try Creatine half an hour before training. I also take a chocolate malt drink an hour before for the extra boost and is a quick energy source if you are training the first thing in the morning.

Privates
Get private lessons to make sure your techniques are correct. Realistically, it is difficult for the instructor to focus on every single person in a group setting. That extra attention with a 1-on-1 is an invaluable way to make sure you are doing everything correctly. Sure, it’s a bit pricier but just a session or two can make a huge difference.

Seek Advice
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your gym mates. I sometimes try to offer tips to beginners when I see them having trouble especially with their kicks. At the same time, unsolicited advice puts some people off so unless you ask, many people will just keep to themselves and watch you wince when you smash your shin bone against the heavy bag. If you are experiencing pain from kicking, or having difficulty with the techniques, asking your gym mates or instructors will definitely help you to overcome the challenges.

Rest, Rest, Rest
Get sufficient rest. Inadequate rest and overtraining can lead to more or severe injuries. If you have a bad shin bruise, skip the kicking to avoid incurring impact on it that can aggravate the injury. Instead, you can focus on boxing and upper limb training while you heal. Adequate sleep is also vital for muscle recovery. In fact, muscles grow not when you train but rather, when you rest. If you aren’t resting enough, it’s hard to get stronger. There is a Chinese saying, “to rest is to prepare for a longer journey ahead”. Listen to your body, and take a break from training when it needs it.

What are The Common Beginner Injuries (and how to treat them)?
muay thai beginner guide

Training injuries is a challenge faced by Muay Thai practitioners of all levels and experience. Some injuries are more acute than the others and requires professional attention. For beginners, injuries are manageable in most cases and you should be able to continue training. I have found rib injuries to be the most inhibiting and even a rib muscle strain can prove difficult to train with. Black eyes are unheard of for beginners unless you spar and you really shouldn’t spar too early in the game. Here are some of the injuries that I went through as a beginner:

Knuckle Bruises
Unless you have been going around getting into fist fights on a regular basis, almost every beginner will experience some sort of knuckle bruising at the start. Good news is that they will harden up in no time but take care to not overdo it as you can aggravate the injury resulting in long-term damage. However, if problems persist, you can switch to gloves with thicker padding (14oz and up) for more protection. Keep up the grind and you should be fine in no time.

Wrist Soreness
Wrist soreness will plague you if you aren’t punching with the right techniques. Firstly, make sure your hands are properly and snugly wrapped, using gloves that provide adequate wrist support, and punch with a closed fist. Avoid punching too hard until you get your techniques right. It is advised to stay away from punching bags and lifting weights as an aggravated wrist injury can easily develop into a sprain or fracture. Minor wrist soreness goes away fairly quickly on its own and even quicker with proper treatment.

Knee Bruises
Knee bruises are common at the start when you practise your knee strikes on a heavy bag that feels like cement. This is minor as it won’t interfere with your training and the bruises go away in just a few days. You may just want to go easy with the knees on the heavy bags till the soreness go away. Load up on calcium and maybe glucosamine supplements for recovery.

Top of Feet Swelling
Ouch. This common beginner injury is often a result of kicking the heavy bag with the top of your feet when you should be using your shins. This will swell and it will hurt for a few days, at least. It’s a matter of using the right technique, so get some advice from your friends or instructors. Treat your swell and let it rest till it goes away. You can continue with some boxing training while it heals.

Shin BruisesEvery beginner’s greatest bane. Conditioning your shins takes time, so patience is the key. You don’t have to kick banana trees or bash up your shins with baseball bats to condition them. If you kick -incorrectly- with your shin bones, the instant painful feedback is something you will not forget. All you need is to diligently kick the heavy bags and the pads, and work on your technique by twisting your hips so you are connecting with the correct part of your shins. Treat your bruises and bumps, let them heal and repeat the process all over. You will be able to kick harder and harder, it’s only a matter of time and determination.

As for treating your injuries, the general dispensed advice is the RICE treatment: Rest-Ice-Compress-Elevate. You are certainly going to need more rest if you want the injury to heal faster. As soon as possible after sustaining an injury, you should start to apply an ice pack to the affected area every 2-3 hours for 10-20 minutes. This is done for the first 24-72 hours following the injury to prevent or reduce any swelling. Doing this also helps prevent or relieve inflammation. During this period, make sure you have sufficient rest/sleep, compress the injured area with an elastic bandage or compression wear, and elevate it where possible. Everyone is different: our bodies act and react differently. The severity, and time to recovery of your injury is going to be different. Listen to your body, and rest when it is necessary.

Is Muay Thai Sparring Dangerous?

Well, not dangerous in the sense that it’s life-threatening but injuries do happen. It is, after all, a full-contact sport. The objective of sparring is to practise techniques, hone your reflexes and sharpen your instincts. So, it is usually performed at about 50% power or less and with protective gear including mouth guard, groin guard and shin guards. The trainers are also there to facilitate the sparring sessions to correct your techniques and keep things in check before tempers flare and gets out of hand.

If the prospects of getting hurt or injured during sparring worries you, you really don’t have to spar at all. Sparring is a personal choice in most gyms and most definitely not included as part of a beginner’s curriculum. You should ideally be training for at least a few months before sparring. In many gyms, students are allowed to spar sometimes only after 6 months of basic level training. On this note, if the gym expects you to start sparring on your first lesson with full power, you should be a little wary. This is not the norm, and definitely not safe or helpful. Pack your gear and run!


Conclusion

Whew! That’s a lot to take in. Hopefully you find the information here helpful and relevant to your experience. If there is any question, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’m always happy to help. Have fun on your Muay Thai journey, train and have loads of fun.

Chok dee!


Appendix: Resources

Muay Thai Citizen Articles

Is Muay Thai Dangerous?

Top Muay Thai Fighters You Should Know

Top Muay Thai Fighters to Watch Now

What to Wear for Muay Thai

Best Muay Thai Gloves for Beginners

Top 10 Tips for Muay Thai Beginners

Beginner Muay Thai Training Injuries

Muay Thai Forums

If you can get around the trolls, and the marketers, forums are great places to seek help on issues related to everything Muay Thai)

Muay Thai Reddit

Sherdog Muay Thai

Muay Thai Round Table

Muay Thai Blogs

Muay Thai Guy: Certainly the most well-known Muay Thai blogger right now

Lawrence Kenshin: Breakdown expert with lots of great fight videos on YouTube

8LimbsUs: Prolific American female fighter based in Thailand with around 200 fights.

Muay Thai Supplies

Muay Thai Factory: Other than Amazon, this Thailand-based online shop has a good selection of Muay Thai goods. The only store I would readily recommend. Reasonable prices and Muay Thai shorts customization service.

Muay Thai Literature

Muay Thai: Peace, At Last by Michael Goodison: A real-life account of the author’s one-month stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand, training Muay Thai that culminated with a fight at the Loi Kroh Stadium. Must read!

The Boxer’s Soliloquy by Matt Lucas: A collection of short stories set in Thailand around fighters and their lives around the sport of Muay Thai. Poignant, at times melancholic, poetic, and raw.

Muay Thai Basics by Christoph Delp: Very comprehensive book on basic Thai boxing techniques. This is a great supplement to training, covering every detail of techniques that might not be covered in class.

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