Congratulations on taking the first step in this journey of Muay Thai! Signing up to train Muay Thai is one of the best decisions I have ever made in life. The beginning stage is both the most exciting and challenging period. It feels great to be a complete novice and suck at it, because when you start seeing improvements, it’s just a fantastic feeling!
The thing about training Muay Thai is that few people actually prepare for it. It’s usually only until you encounter an injury that you start scrambling to seek for help on forums or by googling. Most people “just do it” and it’s not necessarily a bad thing because impulse takes us out of our comfort zone. But if I were to start Muay Thai all over again, I wished someone would have told me all of the stuff I’m about to share below. That will certainly reduce those days of pain and agony. And definitely ease the curve in learning the art.
I have listed the 10 most important tips to help you survive your early days in Muay Thai. These are stuff most people don’t tell you about unless you ask. It’s not because Muay Thai people are selfish or anything; it’s just that a lot of things become second nature after a while that they assume it’s nothing of value when it’s just the opposite. Very practical tips and tricks, no pseudo Eastern philosophy bullshit and no motivational speak. These are actionable information that you can apply easily that will surely enhance your early experience in Muay Thai. You will pick these up in time to come but it’s even better that you know them right from the start.
I have chosen to highlight these tips based on 4 basic aspects that can be applied to any contact sport, namely:
M: Minimize (Injuries)
Simple tips that will speak for themselves, so let’s kick it! My top 10 Tips for Muay Thai Beginners:
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 track as the impact on the knees is lower. Alternatively, swimming or stationary bike cycling are kinder on the knees but still effective towards building stamina too. If there is still some time leading up to your first Muay Thai class, a couple of weeks of running can build up a reasonable level of fitness.
2. Get the Best Muay Thai Gloves
You can usually use the gloves at your gym but they are going to stink much so you are far better off with your own pair. You also want to stay away from iffy gloves like the nameless generics from big sporting stores or any cheapies less than $20. Just so you know, the best gloves aren’t necessarily the most expensive ones. In my opinion, the best gloves should offer you protection for your hands with adequate padding, firm wrist support, comfortable fit without being too loose or overly snug, and a design that pleases your eyes. Not forgetting a price tag that fits your budget. Go with gloves from the Thai brands (e.g. Fairtex, Twins, Top King) and you are all set for action.
3. Wrap Your Hands
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. Learn to hand-wrap by watching instructional videos.
4. Work on Your Form
Focus on your form and technique (not power/speed). Many people start out over-enthusiastically with their fists of fury and end up with hand or wrist injuries. Instead, start with light punches especially at the heavy bag, and then slowly build up speed and power. Make a fist firmly and land your punches correctly with maximum contact on your first two knuckles. Also make sure your wrists are straight and not bending at awkward angles.
The same goes with kicks. No beginner is spared from shin bruises and swelling feet. The key to the roundhouse kick is to twist your hip adequately, and connect with the right part of your shin. However, it has to be said that “Pain is the best teacher”, and that instant feedback you get with a poorly executed kick is the best lesson. With regular training, your shin and shin bone will toughen up in time to come. Don’t rush it.
Once you make correct form a habit, power and speed will follow naturally.
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.
6. Fuel Up
Fuel Up. There were days where I could kick like a boss and then there are 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, and if you are open to supplements, you can try Creatine. Taking 2 tabs 30 minutes before training will help to power up your performance. I also take a chocolate malt drink an hour before training for the extra boost and is a great energy source if you are training the first thing in the morning.
7. Private Training
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 more pricey but just a session or two can make a huge difference.
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.
9. Namman Muay
This is a miracle oil. Rub this before training to warm up your muscles. Rub this after training to soothe your muscle aches. Rub this on your bruises. Rub this on your legs before you go for a run. But take care to not rub this on your, erm, more sensitive parts. Use it long enough and the scent will perk you right up on days when you feel sluggish and languid.
Get sufficient rest and avoid overtraining. Insufficient 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.
The simplest solution is always the best. Don’t overthink things. A lot about Muay Thai is muscle memory. Keep it real, just show up, work the drills and put in your best effort on a regular basis, bearing in mind the tips shared here. That’s all you need to make progress. Remember the simple concepts of TRIM, keep yourself safe, train hard but smart and you’ll do just fine. If you find this list helpful, do share it with your friends on social media. May you live long and prosper on this martial art journey.