How NOT to Use Thai Pads: The Art of Pad Work in Muay Thai
One of my favorite parts of training has always been working on the Thai pads. It’s a great way to sharpen your skills, build up your cardio, and develop the relationship between coach and teammates. My greatest pet peeve is when you are working with a partner who doesn’t know how to properly hold the pads. You could have a world champion in front of you, but put them with someone who doesn’t know how to hold pads and they will look like a beginner.
While on the pads, it’s important to flow with your partner and develop a cadence appropriate to their level of skill and conditioning. This can easily be observed when watching a fighter and their trainer practice. It can be an amazing sight to witness. The coach gradually warms up the fighter, then starts to increase the intensity and difficulty level of holding patterns as the rounds progress. Learning to hold the Thai pads properly allows you to develop important coaching skills that will only benefit you as your level of fluency in the art increases.
Below are several tips that will help you learn how to effectively hold the Thai pads.
1. Keep it Simple
If you are new to holding pads, keep the combinations and strikes simple. Even if you are working with someone more advanced they will not benefit from advanced holding patterns that you don’t really know. Muay Thai is a simple art and pad holding should reflect that. Single strikes will help your partner much more than long, drawn out, complex combinations. Start with what you know and slowly link everything together as you get more comfortable holding.
2. Simulate the Intended Target
Always keep in mind that when holding pads you are simulating the role of your partner’s opponent. Pad holding has to mirror the intended targets one would normally strike at. If you are holding for a body kick, keep the pads right next to your ribs. If it’s a jab-cross, the pads should be right next to your face. By holding the pads in unrealistic places you end up training your partner for targets that aren't real. You also subject yourself to possible injury. Just remember that when you hold it is your job to get the pads in the way of the oncoming strike. If your partner throws a kick to the ribs and your pads are way out in front of you, you’re eating that kick full force. Take it from me, it’s not a nice feeling.
3. Apply Pressure at the Point of Contact
Applying pressure at the point of contact is crucial to holding pads. It ensures that your partner gets a good workout, but it also prevents you, the holder, from getting injured. For example, if your partner is throwing a hook and you receive it with a relaxed arm, you’re going to tweak your elbow and possibly strain your shoulder. When the strike reaches the pads, tense your body and meet the strike with force. That being said, never reach for the strike, allow it to come to you. Reaching for the strike is sure way to get kicked in the ribs or punched in the face. Keep in mind that your partner is aiming for you not the pads. A great way of acclimating to holding pads is to start slow and light. Tell your partner to start off hitting lightly and slowly increase the power and speed. By the end of the first round you’ll both be adjusted to each other and can start crushing it.
4. Make it Real
As mentioned above, always remember that when holding pads, you assume the role of the opponent. Try to simulate a sparring session when holding pads but always remember to work at the level of your partner. Move around and throw strikes at your partner during the session. Doing this will benefit both parties. The holder observes the openings and flaws in the striker’s game, and the striker increases his defense and reaction time. Making a pad work session “real” will only help in building up the level of skill for both individuals.
5. Don’t Over-coach Your Partner
My second greatest pet peeve is when my partner tries to coach or correct me on every little movement I perform. It’s infuriating and a tremendous waste of training time. While on the pads you are supposed to be working and improving, not having a five-minute debate concerning the position of my left foot. Coaching tips and cues should be quick and to the point. People are going to make mistakes when doing any type of sport. Just do your best to deal with them in the most time efficient manner while working on the pads. Everyone has a unique style of learning, so remember that some people will not get it right away. If your partner is doing something incorrect try to correct them a couple of times. If the problem persists, move on and address the issue later in the session. If your partner still can’t make the necessary corrections, notify your coach and have him or her deal with the problem.
Photo 1 courtesy of Orion Lee.
Photo 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.