Mar 26

The vast array of Muay Thai equipment and Muay Thai gear that is available can be intimidating to those who are just starting the sport. Which ones do you choose? What gear do you choose for what function? It can be hard enough to walk into a new gym filled with excitement and nervousness- worrying whether or not you have the right equipment doesn’t help! Neither does worrying about whether or not you’ll know what you’re looking for when someone tells you to grab some training mitts or to pick up a kicking pad.

No worries! I’ll try to break down the most commonly used Muay Thai equipment and Muay Thai gear- explaining the function and use for each. I’ll break these into five groups: training wraps, gloves, mouth guards, and  protection.

Training Wraps

Hand wraps are extremely important! They are used to protect your hands and wrists from injuries caused by heavy bag training and sparring. There a many different ways to wrap your hands depending on situation and experience- you will need to experiment and find what works for you.

Training wraps are lengths of 2.5” wide cloth that can be washed and reused. They are typically secured by a small tie or Velcro. Mexican style hand wraps are fairly common as they contain a small amount of elasticity to provide some give and movement making them more comfortable.

Hand wraps come in many different lengths and will largely depend upon your personal preference, the size of your hands, and the style of glove being worn. Shorter wraps are better suited for a grappling glove while longer wraps work better with traditional boxing gloves.

Gloves

There are three basic kinds of gloves you will be looking at: Boxing Gloves, Training Bag Gloves, and Grappling Gloves.

Boxing Gloves

Most beginners should be looking for a basic boxing glove. Boxing gloves typically come in different weights running from 6oz up to 20oz (in increments of 2oz). Heavier gloves are more suitable for training as the additional weight will help you develop speed, endurance, and strength. For training, it is common to recommend picking a 12, 14, 0r 16oz weight. Many beginners are tempted to pick a lighter weight glove as it makes the workouts easier- don’t short change yourself! Using a heavier weight glove is only going to help you and the additional weight will provide extra padding when using a heavy bag or when training with a sparring partner.

The 6, 8, and 10oz gloves are typically used in earlier Muay Thai bouts and International bouts. Since these are lighter, most fighters will notice that they feel faster and don’t tire as quickly (although an actual fight provides an entirely different dynamic!). The disadvantage to a lighter glove is that they do not provide as much protection for your hands (so make sure your technique is up to par) and with less weight, your strikes will be less powerful.

Basic boxing gloves come in three different closure styles: elastic, Velcro, and lace up. I have always preferred a Velcro closure for basic training gloves. The Velcro makes it easier to get in and out of the gloves while still allowing me to make them tight enough to feel secure. The elastic closures are a little less common from what I have seen, but I imagine some swear by them. The lace-ups are infrequently used in training by amateurs since they are a pain to get on and off and require two people to secure. Lace-ups are the way to go for a real match though as they will be better tightened and more secured.

Training Bag Gloves

Training bag gloves are gloves that are specifically designed and used for heavy bag training. These have more padding to protect against the more powerful strikes that are used during bag training. They come in full and half thumb style. The half thumb style helps with ventilation and will keep your hands cooler.

 For a beginner, I think it is completely acceptable to buy a 12, 14, or 16 oz gloves and use them for sparring and bag training. It will take some time to develop your technique, thus increasing power, and there are many other expenses when first getting started.

As a fighter progresses though and begins to take their training more seriously, training bag gloves become a necessity in my opinion. The additional cost can be seen as a cheap insurance policy to help protect your hands from injuries on the heavy bag. Outside of the US, it is relatively uncommon to see boxing gloves being used for heavy bag training.

Grappling Gloves

Grappling gloves are popular in Mixed Martial Arts training as they allow some dexterity for use in take downs, grappling, and submissions. Grappling gloves with thick pads are used for training and in some amateur bouts. Gloves with thinner padding are used for sanctioned bouts. The UFC style glove is a thinly padded open palm and thumb style glove. The main use for these gloves is to provide just enough cushion to protect the fighters hands from injury. Fighting bare-fisted often leads to broken hand bones.

Mouth Guards

Mouth guards are another extremely important piece of equipment that should always be used when sparring or fighting. If you are serious about fighting and competing, it would be wise to train with a mouth guard in at all times. A mouth guard inhibits your ability to breathe through your mouth- much like a snorkel. Most people breathe through their mouth when they are most winded or exhausted- by training with a mouth guard you will have a better idea of what to expect during an actual bout and you will learn how to function at your peak while using one.

There are three basic types of mouth guards: stock/ready-made, boil and bite, and custom made.

Stock/Ready-made ($1-10)

Stock mouth guards are the least ideal solution as there is no real ability to adjust the fit of the guard to your mouth. You can use a knife or scissors to do some minor trimming, but the overall fit will not be the best. They are inexpensive; however the level of protection they provide is very minimal. These are only better than no mouth guard at all.

Your performance will likely suffer using a stock mouth guard since it is common to bite down and hold it in place due to the poor fit. This will restrict breathing and make it difficult to speak.

Boil and bite($15-40)

A boil and bite mouth guard is the most commonly used mouth guard. It is made out of a material that can be boiled so it softens then bitten into to give you a more ideal fit. They come in different sizes, so make sure you choose a size that will cover all of your teeth- from front to back.

There are two main criticisms of boil and bite mouth guards.  First, when the material is fitted it to the teeth, it has tendency to become thin in between the teeth due to the biting pressure that is used to form it. This can reduce the protection that the mouth guard offers. Second, they tend to be on the bulky side which will make it even more difficult to breathe.

Custom($100-300)

Custom mouth guards are obtained through a dentist or a specialized company that provides dental lab services. These are the most ideal mouth guards to use as they are made to fit your mouth perfectly and can even be perfected for use in Muay Thai and MMA. If you are serious about training and competing, this is the only way to go.

A custom made mouth guard will have an excellent fit and be much more comfortable than a stock or boil and bite. Due to the superior fit, you can expect to find speaking and breathing much easier as well. These are significantly more expensive than the boil and bite, but it should be considered cheap insurance when compared to the cost of dental work.

Protection

The genre of protection covers the Muay Thai equipment and Muay Thai gear that is primarily used in training and sparring, although some of these items can be used in sanctioned bouts (such as headgear). There are six primary sections that I will cover consisting of the following: head protection, belly/abdomen and body/groin protection, shin protection, punching/focus mitts, kicking pads, and heavy bags.

Head Protection

Head protection is used to (surprise!) protect the head. Headgear is just a big padded cage that covers the most vulnerable areas of the head which include the ears, cheeks and forehead. There are many different style of head gear that cover more or less area and even some that have built in steel cages to provide the most protection possible.

Training headgear is typically more robust and more heavily padded than competition head gear. While the training gear will help prevent damage to the face, the headgear will not entirely eliminate it. You can still get bloody lips, black eyes, and concussions/knockouts. With competition headgear, all of the above should be expected. 

As with the boxing gloves, there are three basic types of head gear closures: elastic, Velcro, and lace up. Elastic and Velcro closures are fine for training and will be a matter of personal preference and fit. Competition will always be a lace up style.

Belly/Abdomen and Body/Groin Protection

Belly/Abdomen protectors are used by a sparring partner. They look like giant oversized belts that wrap around the waist and contain a think padding that covers the stomach and groin area. They can be buckle closure or Velcro closure.

A jockstrap and cup are also a wise investment if you will be sparring and an absolute must if you plan on competing- you do not want to feel what a misplaced inside leg kick or knee feels like without a cup!

Shin Protection

Shin guards are used to protect the shins during training (you may also see them used in competition) from swelling and bruising. When you are new to the sport, you’re shins are going to go through hell getting conditioned to take the abuse you will throw at them. You should focus on building your tolerance and resilience; however it is better to continue training than take time off because your shins are too sore.

There are a few things to look for when choosing a shin guard. Ideally, you want the perfect combination of enough padding to provide comfort and protection, lightweight enough so they don’t impact your performance, and flexible enough to allow you to move naturally. For Muay Thai techniques you should look for a shin guard that doesn’t interfere with your ability to knee. The instep should also be flexible enough to allow for a large range of motion as well. Many shin guards are one piece in construction… I have found guards that have the instep as a separate piece tend to perform better.

Several different brands offer anti-microbial linings that will help prevent staff infections (MRSA)- and trust that you want to do everything you can to avoid them!

Punching/ Focus mitts

Punching mitts (also called focus mitts) are used to protect your hands when calling combinations with a sparring partner. You want to use a mitt that is comfortable to wear and offers plenty of protection. I have seen mitts that are both flat and curved… most people will prefer the curved gloves as it is more natural for your hand and gives a better target for the striker.

Most gloves come with a bulls eye or target in the center of the glove- this is the point that the boxer should focus on hitting. If you end up with a pair that is missing this, it is easy enough to draw a small circle near the center of the mitt with a Sharpie.

As with the shin guards, there are some manufacturers who add an anti-microbial lining to the mitts. If there is no anti-microbial lining and you plan on sharing the mitts, I would consider making it a requirement to wear hand wraps to cut down on the amount of sweat that stays inside… make no mistake, your hands will get VERY sweaty wearing mitts.

Kicking pads

There are two basic types of kicking pads- sets of two that strap to your forearms and individual square pads that you hold onto. I prefer (and I think most others do as well) the kicking pad style that straps to your forearms.  They offer the ability to move more and set up for more positions than a single kicking pad and they work better when practicing knees. I also feel more secure using them.

Punching bags

This one is pretty self explanatory. If you see something hanging in the gym that looks like a big, heavy bag that people are giving a supreme beat down to… you’ve just found the punching bag. There are a few different styles that accomplish different purposes. The different styles are: speed bags, swerve balls, focus bags, maize bags, heavy bags, tower bags, and  upper cut bags.

Speed bags

These are small, tear-drop shaped bags that are usually filled with air and anchored to a round platform that allows them to rebound when hit. The general idea with speed bags is to improve hand-eye coordination, teach fighters to keep their hands raised for defense, and to practice shifting weight from foot to foot when striking.

Swerve/Focus balls

Swerve balls are similar to speed balls although they are shaped more like a ball and may be filled with a material rather than air. Swerve balls are mounted on a tight cable/bungee system that allows them to react to any motion put on the ball. They help develop coordination by swerving, punching, and dodging the rebounds. The harder the ball is hit the harder and faster the rebound and the more diverse the angles.

Slip/Maize bags

Maize bags are used to help develop head and body movement as well as timing. They are not hit terribly hard. The name comes from the fact that they are traditionally filled with Maize.

Heavy bags

You will most likely be working on a heavy bag the most often. These are large cylindrical bags that are hung from a ceiling or trellis. They are used to practice powerful punching, elbowing, kneeing, and kicking techniques. Tall floor to ceiling bags are used when practicing Muay Thai techniques, whereas the shorter bags are used for standard boxing.

Tower bags

Tower bags are heavy bags that have been mounted on a weighted pedestal rather than being hung. They can also be suspended horizontally to practice uppercuts.

Upper cut bags

Upper cut bags are most similar to heavy bags except they resemble the shape of an upside down bell. This allows you to practice making solid contact on upper cut punches… something difficult to do on a standard heavy bag.

I hope this has helped make some sense of the different types of Muay Thai equipment and Muay Thai gear you will run into while training in Muay Thai Techniques. For those of you who already train- what are some of the tips and tricks that you have learned so far? For anyone who is just getting into the sport- is there anything you’ve run into that hasn’t been covered here that you’re still wondering about?