How to Become a Popular Muay Thai Pad Holder in Class

Kimura Ninja Cat is Focused and Ready to be a Muay Thai Pad Holder!

*(Editors Note: Coach Anthony suggested an alternative title to this blog, “How Not to be a Pad Holding Douche”, but I decided we should focus on a slightly more positive title… However, the alternate title can still apply if that helps motivate you to read it.) – Coach Roxy

Want to be a Popular Pad Holder and a Better Muay Thai Practitioner?

Something I really love, and that helped me to become more proficient at Muay Thai, is being a good pad holder.  Sure I need to throw thousands upon thousands of kicks, punches, knees, and elbows before they become so second nature that I do them without thought.  But getting confident at holding pads and being a great training partner did way more for my own training than I ever expected.  We all have people we really like to work with.  And it may be for different reasons.  When working with a great training partner who challenges you and works with you, it is easier to improve on your own skills.  We are lucky to train in an environment where our students want to be helpful to the new people- to build them up to be great partners.  But pad holding is in some ways trickier than punching and kicking in that there is etiquette as well as technique.

Learning the skill is the first step.  We’ve already touched on pad holding in Daniel’s blog on pad holding technique, his additional tips for training pad work, in Roxy’s blog on tips for beginners and her blog I Just Started Muay Thai and my Blanks Hurts, Is this Normal?

But I think that pad holding is such a challenging skill that we need to cover it in more depth, particularly the etiquette of it.

Stance, Footwork and Appropriate Resistance

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to remember that you are trying to create an experience for your partner that is similar to hitting a human. Stand in your stance to give them the appropriate visual target.  Hold the pads (mitts or Thai pads) in front of you, not wider than the shoulders with the center of the pads level to your partners chin, not yours.  While you change the angle of the pad from the jab to the hook, they should both be out in front of your face.  The hook does not move a foot to the left.  Body shots and kicks should be held close to the body, so it seems to your partner that they are striking you and the pad is just in the way.  Move around some between combinations so both of you can work on your footwork.  Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough, give appropriate resistance.  Meet your partner’s strikes with force.  You should not feel your arms flying back with each punch your partner throws.  The harder they hit, the more resistance you give.  The softer they hit, the less resistance you meet their punches with.  Adjusting both ways is really important.  If you slam the pads into a light striker you will jam their wrists, and if you don’t meet a heavy hitter with enough force you can make them hyperextend their elbows, and that sucks, and hurts and you don’t want that.  If you can’t tell if you are using a good amount of force just ask your partner.  Communication is key to being a good training partner.

Focus and Listening to Instruction

In order to be a good partner you must focus.  If you spaced out during the instruction period and the bell rings and you have no idea what combination you are supposed to be holding, you are wasting your partner’s training time.  So pay attention during instruction. That means get the pads on quickly, stay on the mat, don’t chit chat, and watch your coach as they explain the technique of the day.  We always run through the combination more than once, so take the multiple repetitions as an opportunity to watch both the strikes and the pad holding.  If you have any questions, this is the time to ask.  Of course questions come up during the round, once the work has started, but make every effort to at least know what you are supposed to be doing before the round starts.  I like to shadow what I am going to catch during the instruction to make sure my body knows what to do.  There is a difference between knowing what the technique is and registering how to hold for it.


Focus must be maintained throughout the round as well.  Your partner wants you to make them work.  Keep it simple. (Keep It Simple Stupid) Don’t try to come up with crazy complicated combos.  A super long combo can be annoying because you have to sit there and think about what you are supposed to be throwing, instead of getting the work in.  Or you forget halfway through what your are doing if there are six punches, two kicks, a knee and an elbow.  For a longer combination, try building.  Start with two punches and a kick.  Then add two more punches and do that whole thing a few times.  Then finish with a knee.  And do that a few times.

You don’t need to change the combo every time. 

Maybe you see a coach do this and think it seems fun. We’ll it’s not fun for your partner if you have to stop holding every three second, drop your hands and try to think of something new to do. Remember coaches have years of experience holding and we don’t have to think while we call out combos so our pace will be different than yours, plus we know who we can push with cardio combos like that and who we have to scale back with based on their level of experience. K.I.S.S. Have your partner do the same thing a few times before you move on.  Even with a simple jab, cross it will likely feel better for them the second or third time they throw it as they make their own adjustments to be more balanced and tighter with their technique.  I know I said this above, but it can’t be said enough.  Make them work!  Don’t think too much.  Don’t ask them how their weekend was.  Don’t look at the weird guy who just walked by outside.  You are on the mat to train, so keep that your focus.  You don’t have to be all serious- smiles and laughing are great.  It should be fun.  But that doesn’t have to get in the way of good training.  Your job is to give your partner a good workout and to help them to practice their techniques.

You are a Training Partner, Not a Coach

1002087 582747608436893 1492672037 nYour job is not that of a coach.  I appreciate that students want to help each other out.  And there are ways for you to do that.  But I often hear a lot of coaching from the students holding the pads that isn’t appropriate.  Plus it can be annoying and frustrating for the student hitting the pads.  Take pivoting for example.  It is often very challenging to learn.  But there are so many different reasons why someone may not be pivoting.  We as coaches have years of troubleshooting technique.  We can look at the kick and immediately give the most useful advice.  You might tell them to swing their arm, which yes they should do, but first they need to start in proper stance before they throw their kick.  Our coaches know when and  what cue. While you may have the best of intentions, you may be telling them the wrong cue at an inappropriate time. Always ask the coach if you and your partner are having problems. If we want an Advanced F5 Team student to help with coaching during a busy class, we will tell them to help.

Make Sure They Get Their Reps in!

The most helpful thing you can do to improve your partner’s Muay Thai is to give them the opportunity to get in a lot of repetitions and to compliment them when you feel a good strong strike.  If they just kicked the pad harder than you have ever felt from them let them know!  A stronger strike will take less effort than an awkward over-muscled strike, so they may not feel how hard they hit.  Reinforce the success instead of nitpicking on the difficulties and you will have a happier and more improved training partner.  Side note for the person hitting pads, if you want your partner to watch for something specific and simple that you have been working on, like keeping your hands up ask them to watch for you.

It’s Pad Holding, Not Sparring

Sometimes we work counters in class on the pads.  This does not give you free reign to hit your partner in the face.  Just because you have seen a coach hit a fighter in the face does not mean it is appropriate for you to do to your partner.  Remember your role is training partner, not coach.  Not everyone wants to get hit and we train in an environment where that is respected.  When we train defense in the pad work classes we are learning counters and drilling them.  We are not striking each other randomly or hitting them with the pad as hard as possible.  The students who want to practice in real time do so during Defense and Drills sessions.  If we are training counters to the jab, the pad holder should be mimicking the jab.  Move your whole body like you are jabbing and aim through the center, but don’t try and punch through their face, like you would in a fight or when striking a pad.  You will make contact with your partners body, but not in the same forcefully way as if you really threw a hard jab sparring. Remember, we are helping them learn counters! Once we move on to open work, ask your partner if they want to work defense.  Some advanced students like to have a couple prescribed counters agreed upon with their pad holder. They know that at any time their partner might throw a hook at them and they like that.  Some students want to just throw.  Both are to be respected, but it is up to the striker to decide, so communicate with your partner, don’t just hit them in the face.

To Receive Great Pad Work, First Give It!

A lot can happen in that three minute relationship from bell to bell.  You can alienate your partner by talking too much, over coaching, confusing them, and hitting them when they don’t want to be hit.  Or you can give them a fun and badass workout by challenging them to work hard, giving them realistic, solid targets, affirming strong techniques, and encouraging them to push through fatigue.  As with much in life, you will find with pad holing that the more you give, the more you get! So let’s all work to be the best partner we can!

Happy training 🙂