If you’re considering taking up Muay Thai, it’s understandable that you want to know whether it’s a safe or dangerous activity.
Muay Thai come with risks, like any other sport – but the level of risk will vary greatly depending on how seriously you take your training.
A casual once-a-week trainer will obviously see much less risk than a pro fighter.
In this post, I will discuss the safety aspects involved in every aspect of Muay Thai training, and how you should train to avoid long and short-term injury.
- Casual training
- Competitive fighting
- Common injuries
And if you fall into this category, you’ll be pleased to know that Muay Thai is a pretty safe sport.
These are the main elements of an average Muay Thai training session at beginner/intermediate level, along with associated risks .
Warm up – Low risk of injury
Most Muay Thai sessions will start with a warm up to get the heart rate up, and muscles prepared. Warm ups will consist of activities such as:
It’s highly unlikely that you will pick up an injury during a Muay Thai warm up, if you are of a reasonable level of fitness. It could only be risky if you’ve never done any exercise before, or have some kind of cardiovascular condition.
If you haven’t done any exercise for a while (or ever) – it would be wise to do a few weeks of light cardio like jogging, before you take your first Muay Thai class, to ensure you have a decent level of cardiovascular fitness.
Bag work – low risk of injury
Hitting a punch bag also carries a relatively low risk of injury, however you do need to take certain precautions. When punching a punch bag, there is a big impact on the hand and a risk of spraining the risk if you’re not careful.
To minimise the risk of hand and wrist injury, you must wear hand wraps and a pair of training/bag gloves whenever hitting a bag.
When you first start Muay Thai, you may find that you pick up occasional bruises from kicking and kneeing the firmer bags in the gym – but your body will condition itself to this after a few weeks.
Pad work – low-medium risk of injury
Similar to bag work, striking pads carries the same risks to the hands and wrists, which can again be almost totally removed by wearing hand wraps and gloves.
However, as you progress in your training – your pad man may throw light controlled punches and kicks at you, to test your guard. However, these should be very light, and the pad man will be wearing gloves and shin guards – so if they get through your guard, they will only be light knocks.
When you are holding the pads and acting as pad man, you will absorb the impact of some fairly heavy shots into the pads. This obviously carries some risk, but a good gym should teach you how to hold pads properly if you are a newcomer.
The first time you hold pads, you can expect a few bruises on your wrists – but your body will condition to this after a few sessions.
Sparring – medium risk of injury
If you’re looking to step your training up and start attending intermediate or advanced level classes, you will get the chance to spar with other people.
Sparring is a very light and controlled fight simulation between two people, with the intention of testing each other’s technique and reactions – whilst wearing full protective gear.
Sparring should never be an all-out battle with partners throwing full-power punches and kicks at each other in anger. If you find yourself at a gym where that is happening, I would suggest finding a new gym with better standards.
Watch this video of Charnchai Muay Thai Gym for an example of good controlled sparring (watch the people in background too).
Sparring should be like a game of chess, with each person testing the other’s guard and trying to land clever shots with proper technique. Nobody should be intending to really hurt somebody in a sparring session.
But even with full control and protective gear (gloves, shin guards, mouth guard and groin guard as minimum) sparring still carries a fair bit of risk. Punches and kicks can sometimes land harder than intended, knees can clash at force, and you will take some knocks.
So, whilst sparring should never bring you any serious injuries, you may come away from some sessions with a few bumps and bruises.
Competitive fighting – high risk of injury
The highest level of dedication you can take your Muay Thai training to, is to fight competitively against fighters from other gyms.
I won’t sugar coat this… Fighting competitively in Muay Thai is a dangerous activity. You are trading full power punches and kicks with your opponent, and in some rule sets, even knees and elbows to the head.
Whilst there are rules and referees in place, you still stand a chance of picking up nasty injuries from cuts and bruises, to broken bones and concussion.
Muay Thai fighting should be taken very seriously, and not something you should even consider without a few years training experience under your belt.
Even if you train Muay Thai casually, there are a certain injuries that you are almost guaranteed to pick up once or twice in your career.
When throwing Muay Thai kicks, the aim is to connect with your shin against your opponent’s body, or the pads or punch bag. This is a highly effective striking method, but the impact can be a little painful if you’ve never done it before – and will cause some bruising in the first weeks of your training.
After a few sessions your shins will be conditioned to this – but you can still pick up the occasional bruise from clashing shins in sparring, even when wearing shin guards.
If you spar in Muay Thai, it’s likely that you will take a few low kicks to the thigh. With the shin bone being the second heaviest in the body, even light low kicks can create quite an impact and sometimes culminate in a bit of bruising.
When you are new to Muay Thai, holding the pads for your partner to kick can come as quite a shock. The force of a full-pelt Muay Thai kick generates a big impact on the pads, and this travels through to your wrists as you hold the pads.
Again, this is something that will become less of a problem after a few weeks of conditioning and learning how to hold the pads properly.
This is an injury that shouldn’t happen in Muay Thai if you prepare properly, but occasionally it does. When you are throwing repeated punches at bags and pads, there is a risk of wrist sprain. However, if you wrap your hands properly with hand wraps and wear a decent pair of gloves this shouldn’t happen.
Never train without hand wraps, and never punch a bag or pads without gloves. You may see some people doing it in the gym but it’s not a smart move – trust me.
As with any high intensity sport, there is a risk of pulling muscles if you don’t warm up properly and stretch adequately. Always turn up early to training sessions so that you can do some light warm ups and stretches before the session kicks off. A good coach should include a warm up and stretching in their classes anyway.
Competitive fighting injuries
Fighting competitively in Muay Thai comes with a wide risk of injuries. Common injuries include cuts above the eye from elbows, bruised and cracked ribs from knees, broken noses from punches and more. It’s not a sport for the faint-hearted.
So, is Muay Thai safe or dangerous?
Muay Thai can certainly be dangerous for those who fight professionally, but for the casual trainer the risks are fairly minimal.
If you are training Muay Thai for fun and fitness, doing pad work and bag work, then the most you are likely to pick up is an occasional bruise, or even wrist sprain at worst.
If you start to take your training seriously and begin sparring then there is more risk involved as you will be taking controlled shots to the body, legs and head – but you should only ever spar in a gym with a reputable coach who looks out for your safety.
The key to staying safe in Muay Thai, is to listen to your coach at all times and obey the rules of their class – this will stop 99% of injuries from happening.
You also need to wear the appropriate protective gear for each aspect of your training.
You should always wear hand wraps and gloves when striking bags or pads.
For sparring you should be wearing 16oz gloves, shin guards, a groin guard and a mouth guard.
In conclusion, Muay Thai comes with risk, but if you prepare for those risks adequately it is safe sport to train at most levels.