If you want to train and master your pad work at a professional level, you must know and focus on the essentials; power, accuracy, rhythm, picking your shots and defending yourself at all times. Let’s go into each one in detail;
1# PRACTICE POWER
You only get the opportunity to go full power in 3 scenarios; an actual fight, bags and PADS. So take advantage. Take your time, but when you hit, hit with full power. Practice your explosiveness. Drive your strikes through the pads, and pull your shots back into your stance. The more you train in the full power end of the spectrum the more power you will develop. This is your chance to max out on power.
A good gauge to know if you are reaching your max is to notice if you are grunting while doing pads or not. If not, then you’ve probably still got some more in the tank. Have you heard the Thai’s make those funny grunting noises while smashing pads? That’s because they’re going hard and need to push the air out. It’s really difficult to hit your hardest without pushing some air and (grunting) sound out. Sometimes you don’t realize you aren’t hitting pads to your full maximum. What I normally do with my fighters is I first hold the pads and tell them to kick hard. After the “hard” kick, I ask if that was their absolute hardest kick they can possibly do. The most usual answer is No. Then I ask if they can show me their one absolute hardest kick, to put everything in their one best shot (please). They relax, load up, explode, yell and smash the pad with all their might. Then I say; I want every kick to be like that! Set the pace, the standard. Nothing less. Practice that way and you will smash through your opponents.
2# PRACTICE RHYTHM
When doing Muay Thai pads, relax your muscles, and get into a rhythm with your pad holder. Don’t rush. Makes sure you are in your stance before throwing strikes, even if your pad holder holds up for a kick, doesn’t mean you have to kick it that instant. Always adjust your stance and distance first before striking. Then strike hard. At the start you might be slow when adjusting, but soon your footwork will be fast and automatic. Never strike if you’re off balance just because the pads are up. Practice this over and over and your technique, accuracy and rhythm will become smooth and crisp.
3# PRACTICE ACCURACY
Make sure you punch and kick through the MIDDLE of the pads. Not the bottom, not the top, not the side, but STRAIGHT through and in the middle. Be accurate. Drive THROUGH the pads for power. When doing elbows, connect with the point of the elbow and not the forearm. When kneeing, make sure the point connects, the bony part of the knee, not around the knee where it is soft. When kicking, rotate your hips enough so your shin bone drives through the pads. Slow down if you have to, accuracy is first priority.
4# PRACTICE PICKING YOUR SHOTS
Assuming you are doing Thai style pads, where the trainer isn’t calling out combinations but catching what you throw and exposing various targets, practice hitting what comes up in the moment. You and your trainer have to get into a rhythm and get to know each other. Sometimes you might want a kick-punch combination but your trainer moves in close for a knee instead. You need to respond to what your trainer does, where he moves, and redirect for that knee. Just like fighting an opponent in the ring. Be relaxed, patient, flow in a rhythm with your trainer and pick your shots. Don’t rush and throw shots automatically. Wait, until the opportunity is there. This is specific and realistic practice because when you fight, you want to be able to strike and improvise depending on what opportunities come up. The shots you throw are dictated by the openings you see in your opponent, or what you want to set up. This is perfect to practice with your trainer. Sometimes he might throw you off rhythm and you need to be aware and sharp to catch yourself. In a fight, your opponent isn’t going to give you the exact openings in the right order for which ever combo you want to use. Your pads should be the same. You and your trainer “fight” during pads. You flow. You improvise. You pick your shots.
5# PRACTICE DEFENDING YOURSELF AT ALL TIMES
After you connect with the pads, do not drop your hands. Just because your pad holder isn’t going to knock you out doesn’t mean you don’t take defense seriously. Remember, how you train is how you fight. All the bad habits you pick up in training, could show up in the fight. Be diligent here and you will thank yourself when your defense saves you in a fight. If you are clinching and kneeing into the pads, disengage with your trainer by keeping your hands up and chin tucked, and only when you are out of distance you can drop your hands if you want to. Always keep your hands up during your rounds on pads, even if your trainer isn’t hitting you back. Don’t get lazy here.