In Muay Thai, fighters use four main body parts to get an advantage over their opponent; knees, fists, shins, and elbows. It is one of the few fighting styles that allows fighters to use their elbows to their advantage. But with so many types of strikes and techniques involved, it can be tricky to figure out the elbow strike. 

Muay Thai elbow strikes involve using the elbow to land devastating blows on an opponent. There are 8 types of elbow strikes in Muay Thai: horizontal, uppercut, slashing, spinning, diagonal, double elbow, smash downward, and chopping elbow strikes. Each type has different execution mechanics.

The rest of this article will discuss practical aspects of the elbow strike in Muay Thai. It’ll also cover the types of elbow strikes mentioned above in greater detail, common mistakes to avoid, and more. Let’s get into it. 

What Is the Muay Thai Elbow Strike?

The Muay Thai elbow strike is a fighting technique where a fighter strikes their opponent using their elbows. Elbow strikes are one of the most devastating shots in the sport. That’s mainly due to the way fighters deliver them and the profile of the elbow. 

Elbow strikes can cause severe head damage to an opponent due to the sharp profile of the elbow. The fact that fighters typically deliver these strikes in close quarters further magnifies the impact on the facial areas.

The elbow strike is a very flexible technique, allowing a fighter to implement it in different directions and ways. For instance, a fighter can move horizontally or vertically, providing a more versatile form of attack. A fighter can also use the elbow strike diagonally, in a backward spinning motion, as an uppercut, or in a flying motion. 

Why Elbow Strikes Are So Popular in Muay Thai

Unlike punches, shin strikes, and knees, fighters have a higher chance of winning a fight quickly with an elbow strike. Since elbow strikes target the head area, a direct connection will likely result in a knockout. 

Alternatively, a clean hit may cause a deep cut. This can throw the opponent off their game and possibly set up a technical knockout. 

Indeed, the elbow strike significantly increases a fighter’s chance of winning in various ways. Don Heatrick, a former pro Thai boxer and European Muay Thai silver medallist, backs elbow strikes’ effectiveness in close matches.

According to Don Heatrick, a fighter can instantly shut down the opponent’s body if they strike with sufficient power. This means an elbow strike can deliver an instant win, whether it’s in the early stages or later in the fight. Heatrick recommends aiming at the brow bone, eye sockets, or other skull areas for optimal impact. 

How To Deliver an Efficient Elbow Strike

Delivering an efficient elbow strike largely depends on mechanics. To land an effective hit, you need to ensure that you get the following aspects right:

  • Work on getting an explosive rotational hip drive. To maximize your explosive power, I recommend using your base leg as a base. In this position, drive into a hip extension to generate sufficient torque and rotate your hip externally. Use your leg as a pivot to maintain balance and stability. This will allow you to throw your strike with your entire body moving.
  • Work on your core stability. As previously stated, you will get maximum results when you strike with your entire body moving. Therefore, you will likely fall or lose balance if your core is lacking in stability. Remember, you are essentially transferring all the force your hip rotation generates to your shoulder. A strong core will optimize this coordination for efficient energy transfer. 
  • Work on your shoulder mobility. You will not generate sufficient force if your shoulder is rigid or immobile. That’s why working on your shoulder mobility is so important. Work on relaxing your shoulders such that they move with fluidity. This not only enhances your efficiency, but it also increases your range of motion. 

Even with the correct mechanics, you can potentially injure yourself with this technique. Remember, you are essentially striking an opponent with your elbow, which poses some injury risks. 

To help you minimize injury risks, let’s discuss some of the common mistakes you should avoid in the next section.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

There are two common yet critical mistakes you should avoid to mitigate injury risks:

  • Focussing and relying on arm power.
  • Using the wrong elbow part to make an impact.

Let’s cover each mistake in greater detail. 

Focusing and Relying on Arm Power 

One of the common mistakes among fighters is focusing more on brute force. Most fighters look to smash away with their arm strength. While you still need strength, relying too much on it might mean ignoring the technical aspect of landing an effective elbow strike. 

You will likely not generate sufficient force with just your arms. To do that, you need to generate and transfer the torque from your hips to your shoulders. This allows you to strike with fluidity, using the power that your entire body generates 一not just your arms. 

Making Contact With the Wrong Elbow Part

Take a good look at your arm. You’ll notice that most of it has thick muscular padding to protect your bones.

The elbow does not have similar muscles. It is mostly bone, making it the best part of your arm to hit your opponent with.

Still, you need to ensure you connect with the tip of the elbow. There are several nerve endings on either side of the elbow tip. If you hit your opponent with either of those parts, you may notice tingling or numbness. You do not want your arm to go numb in the middle of a fight. 

The Eight Major Muay Thai Elbow Strikes

This section will discuss the different types of elbow strikes. Each of these moves have a different strike path and impact level:

The Spinning Elbow (Son Klab)

As the name suggests, this move focuses on a spinning motion to generate sufficient force for the elbow strike. You can perform this move when your opponent is by your side or behind you. The fighter turns his body to get a clear view of the opponent, then unleashes the elbow strike. 

You need to forcefully twist your body to effectively perform this move. Without this twisting motion, you won’t be able to generate enough force from your core to land an effective strike. According to the Way of Martial Arts, this is one of the most brutal elbow strike techniques. 

The Double Elbows (Sok Ku)

The double elbow strike or chop targets the head, collarbone, or face. It is a defensive maneuver against an opponent with a propensity to charge and an inclination towards aggression. In this approach, the fighter raises both elbows to strike the opponent’s face. 

The Slashing Elbow (Sok Ti)

This elbow-strike move targets your opponent’s upper facial area. These include the eyes, forehead, and nose. Typically, a fighter will swing their elbow diagonally and in a downward direction. This is why some websites refer to this move as the diagonal downward elbow strike. 

The slashing elbow is ideal in close combat situations. Typically, fighters perform it to respond to an opponent’s offensive knee kick.

The Horizontal Elbow (Sok Tad)

The horizontal elbow is also a slashing technique, but the angle is different. Unlike the slashing elbow, where the fighter strikes at a 45-degree angle, Sok Tad involves attacking horizontally. Put otherwise, the elbow strike stays parallel to the ground.

The horizontal elbow targets the ribs, chin, and jaws. To perform it correctly, raise your arm at a 90-degree angle to your armpit area. On the same breath, keep your hand at a 30-degree angle to your elbow.

If this sounds a bit too technical, here’s a video summarizing how to perform the horizontal elbow step by step: 

The Uppercut Elbow

Perhaps one of the most devastating elbow strikes in Muay Thai, the uppercut elbow targets an opponent’s chin explicitly. It mainly relies on speed. To perform it correctly, you need to bend your knees, straighten your torso and swing your elbow in an upward motion.

The Diagonal Elbow 

The diagonal elbow is one of the best moves to create a cut on your opponent. Here, the fighter raises either their left or right arm, depending on the direction they intend to launch the attack. Because the fighter bends their elbow and creates an acute angle, they’re more likely to hit and cut the eyebrow.

The Chopping Elbow

This move is closely related to the diagonal blow. It is an ideal recovery move in case your diagonal elbow strike misses. To execute, you need to bring the elbow back in a downward motion and strike in a chopping move. In most cases, the opponent will not see it coming. 

The main difference between this move and the diagonal elbow is that it reverses the diagonal blow. In other words, it goes up-to-down; the opposite of the down-to-up motion of the diagonal strike. The fighter strikes downwards, essentially targeting the chin. 

The Smash Downward Elbow

This move happens in an up-to-down motion. The fighter uses their elbow’s edge to strike the target. Fighters will typically employ this move as a counter-attack, aiming for the nose bridge to disorient the opponent. You can easily break your opponent’s nose bridge, potentially ending the fight.

Final Thoughts

In closing, an elbow strike is a powerful tool for dominating your opponent and getting a quick win. I recommend learning one at a time, perfecting each before moving on to the next. If you do that and minimize common errors, you may be on your way to becoming a Thai expert yourself.

Remember, it does not matter whether an opponent has a lot of stamina. With the tips provided in this guide to Muay Thai elbow strikes, you can knock the wind out of their sails.

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