7 Essential Muay Thai Footwork Drills

One of the most essential building blocks of martial arts is having great footwork. Quick, fundamental footwork will keep you out of the way of your opponent’s blows, but ideally will also position you to deliver damaging blows of your own.

Here are seven Muay Thai footwork drills which will help you practice avoiding hits, positioning yourself to attack your opponent, and finding the dominant angles which will make both of these possible.

Benefits of Footwork Drills

  • The main goal of any of these footwork drills are going to be improving your speed, agility, and ability to avoid being hit while setting yourself up to attack your opponent.
  • Because of the nature of Muay Thai, there are many different directions you need to be aware of during a fight.
  • Unlike in boxing, a blow can come at you from virtually any direction, including from below. By making yourself a moving target, you give your opponent less opportunities to land blows.

What You’ll Need For These Drills

A Gym (or at least a good amount of room to move)- We’d all like to be training in the finest kickboxing gym in the country, or perhaps we have fantasies about going to Thailand and training outdoors, kicking banana trees.

Maybe someday you’ll get there, but in the meantime, using your local gym should suffice, as these drills don’t require any special equipment. Even if you don’t have a current gym membership, these drills can be performed anywhere that you have space to move around. The great thing about footwork is that you can practice anywhere you can move around.

Boxing Gloves– Although gloves aren’t essential for all of these drills, it’s best to make it a habit to wear gloves whenever you’re training. When you’re wearing boxing gloves, you can throw punches with power without worrying about hurting your partner. It’s also beneficial to get used to the weight and feel of the gloves on your fists as you’re punching, seeing as that’s what you’ll be using during the course of a fight.

An important note: Whenever possible, try not to skimp on the quality of your gloves, as the most important thing is that you’re protecting yourself and your partner from harm.

A Partner – Many of these drills can be performed without a partner, but they will definitely be more beneficial, both physically and mentally, if you get used to having a partner to work off of. While training alone gives you the time to focus on specifics, training with a partner also trains you to focus amidst distractions.

If possible, it’s best if this partner is training in Muay Thai as well, as you can help each other with technique, give feedback, and take turns running the drills. If you can’t find a partner who is training in Muay Thai, then find someone who either wants a good workout or is willing to get punched and kicked a bit in order to help you achieve your Muay Thai goals!

1. Ankle Mobility Warm-up

Because of the intensity of the footwork you’re going to be doing in these drills, it is essential that you warm up your ankles before engaging in any of the exercises listed below. In fact, a full physical warm-up that focuses on getting your heart beating, your muscles loose, and your joints flexible is recommended before any type of training.

In this case, we’ll focus on ankle mobility. It’s common within the world of Muay Thai for fighters to experience ankle problems because of the combined intensity of the footwork, kicking, and blocking done with their lower legs.

Whether your ankles have been smashed up, rolled, or just generally punished through endless amounts kicking, chances are if you’re a Muay Thai fighter, your ankles are something you’ve thought about a lot, and something you want to take good care of.

Here is a warm-up designed to achieve more mobility in your ankles which will not only enhance your performance in the ring, but will help keep your ankles protected from damage.

Step-by-step:

  • Stand facing a wall.
  • Plant your right foot in front of you with your toes approximately 6 inches away from the wall.
  • With your hips squared to the wall, plant your left foot slightly behind you with the heel on the floor.
  • You should be in a comfortable stance with your knees slightly bent.
  • Bend your right knee forward until it touches the wall.
  • As your knee is touching the wall, make sure your heel does not lift off the ground.
  • If your knee can touch the wall comfortably, step back by one inch.
  • Bend your knee until it touches the wall again.
  • Keep inching backwards until your knee can no longer touch the wall.
  • At the farthest point that your knee is still touching the wall, repeat the bend 25x.
  • Switch legs.

Tips: It’s not unusual for your two ankles to have different levels of flexibility when you start this exercise. If one is much more flexible than the other, add 10 repetitions to that side, so that you’re focused on stretching the less flexible ankle more. Ideally the two sides will be equally flexible.


2. Basic Footwork Drill

The basic footwork drill contains the building blocks upon which all of the other drills will rest. This drill will get you familiar with the most basic of movements when making your way around the ring. While you’re moving, you must maintain a solid stance. This stance is what’s going to provide the foundation that you’ll be punching, kicking, and blocking from.

This may sound simple, but if your stance is not grounded when you move around the ring, you run the risk of being knocked off balance or not having enough power behind your attacks. This drill will keep you centered as you move and maintain the proper distance between your front and back foot to give you a solid base to operate from.

Step-by-step:

  • From your basic stance, imagine that you have “a pole between your feet.”
  • Move your front foot forward with your rear foot following closely behind.
  • Every time your front foot steps, your rear foot should match it.
  • Move forward 5 steps with your rear foot following.
  • Move to the left 5 steps with your rear foot following.
  • Move to the right 5 steps with your rear foot following.
  • Move backwards 5 steps with your rear foot following.
  • Repeat 50x.

3.    Directional Quickswitch

As we’ve said, one of your main goals during a fight is not just to hit your opponent, but to avoid being hit by them. The faster you can move out of the way of an oncoming attack, the less likely you are to be hit, and simultaneously, the better position you’ll be in to counter with an attack of your own.

This drill will help you to practice avoiding being attacked by moving out of the way as quickly as possible, and in a way that will surprise your opponent.

Step-by-step:

  • Begin in your fighting stance with your hands up.
  • Take three quick steps to the right leading with your back (right) foot, with your front (left) foot following closely after.
  • Pivot your back (right) foot outwards, planting it at a 45-degree angle.
  • Instead of shuffling back the way you came, swing your front (left) foot outwards so that it’s parallel with your back foot.
  • Now push off with your left foot, switching directions so that you’re perpendicular to your original line of movement.
  • Take three steps in this direction.
  • Repeat 50x.
  • Switch legs.

When you’re using this technique in a match, try to alternate with a more traditional directional switch to keep your opponent guessing.


4.    Switch and Pivot Drill (the Pivot Shuffle)

This drill will help you practice your ability to pivot as well as your ability to block (or “check”) kicks.

Pivoting is one of the essential Muay Thai footwork moves in order to get yourself out of harm’s way when you’re being attacked, as well as setting you up to deliver powerful kicks of your own. Checking kicks means lifting up your shin at an angle in a way that blocks the kick coming towards you.

Step-by-step:

  • Take your normal stance.
  • Push off using your front foot.
  • As you push off of your front foot, pivot your back leg 90 degrees outwards.
  • Switch your feet.
  • Repeat the drill on the opposite leg.
  • Repeat the drill 50x.

As you’re practicing this footwork drill, remember to always stay light on your feet. You should maintain a bounce on the balls of your feet during this drill and never let your heels touch the ground.


5.    The Spinning Check

This drill helps to develop balance, mobility, and strength, especially in defending yourself from kicks. The spinning check drill starts at 2:55.


Step-by-step:

  • Start from a centered stance.
  • Push off using your front foot.
  • As you push off of your front foot, spin outwards with your knee raised.
  • Once you’ve made a complete 180, re-plant your feet.
  • Switch feet and repeat 50x.

Remember to stay light on your feet, bouncing on the balls of your feet and not letting your heels hit the ground.


6.    Footwork Drills for Punching

These drills will help to build up your footwork skills for use as you’re punching. During a fight, having a solid stance to punch from is one of the most essential elements to delivering powerful punches. Delivering a powerful punch from a weak stance is only about half as devastating as delivering a strong punch from a strong stance.

Two- Step:

  • Step forward with your left foot while jabbing with your left hand.
  • Bring your right foot forward until you’re back in your center stance.
  • Step forward with your left foot while throwing your right cross.
  • After five steps forward (or once you’ve reached the end of your space) turn around and repeat in the other direction.
  • Repeat 25x.

Tips: Remember to pivot your back foot when you throw your right cross.

Single-step:

  • Step forward with your left foot while jabbing with your left hand.
  • Bring your right foot forward until you’re back in your center stance, only this time when you’re stepping with your right foot, throw a right cross with your right hand as well.
  • After five steps forward (or once you’ve reached the end of your space) turn around and repeat in the other direction.
  • Repeat 25x.

Like in the first drill, remember to pivot your back foot as you’re throwing your right cross.

Single-step, opposite side:

  • Step forward with your left foot while throwing your right cross.
  • Bring your right foot forward until you’re back in your center stance, while you’re stepping with your right foot, jab with your left hand.
  • After five steps forward (or once you’ve reached the end of your space) turn around and repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Repeat 25x.

Once again, remember to pivot your back foot as you’re stepping forward with your front foot.


7.    Dominant Angles Drill

One of the most important advantages that you can get over your opponent during a match is taking dominant angles. A dominant angle is when you avoid attack and give yourself a prime angle for attacking your opponent.

Through the course of a fight, you should always be looking for these dominant angles, rather than trying to take an opponent head on. If you’re being attacked and you back up, you’re still directly in the path of your opponent’s attack. On the other hand, when you step to the side, you not only avoid the direct path of attack, but you may have just given yourself the advantage that will win you the fight.

This drill, which you can practice with a partner, will prepare you to take dominant angles during a match.

Step-by-Step:

  • Starting from your center stance, take an inside step towards your partner with your front foot and plant your foot a 45-degree angle.
  • Once your foot is planted, pivot outwards with your rear foot. This puts you at an ideal angle to throw a combination of punches and kicks at your opponent.
  • Once you are in position, try throwing a number of different combinations. One option is to throw a left jab, a right cross, then a right knee.
  • Return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 25x.

Once you’ve practiced this drill with your primary foot, try the same drill, only now do it southpaw

  • Starting from your same center stance, but take an outside step with your right foot. This will be a longer step forward. Step outside of your partner’s box and plant your right foot at a 45-degree angle.
  • Once your right foot is planted, pivot outwards with your left foot, which is now your rear.
  • This position puts you at a solid angle to throw a combination at your partner.
  • From this position, practice throwing different combinations. The combinations are your choice. One option is a left jab, a low kick to the leg, and then an inside knee.
  • Return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 25x.

Tips: Keep yourself challenged. Once you feel comfortable with the footwork, give yourself more and more difficult combinations to execute from your dominant angle.


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