How To Throw Elbows (5 Deadly Muay Thai Techniques)

February 28, 2022

The elbow strike is a trademark in Muay Thai and is often used in MMA. The knife-like bone can deal significant damage and open huge cuts without much force and effort.

The elbow strike is predominantly a close-range weapon used in the clinch position. Still, you can also use it at range in some variations. It’s one of the most vicious strikes you could land in a fight.

Most combat sports restrict the use of elbows, so they remain a lot less understood and used in martial arts. MMA fighters managed to use them with great success, but the absolute masters of the elbow strike are Muay Thai fighters. So, we will research and learn from the best

 in learning how to throw elbows.

Different Types of Elbow Strikes

Horizontal elbow

The first and most natural hit with the elbow is the horizontal strike. The mechanics of the horizontal elbow are identical to how you would throw a hook. The elbow travels horizontally to the ground. This strike is extensively from a clinch or very short range but can also be utilized from mid-range with a small step forward. The horizontal elbow aims at the chin, temple, or ear of the opponent.

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The rear hand horizontal elbow carries an insane amount of power. All of the gathered power of the whole body is focused on the elbow’s small area, which makes it devastating when landed and even if blocked with the forearms. This technique has the highest chance of scoring a KO.

Upward elbow

The upward elbow is also known as the uppercut elbow and logically follows the same recipe as the uppercut punch but with even less range. You cannot throw the lead hand upward elbow with great power. Still, both lead and rear ones are sneaky shots that can easily split an opponent’s guard, and a well-placed elbow does not need force to do damage. The upward elbows usually target the chin but are also an excellent nose breaker.

Spear Elbow

The spear elbow is done with a similar arm position to the upwards elbow, but in this case, the elbow is first pointed toward the opponent and then thrust like a spear. The goal, just like with the upward elbow, is to split the guard. This strike is commonly used in MMA along the cage when one fighter is backed up on the fence and shelled up. The spear splits the guard incredibly well when fighting with 4oz gloves.

Diagonal Elbow

The diagonal or overhand elbow comes diagonally and ideally should land over the opponent’s guard. If the elbow is lifted high enough, it can quickly come down between the defending hands. The most common targets for the diagonal elbow are the upper parts of the head- eyebrow line, bridge of the nose, temple. Knockouts seldom come from a diagonal elbow, but this technique is your best option if you want to make things messy and cut the opponent.

Spinning elbow

The most impressive of the bunch is the spinning elbow. As with all spinning attacks, it is a high risk-high reward attack. Landing the spinning elbow will surely cause devastating damage on the opponent, but missing leaves you in a disadvantageous position and at very close range at that.

How to Throw Elbows

For all elbow strikes (this is a great rule to follow for all strikes, not just elbows), try to land with as small an area as possible. If you manage to land with the very tip of the elbow, the results will be great for you and horrendous for the opponent.

The very close-range use of elbows means the integrating defense. At the same time, your attack is even more critical than with punches. Always keep in mind the non-hitting hand and keep it glued to your head.

Horizontal Elbow

How to Throw Elbow Strikes
  • From the regular stance, make a small step forward with the lead leg
  • Lift your back elbow to shoulder level, and the forearm should be parallel to the ground
  • Strike with the elbow pivoting on the ball of the back foot. Turn your thumb down.
  • Guard your head with the left hand

The whole movement is the same as throwing a rear hook. Make sure to pivot on the back foot and rotate your whole body to transfer the power into the strike.

Upward Elbow

Inside Elbow Strike

This instruction is for the upward elbow used in the clinch. The spear elbow is better suited for use from a distance, but you can also land the upwards elbow with a step forward.

  • Swing your elbow upwards, aiming at your opponent’s head
  • The palm of the striking hand should be kept close to the ear, in a similar motion to combing your hair backward.
  • Pivot on the same foot as the striking arm.

The motion for the lead and rear hand upward elbow is the same. In the correct range, the upward elbow is very easy to do- from the normal position of the hands in guard, swing the shoulder and elbow upwards while rotating your body.

Spear Elbow

Spear Elbow Strike

Here is how to throw the lead spear elbow

  • From standard guard step forward with the lead leg
  • Point the lead elbow forward and place the palm on the side of your head
  • Thrust forward with the shoulder at the same time with the step

The step forward for the lead spear elbow is executed like throwing a jab. The key Is to thrust and extend with the shoulder.

The backhand spear elbow:

  • From standard guard step forward with the lead leg
  • Point your rear elbow forward and place the palm on the side of your head
  • Pivot on the back foot and thrust the elbow forwards by extending the shoulder forward.

Diagonal Elbow

Elbow Strike Self Defense
  • From standard guard, pick up your right elbow.
  • Drive it down diagonally over or between the opponent’s hands
  • Pivot on the back foot and rotate your body to transfer the body’s power into the elbow.
Types of Elbow Strikes

Spinning Elbow

Alternative Elbow Strikes
Spinning Elbow Strike

The key to all spinning attacks is to first step across your opponent. Here is how to throw a right spinning elbow.

  • Step diagonally with your left leg
  • Rotate to your right leading with the elbow until you see the opponent over your right shoulder
  • Hit him with the elbow adding extra torque by rotating the hips.
  • Always reset back to your original stance.
  • Keep your left hand high at all times.

When to Throw Elbow Strikes

There are more variations of the elbow strike, like the downward spiking elbow or the reverse elbow. Still, they are too specialized and work in particular situations. However, the ones we have looked at so far have a lot more uses.

In the clinch

The most common use of the elbow both in MMA and Muay Thai is in the clinch. Battling with the hands gives the perfect opportunity to land an elbow-both horizontal or upwards elbow.

Many Thai fighters are masters of clinch elbows, but MMA fighters like Anderson Silva and John Jones had great success in the cage and produced some stunning highlight knockouts.

From distance

Closing the distance enough to land an elbow is not always easy. But elbow attacks can work wonders if the opponent is staying in the pocket and not actively trying to maintain distance.

As a counter

Few shots are as destructive as a counter elbow. Not only is the bone hard and the point of impact small, but when timed properly, the force is multiplied by the forward momentum of the poor soul on the receiving end.

Ground and pound

The ground and pound is an MMA-specific area, at least as far as martial arts go. In a real-life fight, it is a great skill to have. Receiving even a few elbows from the top while on the ground is stuff that can give you nightmares.

When working from a guard position, the elbow can unexpectedly cut a fighter that should have the advantage on top (remember how Michael Bisping slashed GSP’s face from the bottom).


Do not think that the elbow can be used only as single strikes. With enough proficiency, the elbow becomes a part of well-structured combos. In the clinch, a great time to throw an elbow is after a couple of knees when the opponent is thinking about defending his mid-section. Two-three and four elbows can be chained together like a punch combination.

The spinning elbow can be used as a separate attack successfully. Still, it’s often easier to see, especially given the limited range instead of a spinning back fist, for example.

This is why most often, you will see it in two scenarios. The first is after a missed (whiffed, or deliberately missed as a feint) punch or elbow attack that propels the fighter forward and turns the body partially, making the spin natural to continue with.

The other common knockout producer is the spinning elbow used as a counter-attack. This is extremely impressive and doubly painful because the receiver is walking into the elbow.

About the author 

Plamen Kostov

Plamen has been training for the last 14 years in karate and kickboxing, before settling in for MMA for the last 5 years. He has a few amateur kickboxing fights and currently trains with and helps a stable of professional and amateur MMA fighters.


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