Home / Indicators / How To Use Moving Averages – The Ultimate Moving Averages Trading Tips

How To Use Moving Averages – The Ultimate Moving Averages Trading Tips

Moving averages are without a doubt the most popular trading tools and indicators. Moving averages are a great tool if you know how to use them – most traders, however, make some fatal mistakes when it comes to trading with moving averages. In this article, I show you what you need to know when it comes to choosing the type and the length of the perfect moving average and the 3 ways how to use moving averages when making trading decisions.

 

What you’ll learn:

  • What is the right moving average? Choosing between the EMA and the SMA
  • Finding the perfect moving average length for your trading
  • The best moving average for swing trading and day trading
  • Finding trend direction and filtering trades
  • Moving averages as support and resistance
  • Moving averages for your stop placement
  • Bollinger Bands and their role with moving averages

 

What is the best moving average? EMA or SMA?

At the beginning, all traders ask themselves whether they should use the EMA (exponential moving average) or the SMA (simple/smoothed moving average). The differences between the two are usually subtle, but the choice of the moving average can make a big impact on your trading. Here is what you need to know

 

The differences between EMA and SMA

There is really only one difference when it comes to EMA vs. SMA and it’s speed. The EMA moves much faster and it changes its direction earlier than the SMA. The EMA gives more weight to the most recent price action which means that when price changes direction, the EMA recognizes this sooner, while the SMA takes longer to turn when price turns.

 

Pros and cons – EMA vs SMA

There is no better or worse when it comes to EMA vs. SMA. The pros of the EMA are also its cons – let me explain what this means.

The EMA reacts faster when price is changing direction, but this also means that the EMA is also more vulnerable when it comes to giving wrong signals too early. For example, when price retraces during a rally, the EMA will start turning down immediately and it can signal a change in direction way too early. The SMA moves much slower and it can keep you in trades longer when there are false and short-lived price movements. But, of course, this also means that the SMA gets you in trades later than the EMA.

Resume. In the end, it comes down to what you feel comfortable with and what your trading style is (see next points). The EMA gives you more and earlier signals, but it also gives you more false and premature signals. The SMA provides less and later signals, but also less wrong signals.

EMA_SMA

 

What is the best period setting?

After choosing the type of your moving average, traders ask themselves which period setting is the right one that gives them the best signals?! There are two parts to this answer: first, you have to choose whether you are a swing or a day trader; and secondly, you have to be clear about the purpose and why you are using moving averages in the first place. Let’s go about this now:

 

Self-fulfilling prophecy

More than anything, moving averages “work” because they are a self-fulfilling prophecy, which means that price respects moving averages because so many traders use them in their own trading. This raises a very important point when trading with indicators:

You have to stick to the most commonly used moving averages to get the best results. Moving averages work when a lot of traders use and act on their signals. Thus, go with the crowd and only use the popular moving averages.

 

The best moving average periods for day-trading

When you are a short-term day trader, you need a moving average that is fast and reacts to price changes immediately. That’s why it’s usually best for day-traders to stick with EMAs in the first place.

When it comes to the period and the length, there are usually 3 specific moving averages you should think about using:

  • 9 or 10 period: Very popular and extremely fast moving. Often used as a directional filter (more later)
  • 21 period: Medium-term and the most accurate moving average. Good when it comes to riding trends
  • 50 period: Long-term moving average and best suited for identifying the longer term direction

 

EMA_daytrading

 

The best periods for swing-trading

Swing traders have a very different approach and they typically trade on the higher time frames (4H, Daily +) and also hold trades for longer periods of time. Thus, swing-traders should pick the SMA as their choice and also use longer period moving averages to avoid noise and premature signals. Here are 4 moving averages that are particularly important for swing traders:

  • 21 period: The 21 moving average is my preferred choice when it comes to short-term swing trading. During trends, price respects it so well and it also signals trend shifts
  • 50 period: The 50 moving average is the standard swing-trading moving average and very popular. Most traders use it to ride trends because it’s the ideal compromise between too short and too long term.
  • 100 period: There is something about round numbers that attract traders and that definitely holds true when it comes to the 100 moving average. It works very well for support and resistance – especially on the daily and/or weekly time frame
  • 200 / 250 period: The same holds true for the 200 moving average. The 250 period moving average is popular on the daily chart since it describes one year of price action (one year has roughly 250 trading days)

 

SMA_Swing

 

How to use moving averages? 3 usage examples

Now that you know about the differences of the moving averages and how to choose the right period setting, we can take a look at the 3 ways moving averages can be used to help you find trades, ride trends and exit trades in a reliable way.

 

#1 Trend direction and filter

Market Wizard Marty Schwartz was one of the most successful traders ever and he was a big advocate of moving averages as direction filter. Here is what he said about them:

“The 10 day exponential moving average (EMA) is my favorite indicator to determine the major trend. I call this “red light, green light” because it is imperative in trading to remain on the correct side of a moving average to give yourself the best probability of success. When you are trading above the 10 day, you have the green light, the market is in positive mode and you should be thinking buy. Conversely, trading below the average is a red light. The market is in a negative mode and you should be thinking sell.” – Marty Schwartz

Marty Schwartz uses a fast EMA to stay on the right side of the market and to filter out trades in the wrong direction. Just this one tip can already make a huge difference in your trading when you only start trading with the trend in the right direction.

 

9_21_EMA

 

But even as swing traders, you can use moving average as directional filters. The Golden and Death Cross is a signal that happens when the 200 and 50 period moving average cross and they are mainly used on the daily charts.

In the chart below, I marked the Golden and Death cross entries. Basically, you would enter short when the 50 crosses below the 200 and enter long when the 50 crosses above the 200 period moving average. Although the screenshot only shows a limited amount of time, you can see that the moving average cross-overs can help your analysis and pick the right market direction.

 

Golden_cross

 

#2 Support and resistance and stop placement

The second thing moving averages can help you with is support and resistance trading and also stop placement. Because of the self-fulfilling prophecy we talked about earlier, you can often see that the popular moving averages work perfectly as support and resistance levels.

 

Word of caution: Trend vs ranges

Moving averages don’t work during ranging markets. When price ranges back and forth between support and resistance, the moving average is usually somewhere in the middle of that range and price does not respect it that much.

Moving averages should only be used during trending market periods.

The screenshot below shows a price chart with a 50 and 21 period moving average. You can see that during the range, moving averages completely lose their validity, bit as soon as price starts trending and swinging, they perfectly act as support and resistance again.

 

Moving averages for your stop placement. Moving averages are a great tool when it comes to stop trailing and protecting your trade. During trends, moving averages work as support and resistance and traders then place their stop at the other side of the moving average and trail it along. This way, they can ride trends for a long time and get early exit signals when price breaks the moving average. Tip: Never place your stop directly at the moving average and always give it some room to avoid stop runs.

The length and the period of the moving average determines how long you will stay in a trade. A shorter moving average gets you out of trades sooner, but the longer moving average avoids many of the false signals. There is no right or wrong and it’s a personal choice.

 

support

 

#3 Bollinger Bands and the end of a trend

The Bollinger Bands are a technical indicator based on moving averages. In the middle of the Bollinger Bands, you find the 20 period moving average and the outer Bands measure price volatility.

During ranges, price fluctuates around the moving average, but the outer Bands are still very important. When price touches the outer Bands during a range, it can often foreshadow the reversal into the opposite direction. So, even though moving averages lose their validity during ranges, the Bollinger Bands are a great tool that still allow you to analyze price effectively.

During trends, Bollinger Bands can help you stay in trades. During a strong trend, price usually pulls away from its moving average, but it moves close to the outer Band. When price then breaks the moving average again, it signals a change in direction. Furthermore, whenever you see a violation of the outer Band during a trend, it often foreshadows a retracement – however, it does NOT mean a reversal until the moving average has been broken.

 

BB

 

You can see that moving averages are a multi-faceted tool that can be used in a variety of different ways. Once a trader understands the implications of EMA vs SMA, the importance of the self-fulfilling prophecy and how to pick the right period setting, moving averages become an important tool in a trader’s toolbox.

What are your thoughts and experiences with moving averages? Let me know your opinion below and leave it comment.

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58 comments

  1. I remember reading an article in a trading magazine years ago that stated EMA(5) was the best. The chart period didn’t matter.

    Go long when price crosses and closes above a rising ema(5).

    Go short when price crosses and closes below a falling ema(5).

    If you know me, you know I gave up “squiggly” line indicators years ago. But if I was forced to trade with a squiggly, it would be ema(5).

  2. Excellent article and excellent web site – Thank you and I look forward to the next – Keep well – Doug.

  3. Well written..ans easy to understand. Keep them coming. Perhaps, another topic on using multi time frames to trade. tks again

  4. Excellent thanks…its helpfull

  5. Hi Rolf,

    Very intelligible explanation about MAs.
    Each article on your website has something like Zen style 🙂 I have good emotions about your articles everytime.

    Thank you so much

  6. Hi Rolf,
    This article is really Nice and Helpful for not only for those who has already trading but also for those who starts to learn for trading like me. May I know that is there any explanation about using Stochastic? If not bother please help me.
    Wish you having a great time.
    Best Regards,
    LM

  7. Well said and it quiet easy to understand , and very helpful.

  8. jonathan isaiah

    hello,how about a combination of 10ema,15sma and 30sma on a daily chat?

  9. I stumbled across this site whilst googling “price action supporting indicators”

    This is THE site every newbie trader has to bookmark for knowledge based trading. The explanations are simple, short and to the point.

    Keep up the good work guys & thank you so much for all the hard work you put in so far.

    Kenn

    • Thanks Kenenth. Glad that you like our site and our work 🙂

      We will keep spreading the word and hopefully help more traders in the future.

      Rolf

  10. This article is really helpful. I’m a newbie and though I’m already using MA’s (works well with me), all of what this articles said gives me more confidence with my system. Thanks a lot.
    I use EMA5, EMA13, EMA20, EMA50 & EMA200, with Bollinger Bands (20). “Ribbon” effect. 🙂

  11. Is there an easy option to show the 1h 100MA and 1h 200MA as well as the 4h 100MA and 200MA on a daily chart?

    • Hello Nadine,

      most charting platforms have the option to show higher timeframe indicators as well. Maybe you have to look for a custom indicator.

      Rolf

  12. I’m recently started to read your articles. They are very good and practical. I’ve been reading some books but they are too complicated. Thank you. I really appreciate your WORKS buddy!

  13. Thank you Rolf.
    This is perfect. It is going to help me as I am new in trading.

  14. Hi Rolf:

    Why 21 EMA, instead of 20 EMA?

    Are there any reason 21 is better than 20?

    And why not just use 20 and 10, instead of 21 and 9?

    Thanks!

  15. Hi Rolf!

    Is it possible or are there tools that can be used to determine the “start” of a range market?

    Thank you!

  16. Hi Tradeciety. Thanks for your effort. This is a great help to us who just new in forex trading. Ill test this and hopefully learn forex trading soon.. Please clarify.. your screenshot regarding golden cross indicate 200 Period MA indicated in the upper portion is 100 perid..

  17. Thanks for this site.. This is a great help to us just starting to explore forex trading. May you clarify the golden cross because the upper indicate 100 MA and lower portion state 200 MA?

  18. Hi Rolf,

    Thanks again for a great article, this is awesome guys, the content in this site is more valuable than most Fx trading text books i have bought at ridiculous amounts.

    Thank you a million times.

  19. Wish I had known you before and may i congratulate for your best educational site.
    God bless.

  20. Hi Rolf,

    Fantastic education materials, staright to the point & easy to understand. Surely it helps many people imcluding me who has been hunting around for something solid in trading.

    Good work & cheers…

    Ray

  21. I just subscribe and have been reading all your posts for the past 3 hours and I can tell you am impressed and confident this will work. The area I have a little issue is I just read from another write-up about MA period 5,15 and 60 for swing trades though I don’t know if this soul work for day just like yours.
    Thanks for your time

  22. Your articles really help me understand more about MA. I’m currently writing an EA based on various MA cross. When trending, MA works great but problems happened when the market start ranging. Could you please advise is there any method that I can use to detect a ranging market as soon as it happen, so I can get out immediately? Thanks

    • Hello Anne,

      once you see that price is hovering around the moving average, it usually signals a range. Of course, the period of the MA determines the sensitivity.

      Rolf

  23. HI, what is a swing trader? thanks

  24. So nice of you ,it was very useful explanation of ma’s…for newbies like me…thank you very much for sharing your knowledge …Great …

  25. Thanks A Lot…..
    Your articles makes my understanding of MA’s much more.

  26. Do you use Traingular moving averages if so what periods would you recommend? thanks

  27. Also with the sma what time frame do you use? thanks

  28. Rahulprasad yadav

    Hi Rolf,

    Which indicator is giving most reliable accuracy in day trading. Please help me. thanks for your supports

  29. I love this. Noted many things. I believe success story will follow. Thanks

  30. Hello,

    I use SMA crosses like this: I look at the candlestick where the cross occured. This candlestick is my signalcandle. Depending on a buycross or sellcross, this candlestick will be tested. The low will be the future resistance when selling and the will be future support when buying= Entry. Check it yourself..

    When the market is ranging I use the stochastics, But also in a different way.

    I only use these 2 strategies for the past 2 years now and I can say that i’m a profitable trader. Keep it simple and keep it smooth!

    Let me know what you think.

    Great site btw!

  31. Hi, I want to thank you very much for your great article above on the 50 simple moving average in conjunction with other moving averages.
    Please i would like to ask if i can use 50 sma and 21ema with 8ema on the four hour chart and then also use them on the daily for confirmation of trends to enable me trade effectively.
    Thank you very much for the knowledge shared, blessings.

    • Hi Samuel,

      I personally only use the 20 SMA in my trading so cannot say too much about the 50, 21 and 8 combination.

      All the best
      Rolf

  32. Hi Rolf,keep Up The Good Work And remain Blessed Amen.

  33. How do we trade when moving averages do not work during ranges markets?

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