Over the past two decades, Mixed Martial Arts (or MMA) has made its way into the mainstream. Viewers are captivated by the raw and unhinged fighting that occurred in UFC (the most popular MMA league) fights, and they want a piece of the action.
These UFC fighters are like superheroes: they are in fantastic shape, agile, quick and can inflict damage on their opponents. People want to be like them. This has led to an explosion in the popularity of recreational Mixed Martial Arts, as well as martial art forms such as Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Gyms have popped up all over attracting students who are hungry for some action.
Yet, a lot of people who want to get into MMA are left scratching their heads at how to get started. To start, there are many different forms of martial arts, which leaves people wondering whether they should start with one discipline or MMA in general. Then there are gyms popping up left and right, which leaves people wondering which one is the best place to get started.
On top of that people worry about the potential health and safety issues. Obviously MMA is a heavy contact spot that can lead to injuries, both long-term and short-term. This can turn a lot of people off. It looks to be all fun and games until someone gets hit in the jaw. But don’t let the violence hold you back— that’s what makes MMA so real. Unaltered fighting will give you the rush you’ve been looking for.
- Why You Should Train MMA
- Deciding What to Focus on
- How to Find a Gym
- Gear List
- Training and Nutrition for MMA Athletes
- What to Expect at First
Learning martial arts has a ton of different benefits. The most obvious is learning how to fight. There are a lot of tough guys out there— some real, some fake. But its better not to find out. That means avoiding fights when possible. Fighting inside a gym is one thing, fighting outside is entirely different. So while you should seek to always diffuse a situation, if push comes to shove you’ll be ready.
Another important aspect of martial arts is the mentality that fighters develop. You build the mindset of a warrior through MMA. You learn to face your fears and not be afraid to step into a ring against someone bigger and tougher than you. This fighter mindset also goes hand in hand with comraderies. MMA gyms build deep friendships among the members. Everyone really gets along and looks after each other.
One of the biggest factors that has made MMA training so popular is that it incorporates a variety of martial arts, as opposed to just one discipline. For instance, decades ago people would immerse themselves in Karate or Taekwondo. Now, fighters are learning multiple disciplines to make themselves more rounded.
Depending on your approach you may want to emphasize certain aspects individually as opposed to learning multiple disciplines together. For example, you may want to spend a couple months learning a striking martial art before getting into grappling.
If you wish to start with striking, there are numerous options: Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Karate, Taekwondo etc. Muay Thai and boxing are the favored methods of MMA pros. The reason for this is that Karate and Taekwondo don’t emphasize actual combat as much as the other forms do.
‘Clinch’ forms of martial arts have served as the base for many seasoned fighters. These include wrestling (both Greco-Roman and Freestyle), Judo, and Jujitsu. These disciplines help in fighters being able to throw and take down opponents. Ground disciplines are an essential part of any Mixed Martial Arts. You can expect most of your fights to go to the ground, so you must be prepared. Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and wresting variations here are your best bets.
There are many gyms that specialize in MMA, Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, Muay Thai or similar discipline. Finding the right one for you though can be tricky. Because as the popularity of MMA grows, the number of people trying to cash in on the sport will grow as well, and the most profitable parts of the MMA culture is through gyms.
One big reason for this is that certain MMA gyms focus on cardio workouts as opposed to techniques and actual fighting. Cardio boxing/kickboxing has become a very popular class. Sure, it’s great cardio, but it’s not what you’re looking for if you want to become a good fighter.
You’re also going to have to look out for the quality of your gyms. That is, are the instructors the real deal or just trying to cash in on MMA? You’re going to have to do your due diligence here, and check on a few different gyms in your area. Look at the instructors, mainly the lead instructor, and see how successful and long of a career they’ve had. You can also check out MMA forums like Sherdog, or sites like ‘Yelp!’ to get the scoop on these gyms.
You should also decide what type of school you’d like to attend. Some schools specialize in single martial arts like Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and others offer classes with a general approach to MMA. The choice really depends on if you’re more interested in mastering a specific discipline, or starting off as a well-rounded fighter. It would be ideal to pick a specialty gym, but if none is a particular interest to you then stick to a quality gym that does all types of MMA.
There is a lot of equipment involved in MMA. Some are for safety purposes, others for functional purposes. Also, the gear you’ll buy depends on what sport you may be focusing on the most. For example, the gear required for Brazilian Ju-Jitsu is different from what you’ll need for Muay Thai.
But here are some general gear recommendations that MMA practitioners should consider:
- Mouthguard: Doing damage to your teeth and jaw isn’t fun, nor cheap. Invest in a quality, custom mouthguard to keep you protected.
- Cup (Groin): As a full contact sport, you should expect to get hit in the groin, though it doesn’t occur regularly. Better to be safe than sorry, so just wear a cup.
- Gloves: Gloves will be used for the striking disciplines like Muay Thai and boxing. They can be used for either sparring or hitting the heavy bag.
- Hand Wraps: These are essential for striking as they will tremendously help protect your wrists.
- Fight Shorts: While you can wear regular athletic shorts in MMA, it’s ideal to wear fight shorts. These are specially designed for fighting, and are much more conducive to fighting as the allow for enhanced mobility when fighting either on your feet or on the ground.
- Rashguard: Like fighting shorts, rashguards are not essential but they will make training much more enjoyable than wearing a t-shirt. Rashguards aren’t baggy, won’t get ripped easily, and don’t absorb tons of sweat.
- Athletic Tape: Whether you need to tape to wrap your hands, tape your gloves shut, keep your shin guards in place, support an injury or something else, athletic tape will come in handy.
- Gi (For Brazilian Ju-Jitsu): A Gi is an essential part of BJJ. Spend a little more money buying a high-quality Gi so that it’s not getting ripped all the time.
- Knee Pads: When rolling around the mat or firing knee strikes, you want to keep your knees protected. These will add a ton of comfort to your training and sparring sessions.
- Shin Guards: Muay Thai fighters take pride in having rock hard shins that do tons of damage in a fight. Unless you plan on competing professionally than you probably don’t need to worry about toughening your shins up to such a degree. Instead, just get some shin guards. They will allow you to protect yourself and focus more on the technique than getting hit.
- Head Gear: There’s no sense in risking a head injury in a sport that is often prone to them. Use head gear at all times when training to protect yourself from unwanted blow.
Just like any form of physical fitness, MMA requires athletes to pay close attention to their workouts and diets. Making the most of these is going to help you become the best fighter you can be.
When it comes to training, you must find a balance between regular MMA practice, as well as any other forms of exercise you regularly engage in. For example, if you lift weights several days a week you’re going to have to find a way to make the two work together. Lifting weights is definitely possible with MMA, and it’s often encouraged. You should lift no more than four times a week, and even that may be too much. Traditional bodybuilding workouts are probably going to be too much volume, so stick to compound exercises like presses and rows to build strength and muscle. Core work should also be emphasized as your core plays a huge part in fighting. Do regular core exercises such as planks and leg raises.
If you don’t enjoy lifting weights, then at the very least you should be doing some calisthenics like pushups and pullups. Doing these exercises will help keep you strong and thus making you a better fighter overall.
When in doubt, start slow. Too many MMA fighters want to go all out— a brutal lifting routine, days of boxing, and days of grappling. It just won’t work. Our bodies can only sustain so much exercise. Certainly we can increase that threshold over time, but it’s important to know your limits.
This also means you can’t copy the workout of your favorite UFC fighter. Keep in mind they have amazing genetics, years of training, a whole staff by their side, personal chefs and more. Sure, you can see what they do and use it as a basis for your regimen, but it would be foolish to copy it exactly.
In terms of nutrition, you want to focus on consuming enough calories and eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Eating enough calories is important because MMA is a very demanding form of exercise and consuming plenty of calories will help keep you going during training and fights. While you should eat a healthy diet consisting of whole foods, you’re going to need to consume more carbohydrates in order to get the necessary amounts of energy.
The reason an anti-inflammatory diet is emphasized is because it will help prevent injuries and long-term joint damage. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables will help your body heal and will have you feeling great, and will prevent you from suffering nagging injuries. You also want to make sure to avoid processed and junk foods as these cause tons of inflammation, not to mention weight gain.
Starting out in MMA is something you should look forward to. It will hopefully be part of a journey that you will venture on for years, and the sooner you get started the better. It’s this desire though that can be a detriment to novices.
Too many beginners are anxious to start doing well from Day 1. They will too often be sorely disappointed. MMA is a sport that requires a lot of skill that takes years to develop. It’s therefore unlikely that novice trainees will see much success from the get-go.
These high expectations can also lead to frustration. When a novice trainer begins sparring, they’re probably going to have difficulty fighting with, let alone beating, opponents. Too often these trainees throw their hands up and quit. IF you want to really get the most out of MMA, you need to be committed to it for the long-haul. This commitment not only applies to the finesse and technique required, but also to one’s body. If you’re not already in top athletic shape, then it may take years to develop a lean, mean physique.
If you set your expectations properly, however, MMA will easily become your new passion. You will develop physical and mental toughness, new friends, and a sense of self-confidence knowing that you can properly defend yourself if needed.