One of the first questions that gets asked when anyone starts training for MMA is “What do I need to train?” Those who have been training a while will probably comment on how much fight gear can accumulate fast.
So, the question is. What do you need in your gym bag?
Below is a list of what I consider MMA essentials and then some non essential, but nevertheless, good to have items.
MMA Essential Fight Gear
Fight Shorts/ Grappling Shorts
The shorts you see in modern MMA are the ones you want to be looking at getting. The sport has travelled a considerable path since UFC 1 and the attire has adapted to the needs of the ever growing sport. MMA shorts are designed with comfort, style and practicality in mind. They are super durable, often designed with multiple fastening systems and designs that are just badass.
MMA is a very unpredictable sport, one that requires the athletes to manoeuvre in a variety of different positions. The shorts allow for flexibility in all areas and do not restrict the wearer. Quality shorts are the single best investment you can make when you start training.
If you are not ready to make an investment into a good quality pair of MMA shorts, make sure you opt for a quality pair of board shorts, specifically ones that have good flexibility in the groin and upper leg areas. If they are at all tight, you will limit the strikes and grappling positions you can fight/train in.
Points to look for in quality shorts
-Nylon or Polyester material to prevent sweat absorption
-Allow for full range of movement in the wearer.
Quality Cup/ Groin Guard
There’s the guy in every gym that trains without a groin guard and has no troubles whatsoever. The rest of the world however should be investing in a top quality guard and I’m guessing the reasons speak for themselves.
Getting hit low is a very common affair in MMA. Although it’s never malicious, it happens. Like when someone goes for an inside leg kick and misjudges the height, the knee through guard pass, stepping in during a clinch, the list goes on. These things happen and when it does it hurts.
There are a number of options when looking to get a groin protector. My go to for years was the old school jock strap. The problem with this option is however that if you have big legs (one of my thighs measure like 30” alone) it digs in the groin muscles pretty uncomfortably and shifts around a lot when grappling.
The option for many athletes (myself included now) is compression shorts that have a pocket for a cup. The compression shorts come it at a slightly higher price than the traditional jockstrap, but is well worth the extra cash for comfort and stability they provide. I have been using Shock Doctor shorts since I made the switch and I think you will be hard pressed to find a better quality and fit.
Points to look for in a Groin Guard
-Comfortable, stable fit.
-Ensure that the cup itself is a high quality material.
-Make sure the cup works for not only striking, but a ground game also.
Like the groin guard, the mouth guard is something that you should never be without. On the surface it looks like its only function is to protect your teeth. While this is indeed a primary function, it’s far from the only reason to wear one.
A well fitting mouth guard will keep your jaw locked into its proper position. Not only will this prevent it from getting broken or fractured if it is hit, but it will help prevent getting knocked out and any concussions that could come from it. True, a mouth guard isn’t going to be a miracle purchase that will prevent you from ever being knocked out again, but it will absorb shock from strikes. Shock that would of otherwise transferred to the brain.
A final reason for investing in a mouth guard is how it can increase your fitness. This may sound a little strange, but trust me. When wearing a mouth guard you are forced to breath through your nose. This kind of breathing promotes circulation and blood oxygen levels, while slowing down the breathing rate. This in turn improves lung volume and function.
Points to look for in a Mouth Guard
-Offers maximal protection.
-Comfortable, custom fit.
-Quality of the material.
Although when competing in MMA you will never actually wear one, a rash guard is still a solid investment. Seen primarily in No-Gi grappling they are a truly great item of clothing. As the name suggests they help with rashes and abrasions that occur frequently in training. This could be from the mats, another person’s skin or from rubbing against your opponents clothing or gear. MMA hygiene is often over looked, unfortunately, but thankfully wearing a rash guard will help with preventing skin infections. For a more in-depth article on MMA hygiene, check here.
A final argument for purchasing a rash guard is in the interest of keeping your T shirts wearable. Let me explain, every time I have for whatever reason forgot to pick up my rash guard and had to grapple in a T shirt, the thing becomes baggy, stretched out and often ripped, rendering it unusable again. T shirts really aren’t designed for the abuses involved in fighting, rash guards are.
Points to look for in a Rash Guard
-Something that is well made, quality stitched, well fitting and comfortable.
-A rash guard is often a “you get what you pay for” piece of equipment.
-Whichever style you prefer, long sleeved or short sleeved.
A giant portion of your training will be devoted to solely stand up. This is where the boxing gloves come in. For sparring, when there is no grappling involved 16oz gloves should be worn. This is to ensure you protect your hands and wrists as well as your training partners.
There are literally hundreds of different gloves available, but I have always gone with Hayabusa. They offer impeccable quality and are considered amongst the best in the industry. For and in depth review of different Hayabusa gloves check out here.
Points to look for in Boxing Gloves
-Quality leather gloves that are built to last.
-A pair that offers all round top quality and protection.
-16oz will be fine for most weights, light heavy and above should consider 18oz.
You may have noticed I chose to put boxing gloves over MMA gloves. This wasn’t by error. MMA gloves are something that only occasionally will be used in training. MMA gloves tend to not offer a huge amount of protection when striking so it’s always best to stick with boxing gloves for the bulk of your training, this includes heavy bag work.
When first treading water in MMA training it’s probably worth leaving out MMA gloves. When you first step into any MMA gym, it’s going to be months of hard work before you get onto sparring. As mentioned above, the bulk of striking work will be done using boxing gloves and ground work will be separate and gloveless.
Points to look for in MMA Gloves
-Quality leather gloves that are built to last.
-Generally available in 4oz and 8oz, stick with 8oz in the gym and 4oz for competitions.
-Gloves that fit well and offer all the protection and movement required in MMA.
Hand wraps are a vital piece of equipment when striking. Whilst gloves offer support on the hands and wrists, sometimes this just isn’t enough. By wrapping the hands and wrists, you are adding additional layers of support that can prevent unnecessary damage to the small bones of the hands and the fragile nature of the wrist.
Wrapping hands is truly an art form. There are numerous ways to wrap the hands, so it’s worth the time looking into the different styles and seeing which works best for you.
Points to look for in Hand Wraps
-180” is the standard length that works well for most fighters.
-Avoid stiff wraps and instead look for semi rigid ones that have some elasticity.
-Take the time to learn wrapping styles.
All it takes is to see Anderson Silva’s leg to see just how dangerous kicks can be.
Muay Thai and kickboxing make up a significant part of any well rounded MMA fighters training. The purpose of shin guards is to protect the wearer’s shins, from below the knee, up to the toes. Shin guards form a necessary item to keep the leg safe during drills, pad work and sparring.
There are a number of shin guards available, but the two main types are a sleeve that you pull onto the leg and an open back kind that has Velcro straps holding it in place. The leg sleeve option is generally best for light work that involves some sort of grappling as well. The Velcro open back kinds are often a lot thicker and offer a greater protection. These are more suited to stand up work that involves sparring.
Points to look for in Shin Guards
-Choose a style that is best suited to your needs.
-Make sure the shin and top of foot is well protected, regardless of the style.
-Generally the higher the quality, the better the protection offered. This means you can train kicks harder, with no need to worry about your protection.
If you are planning on sparring, quality headgear is a must. Of all the different fight gear mentioned in this article, this is the one that most gyms will not let you spar without. Again, there are a multitude of different styles available and it is often down to personal preference. You need to try on a lot of different styles and weigh up the vision and breathing restrictions, with the protection offered. While buying a headgear is going to be a timely and costly investment it really is one that you need.
Points to look for in a Head Guard
-A quality fit is vital, if it is knocked and shifts, your vision will be restricted.
-Look for something that is of a high quality and offers maximum protection.
-Stick with reputable manufacturers as they will have products that have been well made and well tested.
Non Essential Fight Gear
These are the non essential items that you won’t necessarily need for MMA, but will be useful to have with you as part of your fight gear.
Athletic tape is truly the duct tape of the fitness world. It is something that I buy in bulk, simply because I know I will be using it so frequently. Use it for small cuts and scrapes, taping up wrists and joints. Any fight gear that may need a pick me up. Considering so many use athletic tape, so few bring it to the gym. Be the responsible one who does.
While this is technically a non essential, it is something that I personally consider a must have. It’s just common courtesy to have a quick wipe after a roll or spar, before your go with the next partner. No-one wants to roll with an excessively sweaty guy!
Notepad and Pen
As cheesy as it sounds, knowledge really is power. Chances are after a session your mind is racing, but after the comedown you will have already forgotten 50% of the details. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make in MMA training. Keep a detailed journal of every class, every lesson and every spar. Re-read before each lesson and watch your progress sky rocket. Have a bit more of a read about keeping a journal here.
Knee/ Elbow Pads
Your knees and elbow are going to get knocked and scraped. This is just the nature of MMA. Investing in some decent pads will make things, not only a little easier on the joints, but also on the skin. While a small matt burn isn’t a huge injury, it sure hurts when hitting the shower after practice.
It’s inevitable that your fight gear is going to pick up a bit of a smell. Gloves are perhaps the worst for this. Boxing and MMA gloves are wet with sweat when used and with little ventilation, become quite foul. Glove Dogs are designed to fit inside gloves after use and absorb sweat and help deodorize them, keeping them fresh. One of the simplest and best purchases you can make, don’t let the gloves get smelly!
Fight Gear Closing Thoughts
Don’t worry too much about the gear when you start out.
Grab anything and get training. No amount of high end fight gear will make you a better fighter. Train hard and let the fight gear accumulate as you put in the weeks, months and years into you journey.
Spending time on the mats is the first and foremost priority for you.
As always, train to get tougher both physically and mentally.