With thousands of fighters and millions of fans, MMA, short for mixed martial arts, has quickly become one of the world’s most popular sports. Part of what attracts people to MMA is its unique and creative nature. Those who participate are able to use a blend of different fighting techniques—from Muay Thai and traditional boxing to Jiu Jitsu and wrestling. With striking and grappling allowed inside the “octagon”—the eight-sided ring in which participants fight—there are plenty of ways for fighters to get creative when on the attack.
This, in turn, makes it especially important for those getting involved in MMA to learn how to protect themselves: easier said than done when an opponent is able to punch you, kick you, and drag you to the ground at the same time.
Combat sports will never be completely safe for participants, but those who are beginning to immerse themselves in MMA can give themselves some peace of mind by knowing the best ways to protect themselves when in action. Here’s how you can accomplish that.
Use A Mouth Guard
Finding the right MMA gear is vital. Let’s start with a no-brainer. Mouth guards do not impede on your ability to fight and have a number of important benefits. First, and most obvious, they can save you the physical and financial pain of getting a bunch of teeth knocked out. Additionally, they can protect your tongue, lips, cheeks, jaw, and the inside of your mouth. It’s crucial to find a mouth guard that can be molded for your gums and teeth. Thankfully, such products are available at most sporting good stores.
Use A Groin Guard
Another no-brainer for men getting involved in MMA. A kick accidentally placed in the groin area can quickly take any male fighter out of action and lead to serious health concerns. These days, lightweight and flexible guards are available to make sure fighters are protected and able to move about freely.
Find The Right Gloves For You
MMA gloves are quite different than the ones you’d find in traditional boxing. While boxers wear big, heavy mitts that are used when making a fist, MMA gloves smaller, lighter, and more flexible, allowing fighters to maintain open palms. By being able to open your palm mid-fight, you can use your hands to physically take down your opponent, and, ideally, bring him or her into submission.
Hand technique is one of the most important facets of the sport to learn. But given the size of MMA gloves, going on the offensive can lead to hand injuries if the wrong equipment is used. That’s why it’s important to ensure your gloves are high-quality and fit your needs.
Heavier gloves offer more protection but less speed, and vice versa. When getting started in MMA, it’s important to have a trainer evaluate your ability and skill level to help determine what kind of gloves are best for your goals as a fighter and for the protection of yourself and your opponents.
Wrap Your Hands
Usually made with elastic or semi-elastic cotton, the rolls of fabric fighters wrap around their hands can be colorful and flashy, but they are not there just for show. Using hand wraps inside your gloves has some important benefits. For one, hand wraps help stabilize, strengthen, and align your wrists. This can help you make better fists when in combat.
What’s more, applying hand wraps can offer some protection against cuts, scrapes, fractures, and sprains. Given their benefits and low cost—a roll can generally be purchased for $5 or less—hand wraps should be used every time you train and step in the ring.
Avoid Fighting When Injured
In MMA, like all contact sports, it’s important to listen to your body and know when you need time to recover. A common axiom among athletic trainers is there’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. Being able to tell the difference between the two will help you determine whether or not you should push through pain.
Dealing with a sore leg (hurt) is not nearly as severe as dealing with a strained ligament (injured). Pushing yourself through injury can make you more vulnerable in the ring, making you less capable of protecting yourself. It can also exacerbate your ailment and lead to long-term consequences—some of which can be permanent.
Seek Professional Training
Some sports, like basketball and soccer, can be learned without much (or any) coaching. MMA does not fall in that category. Learning how to protect yourself in the ring takes years, and it requires professional trainers to guide you along the way. One of the biggest reasons why people seek out trainers is to learn how to protect themselves.
There’s a reason why so many invest time and money in self-defense classes, such as Krav Maga: If you have no prior fighting or martial arts experience, it is not something to learn solo. Having an experienced instructor teach you the right techniques will set you up for success in the ring and give you the confidence you need to defend yourself out in the world should a perilous situation arise.
Begin And End Your Workouts By Stretching
To succeed as an MMA fighter, you need to be flexible. A high level of flexibility is needed to perform many techniques, including ones that help with self-defense. Stretching tends to take a back seat to other areas of training, but prioritizing it before and after your main workout will put you in a better position to protect yourself when on the defense. And, of course, stretching is great for your body: It can shorten your recovery time, lessen muscle damage, increase your reach, improve your posture, and promote blood circulation.
Keep Strength Training In Your Routine
A workout program that has you frequently sparring inside an MMA ring can be exhausting and leave you with little energy left over. Nevertheless, regular strength training is often recommended to fighters to maintain and build muscles. Those who lift weights (on a proper schedule) will improve the strength of their tendons, muscles, and connective tissues—lowering the risk of injury.
Written by Constante Quirino