sparring guide

Guide to Sparring in MMA, Boxing, and Muay Thai

How often should you spar? Should you even spar at all? This is a topic that I’ve wanted to touch base on for a long time. When we start talking about the dangers of concussions, the main talking point is how you should conduct sparring sessions in MMA, Boxing, and Muay Thai. Many championship level boxers and MMA fighters will spar nearly every day leading up to a fight, which is something that is extremely dangerous for brain health. The truth is, science has advanced over time and we now know the dangers of consistent sparring.

There are many risks to take into consideration before you start sparring in any combat sport. Is sparring even worth the potential dangers and risks associated with brain damage? Some professional fighters such as Tony Ferguson don’t spar at all, which brings me to my next point: is sparring even worth it?

Should You Spar?

First, let’s talk about the honest truth, should you spar at all? If you’re a beginner who is looking to spar, you should probably understand the possible risks associated with sparring. I recommend checking out ‘When Should a Beginner Start Sparring?‘ to see if you’re ready to start swinging leather at your fellow training partners. I remember my first time sparring, the nerves took over my entire body and I already felt lightheaded before the first punch was thrown. It’s important to separate the difference between anxiety and actual concussion symptoms, something we’ll talk about later.

I don’t want to seem an advocate for choosing not to spar, I personally spar twice a week, sometimes less. I understand the pros and cons of sparring and whenever I’m feeling ‘foggy’ I stay away from sparring for a while. This is something that I advocate every single fighter does. If you don’t feel yourself while training then it’s time to slow down a bit.

I’ve heard stories of boxers training for world championship fights by sparring over 120 rounds, sometimes even getting knocked out flush only to be back in the gym within days. This is the type of barbaric training that you want to avoid completely. It doesn’t make you a savage to spar every day, it actually makes you an idiot.

The Good Things About Sparring

– You’re able to use what you’ve learned in class in a real fight simulation
– Develop better reaction time and enhance your skills
– Learn how to handle your anger and aggression towards an opponent

The Bad Things About Sparring

– Many risks and dangers of concussions and other injuries
– The possibility of putting too many “miles” on your body through wars in the gym

When Should Beginners Start Sparring?

I’ve already talked about this subject in depth on our ‘When Should Beginners Start Sparring‘ guide. This is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially when it comes to the health of your brain and body. I know many fighters and trainers say “you’re ready when you know you’re ready,” however, this may not always be the case. I believe the best trainers don’t push their fighters to spar until they know they’re ready. This is how I’ve always been taught and before I started sparring I learned the risks associated with sparring.

sparring for beginners

So you believe you’re ready to spar and want to start as soon as possible. First things first, get your instructors approval. Out of respect for your instructor, you should never engage in any activity that hasn’t been pre-approved. Considering all of the health factors, your instructor should only let you engage in sparring when you’re ready. Some instructors will be more lenient than others and allow their students to spar sooner than later. This is completely fine, as long as you believe you’re ready and your instructor believes you’re ready.

What makes a good sparring partner?

– A good sparring doesn’t try to hurt their opponent. Remember, you’re there to learn from each other, it’s not a real fight.
– Don’t avoid fighters who are more experienced than you, this type of training makes you a better fighter.
– Don’t always dominate lesser skilled fighters, this is a great time to work on your defense.
– Fight at the same pace as your sparring partner. If they are going 10%, you should also go 10%. No one likes a try hard who goes 100% during a light sparring session, this is how you get hurt!

How Often Should You Spar?

Now that you’ve decided you do want to spar, you now need to figure out how often you want to spar. This is an important decision that you need to make because if you spar too little then you won’t reach your maximum potential, however, if you spar too much then the dangers and risks of injury or concussions are heightened. It’s important to find a perfect balance between normal training in the gym, sparring, and rest.

sparring guide for mma boxing muay thai

Sparring too much, especially without an adequate amount of time to rest your body and mind between each session is very dangerous. This type of strenuous training will increase the likelihood of developing a concussion or injury. Recovery and rest is important, especially if you’re just starting out. I recommend beginners start off slow by sparring once every two weeks, and eventually one every week. I recommend sparring twice a week at most. If for any reason you feel foggy or lightheaded after a session I would recommend a longer rest period. If this type of fogginess continues then I recommend visiting the doctor.

The Warning Signs

– Headaches. One of the most prevalent warning signs is a headache after a sparring session, this may last hours after.
– Fogginess or mental confusion. A sign of a concussion, if this problem persists I recommend visiting a doctor.
– Nausea. Any form of nausea is also a sign of a concussion, I highly recommend visiting a doctor if this occurs.

The Best Sparring Equipment

Many gym owners and trainers won’t even let you start sparring without the proper safety equipment. This can include 16-ounce boxing gloves, shin guards, a mouth guard, and possibly headgear. I can’t stress this enough, wearing the right equipment will drastically improve the safety of your sparring session.

The Best Boxing Gloves for Sparring

I always recommend wearing at least 16-ounce gloves or heavier when sparring. Sparring gloves are made to protect your opponent. I recommend viewing ‘The Top 10 Boxing Gloves for Sparring‘ if you want a larger selection to choose from.

Winning Training Boxing Gloves

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Winning Training Boxing Gloves

Pros:
– Made of premium leather
– Water repellent nylon covering
– Hook and loop closure
– Superior protection for knuckles and wrist

Cons:
– Very expensive gloves

The best boxing gloves in the world, the Winning training boxing gloves are made under strict quality control in Japan. These gloves are notorious for being the best boxing gloves you can possibly own. It’s not only the amazing comfort that set these gloves apart, but they also do their job when you’re done training with them. Sweat and odor doesn’t stay on this glove like it normally does with low/mid-tier gloves. These are the best boxing gloves for sparring, heavy bag training, all-around training.

I can’t recommend another glove on this list as highly as I recommend the Winning boxing gloves, these gloves will do the job every single time. Every single person in the gym will want to be sparring with you after you purchase these gloves.


Cleto Reyes Boxing Gloves

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Cleto Reyes Extra Padding Boxing Gloves

Pros:
– Made of premium leather
– Water repellent nylon covering
– Fantastic wrist support

Cons:
– Can be expensive

What’s there not to like about Cleto Reyes? The reason I personally love these gloves are that they’re a hybrid, durable enough for heavy bag training, and soft enough for sparring. Cleto Reyes never disappoints with their design quality and durability. The Cleto Reyes extra padding boxing gloves are made of premium leather that is top of the line in quality. These gloves include two inches of padding around the punch area, this is absolutely amazing protection for sparring!


Hayabusa T3 Boxing Gloves

Hayabusa T3 Boxing Gloves

Pros:
– Made of premium leather
– Stylish gloves with over 5 designs to choose from
– 5 layer foam structure

Cons:
– Hard to break-in

The Hayabusa T3 Boxing Gloves are the newest Hayabusa model that is sure to impress. These are some of the most stylish gloves available today. Best in class wrist support delivered by the 4 interlocking splints at the back of the hand. Handcrafted with the top of the line engineered leather delivers superior resistance from cracks, abrasions, and tears. These gloves were specifically made for sparring and heavy bag training because of the extra padding provided. Not only do these gloves look absolutely stunning on the hands, but they also feel just as good as they look.


Venum Elite Boxing Gloves

Venum Elite Boxing Gloves

Pros:
– Over 15 color styles to choose from
– Premium skintex leather construction
– Triple density foam

Cons:
– Inside seams may rip overtime

The Venum Elite boxing gloves are the best that Venum has to offer. With over 20 professional designs (including the Mexico and Italy flag colorway), these gloves are the most stylish on this list. If you’re someone who is serious about boxing or kickboxing, these are the gloves for you. These gloves are made of high-quality material and aren’t sent out until approved under strict quality tests. I love these gloves for sparring because they’re so inexpensive.


The Best Mouth Guards for Sparring

I personally always wear a mouthguard when I’m sparring in Muay Thai and MMA, or rolling in Jiu Jitsu. It not only makes me feel safe but also makes me feel more confident in my training (there is more room for mistakes when wearing a mouthguard).
Want more mouth guard selections? Visit our ultimate guide to Mouthguards!

Sisu Aero Mouth Guard

Sisu Aero Mouth Guard

Pros:
– Amazing breathability
– So many awesome colors to choose from
– Slim fit and design makes this mouthguard comfortable from the start

Cons:
– Not as durable as other mouthguards on this list

This is the mouthguard I currently use for my sparring and rolling sessions. This mouthguard is absolutely amazing and easily the most comfortable mouthguard on this list. The slim, custom fit design makes it easy to talk, breath and drink without removing the guard, which contributes to better hygiene. This is the perfect mouthguard for beginner sparring or any type of advanced sparring or jiu-jitsu rolling. These are my favorite because they hold the very best value for fighters looking to get great protection while still being able to breathe.


Venum Challenger Mouth Guard

Venum Challenger Mouth Guard

Pros:
– Handmade in Thailand; very high quality
– Multiple color-combinations for a great look
– Great protection for your mouth and jawbone

Cons:
– May be hard to breathe as easy with this mouthguard in at first

The Venum Challenger mouth guard has an advanced design that makes great for optimal breathing during a sparring session. The high-density rubber frame makes for a better shock management and top protection. With over 10 different colors to choose from you’ll be able to find your perfect mouth guard. The Venum Challenger mouth guard is one of the best mouth guards for MMA, Boxing, and Muay Thai. This mouth guard includes a protective case.


Impact Custom Mouth Guard

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Impact Custom Mouth Guard

Pros:
– Custom fitted means the perfect fit for your mouth
– Durable mouthguard that will last a long time
– Multiple and custom designs

Cons:
– Expensive

This is the same type of mouth guard professional fighters wear. This mouth guard is custom fitted with professional grade ‘fast and easy to use’ impression kit. This kit includes paid postage to the dental lab. 100% perfect fit guaranteed, they take a mold of your teeth so that this mouth guard is sure to fit perfectly! Whether you’re a beginner getting started or a long time veteran in the ring, a solid and comfortable mouthpiece is a worthy investment! These are the best mouthguards for MMA, Boxing, and Muay Thai because they offer the most protection possible.


The Best Shin Guards for Sparring

It’s important to have good fitting shin guards when sparring. High-quality shin guards are important because you don’t want shin guards that are too soft or too hard. Soft shinguards won’t protect your shins or your partner, while hard shin guards may actually be much more damaging for your partner and uncomfortable to wear. If you would like a larger selection I have provided a link to ‘The 10 Best Shin Guards Available Today” for a more comprehensive guide to shin guards.

Fairtex Competition Shin Guards

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Fairtex Competition Shin Guards

Pros:
– 4 different colors to choose from
– Made in Thailand with high-quality material
– Great mobility when wearing these shin guards

Cons:
– Can be uncomfortable at first

The Fairtex Competition Muay Thai Shinguards have been re-designed to eliminate all metal fixtures and rough edges. They are lightweight, durable, and provide complete protection for both the shin and instep. This complete re-design makes them perfect for both competition and sparring. These shinguards are great for professionals, but even more forgiving for beginners. They are great for an aggressive training style or for those hard sparring sessions.


Sanabul Essential Shin Guards

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Sanabul Essential Shin Guards

Pros:
– 5+ different colors to choose from
– Inexpensive shin guards great for beginners

Cons:
– Less durable

The great thing about the Sanabul Essential Hybrid Shin Guards is that they are perfectly designed for both Muay Thai and MMA training. They have the feel and protection of traditional Muay Thai shinguards while having the comfort of MMA shin guards. Another great thing about the Sanabul Essentials is that you won’t have to adjust your shin guards during training. With the neoprene slip design that includes a top leg and proprietary mid-leg fasterner, your shin guards are ensured to have a comfortable fit that minimizes shin guard movement.


Venum Challenger Shin Guards

Venum Challenger Shin Guards

Pros:
– 6 different colors to choose from
– Made in Thailand of the highest quality
– Amazing mobility and design

Cons:
– May feel slippery at first

To be honest, I’m not usually so high on “Venum” equipment because they usually focus more on fashion and looks than they do quality. However, the Venum Challenger shin guards excel in both fashion and design quality. These are the perfect lightweight performance shin guards for all levels. The Venum Challenger is constructed with high-density foam that includes additional padding across the shin and instep for enhanced shock absorption. The Venum Challenger shin guards feel like pillows on your legs, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.


Hayabusa T3 Shin Guards

Hayabusa T3 Shin Guards

Pros:
– Awesome design and superior comfort
– 6 different colors to choose from
– Unmatched attention to detail and craftsmanship

Cons:
– Expensive pair of shin guards

The Hayabusa T3 shin guards are state of the art equipment that lets you strike harder, train longer and perform better. Dual hook-and-loop strap and silicone grip to minimize shifting. Flexible pre-curved design contours the leg and knee providing superior protection. A comfortable and secure fit whether you’re striking or blocking. Flexible and lightweight for optimal mobility and protection.


Top King Shin Guards

Top King Shin Guards

Pros:
– 7 different design styles to choose from
– Made in Thailand with superior craftsmanship
– Traditional Muay Thai designs, Great looking shin guards

Cons:
– Can be uncomfortable around the knee area

The Top King shin guards are one of the most traditional Muay Thai shin guards available today. They are made in Thailand with superior craftsmanship and Muay Thai in mind. Specially designed with extra attention paid to the areas around the lower leg muscles and under the kneecaps to offer more protection than other shin guards. Hook and loop closure for a secure and comfortable fit.


The Best Head Gear for Sparring

Headgear is always an option for a sparring session. Headgear offers extra protection for a beginner, I personally don’t currently wear headgear in sparring, however, I do believe it can be beneficial for beginners. If you decide to purchase headgear for your sparring sessions make sure that it’s high quality. Need more headgear options? Visit our ultimate guide to headgear!

Hayabusa T3 Headgear

Hayabusa T3 Headgear

Pros:
– Six different colors to choose from
– Wide field of vision
– Comfortable and safe fit

Cons:
– Expensive

The Hayabusa T3 headgear is in a class of its own. The wide field of vision and low profile design maximizes strike deflection for added protection making this the best MMA headgear, Kickboxing headgear, Muay Thai headgear, and boxing headgear available. What I love most is the antimicrobial lining inhibits bacteria and will reduce unpleasant odors from occurring inside of this headgear. This is the perfect headgear for Boxing, MMA, and Muay Thai. 


Fairtex Headgear

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Fairtex Headgear

Pros:
– Four different styles available
– Genuine leather with a great construct
– Superior design for maximum vision

Cons:
– Can be hard to size

The Fairtex headgear is top of the line when it comes to combat headgear. The peripheral vision on this headgear might be one of the best on this list. I highly recommend this headgear if you train Muay Thai, Boxing, or MMA. This headgear will give you ultimate protection during those intense sparring sessions.


RDX Headgear

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RDX Headgear

Pros:
– Four different colors available
– Removable faceguard
– Quickly adjustable fit

Cons:
– Not the best protection

The RDX headgear has Shell-Shock technology with foam padding for high-intensity shock absorption. The RDX headgear includes shock absorbent gel tech integrated padding for ultimate protection, safety, and efficiency. This specific set of headgear has four different styles to choose from: Red, Black, Blue, and Pink. This headgear is great for kids!


Final Thoughts

It’s important to note that safety should always come first when you decide to start sparring. I believe sparring can be super beneficial for all parties involved if they spar smart. What I mean by “smart,” is by taking the advice of researchers who have studied the harmful effects sparring can have on the human brain.

Another important piece of advice I want to give you is to take notes after sparring. It’s important to understand your progression and be able to identify both your strengths and weaknesses. Whether you’re a beginner sparrer or a seasoned vet, I wish you all the best on your Martial Arts journey.

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