MMA Training Basics for Beginners

A close look at an MMA fighter wrapping up.

Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a great way to stay in shape while carrying out some signature moves from your favorite mixed martial artist. MMA uses the entire body to execute even the most basic moves, so not knowing how to train can cause you to injure yourself.

Like any sport, you must know the basics before you get started, especially when it comes to a fully-body physical sport like MMA. Learning the basics of MMA training will keep you safe and help you improve as you train.

Learning the basics simply means that you familiarize yourself with the sport. All too often, people get hung up on the word beginner and skip many important steps they need to know to become experienced in that sport.

MMA training is no different. Because MMA training uses your full body, you will need to familiarize yourself with the basics so that you avoid injury and stay safe while you perform.

I. Build Endurance

Like many sports, endurance is a major component of being a successful mixed martial artist. Endurance is built by performing different routines, like intense cardio workouts, lifting weights, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines.

MMA matches may only last a few minutes, but those few minutes are intense. They are filled with sparring, dodging, and grappling against an opponent of the same strength. You will need to build endurance to be able to last inside the octagon; otherwise, you will fatigue within the first 60 seconds, and you won’t be able to last the duration of the match.

How to Build Endurance

Cardio

A man running on the treadmill.

Cardiovascular routines like running, biking, and swimming, is the best way to build endurance. To build endurance through cardio, you should start small and work your way up.

We recommend starting with a 30-minute cardiovascular activity to get your heart rate up and keep it up for 30 minutes. This 30-minute cardiovascular routine should be done every other day. This will build your endurance without causing injury and will allow your body to recover.

Slowly build your endurance until you can run two miles. You should run two miles every other day to get your cardiovascular system conditioned so that it can endure a matchup in the octagon.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

A man doing high intensity interval training.

High-intensity interval training is an ideal way to help build endurance on rest days. It is called high-intensity interval training because of the stop-and-go technique that makes up the workout.

HIIT workouts will have a timed exercise, usually for one minute, followed by a period of rest, usually 30 seconds. You will repeat this process throughout the duration of the workout.

A HIIT workout will look something like this:

  • One minute plank
  • 30 seconds of rest
  • Jumping jacks for one minute
  • 30 seconds of rest
  • Mountain climbers for one minute
  • 30 seconds of rest
  • Russian twists for one minute
  • 30 seconds of rest

You will repeat this workout 5 times for a total HIIT workout time of 30 minutes. This is known as doing 5 total sets.

Weight Training

You will want to build up your endurance by weight training to your routine. Weight training will both build your endurance and build your strength while you train for MMA.

Weight training for endurance should focus more on many sets with full ranges of motion. This will get your heart rate up and build muscle mass, giving you a combination of cardio and intensity during your workout.

Weight training should only be done two days of the week in the beginning, as it is most important to focus on cardiovascular endurance. The longer your endurance becomes, the more weight training you can add to your weekly routine.

II. Learn the Moves: Striking, Dodging, Blocking, and Kicking

MMA fighters inside the octagon ring fighting.

To be successful in MMA, you will need to know the moves. MMA uses all parts of the body, so you will need to know how to transition between dodging jabs and striking them.

The basic hits of MMA include:

  • Throwing punches (hooks, jabs, uppercuts)
  • Kicking (roundhouse, leg)
  • Elbow strikes
  • Knee strikes

When you are not delivering blows to your opponent, you will be dodging him. As there are only 750 square feet in an MMA octagon, you can only go so far.

You will need to rely on dodging your opponent rather than outrunning him. Dodging your opponent consists of being able to read his moves before he delivers them and knowing which direction you need to move.

You will also want to block punches when you are not delivering them.

To block punches, you will need to mirror your opponent and keep your hands at your face. When a punch comes, you will take your hand and block the punch, returning to a neutral position so that you can return a punch or strike when possible.

III. Know the Rules

Like any sport, there are rules, and not knowing those rules can quickly get you disqualified from competing.

Don’t worry about learning every rule at this level. That time will come. However, you need to know the basic rules so that you don’t find yourself striking your opponent in a prohibited area or grabbing the cage of the octagon during a match, as these moves will likely disqualify you from the match.

Basic Rules of Fighting in MMA

  • Do not attack the groin (hitting, kicking, jabbing)
  • Do not attack the back of the head or the spine
  • Do not head butt
  • Do not eye gouge, fishhook, bite, or pull hair
  • Do not attack the throat (hitting, choking, grabbing)
  • Do not grab fingers or toes
  • Do not grab the cage
  • Do not throw your opponent

Even at the beginner’s level of MMA training, you should familiarize yourself with these basic rules of fighting. Knowing these rules will help you train correctly, giving you the proper stance and techniques both offensively and defensively.

IV. Learn to Grapple

A man throwing down punches while on a grapple.

Grappling is when you overpower or gain an advantage over your opponent by improving your position, defending a takedown, or forcing your opponent into submission. Grappling does not involve striking or kicking.

Grappling is an essential element in MMA because it can help you gain points and may ultimately mean the difference in winning and losing the match.

Ways to Grapple

There are many ways to grapple. Knowing the difference between these techniques and how to execute these techniques will help you succeed at MMA.

  • Clinching. This technique is used to defend your body against being taken down or overthrown. Not only does clinching help you defensively, but it also can help you get into a better physical position to strike a counterattack to your opponent.
  • Escaping. This is when you escape a move that puts you into submission.
  • Reversal. The act of moving from the submissive position to the dominant position. It gives you an advantage over your opponent.
  • Securing. Forcing your opponent into a submission hold.
  • Sprawling. A defensive move where you dodge or counteract an opponent’s takedown attempt.
  • Submission/Submission Hold. A submission or submission hold is an offensive technique where you use your arms to hold the neck of the opponent until they tap out. Tapping out means they admit to being submitted. If they do not tap out, the official will end the fight.
  • Takedown. Taking down your opponent, who is in a standing position.

Knowing these grappling techniques will help you dominate your opponent and escape submission, so it is important to familiarize yourself with them when you begin to train.

V. Get the Right Gear

An MMA fighter wearing a pair of red bandages on his fists.

You will need some basic gear to perform successfully in the ring. This gear will keep you safe and protected while allowing you to perform optimally.

Basic gear should include gloves, compression shorts, ear protection, and a mouthguard. This will help you stay the most protected while having the least amount of equipment; however, depending on the style of MMA you choose will determine the type of gear you need.

Some of the items you may need include:

  • Gloves (boxing or MMA)
  • Head guard/ear guard
  • Mouthguard
  • Compression shorts
  • Shin guards
  • Groin guard

Again, it depends on the MMA style you choose that will determine the items you will need to perform successfully.

We recommend gloves, mouthguard, head protection, and groin protection with compression shorts when MMA training for beginners.

The gloves will protect your hands and help you learn to attack while wearing them. The mouthguard will protect your teeth and tongue from injury.

The head protection will help reduce the risk of concussion or ear injuries. And the groin guard with compression shorts will keep the material tight to your skin so that it cannot be ripped, pulled, or torn, all while protecting your groin.

VI. Start Sparring

The only way to get better is to practice, and the best way to practice is to spar.

Sparring will help you learn the mechanics, footwork, and punches without engaging in an official match. Sparring is typically done with a trainer or another student if you are in a class.

To spar, a match may be simulated to give you a real-life feel for the time and conditions in which you will be competing. Sparring will not go as far as a match will go. This means that if you get put into a submission hold, the trainer or referee may immediately call time so that injuries do not occur. This keeps you safe but helps you learn your strengths and weaknesses before you step foot inside the octagon for an official match.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Basics of MMA Training for Beginners

A man defending against the superman punch of his opponent.

Q. I am over 30. Is that too old to begin training for MMA?

No. 30 years and older is not too old train for MMA, especially if MMA is the first high-impact or contact sports you have done. Many athletes who train and compete at a young age have already suffered at least one, if not more, major injury, making their bodies too weak to continue past 30 years old. However, if you are just beginning to compete and have never suffered a major injury, 30 years and older is not too old to begin training for MMA.

Q. How old should my child be to sign him or her up?

MMA is recommended for older children, preferably 8-years-old and up, because of the intense workout and structure that makes up MMA. Younger children best benefit from less intense martial arts, like karate or Jui Jitsu. It helps the child learn the mechanics and fundamentals that they will use in MMA without the intense workout routine that MMA requires.

To pursue MMA professionally, it is recommended for teenagers to begin training at 15 or 16 years old so that they have a couple of years of training under their belt before they can legally compete at 18.

Q. I want to compete, but I’m afraid I won’t win because of my size. What can I do?

MMA is classified by weight, so you never have to worry about competing against someone who is excessively larger than you. You will get weighed in and matched with an opponent from your same weight division.

Depending on the weight division in which you rank will determine the total weight difference that is allowed. For example, the lightweight division allows a 5-pound difference between opponents, while the heavyweight division allows a 7-pound difference.

Q. What is cauliflower ear?

Cauliflower ear is a perichondrial hematoma that is caused by repeated trauma to the area. A hematoma occurs in an area that has suffered trauma and broken blood vessels. The broken blood vessels will stop blood from flowing to the cartilage and cause the cartilage to die. When new tissue finally grows, it grows with a cauliflower texture, which is what gives perichondrial hematoma its name.

To protect from cauliflower ear, you can wear headgear while you train and compete. Headgear will keep your ears from substantial trauma due to impacts punching, kicking, and the submissive positions on the floor.

Q. I have my first MMA class; what should I wear? And do I need gear?

Form-fitting workout attire with no zippers is the best. Loose-fitting clothing can easily be grabbed, ripped, or caught on something, and zippers can hurt when training.

You will need to check with your training facility about specific equipment; however, it is common for most facilities to require a mouthguard, headgear, and training gloves. Even if the training center does not require this gear, it is a good idea to have them when the time comes, and you are ready to begin sparring.

Go Slow and Have Fun

MMA should be fun, just like any other sport. Learning even the basics of MMA will take time and conditioning. You will need to build up your endurance if you want to last the entire time in the octagon. Cardio workouts with HIIT or weight training on rest days will build endurance and condition your body for the ring. Take your time and try not to rush the conditioning and training before your body is ready.

When you are not training or conditioning, familiarize yourself with the rules. Make sure you know what moves are acceptable and what moves will merit you a warning. Too many warnings and you will be disqualified from a match.

When you are ready to practice sparring, you will begin by training with a punching bag and pads until you are ready to spar a trainer or classmate.

Just remember to go slow, have fun, and learn the rules of the sport.

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