MMA Training for Beginners: Your Guide to Getting Started

MMA Training

Are you looking at getting into MMA? If so, you probably have many questions about MMA training. How can you get started, what steps should you be taking, and what can you do at home? Thankfully I have the answer to all your questions right here.

I’ll look at what you need to consider before entering the world of MMA and what the training will be like for beginners. By the time you get to the end, you’ll have a clear idea of what your next steps should be. Let’s go!

Understanding MMA

Before getting started with MMA fighting training it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. As with any combat sport, you need to be fully dedicated to it and be comfortable with the fact that you are going to get hurt.

That being said, MMA is not as brutal as many people think. There are plenty of rules in place to protect fighters and if you do get knocked out, then it’s over quickly rather than the repeated concussive blows you’ll get from boxing. While there is no doubt it’s an incredibly tough sport, deaths are extremely rare, and none have ever happened in the UFC.

While the term stands for mixed martial arts, the sport boils down to two disciplines, which are striking and grappling. You need to practice both if you want to be successful and many will focus on specific training in these categories (such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for grappling or kickboxing for striking) to become a well-rounded fighter.

You also need to understand you’ll need an intense commitment to fitness and conditioning. You need to be supremely fit to achieve your goals in MMA and understand that you’ll constantly need to manage your weight to stay in the best possible shape.

Finally, before looking at how to learn MMA, you’ll want to determine your goals. Training for fun or training to become a world champion requires very different approaches. It’s important to go into your training knowing what you want to get out of it.

Should You Start by Learning a Specific Martial Art?

One of the questions that I commonly hear is whether it’s better to start off with general MMA training or focus on a specific marital art before transitioning to MMA. The answer can depend on a lot of different factors and there is no definite right path.

I’d say it doesn’t really matter as you’ll need to become an expert at both grappling and striking anyway. Learning both at the same time is tough but there are an increasing number of gyms that now offer general MMA training.

However, most gyms will also offer classes in specific martial arts. It’s important to isolate your training and work on specific techniques rather than just doing general sparring. Everyone learns a different way, but the clue is in the title of “mixed”.

There are a vast number of fighters who started off as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experts before working on striking, and the likes of Francis Ngannou trained as a boxer before his MMA calling. In short, it doesn’t really matter.

I’d say the answer will depend on what is local to you. Is there a fantastic BJJ school near you but a badly rated MMA gym? In this example, I’d recommend taking BJJ classes first. As long as you’re learning valuable MMA skills, you’re on the right path.

What to Expect from an MMA Gym

While you can train at home to a certain extent, you’ll need to find a gym when looking at how to start MMA. These are places where you’ll learn the basics and start on the long road to having competitive fights. But what can you expect from an MMA gym and what if you’re a complete novice?

It’s likely that in your first foray into an MMA gym you’ll be given some form of orientation or introductory session. Here you’ll be given a tour of the facility and be told about the etiquette of the gym and any rules they have. You’ll also meet a coach or staff member where you can talk about your goals and expectations.

Many MMA gyms will offer you trial MMA beginner classes or a discount trial period where you can sample the world of MMA and see if it is right for you. There you’ll get an insight into the training requirements and the steps you need to take.

At the start, it is unlikely that you’ll do much intense physical contact at all. Instead, you’ll be taught basic techniques and your skills and fitness will be assessed until you move to the next level. MMA gyms are usually supportive environments and you’ll be encouraged on each step of your journey. As you progress, you’ll then move on to more competitive sparring which will be closer to real fight scenarios.

When you get to the right level, it’s only then that you’ll start to think about competing. Depending on where you live, there are likely to be several amateur MMA events local to you. Your coaches will guide you in the right direction and if you’re good enough, this will set you on the path to becoming a professional MMA fighter.

Finding the Right Gym

So now we know what to expect from an MMA gym, how do you find the best MMA gym for you? Let’s look at the key things you need to consider.

1. Research and Reviews

A simple Google search will most likely give you a list of the MMA gyms in your local area. Once you’ve got this list, you can start to work through it and narrow down your options.

The easiest way to start doing this is by checking out their reviews. While some negative reviews are to be expected, it’s a big red flag if a gym has a majority of bad reviews. Once you narrow down your choices this way, you can start looking at the gyms in a little more detail.

Another good idea is to ask for recommendations. If you know anyone who has gone through MMA training, you can ask them about their experience. While reviews are the easiest way to quickly filter through gyms, there is plenty more to consider.

2. Instructors

It’s a good idea to look into who the instructors are before choosing your place for MMA training. Most MMA gyms will have a website where they’ll showcase the credentials of their instructors and list their achievements.

Of course, you need to be realistic here. Unless you’re in one of the world’s best MMA gyms, it’s unlikely that they’ll have instructors who have coached world champions to glory. However, you will want to look for instructors who have plenty of experience and have achieved a high level in at least one martial art, such as being a black belt in karate, for example.

It’s partly for this reason that having a tour of the MMA gym or taking part in trial classes can be a great idea as it will give you a feel for the instructors and the environment. Then you can decide whether or not MMA training is right for you.

3. Skill Level and Goals

When choosing an MMA gym, it’s also vital to assess your skill level and goals. Many people do MMA training for fun without any real ambition to fight in amateur competitions, let alone get to the top. If that sounds like you, then the quality of the coaches is less of a big deal and the greater focus should be on finding a supportive environment.

However, if you’re already a black belt in a martial art and want to become an MMA champion, for example, finding the right pathway is more important. Here you may wish to look further afield to find a highly reputable gym that can help you on your journey.

4. Classes

Each MMA gym is going to have a variety of MMA lessons where you can learn the basics of MMA. Not only will they teach general MMA work, but they are likely to have specialty classes where you can become more proficient in certain martial arts such as BJJ, Muay Thai, and kickboxing.

It’s important to look at their schedules, analyze what you need, and see how it fits in with your life. Many gyms will have classes in the evenings and weekends to help fit around the typical working week, but you should check this out before signing up.

Along with the classes, you’ll also need to consider the cost of training. Many local gyms will be much more affordable than those with a national reputation. While the quality of the coaching is important, it’s good to remember that you can always upgrade to a higher-level gym as you progress.

MMA Training at Home

You can’t become an MMA star by just training at home but there are plenty of things you can do to advance your skills and get yourself in shape. Here’s what you need to consider when starting MMA training at home.

Safe Space – The first thing you’ll want to do is create a safe space for practice. Especially if you are training with a friend or an MMA dummy, you’ll want to have floor mats to prevent any falls onto hard surfaces. With interlocking foam mats, you can quickly transform any space into a good workout area.

Getting Fit – While learning many of the techniques at home can be difficult, one thing you can easily work on is your fitness. MMA requires an extreme level of fitness, and you’ll want to work on this by doing high-intensity exercises such as running, cycling, and rowing. 

Technique Drills for Striking – There are many boxing workouts that you can do at home to improve your striking ability. Whether shadowboxing or using a heavy bag, you can work on your punching technique and power before translating those skills into the cage.

Technique Drills for Grappling – Likewise, you can practice grappling training at home as well. The best way to do it with a partner is to practice technique but if that’s not possible, you can always use a grappling dummy.

Flexibility and Recovery – While technique is important, you’ll also want to focus on your flexibility and recovery. Practicing yoga is a great way to remain supple while fighting to prevent injuries but also to be more mobile in the cage.

Online Resources – For those looking to learn at home, there are plenty of resources that can help. Not only is there a wide range of helpful videos on YouTube, but some gyms even offer online classes to enhance your home learning.

Gear and Equipment

When getting into MMA you’ll need a few pieces of equipment that goes beyond that you’ll see in the octagon. Here’s what you should be getting:

Boxing Gloves – “But this is MMA” I hear you ask. While that’s true, boxing gloves are bigger and provide more protection to your hands. Due to this, they are the better option when you are working on a heavy bag.

MMA Gloves – It’s probably best to get yourself two pairs of MMA gloves. A larger pair which is good for general striking practice with added protection, and a smaller pair for grappling to get a true feel for competition gloves.

Shin Guards – While you won’t see shin guards in the UFC, they are required for a lot of amateur fights. Not only that, but you’ll want to use them in training to protect against leg injuries and allow you to focus on technique.

Head Guard – You don’t want to be coming out of a sparring session with a bloody nose and a cut eyebrow. Head guards are important to prevent cuts. And yes, just cuts. Research has found that headgear offers little protection against concussions.

MMA Shorts – You don’t need to use skin-tight shorts used by many professionals for your training, but you don’t want them to be too loose and they should be above the knee.

Rash Guard – If you’re grappling with nothing on your upper body then you’re going to get abrasions, cuts, and rashes. A t-shirt is suitable for your first training session but for rolling you’ll want to get yourself a proper rash guard.

Mouthguard – A mouthguard is a non-negotiable in MMA. It will protect your teeth and mouth during sparring and is easy to customize to fit your mouth.

Groin Guard – Yes, low blows are illegal, but they happen. For men, a groin guard is required which can be just a simple cup.

MMA Training for Beginners – FAQs

How do I get into MMA with no experience?

The answer here is simple as all you need to do is join an MMA gym. Almost all gyms will happily teach anyone, even those with no experience. They will guide you on the path to improve before you are eventually good enough to compete, if that’s what you wish to do.

The other way to get into MMA is to pick a specialty. For example, if there is a boxing gym near you then you can get to a high level in that skill before moving to an MMA gym to work on your grappling skills.

Can I teach myself MMA?

Not really. There are many things you can do at home in terms of working on your technique and fitness but to train in MMA, you need a coach and training partners. While you may be able to learn the theory behind a move, you can’t master it without putting it into practice.

If you can’t afford classes or live too far away from a gym, online resources can get you to a good starting point. When your situation changes and you can attend a gym, you can quickly pick up what you’re being taught.

How can I start MMA training at home?

For those who want to start training at home, you should buy both an MMA dummy and a freestanding punching bag. These are the tools you need to practice your skills and learn how to get in the right positions. Aside from this, getting to a high level of fitness and improving your flexibility are also great ways to start training.

Is it too old to learn MMA?

It depends on what your goal is. If you’re in your mid-30s with no prior martial arts experience and dream of being a world champion, it’s almost certainly going to be too late. However, if your goal is to have fun and take on the challenge of MMA sparring and perhaps a few amateur fights, you’re never too old. Most MMA gyms will happily take on all ages and abilities.

How many years does it take to master MMA?

Many factors go into this such as age and natural talent, but I’d say at least five. This can change if you are highly proficient in a martial art. For example, if you’re a black belt in karate then you’ll find the transition to MMA much easier. While mastery can take five years, you can get to a good level if you’re talented enough after around two.

Final Thoughts

There are many great reasons to learn MMA. Whether you are looking to be equipped with self-defense skills or dream of being a world champion, everyone must start somewhere. While you can teach yourself some skills at home, your first step should be heading to an MMA gym.

You’ll almost certainly find a welcoming environment and you won’t be thrown at the deep end straight away. As you get better, you will enjoy your MMA training even more until you reach your goals, whatever they may be.

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Kenny Jarvis
Kenny Jarvis
I have been practicing and studying boxing since I was a teenager. I am passionate about the sport, along with many other martial arts. While my fighting days may be over, I love channeling my passion into my writing to provide insightful blogs.