There is a lot of discussion right now around sparring, regarding how often and how hard it should be. Dana White is calling for less sparring to help prevent injuries. I have had coaches tell me once a week is good. I have also been told I need to spar 3 times a week. As a fighter, I think about my future and aging with all the sparring I have done throughout my career. First of all, I think good head gear is most important but the headgear only softens the blow a little and maybe helps with preventing cuts. Next, we have to clarify what sparring is since there are many different types. There is boxing sparring meaning just stand up, no kicks. Then there is kickboxing sparring. You also have full on MMA sparring, including everything you would or could do in a sanctioned MMA fight (minus the elbows in most gyms). Then there is grappling, which you can do starting from the ground or starting standing up. When standing up there are takedowns involved — this means more risk of injury. I think that if I am training for a fight, I definitely want to spar full on MMA to get a feel for being in the fight and putting together all the pieces involved. How often and how hard is the question?

I do not think there is perfect answer to this question, but it should be based on the fighter. Coaches have to know their fighter well enough to decide what that individual needs in camp to perform optimally in a fight. They also have to know who is best for their fighter to spar with. A fighter needs to spar with different styles in order to learn to adapt to different situations. Some gyms only have so many fighters, so different weight classes spar together which can also increase the risk of injury. Sparring light has its advantages as you can try new things and flow with your partner and it can help newer fighters get comfortable with getting hit. One thing I have seen work well was a coach had us spar light for 3 rounds then the last round for 1 minute went full power. The time was short so we did not take too much damage but still got to go full on.

I believe situational drilling is a great tool as well. Drills can be done by putting the fighter in the situation they would be in during a fight; for example, being mounted against the cage. The fighter would have to escape that type of bad position several times. You can make the situation realistic by having the drilling partner wear gloves and throw strikes as the fighter is trying to get up to standing position or reverse the mount position. These drills can be done multiple times throughout a week without doing too much damage to the fighter. Then the hard, full on sparring can be done once a week to put all the drills the fighter has worked on throughout the week together. The coach can then see what situations the fighter needs to improve on.

Communication between the fighter and coach is very important so that the coach knows about any injuries or other issues. As a fighter, this is a tough area because for me, personally, I never want to admit I’m hurt so I will fight through most pain. This is where a coach knows their fighter so well they can see the difference and notice when their fighter is not quite right. That type of relationship takes time. I think a remedy for that could possibly be a fighter working with a coach for at least 30 days before fighting or even sparring hard under them.

About The Author

Jessica Doerner
Staff Writer

Jessica Doerner is a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter with a 5 and 3 professional record. She has also worked for the Air Force for over 14 years and is currently in the Hawaii Air Guard. Jessica has a Master’s degree in Sports and Health Science, Bachelors in Management/Healthcare, and Associates in Information Systems. She has a passion for all things health and fitness especially anything related to Mixed Martial Arts.