Sparring is a form of training common to many combat sports.  It is basically “free form” fighting, with certain rules and agreements to minimize injuries. This question has been discussed by many people training MMA and other combat sports, how to spar properly?! If you are training for a while eventually you will get the chance to test your skills against your teammates in your gym. Sparring is the most relevant way to find out which skills you are good at and which skills you should practice more. I have been training in some of the best european MMA gyms. I noticed that each gym has its own approach. In some gyms sparring was meant to be playful and respectful, and in some sparring was really hard.

Through my personal experience I have developed some rules that I follow when I spar, so me and my sparring partner will both  have benefits. I will share some things that I try to follow and maybe it will help you to understand this kind of training better.

Sparring partner is much lighter than you

Sometimes there isn’t anybody of  your size in the gym that you can train with, and your only option is to spar lighter guys. First of all you need to change your approach, you are obviously heavier and stronger than your training partner which is already difficult for him. If you just start going hard with a lighter guy, you will not learn anything, your partner can get injured and you can be seen as a bully in the gym. If you are sparring lighter guy try not to throw punches and kicks at full speed. Use techniques that you have not used before and try to find out how your partner reacts. If you are practicing Jiu Jitsu or wrestling give your partner dominant positions. This will help you develop your defense game, and for him it can be very beneficial as he is practicing offensive maneuver with much stronger guys, later when he faces smaller guys it will be much easier for him to tap guys out from these positions. Obviously your lighter partner is going to be much faster than you and you will learn to work at a fast pace. Remember that sparing isn’t fighting and that you have to think about others in training as well. Make it a good experience for you and your teammate.

Sparring partner is high level guy in your weightclass

In my personal experience these guys are the best for your development. When you spar a high level guy in your weight class it is always competitive. You want to know how you stand against a guy that is already established  in the MMA world and that can make you very nervous during training with him. This feeling is  similar to the one you experience during fights. You know that the guy is good, and you have to be prepared to react properly on all of his offensive movements. In this kind of training you should try to do thing that you would do in an actual fight. Try high percentage techniques against them. Remember you have to be careful not to hurt each other. Sparring is not fighting and you should know when you can give some space to your partner so you don’t hurt him. In the end you have the same goals and you are helping each other to reach it. 

Sparring partner is much heavier than you

This one can be tricky as you cannot predict if your sparring partner is going to follow the rules that you would follow when you spar lighter guys. Before you decide to spar a much heavier guy, try watching his behaviour with other lighter guys. Trust me if you are a featherweight fighter you don’t want to get punched by a heavyweight with full power. When you spar a much bigger guy you have to move all the time, you don’t want to stand in front of a much heavier guy. Don’t make it easy for him, move and throw fast punches, don’t give him time to rest. This will help you develop your movement, speed and ability to absorb heavy blows. Remember if the guy is not taking care of you and he is trying to hurt you, stop sparring with him. 

Should I spar hard?

This question is difficult to answer. My take on this would be what do you want to accomplish? Do you have a fight soon? If you are training just for fun I wouldn’t recommend sparing hard at all. If you don’t plan to fight in the cage there is no need to take unnecessary blows to the head. However if you are a fighter and you are taking fighting very seriously then you should occasionally spar hard. I believe that sometimes if you do this kind of sparring it will make you develop certain skills and conditioning that you will need in fighting, but this kind of sparring shouldn’t be the usual practice as It can damage your body. Your coach should know when to put you in hard sparring and when it should be playful one.

Sparing with higher level guy

When you spar a guy who is much more skilled than you, it can be very humbling experience. In this case scenario you should focus on yourself and to try to avoid mistakes you usually make. Try to give the guy resistance and don’t quit too soon. Make yourself work all the time, even in bad positions, you will make a good habit doing that, and your body will remember what to do when you are in a bad situation. Try not to be stationary and move a lot. Each sparring you have you will notice that you are doing better and better, keep training with better guys than yourself, it will definitely benefit you greatly.

Coach is watching you and giving you tips during sparring

First of all if you have a coach that is giving you tips during the sparring you have to know that you are lucky, and that is very good for you because he wants to help you develop. Learn to listen to your coach while working. Try to apply things that he tells you during sparring. This type of behaviour is good because you will learn to listen to your coach during fights in the cage and it will give you advantage over the guys who are not coachable. 

General tips for sparring

-If you are sparring with the guy for the first time do it easier, don’t go too hard so you don’t hurt each other

-take care of lighter sparring partners, don’t hit them with full power, give them opportunity to work

-Don’t quit during sparring sessions, make yourself work all the time, even in bad positions!

-Don’t spar hard all the time, everything has its time and place. 

-When you spar hard, be careful not to injure your partner

-Both hard and light sparring have their benefits, you should do both.

-Record your sparing so you can watch your mistakes and you can fix them

-Listen to your corner (coach) during sparring

-Write down your mistakes and work on them in next sparring session

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