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Tips for beginners on choosing an MMA gym, part one

Finding a quality MMA gym takes quite a bit of research.
Finding a quality MMA gym takes quite a bit of research.

Looking to take up MMA but don't have a clue where to start? Here are some helpful tips for you to find a beginner-friendly gym that fits all of your training needs.

1. Do Your Research

If there’s something you can’t do too much of, it’s research.  Search your area for local gyms using your favorite search engine.  If they have a website, check it out.  Has it been updated recently?  Is it user friendly? Are there pictures or videos of the gym? If there isn’t a website or the website is too rudimentary to give you much information, give the gym a call. 

Ask about what classes are offered, what levels you need to be in order to benefit from attending, who the teachers are and what credentials they possess, what time the classes are held, how many people attend the classes, etc.  Basically, grill them.  Challenge their patience.  If the person you’re talking to gets short or is obviously annoyed with your inquiries, drop ‘em.  More than likely the gym is run by amateurs who are more interested in getting a paycheck than offering quality service to its customers.

Also, if the gym you’re interested in is old enough, there should be third-party reviews available on different forums and blogs, like,, or within Google Maps.  I recently did about 5 minutes of research on the “Xtreme Couture” gym in Lombard and came across a scathing review that made me think twice about attending, not to mention paying their exorbitant members fee. Pictures of gyms and reviews can be found within Google maps with the slightest effort.  A little research beforehand can save you a headache later on.

2. Take Advantage of Free Classes

Don’t be afraid to take these gyms up on their offers for “1 free class”, or “24 hours of free trial membership.”  By going to these free classes, you get a realistic sense of what it means to travel to, train at, and be of member of whatever gym you’re visiting.  If the gym you want to try out doesn’t offer free trials, ask for one.  If you’re persistent and show a genuine interest in becoming a member, no good businessman would turn you away.  If worst comes to worst and there are absolutely no freebies, most gyms offer one-day passes anywhere from 7 to 14 dollars .  It may seem steep for a workout, but it’s more than a worthy investment if it helps you find the gym you’ll be spending the next couple years of your life at.

Also, while you’re there, pay attention to how you’re treated.  If you take a class, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for example, introduce yourself to the teacher and explain your current fitness and skill level.  If they are attentive, understanding, and open to your presence, you’ve found a professional.  If you are ignored, treated poorly, or are made to feel like a burden, you’ve weeded out a garbage gym that doesn’t deserve your time or your hard-earned cash.  Instead of gambling with a school and signing up right away, take your time and make an informed decision. You’ll thank yourself later.

3. Be Honest About Your Fitness and Skill Levels

A big mistake a lot of first-time Martial Arts students make is biting off more than they can chew.  I can remember when I first started training about 10 years ago, thinking I was going to become a champion overnight.  Instead of taking it slow and focusing on the fundamentals, I dove in head first, signing up for Brazilian Jii-Jitsu and Muay Thai classes far above my skill level.  I was immediately overwhelmed by the pace, technique, and fitness required to attend those specific classes.  What I should have done is what you should do.  Take it slowly. Very slowly. 

Unless you’ve got a contract with a major fight company and have to learn BJJ in a couple weeks, there’s no reason to train at a break-neck pace.  In fact, training too hard or too often is what gets beginners hurt, and thus turned-off by the MMA experience.

So, if your skill level is low, start with a beginners class.  It should be slowly paced, accessible, friendly, and comfortable. Your teacher should be very open to questions, and teach the class with care.  If you find these things in an instructor, you’ve got a winner.

On the other hand, if you find yourself getting mauled by people more experienced than you or working too hard for your current fitness level, it’s time to find a new class or a new gym.  Don’t get me wrong, hard, challenging training sessions are a necessary part of MMA training, but only at a certain level. Beginners should not be training like the pros their first week at a school.  If you wake up the day after a class and find your muscles in significant pain, you’re going too hard too fast, and will most likely burn out.

Training should be fun.  You shouldn’t dread going to class.  If you do, than what’s the point of going?  Beginners classes should be about acquiring and sharing knowledge, not about hurting people and proving your manliness.  A real martial artist will adapt his technique and strength to the person he’s training with.  A good teacher will let you try submission maneuvers on him, just as he will on you.  If you encounter an over-sized ego on any of your teachers or classmates, they’re more trouble than they’re worth. Look elsewhere.

Before choosing a gym is a good time do discuss your physical condition with yourself, and maybe more importantly, your doctor.  If your doctor clears you to pursue MMA training, take a deep breath and be honest with yourself.  Drop the ego.  Everyone is a beginner at some point, and now it’s simply you’re turn. 

Your first couple months of training, you will make hundreds, if not thousands of mistakes. You will most likely be submitted, punched, taken down, and controlled many times.  Great.  That means you’re learning.  Black Belts in BJJ have been submitted tens of thousands of times.  Consider each mistake a step up a large mountain.  It looks daunting from below, but if enough time and effort is put in, you’ll be looking down from it sooner than you think.

Look for Part Two Tomorrow


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