Home gym for the combat athlete. What do you need?

Nothing will ever replace physically going to the gym and training with your teammates, having your instructor push you, and supporting your team…and getting beat up by them. That’s just the way it is. However, there are times when making it to the gym doesn’t happen. Whether it be a blinding Canadian snow storm and the plows are busy getting stoned, or something as simple as you just had to work late (fuck that), that shouldn’t stop you from getting a workout in and pursuing your dream. Most serious combat athletes have some form of gym at their house, whether in their basement, garage, or wherever it fits. That being said, home gyms, especially for combat sports are not the cheapest and can take up a decent amount of space due to the movement required. Most people build up their gym over time, through trial and error and buying and reselling their equipment until they find the perfect combo for themselves. Maybe, just maybe this will save you some time. The following products are designed primarily around Muay Thai, MMA and boxing, however you can customize your dream home gym however you like, based on your chosen discipline.

Floor Mats


The first thing you will need is protective floor matting. If you are setting up your gym in your garage or anywhere that has a concrete floor, this is a no brainer. Nobody wants to be shadow boxing or training on this kind of surface in bare feet. Cuts and scrapes on the bottoms of your feet will slow your training and could lead to  infection if you’re not careful. Bottom line, don’t be an idiot, get protective mats for the floor. Even if you are setting up your gym in a carpeted basement, get matting. Not only will this protect the carpet in your house but having rug burn on your heel when turning over on a kick will not be pleasant. I would highly recommend interlocking floor mats. Generally these are all of good quality ( as far as I have seen ) and provide a good mix of support and sturdiness. You do not want to line your training area with mats that are too soft such as stretching or gymnastic mats. They will feel like you are standing on a pillow and their softness will hinder that explosive power you will need to harness for combat sports. Whichever brand you choose, this is your first purchase.

Heavy bag for boxers


If your discipline is boxing which requires only hands, you will need a bag that you can throw heat at which will stand up to your onslaught. Any combat athlete’s gym has a bag of some sort. Get used to doing bag work, or get out, plain and simple. There are numerous brands out there, that provide good quality bags such as Everlast and Ringside. There are some suggestions I have for buying a heavy bag. Firstly, don’t buy one of those stupid bop bags that come back at you after you hit them. They are useless and so are you if you get one. You are a combat athlete, not in a cardio boxing class. The heavy bag is for working your speed and power, if you want to work reflexes, buy a double ended bag. Get a ceiling or wall mounted heavy bag, so you have a sturdy base to throw your heaviest power shots. With regards to the weight of the bag, that is totally up to you. The bigger you are the heavier the bag you want. You typically don’t see heavyweights throwing bombs at an 80lb bag. If you know you have heavy hands, then opt for the bigger bag so you can work your combos more effectively.

Banana Bag for Muay Thai and MMA


For Muay Thai and MMA a Banana bag is key for your home gym. It allows for any strike you want to practice. Punches, low kicks, elbows, knees, this bag can do it all. The particular allure of this bag is the low kicks however, as they are an imperative strike for both Muay Thai and MMA and require both precision and timing to be effective. Both of which are achieved by repetition, which is where the banana bag comes into play. If I could recommend two particular brands, I would go with Venum and Fairtex. I have put in 100’s of rounds of work on Venum bags while training in Thailand and they absolutely stand up to the test. They take an uncountable number of shots year round from some of the best Nak Muays’ from all over the world. That is proof enough that they can take whatever beating you can dish out. When looking at Fairtex banana bags you can be sure that you’re getting the quality you can deserve. Serving Muay Thai practitioners with quality products since 1958, their brand is tried and tested. Having personally owned one of these bags, they are the perfect balance of rigidity. Not kicking a pillow but not kicking a cinder block either. When purchasing a banana bag just make sure you refill it from time to time and re-distribute its contents or you will find yourself kicking concrete after a while. I also would highly suggest a ceiling mount as opposed to wall mount. When using the latter, I find the spacing very restrictive for kicks when moving around the bag, especially if utilizing a stand up mount.

Free Weights


Any athlete whether combat or not knows ( or should know ) the importance of strength training. MMA, Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners all supplement their training regime with various forms of strength training. In my opinion the best way to do this is with free weights. They provide a versatile array of exercises you can perform and can be placed in areas that may take up less space. Now I know what some of you ( the experts ) are thinking. “You need a lifting platform, a squat rack, battle ropes , an Olympic size pool”. Well I’ll stop you right there. You are a combat athlete and your primary concern is honing your craft, not being a power lifter, cross-fitter, bodybuilder etc. Another thing, all those big, fancy, half cage smith machine, whatever you call them, all take up space. A lot of it. If you have a huge house or have the means, sure, fill your space with whatever you want. However for the rest of us who may only have half a garage, basement or spare room and a small to modestly sized house to work with; keep it small and effective. With the exception of an incline bench, keep your free weights simple; Hexagon weights work fine. They’re heavy and metal, pick them up. I am personally not a fan of having a million and a half mini plates laying around my training space, not being able to find the locking mechanism or the correct weight I want. It’s maddening. Keep your free weights simple and as compact as possible.

Speed Bag


Whether you choose to practice Muay Thai, Boxing, MMA or essentially any martial art that involves striking, a speed bag is beneficial. Doing regular work on this piece of equipment will improve your muscular and cardiovascular endurance, timing, hand eye coordination, speed and strengthen your fast twitch muscles. When purchasing a speed bag I would look for a well known company that primarily specializes in boxing as you would be hard pressed to find a boxing gym without a speed bag ( and if you do , walk out and never return). Again, Everlast, RDX or Ringside are all reputable companies that have been supplying boxing equipment to practitioners for years. Just make sure whichever product you buy has a heavy duty, quality swivel so you won’t have to constantly replace it should it break from constant use. Once you get the hang of it, that rhythmic sound of the speed bag will become addicting and you’ll have motivational flashbacks of Rocky training montages every time you use it.

Grappling Dummy


For those of you that practice the submission arts, we have not forgot about you. A grappling dummy is a fantastic way to practice your trade when perhaps going to the gym and rolling with your usual training partners is not an option. Great for practicing triangles, armbars, the dreaded leg lock and a myriad of other submissions. These tools allow you to practice repetition as well, which is a huge bonus to purchasing one of these. Perhaps you want to JUST work arm bars for an hour.  Well, your usual human training partner may not particularly appreciate you slapping armbars on them for 60 minutes. This is where the grappling dummy comes into play with no risk of physically hurting your partner. Try to rip that arm off if you want. Make sure the dummy you choose is made of durable material as it will be taking a lot of punishment. There is no shortage of these on the market today, and numerous companies deliver a good product. The downside is that the price tag varies on these as well. So whichever model you want and how much you want to pay is entirely up to you. The Fairtex Maddox is a high quality dummy from a very reputable company. Revgear also makes a good grappling dummy which is sold at a mid range price. Before purchasing please take into account the size of the dummy you are buying. In the interest of realism you will want to purchase one that is as close to your weight class as possible. Don’t buy a kids size grappling dummy and think your tough when your throwing it around.

The final word


There are a ton of items to supplement your home combat gym that you can add over time. It all depends on the space you have and how much you are willing to spend. A lot of these items you may already own and take to your local gym when you train, so some of these may be no brainers. Skipping ropes, resistance bands and foam rollers (don’t forget recovery) are all good additions to any home gym. In reality you can put anything you want into YOUR gym. Like any venture trial and error will come into play. What kind of bags do you want? Are you more hand heavy or kick oriented? Are you a pure wrestler and don’t do any striking at all? Bottom line is that creating a home combat gym is a huge way to express yourself. You can put whatever you want in there, train how you want. It’s just you and yourself in there so forget limitations and just go train. The above is just my opinion on what should go into a basic home gym for the combat athlete. So if you were stuck or unsure about how to proceed, hopefully this will give you some ideas and get you started on your way.

Until next time,

Scotty Mac


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