In martial arts, sparring is one of the most effective ways to improve your striking skills, and the question of whether or not to wear headgear has been asked for ages. The right answer is obviously to wear headgear, but it’s more complicated than you might think at first.
The Role Of Headgear When Sparring
Headgear isn’t essential for all types of sparring. For example, you don’t need headgear if you only plan to do some light sparring since you’ll be barely getting hit. However, if you plan on having competitive hard sparring sessions, you’d be better off wearing headgear since it helps to minimise cuts and bruises.
Pros Of Wearing Headgear
Some of the main benefits of wearing headgear for sparring sessions in combat sports like Muay Thai, Boxing, and Kickboxing include:
1) Minimises Bruises And Cuts
While there’s a common misconception that wearing headgear reduces your odds of getting knocked out during sparring sessions (which it doesn’t do), the biggest benefit that comes with wearing headgear is protection against cuts and bruises.
Headgear gives your face the highest level of protection against cuts and bruises, even more than applying Vaseline on your face and wearing gloves. Ideally, use headgear that comes with a solid nose bar to reduce the risk of breaking your nose while sparring. That’s one of the most common sparring injuries and it’s fully preventable if you use appropriate headgear.
2) Provides A Psychological Boost
Wearing headgear provides a sense of security when sparring. Observe boxers who are new to sparring, and you’ll notice them become more confident when they wear headgear. It makes you feel like you have some sort of protective armour on your head, making you more willing to exchange strikes.
Headgear can effectively help people new to sparring get over the fear of getting hit. That’s one of the biggest issues martial artists face when they first start sparring.
3) Protects Against Head Clashes
Protection against headbutts and accidental head clashes is another significant benefit of wearing headgear. Accidental headbutts are commonplace in striking sports like boxing, especially when both combatants prefer to fight at close range. It’s easy to clash heads at that range as you slip, duck, and roll under an opponent’s attacks.
Headbutts often lead to some of the worst cuts in boxing. An opponent’s head making hard contact with soft parts of your face like your eyebrows can lead to deep cuts that require stitches. You never know when you’re going to accidentally get headbutted by one of your sparring partners. Wearing headgear significantly reduces the risk of cuts or injuries due to head clashes.
4) Provides Limited Protection Against Knockouts
Knockouts can be caused by a powerful blow to the head, but it’s also caused by falling on the canvas headfirst. You don’t have any control of your body when you momentarily lose consciousness due to being concussed and falling on your head is sometimes the finishing blow that puts fighters away.
Wearing headgear reduces the impact your head takes if you get knocked down during your match. Some studies claim headgear reduces the risk of concussions while boxing, but there are just as many that say otherwise. For now, the consensus among fighters is that headgear doesn’t provide significant protection against the force of strikes.
Cons Of Wearing Headgear
While wearing headgear has its benefits, there are some disadvantages to using them which is why you don’t see professionals wearing them as much as amateurs when they train. Some of the main disadvantages of wearing headgear include:
1) Limited Protection Against Concussions
There’s a common belief that wearing headgear protects you against concussions, but the evidence isn’t as clear. Some studies show that wearing them do, while others say the opposite. The reality is that wearing headgear doesn’t provide significant protection against strikes, since your brain still swooshes around in your skull every time you get it.
The main protection you get from headgear is against superficial injuries like cuts and bruises. Wearing headgear is not an excuse to go all out during your sparring sessions.
2) Reduced Vision
Here’s one of the biggest reasons why a good number of professional fighters don’t wear headgear while they train. It reduces your vision inside the ring, restricting your ability to see incoming strikes and evade them. As a result, you get hit more often when wearing headgear thanks to your reduced peripheral vision. A study conducted by the International Boxing Association (IBA) showed that boxing matches are more likely to be stopped due to head punches when both fighters are wearing headgear. That study is why Olympic boxers no longer wear headgear.
3) Gives Your Opponent’s A Bigger Target
Besides restricting your vision, wearing headgear also makes your head a bigger target for opponents. Headgear consists of thick layers of padding to protect the most sensitive parts of your head like your temple. The problem is that all this padding makes your head a few inches larger on all sides, giving your opponent a larger target to aim for. Factor in the fact wearing headgear also restricts your vision and it’s easy to see why boxing matches are more likely to be stopped due to head trauma when both fighters are wearing headgear.
4) Makes You More Willing To Trade Strikes
We mentioned how wearing headgear can help fighters new to sparring get past their fear of getting it earlier, but there’s also a downside to that. Some fighters become more willing to exchange hard strikes when they are wearing headgear due to the increased sense of security they feel. The fact headgear protects against cuts and bruises also makes them more willing to trade. The problem is their brain still has to deal with the trauma of getting hit on the head even if they don’t have any marks on them. Having this attitude can be problematic for a fighter’s long-term health.
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