FINDING THE RIGHT MMA GYM FOR YOU
HOW YOU SHOULD PRIORITIZE THE QUALITIES OF EACH MMA SCHOOL NEAR YOU TO PICK THE PLACE THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
As a gym owner, I’m forced to be somewhat capable in all areas — of course, being a black belt in BJJ and a retired professional MMA fighter helps when it comes to teaching on the mats.
Digital Marketing is also a must-know skill for all business owners in 2023. The internet is where we get more than half of our new students, and staying up to date on trends can be the difference between life or death in this industry.
What I’ve found over the years is that terms like “MMA gyms near me” are one of the most searched phrases in Google related to MMA training. People are searching a lot for MMA gyms, and we field dozens of calls every week from interested men and women looking to get started in the arts.
Having these insights has really helped me assist potential students in determining whether our gym is the right choice for them. In some instances, it isn’t, and I can point them in a better direction (I’ve had people call me from Newark, NJ to inquire about training — we’re probably not the best fit!).
So, what sort of criteria are most important to consider when selecting which gym is right for you?
Here’s my short list, in no order of importance:
- Quality of Instruction
Accessibility and Convenience
No matter how excited you are, nor how committed you think you will be, nothing throws a wrench in the gears of your training regimen quite like a long, frustrating commute.
There are exceptions — if you are on track to be a professional athlete, you will often suffer long drives to acquire the resources you need to optimize your training.
But if you are like the other 99% of people who are training, having a reliable and close academy is the way to go. The honeymoon phase of training wears off eventually and you’re left with a lifestyle that needs to be sustainable. Adding an additional 60-90 minute commute roundtrip makes that very, very difficult.
After all, that’s time you could be spending cooking healthy meals, getting additional work in, or just spending time with your family.
Quality of Instruction
Ok, ok, ok.. maybe this one should be #1, if we were to rank this list. Of course, a really bad school, no matter how close, shouldn’t even be considered. But in the spirit of this guide, I think that having a convenient and accessible gym is more important than training at a world class facility.
With that said, quality instruction isn’t just about getting you from Flab To Fab in the shortest time possible (or whatever your goals are). It’s also about bedside manner, atmosphere, and general teaching philosophy.
Does the gym encourage high intensity, dangerous behavior? Do the coaches just pick some techniques out of a hat to teach on any given day, or is there a structured curriculum? Is there a clearly laid out path to help you understand where you are, where you are going, and how to get there?
These are all huge considerations in picking your MMA school!
Cleanliness and Safety
As you can see, where one criterium ends another begins, and there’s a bit of overlap. Safety is not just about the “rule of law” put down by the coaching staff, but also can be attributed to the quality and appropriateness of the equipment, the cleaning protocols, and the hygiene standards.
Does the gym clean the mats? If so (gosh, I hope so), how often and with what cleaning solutions and equipment? Does it deep clean?
Are the bathrooms cleaned regularly? The floors? Is the equipment well maintained? Are there sharp corners near the training area?
All of these considerations are extremely important. MMA classes can be dangerous enough without the need to dodge tripping hazards and sharp edges as you go.
Again, just like poor quality of instruction, an extremely dirty or unsafe environment should completely eliminate an MMA school from your consideration.
Some schools will act like it’s normal to have “grime” or a “gritty” environment. It’s not. Serious injury or disease can occur in these environments that can lead to hospitalization or even death. Stay clear!
Vibe and Culture
Depending on who you are, and what you want to get out of your training, this might actually be the most important quality for your MMA school of choice.
We are social creatures. We have a strong desire to fit in, and a strong desire to be around people we admire. Finding a “tribe” can be an amazing, life changing experience. The social bonds you build on the mats can last for decades and lead to great friendships, professional networking perks, and in some cases, marriage!
Trust your gut when it comes to finding an MMA gym. Since it’s going to be a new environment, you might not really understand the rules or social norms at first. But here are some things that are totally red flags, no matter how much the coaches or students act like they aren’t
- “Fight Intensity” sparring as the standard pace. This “no pain, no gain” approach to training belongs in the history books as it creates unnecessary risks without even optimizing your growth and performance.
- Sexist, racist, or other -ist language out in the open. A good culture will focus on the things we share: courage, compassion, teamwork, and selflessness. A bad gym will lack these qualities and instead create a sense of “us” vs. “them.”
- Coaches or Instructors that bad mouth other gyms, students, or coaches. Again, this is a sign of deep insecurity. The best and healthiest gyms out there focus their energy inwards on their students, not on dragging other people down. Just because someone is a black belt and master of their craft does not mean they are, necessarily, a good role model!
- High pressure sales tactics. Are you being pushed to enroll or sign up when you speak with the staff? Is there a price tag attached to every single interaction in the gym? While a transparent pricing and sales structure doesn’t necessarily mean that a gym is problematic, it can be a red flag. Oftentimes they need to use pressure to sell the membership because the gym doesn’t do a good enough job of selling itself.
If you made it this far, then I think you are well equipped to evaluate the local options that lay before you. Finding convenient, quality, clean, and fun MMA classes near you is mostly just about having a realistic goal in mind, and making sure that whichever MMA gym you enroll at can meet those goals properly.
Happy hunting and good luck!
Jackson Galka is the head coach and owner of North Star Mixed Martial Arts in Philadelphia, and a 20 year veteran of the MMA world with experience in both professional fighting, coaching, and business development roles.