There is no question that bigger gloves mean punches hurt less, and that they have less of an effect on the brain. The same shot with a fist in a 12 oz glove hurts a lot more than a 16, and 20 is a pillow fight. Go down to four oz bag gloves and your lights will start to go out from a clean shot
Headgear is another matter.
Whether it is a matter of physics, or people going harder with headgear, or using headgear when you go with harder people, or headgear making the target head bigger, or if it slips and blocks your vision, or what, but sparring with headgear seems to leave the brain more or less at least as buzzed as sparring without it. Use of headgear hugely prevents cuts, swelling, and bruising, but sub concussive blows during sparring, for whatever reason, do not seem to be lessened much.
As a consequence headgear is not universally used in mixed martial arts training, except for a few weeks before a fight, to prevent cuts. During the last month or so of training, it is not rational to spar without headgar, as the chances of a fight-threatening cut is so high. But the use of headgear during normal sparring sessions is required in some top gyms, while not in others.
Dr Andrew S McIntosh of Federation University Australia recently conducted a scientific study on the effect of headgear, the abstract of which is quoted below.
Background: The paper presents a novel laboratory method for assessing boxing headguard impact performance. The method is applied to examine the effects of headguards on head impact dynamics and injury risk.
Methods: A linear impactor was developed, and a range of impacts was delivered to an instrumented Hybrid III head and neck system both with and without an AIBA (Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur)-approved headguard. An interface comprising a semirigid ‘fist’ with a glove was used.
Results: The peak contact forces were in the range 1.9–5.9?kN. Differences in head impact responses between the Top Ten AIBA-approved headguard and bare headform in the lateral and forehead tests were large and/or significant. In the 8.3?m/s fist-glove impacts, the mean peak resultant headform accelerations for bare headform tests was approximately 130?g compared with approximately 85?g in the forehead impacts. In the 6.85?m/s bare headform impacts, mean peak resultant angular head accelerations were in the range of 5200–5600?rad/s2 and almost halved by the headguard. Linear and angular accelerations in 45° forehead and 60° jaw impacts were reduced by the headguard.
Conclusions: The data support the opinion that current AIBA headguards can play an important role in reducing the risk of concussion and superficial injury in boxing competition and training.
Ben Fowlkes did an excellent and detailed survey of the issue for MMAjunkie, briefly excerpted below.
“When I was sparring, I wore it every time,” said California State Athletic Commission Executive Director Andy Foster, himself a former fighter and strong proponent of headgear. “If I had a fight coming up, I’d sometimes even wear it while I (grappled), just to protect against accidental cuts.”
“I’d like everybody to read the study and draw their own conclusions. But whatever you think about headgear and the ability to reduce concussions, no one can say that it doesn’t reduce cuts if it’s properly worn.”
That’s what worked on UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, who said he wore headgear in sparring for years, but without being entirely convinced that it was decreasing the amount of brain trauma he absorbed.
“When you get close to fight, you almost absolutely have to wear headgear because you don’t want to get cut and have to pull out and have Dana White be like, ‘What a f---ing idiot; can you believe this guy wasn’t even wearing headgear?’” Kennedy said. “But on the flip side, I’ve been a pro for 13 years. I wore headgear the vast majority of the time, and I sparred so, so much. I rarely got cut, but I can’t imagine how many times my brain got rocked. And not even rocked hard, just minor stuff, a lot of it because I was wearing headgear.
“It’s almost counterintuitive. You wear headgear, and you take more head damage. Your head’s larger, so you take more shots.”
Kennedy said that even with headgear as a regular part of his sparring sessions over the years, he recently found himself dealing with what he regarded as symptoms of repeated head trauma. His solution was to stop sparring altogether, he said. It’s been a little over a year since his last real sparring session, and so far he likes the results.
“I feel faster,” Kennedy said. “I feel like my brain works way better. … All of the things that are signs of brain trauma, I don’t have anymore, especially compared to two years ago, when I was struggling with memory loss, low libido, problems sleeping, that whole gamut of problems. Now I feel fantastic.”
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