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A few friends and I want to have a few rounds of boxing. We're going to use mouthpieces, headgear, and wraps with gloves, but I can't tell what weight of glove to use. Everywhere online says they "wouldn't use less than 16oz or 14oz," but I'm not sure why. Force = mass x acceleration, so wouldn't it be safer to use lighter gloves? I feel like the risk of brain trauma, as well as the ability to crack a rib or other bone with a blow, is lessened if you're hitting with a glove that is, say, half a pound, rather than a full pound. Am I missing something in thinking that a lighter glove is safer to get hit with than a heavier glove?

Also, I have heard that lighter gloves leave higher risk of getting cut by someone's punch, but I feel like cuts are better than blunt trauma.

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    There is a lot more to think about than just the weight of the gloves - weight of person wearing them, size of glove, material etc. Why not find a local boxing club that will be able to guide you in doing this safely (as well as teaching you how to do it well + get insurance)?
    – Collett89
    May 3 '18 at 7:32
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The weight of the glove is an indication of the amount of padding there to gradually decelerate your fist and transfer the impact energy gradually into whatever you hit. Extra padding takes longer to compress, and larger padding with more surface area spreads the impact to reduce the peak stresses and pressures. So, a heavier glove isn't more dangerous: the weight of the glove is insignificant compared to the weight of your body moving behind your punch. It's more like having one mattress between you and a punch versus having two or three: more is heavier, but the thickness spreads and softens the instantaneous forces making you safer.

If you google for "boxing gloves 8oz 12oz 14oz 16oz" or similar you'll turn up a few websites with tables for recommended gloves sizes according to your weight. I'm not going to endorse any particular site, but to summarise: only very light people should consider anything less than 16oz for friendly amateur sparring. If you're heavier/bigger, you may want 18oz or more.

(Regarding Force = mass x acceleration: what big gloves do is decrease acceleration - which is the rate at which the target's velocity is changed - by having about the same amount of overall change in velocity take place over a longer period of time. That happens because the thicker padding reaches the target earlier and takes longer before reaching maximum compression. By the formula, reducing acceleration reduces the instantaneous forces on the target.)

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  • Add to that the fact that bigger gloves give you a bigger guarding/blocking surface - smaller gloves are easier to sneak through a gap in an opponents guard. That's why some companies sell comically large "sparring" gloves these days (for semi/touch contact martial arts)
    – Collett89
    May 3 '18 at 13:10
  • @Collett89: yeah - I did consider that - but it's not a good thing to rely on a big padded glove to keep you safe, as you won't be wearing one when it counts. Still, as you say may be safer short term when messing around with friends.
    – Tony D
    May 3 '18 at 13:11
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    Well precisely - I have seen a number of boxers get punched square in the face when they haven't got their gloves on (even some lighter boxers with smaller gloves). It's also worth noting that if you aren't used to holding heavy gloves and guarding/punching for a few rounds they very quickly feel heavy - making you drop your hands and thus very vulnerable (more a word of warning to OP).
    – Collett89
    May 3 '18 at 13:19
  • That makes a lot of sense. I was thinking glove weight would significantly increase the weight behind the punch, but you're right that it's not much difference compared to the weight of the puncher's body mass. I did initially object because in terms of momentum (mass x velocity) or energy (mass x velocity squared), a heavier glove does more, but you're right that what matters more is the rate at which that energy transfers. If the glove compresses, that decreases the rapid acceleration of the head. Also found this video of Bas Rutten hitting with/without gloves: youtu.be/wRmOOWPTRBs
    – Alex G
    May 3 '18 at 17:50
  • @AlexG The reasons he listed are exactly why it's more dangerous to use larger gloves. Taking some juice off the punch means you can take more punches. A higher volume of weaker punches is far worse for your brain. See my answer for more info, though I urge you to do your own research.
    – coinbird
    May 3 '18 at 18:45
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Gloves protect your hands, not your head.

It is actually safer to use lighter gloves, from the perspective of brain trauma. Research suggests greater brain trauma is suffered from boxers (8-14oz gloves) than MMA fighters (4oz gloves) because boxers take a high volume of shots, versus an MMA fighter that would have been knocked down or out, and finished from the same strikes with a smaller glove. It sounds crazy, but you would actually receive the least brain trauma wearing no gloves! You would get more cuts, and more wrist injuries, but punches that should finish the fight would actually finish the fight.

Answer:

For the sake of your fight with your friends, I would suggest using the smallest gloves you can find, just to help with cuts so you don't look like a psycho at work on Monday. Don't be tough guys about it. If someone gets rocked, stop the fight.

Don't use headgear. The science against it is overwhelming. Headgear causes unnecessary torque from what should have been glancing blows, which causes concussions, and neck/spinal damage. The only thing it really helps with is cuts from headbutts.

Don't use wraps. All wraps do is protect your wrists, which allows you to punch harder, and with reckless abandon. You would rather have sprained wrists than damaged brains. Wraps are nice for hitting the heavy bag, but when your friend is on the other end of those punches you want want to be able to hit him with an artificially stiff wrist.

Here's a source, but there are tons more if you'd like to do your own research.

http://www.complex.com/sports/2015/11/bare-knuckle-boxing

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Your question is about gloves, but it's a question which leads to some more important considerations. I stand to be corrected, but the content that follows assumes you're relatively new to boxing, or at least to sparring.

If your goal is to prevent brain trauma (and I argue here that this should be your primary goal), the most important factor for you to consider is the way in which you spar.

As the previous answers and comments demonstrate, there are a range of views and practices when it comes to glove and headgear selection, and equipment choice is important, but it pales in significance when compared to the question of whether or not you should be sparring in a way that recklessly or intentionally exposes you to regular head trauma.

When you're a beginner, and once you've overcome your fear enough to step into a ring a 'fight', you quickly learn that getting hit in the head isn't actually all that painful; that you can shake off relatively hard hits.

You might be different, but it's been my experience that most boxers are prone to bouts of reckless machismo, especially when they're sparring to an audience in the gym. Playing 'Raging Bull' and fighting on; 'taking the hits like a man (or woman)', is actually not that hard, but it can make you feel like you're tough, a lot tougher than your body actually is. These facts conspire to make sparring a very dangerous activity; especially when considered over the long term. Immediate injury is also quite possible, especially if you're like me and get dehydrated relatively quickly. Dehydration reduces the amount of fluid surrounding your brain and renders it more susceptible to impact-related harms.

Whether the gloves you are using are light or heavy, whether you are wearing headgear or not, if your sparring practice is regular and allows or encourages repeated impacts to the head, you are at risk of causing and sustaining serious cumulative damage.

You may feel as though learning to take a punch is vital; and that's the sad truth about boxing: you do need to learn to take a punch if your goal is to become a fighter. But no matter how strong your neck muscles get, and no matter how used to head impacts you get, you can't train your brain to take a punch.

Much of the pleasure of boxing - indeed one of the responsibilities of a boxer - in my humble opinion, is in aspiring to hit without getting hit. This principle can be extended to your sparring partners too; for if you care about their wellbeing, you should also aspire to learn how to be able to hit them but, without needing to actually hit them.

If you want to be a competitive boxer, you will need to spar hard; to attack your opponent's head and to defend sincere attempts to knock you to the mat. Ask yourself if this is something your really want to be involved with.

But, seeing as your question refers to 'friendly sparring', it is entirely possible to gain immense pleasure and release from boxing, and to become very skilled without regularly causing or sustaining damage; to learn movement, defence, offence, strategy and to have a whole lot of fun, by learning to spar safely.

With a bit of practice (and some fundamental 'no-go zones', such as the kidneys), body sparring can be very, very intense yet quite safe. Techniques can be learned and the body can be conditioned in ways that enable your limbs and torso to take a lot of impact safely. Once you have the ability to control your range and to create openings to the head without capitalising fully on them, body sparring can extend to incorporate head shots that are 'pulled'. You will generally know when you have your opponent 'cold'; there is no need to actually make any but very light contact. There is something very satisfying about knowing you could have knocked out an opponent - and knowing that they know you could have knocked them out - but in restraining yourself from executing.

Unintentional hits will occur. Freakish clashes will happen. Injuries will be sustained. Egos and aggression will occasionally erupt. Learn to master your emotions and your techniques. Make sure that when you spar with someone new that they share the same notions of safe sparring as you do. If they start hammering away at you without control, leave the ring and find someone else.

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