Admittedly, a grappling dummy has never ranked highly on my list of must-have fitness items. It’s not that I eschew combat specific items; I’ve owned my fair share of punching and kicking bags, along with the protective gloves that are advisable before interacting with them. I even managed a company that created fitness items used by the best mixed martial artists on the planet. It’s also not because I’m terrible at fighting, even though I undoubtedly am, and I prefer to de-escalate the need for physical conflict whenever possible. Instead, it’s always been more of a practical matter of not recognizing how to effectively work a grappling dummy into a training session when my primary methods of calorie burning and strength development have been more direct, traditional and less combat-focused.
In another admission, I have greatly underestimated the mechanics of combat training and how directly it can incorporate common muscle-training movements. By involving an inanimate dummy in the endeavor — and I mean the grappling dummy, not your usual training partner — you can simultaneously train yourself with an eye toward targeted muscle strengthening and combat conditioning.
How Do I Pick a Grappling Dummy to Pick On?
Based on the punchability of its face?
That’s a bit of a joke, but one tangible advantage of a grappling dummy is its ability to absorb the flurry of punches, elbows, knees and other merciless strikes you’ll be expected to rain down upon its stuffing-filled head. Understandably, this will play a role in developing the true list of criteria we’ll be establishing.
- Durability: This one’s easy — a grappling dummy would be functionally worthless if it deteriorated after only a few training sessions.
- Applicability: To the extent that your grappling dummy enables you to approximate training against a real human being, it increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to apply whatever muscle memory you develop while training with the dummy toward a real-world combat scenario. Specifically, this means the size and shape of your dummy should replicate the weight and dimensions of a real opponent whenever possible.
- Portability: Owning a full-figured grappling dummy that weighs hundreds of pounds is all well and good until you have to move it or store it somewhere. If it can’t be easily compressed, folded or deflated, you might be better off without it.
With these standards in mind, we can see which of these dummies are left standing, and which are left lying in a battered heap.
Best Unfilled Budget Dummy: Jendila
Face Punchability: Very high — after all, it has a bull’s-eye for a countenance.
Who This Is Best For: Anyone looking for light resistance or simply to maneuver around a downed opponent, especially if they have actual jiu-jitsu classes to participate in at other times.
Putting the Dumb in Dummy: The negative that dogs this grappling dummy — and many others — is how light it is relative to the weight of a real person. Working on positioning is fun, but dummies need some heft to them if they’re going to make the leap into the territory of realism.
Judges’ Decision: If you’ve never owned a grappling dummy before, the Jendila should probably be your first purchase. It won’t break the bank, and if you decide you can do without it, you can effortlessly remove its stuffing and sell its canvas shell to another interested party. Please bear in mind, though, that two rounds of store-bought stuffing can cost north of $100. If you don’t feel like filling your dummy with old clothes or shredded newspapers, you might be better off ordering a pre-stuffed model and saving yourself some hassle.
Best Heavy Vinyl: Combat Sports
Face Punchability: Low. There’s not much here to get worked up over as it’s totally expressionless.
Who This Is Best For: Folks who want to train their takedowns and throws and feel like they’re manipulating a dummy with the weight of a full-sized human being will enjoy the Combat Sports model. It has straight legs and permanently extended arms, which means it will always feel like you’re training with a standing opponent who is attempting to capture you in their clutches.
Putting the Dumb in Dummy: While this dummy excels as a stand-up training tool for throws and also has a very durable head for absorbing strikes, its straight legs eliminate the possibility of it assuming a realistic mount position atop you, or for you to assume a position inside of your opponent’s guard to work your way out of.
Judges’ Decision: If the dummy is intended to double as a pure strength-training tool and a ground-and-pound punching bag, the Combat Sports model is the one you want on the receiving end of your aggression. At a weight of up to 140 pounds, flinging it around — or even picking it up off the ground to prepare it for throwing — will eventually get your muscles pumping no matter how strong you happen to be.
Best for Kids: Jayefo Sports Kids
Face Punchability: Another bull’s-eye visage here that’s begging to be smacked.
Who This Is Best For: What kid hasn’t found themselves on the bottom of a dogpile at recess, or defending themself against a bully? No, I’m not advocating for punching bullies in the face (again, I’m a pacifist at heart); childhood is that rare instance where snitching is an encouraged course of action. However, in the event that a bully tries to take physical advantage of you, it never hurts to be prepared with a guillotine choke or some other submission hold in your arsenal.
Putting the Dumb in Dummy: Teaching kids to physically restrain another person is one thing, but inviting them to punch similarly sized human beings in the face while lying on top of them is just asking for trouble.
Judges’ Decision: If you have a son, daughter, niece, nephew, godchild or just a kid in your life who can benefit from training with a grappling dummy, you can’t go wrong with the Jayefo Sports Kids. I gotta say it one last time, though: Just make sure you downplay the punchability of the face, because face-punching is a behavior that you’ll probably want to discourage amongst children.
Best Unfilled Vinyl: Daan MMA
Face Punchability: Somewhere in the middle. Once more, the face itself is nondescript, but it’s got a Deadpool vibe, which will make you feel like you’re in the middle of your own Marvel movie.
Who This Is Best For: If you’re a hardcore grappler who wants to train positioning and strikes against an enemy that’s placed in practical defensive positions — and also easy to clean afterwards — the Daan MMA will make you smile from cauliflower ear to cauliflower ear. In fact, its perpetually defensive posture even enables you to practice downward strikes from a standing position toward an opponent’s face, or strikes to the head and body of a downed opponent who is attempting to turtle up.
Putting the Dumb in Dummy: As realistic and practical as the posture of this grappling dummy may be, its peak weight doesn’t come close to matching its 5-foot-6 height. And so, those who want to feel the weight of a real opponent will probably be disappointed since the Daan MMA’s weight doesn’t reliably transition to a real combat setting.
Judges’ Decision: Chances are you’re going to sweat a great deal over the course of your grappling dummy training, and it’s advantageous to have a surface that’s easily sprayed down and wiped up so that you’re not contending with the buildup of grime and Cheeto residue that you’ve been leaving on the dummy for months. Applicability to true combat is one thing, but hygiene is important, too.
Best Unfilled Standing Dummy: Stylso
Face Punchability: One last highly punchable bull’s-eye face for the road.
Who This Is Best For: This is an unfilled dummy designed for takedowns, which means it may be a challenge to fill it with more than 50 pounds of additional weight. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because you won’t feel the repeated strain of scooping a 100-plus-pound object off the ground every time you want to toss it to the earth once more.
Putting the Dumb in Dummy: Did I mention the Stylso can only reach around 50 pounds if you fill it with the most optimal types of fillings? The fact that it can be purchased in a form reaching a height of six feet tall is all well and good, but considering the skeleton of a 6-foot person probably weighs in the neighborhood of 25 pounds, you’ll never be able to delude yourself into thinking you’re taking down anything close to the weight of a real human being.
Judges’ Decision: This is probably best thought of as a happy medium between an optimal takedown tool and an ideal grappling defense item. If you prioritize a dummy that’s portable, throwable and reasonably proficient for training ground defense, the Stylso is for you. Nothing dumb(y) about that.