Ultimate Guide to BJJ Rash Guards

Fighters training in BJJ rash guard shirts

What is a BJJ rash guard? The BJJ rash guard is a practical and diverse athletic garment worn by BJJ athletes all over the world. For people just starting out in BJJ (or considering a switch from the Gi), it can be a bit confusing knowing what to look for.

Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran, it is vital that you educate yourself before you decide which to purchase. In this guide, we will discuss everything there is to know about BJJ rash guards. If you’re interested in getting a rash guard, choosing the right fit and knowing the benefits of it, this guide will show you the way.

The Origin of the BJJ Rash Guard

The BJJ rash guard is a relatively modern development in sport jiujitsu. If you watch any old footage of Jiu-Jitsu legends like Rickson Gracie in Vale Tudo and Royce Gracie in the UFC you will notice that they were not seen wearing rash guards in the early 90’s. Likewise, there is still plenty of footage from no-gi jiujitsu matches from the early 2000s where just about everyone is either topless or in a shirt. So, where did the BJJ rash guard came from? The short answer is that it’s not really clear. However, it’s relatively certain that what eventually became known as “No-Gi Jiu Jitsu” is responsible for the birth of the rash guard.

Training without the gi was not entirely taboo even back in Brazil before the Gracies came to America or even as far back as when BJJ and Luta Livre had a heated rivalry in Brazil. While people from all sorts of backgrounds would train in Jiu Jitsu with traditional kimonos there was also a need for the sport to have practicality in real life where the Gi was not applicable. This type of training was often done after practice or informally. As time passed, the concept of jiu-jitsu without a Gi developed its own identity spawning its own needs and fashions. The fashion evolved from training in full Gi to going topless with the Gi pants on. It moved on to cotton T-shirts and Gi pants. Practitioners eventually ditched the Gi pants and started wearing shorts and speedos. As Brazil had a strong surf culture, surf rash guards were eventually incorporated in the attire. From this, the modern, specialized BJJ rash guards eventually evolved and came to more prominent and common use in the early 2000s.

While rash guards have evolved over the years from plain and simple surf rash guards to specialized pieces of clothing that are specific for the nature of the sport their purpose has essentially remained the same.

Function

The name is self-evident, rash + guard. It provides protection against rashes from grueling grappling sessions, protects you from the mat burns caused by excessive friction between the skin and the mat, keeps you germ-free, keeps the infections at bay and your partners sweat to his/her own skin.

The lycra, nylon or spandex made cloth, wicks the moisture away from your skin keeping you cool and light throughout your session. It’s comfortable to wear and makes you look great without much effort.

Rash guards can be used as standalone clothing items to provide more mobility, a full range of motion and more durability. Not to mention, you get +10 cool points for wearing one.

Composition

There’s no need for a fitted shirt when you have a material that sticks to your skin and gives your body a light hug. Rash guards usually consist of nylon, polyester, spandex or (rarely) lycra. The garment is lightweight, quick drying, flexible, durable, naturally antibacterial and water wicking.

BJJ rash guards are constructed with a flatlock stitch. What’s a flatlock stitch? It’s special stitching that brings the garment seams together to minimize skin chaffing and ensure a tight, compressed fit against your skin.

Instead of using a conventional four-panel t-shirt construction, rash guards use six panels, which ensures increased mobility, wet or dry. The BJJ rash guard is typically thicker and stronger than a surf rash guard and especially a compression shirt.

Types & Designs 

You can find various types of rash guards on the market. The most common are short sleeve cut, sleeveless and long sleeve. 

It is recommended that one buys a full sleeve rash guard to provide more safety to the skin and prevent staph infection. Long sleeves are also great at keeping you warmer in winter months.  Training partners may appreciate them more because of the reduced contact with your skin.  However, many people maintaining the feel of their arms (and possibly enjoy showing off), in which case short sleeve (or sleeveless) is the preferred choice. 

There are numerous designs on the market, from plain designs to tuxedo’s imprinted on the rash guard guard. Let your imagination run wild. You can find awesome zombie rash guards or even become your favorite super saiyan inspired character.

Is a Rash Guard Necessary for No-Gi Training?

A rash guard isn’t necessary for training, but it’s recommended.  As an alternative, you can wear a t-shirt or a sleeveless depending on your preference (pro tip: never go topless), but any casual shirt will absorb sweat and feel like a wet towel after the first roll. A compression shirt might offer some of the benefits of a rash guard, but typically it’s not built or fit for grappling and it might deteriorate with regular use.

Depending on the intensity, shirts are more likely to tear apart or get stuck during grappling. Maybe you don’t sweat a lot and don’t mind people’s sweat on you, but you should think about your partnerwould you enjoy being smothered by a sweaty armpit/belly of someone wearing a rash guard or the one that isn’t?

Benefits

Here are a few reasons why you should consider wearing a rash guard.

  • Prevent Mat Burn: Exposed areas of the skin are often subject to burn because of the texture of the mats, wearing a rash guard during training can prevent a mat burn. If you have hair on your limbs, the friction can cause a serious burn, you might want to go with a full-sleeve rash guard which will protect you.
  • Prevent Infections: An important thing to look out for is a dirty mat, which can give you skin diseases like ringworm or a staph infection. You can help keep your skin safer by wearing a rash guard.
  • Moisture Control: After a few rounds of grappling, sweat will make everything slippery, making it harder to grip and move. A rash guard provides more traction and control.
  • Prevent Injuries: Medical studies have shown that compression allows your body to heal better. A rash guard not only relaxes your muscles, it gives your body a light hug, holding everything together and preventing unwanted injuries.

Many of these benefits also apply to wearing your rash guard under a gi, which is common in Brazilian Jiujitsu and sometimes even mandated by some clubs.

How do I Find the Right Rash Guard for BJJ?

Rash Guards come in a wide range of options for you to pick from—including long sleeve, t-shirt cut, and sleeveless. The best option for you should be purely based on your personal preferences but keep the following points in mind.

  • The Make: You need to make sure you’re buying a BJJ rash guard and not a surf rash guard, no other rash guard is created to serve the purpose of a BJJ rash guard, any other make will tear apart in a few rolls. Specialized BJJ/MMA rash guards are a must.
  • The Quality: Quality should be your priority. The material should be tough enough to endure constant contact and friction. Focus on the stitching, make sure it is flatlock as it is superior to others. Choose a six-layer flatlock so that you can stay tight and agile
  • Printing: Sublimated logos (the logo is permanently pressed into the rash guard) are preferred over screen printed logos. Again, keep quality in mind so that the artwork doesn’t start peeling off after a few rolls.
  • Ride-Ups:The shirt gets shoved or rolled up due to constant contact so look for a rash guard with a rubber strip at the waistband to prevent a ride up. In simpler words, you do not want to give yourself a wedgie.

Manufacturers like Scramble and Tatami make shirts in a longer length to prevent a ride up, on the other hand, Jiujitero has come up with waist cuffs creating a tighter bottom as a solution.

  • Be gender-specific: Don’t buy a unisex rash guard. The male and female body types, bumps and curves are different, hence a unisex shirt won’t fit properly, so choose according to your gender. 
  • The Feel: The perfect rash guard should compress your body but gently, too tight or too restricting, move up a size. A little floppy or even a little loose is bad, make sure the material overlaps your wrists and legs. Don’t skip the neck and find a fit that allows complete movement without any sort of restriction.
  • Test it yourself: Grab the collar and pull, and if it doesn’t stretch then you don’t want it. An ideal rash guard should stretch several inches and pop right back into place.

Alternatives to a BJJ Rash Guard

Should you wear a surf rash guard for BJJ?

A high-quality rash guard is an investment that will last you years but not everyone can spend $60 on a rash guard, that’s half a GI, so what you can do is wait for the sale season and grab a few for half price. Black Friday is always a good time to buy. However, if patience is not your virtue, then you are basically left with choosing between a surf rash guard or a compression shirt.

  • Compression shirt: Beginners can enjoy their No-Gi sessions with a cheap compression shirt. It is a great alternative to the old cotton T-shirt and it’s not too heavy on the purse either. Get cheap compression shirts from Walmart or Target, they usually only cost $10 or $14.
  • Non-BJJ Rash Guard: Exactly what you’re advised against, but if you have to choose between a T-shirt and a surf rash guard, pick a surf rash guard. It is a garment, usually made off foamed neoprene, which is worn by surfers, divers, windsurfers, canoeists, and others engaged in water sports and other activities in or on water.
  • Going Topless: Don’t.

Note, while we believe there are substantial differences, others think that surf rash guards or compression shirt are fine for grappling/BJJ.

How to Wash and Care for your Rash Guard.

Here are some tips to keeping your rash guard in good shape.

Rash guards are made up of very fine, short polyester fibers.  A common problem is when some of these fibers work their way out of the main fabric, also known as “piling.” There is nothing to completely prevent piling, but a few tips can help add longevity to your rash guard’s life.

  1. Avoid contact with velcro on the mat or when washing. Velcro will tear the polyester apart. If your shorts have velcro, do not add them in the wash with your rash guard ( or spats for that matter)
  2. Use a delicate’s net/bag to wash your rash guard.  This will prevent the threads from being torn while being washed.
  3. Cut of loose ends before washing. A loose thread can turn into a major problem either in the wash or on the mat.

When washing your rash guard, keep these additional tips in mind:

  1. Always read the care advice tag on the rash guard. Just like mom would want.
  2. Dry on low heat and only as is necessary. Rash guards dry fast due to their wicking material.  No need to overheat.
  3. Flip your rash guard inside out.

IBJJF No-Gi Uniform Regulations

The IBJJF has strict rules and sanctions concerning the type of rash guards used while competing. IBJJF and Naga do not allow a rash guard under the Gi for competitions. The respective rules for No-Gi competitors are as follows.

Men

  • The primary color of the rash guard must be white or black. The shorts can be colored up to 50% of your respective rank color but the shirt needs to be 10% of your belt rank color.
  • Men are not allowed to wear only spats. They must wear black spats under the regulation shorts which are boardshorts (no zippers, no pockets).
  • Materials that can harm your opponent are strictly prohibited. Make sure there’s no metal or plastic attached to your attire.
  • You can wear a rash guard that is 100% the color of your rank. For example, you can wear a full sleeve purple rash guard if you are a purple belt.
  • Athletes need to wear non-thong underwear. No G-strings gentlemen.
  • Men are NOT allowed to wear a rash guard under their Gi.

Women

  • Similar to the men’s division, the primary color of the rash guard must be black or white with 10% of your rank color on the rash guard and up to 50% rank color on the shorts.
  • Board shorts or Lycra elastic shorts or pants are allowed that are mid-thigh to knee length.
  • Attached metal or plastic of any kind that may hurt the opponent is expressly forbidden on the board shorts.
  • Women are allowed to wear a sports bra or a one-piece swimsuit underneath their GI.

Women’s Rash Guards

Rash guard brands initially catered exclusively to men. Thus, women were restricted to generic companies like Under Armour to find a rash guard that fit them. However, as interest in the sport has blossomed so too has the market for women’s BJJ gear in general and lady’s rash guards along with it.

Female fight apparel found mainstream popularity when the UFC’s female stars started rocking rash guards in training and tournaments. The SUG 2 (Submission Underground 2) battle between Meisha Tate and Jessica Eye is a well-known example.

Women can select a perfect fit from their well-known brands. Companies like Venum, Phalanx, Takami, Hypnotik are popular and make high-quality female BJJ rash guards.

 

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