Along with a load of technical skill and psychological prowess, MMA Fighters are expected to have a massive level of general physical preparedness (GPP). Surprisingly, some Fighters still just focus on technique class and then for their conditioning take on long jogs, tabata intervals and throw in metabolic circuits involving exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, cleans and presses, squats, bear crawls and pull-ups.
John Saylor, one of America’s leading authorities on jujitsu, grappling, judo and self defense, quotes that MMA most closely represents the Decathlon, where the athlete is required to train all energy systems, develop a high level of endurance, strength, speed, agility, explosiveness, bone/ligament/tendon and muscle development, flexibility and technical skill. MMA fighters are really the decathletes of combat sports. If you want to see the best BJJ, go to the Mundials. If you want to see the best boxing, watch boxing. If you want the best kickboxers, watch K-1. Want to see the world’s best wrestlers or judokas, stick to the Olympics.
The most neglected areas of the body for MMA Fighters starts with the neck, followed by the posterior chain – back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. With conditioning, the focus on developing different types of strength would be beneficial, as would more mobility and flexibility training. Different types of strength include; endurance strength, speed strength, max strength, explosive strength, reactive strength, reversal strength and isometric strength and most of these are neglected with standard training programs.
I am not going to pretend I am an awesome MMA Fighter, because I’m extremely far from it. I take class for fun, and as a strength coach I see untapped potential in students where more effective strength and conditioning could really bump up their performance.
Different types of training methods useful to prep up a fighter include;
MAX EFFORT WORK
VERY HIGH REP WORK
ACCESSORY WORK – Exercises to bump up their weak areas
SLEDS, ROPES, BAGS, INTERVAL CONDITIONING
VERY HIGH REP WORK
We’re talking 50-200reps according to John Saylor. Very high rep work helps increase the number of muscle capillaries which increases oxidative capacity, and strengthens tendons and ligaments. “You don’t ‘gas’ out from not getting enough oxygen, you gas out because your oxidative system can’t effectively clear your muscles of metabolites”, so working the muscle directly is going to be more specific to the fight demands than going for a jog to improve muscular endurance.
Examples of exercises that could be done with very high reps;
-body weight or light band squats
-elevated feet pushups
-wheelbarrow walks with a partner
-dumbell and kettlebell work
-band leg curls seated
-band good mornings.
MAX EFFORT WORK
Just choose 1 max effort exercise, one day per week and then work on assistance work in a circuit. Rotate the max lift each week.
– Deadlifts – sumo are more specific to MMA but also train other types (eg. conventional deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, rack pulls, chains, fat gripz, etc.).
– Squats. Box squats work really well, since two of the most effective methods to improve strength are; relaxed-overcome-by-dynamic work and static-overcome-by-dynamic work. You break the concentric-eccentric chain, therefore build explosive power from a relaxed state. Try high box, low box, wide stance, narrow stance, powerlifting style, olympic style, back squat, front squat, safety squat bar, chains, etc.
– Bench – rotate regular bench using normal/narrow/wide grip, incline bench, decline bench, floor press, board press, cambered bar, chains, fat gripz, etc.
– Pull-Ups – wide/narrow/regular arm width, pronated/supinated/neutral wrist, fat gripz, ropes, rings.
– Zercher Squats. These are useful for grappling and getting used to picking up opponents. The barbell rests along your forearms.
– Good Mornings, 5RMs . Great for MMA. As with all exercises, alternate between different techniques, e.g; bent over Goodmornings (rounded upper back and lower back on descent, arch on ascent. Builds erectors, hamstrings, glutes by extending the legs and back simultaneously), arched back standing goodmornings: build static strength in the erectors.
-Towing (max pulling) and Sled Work.
– Car pushing
– Hip Thrusts and Hip Bridges using a loaded barbell.
Apart from using bands for max work (not recommended), you can rotate main lifts as below.
Do reps as explosively as you can. Train fast to be fast. Perform some of the above Max effort lifts in a speed workout, meaning you’ll drop the weight to 50-60% and lift with maximal speed for 1-3 reps. For example, you may deadlift singles, box-squat doubles and bench triples. Focus on quality and keep the speed up. Rest 40seconds between sets and go again for 6-12 sets. Bands come into play here (do not use bands for max work) for speed deadlifts, speed squats and speed bench. Speed sets will feel relatively easy for the first few sets but they will become neurally taxing so keep the reps low.
When the body lands on a surface, it becomes kinetic energy, which is transferred in the body as a stretch reflex. Examples of plyometric work include;
– jumping knees to feet. Then add some weight on the back or with a bar on the back. Progress to bar on the lap and jump into a power clean.
– bounding – double leg jumps over hurdles. Use body weight, sandbags across shoulders, ankle weights, dumbbells in each hand.
– Jump onto boxes of various heights, and cycle in training with max heights.
– drop jumps from boxes of various heights – land and stick the jump.
– depth jump from boxes of various heights – land and do a long jump.
– double leg jumps up stairs
– plyo push-ups
– plyo pull-ups
Clinch work in MMA is quasi-isometric. Quasi-isometrics are where you move very slowly through a certain range. For example, in training you can use strong jump stretch bands so that you work through the part of the lift that needs the most improvement (as in a squat or bench for example). Good for grapplers and wrestlers, where the duration of their hold is often of greater benefit than the strength of their hold, eg. Holding at 75-90% of their max for a long time.
For anyone involved in combat and collision sports, such as wrestling and football, training the neck should be an integral part of their training programs. Training neck for strength and stability can help prevent injuries. A thick strong neck is vital for preventing concussions as well.
Examples of great neck exercises are;
-weighted quad / supine
-manual resistance perturbations by partner / coach
-band work dynamic and static (moving the head or not moving the head against a band resistance)
-stability ball work (quadruped / standing against wall)
-partner does push-ups off your head
A strong grip is a big asset in a combat sport. Lose your grip and your strength is wasted. To help develop grip strength, you can use Fat Gripz for dumbbell, barbell and cable work, when you deadlift don’t use wrist straps and perform heavy farmer’s walks.
3.OTHER SUPPLEMENTARY EXERCISES
BACK – back raises, reverse hypers, straight leg pull-throughs, band goodmornings.
GLUTES – heavy reverse hypers, sumo deadlifts, hip thrusts.
HAMSTRINGS – glute-ham raises, squat pull-throughs, romanian deadlifts, band leg curls.
LATS – lat pull-downs, chins
TRICEPS – JM press, close grip press, tricep extensions
ABS – standing cable crunches, side bends, leg raises, landmine
FOREARMS, WRISTS and other weaker areas.
- SLED AND PROWLER CONDITIONING
Running should be for recovery and dropping/maintaining weight, not for MMA conditioning. Use sled and prowler work as MMA specific cardio and for GPP. The rounds are anaerobic but your need an aerobic base to recover between rounds. Pulling great for building the posterior chain. Pulling, pushing, alternate hand pulling, twisting your torso as your pull, pulling with the arms in an over-shoulder throwing postion, hook straps to your feet and walk forward to strengthen the hip flexors, walk forward/backward/sideways, wrestling walks (trying to grab a partner in front of you).
- BATTLING ROPES / CHAINS
Used either slow and methodical for rehab and restoration, or fast and explosively. For example, 2set X 15min for restorative, rehabilitative work. The ropes build grip and are great for the shoulders. Perform these with an alternating thumbs down- thumbs up motion. Perform more explosively for sports performance training. Single and double up and down, large circles (eg. 30-60s sets).
- ROTATOR CUFF BAGS
Lots of UFC fighters use these. Extend arms out in front /side and swing back a small weighted bag a little. All the soft tissues will work to stop the bag. Perform with a half range bicep curl position also. Builds up supraspinatus and side delt.
So really, heaps of stuff. Keep a base of conditioning throughout the year. Rotate your max exercises each week and complete your speed work in 3 week waves so to avoid plateauing and burnout. Don’t rely on pumping up your training 2 months before a fight. Reduce volume while increasing intensity 4-6 weeks before a fight. Unload training so you can achieve super-compensation.