MMA Strength Workout Tips
Mixed Martial Arts Fighters need to be both strong and well-conditioned athletes. Fighters need strength to be able to explode at any movement, as well as the endurance to last through to the end of rounds.
MMA Conditioning plays a HUGE role in the fighters’ ability to fight, but MMA strength is equally important. These are some topics and articles of MMA Strength programs. Also included are some videos demonstrating MMA strength training programs and workouts.
MMA Fighters Must Have All-Around Athleticism
Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, is one of the toughest sports around and becoming more popular each day. One explanation for its popularity surely lies in the fact that MMA combatants are at their peak fitness level—they must have all-around strength, agility, and skill in order to be competitive. So how exactly does one prepare to be a top-performing MMA athlete? The dedicated MMA competitor needs to focus on developing his physical prowess, as well as his mental sharpness.
As with any sports athlete, the successful MMA fighter must have sound fundamentals. Key stand-up techniques include striking, kicking, kneeing, elbowing, punching, and footwork, but the greatest MMA competitors must also know how to takedown an opponent and fight on the ground. You must train for anything you might encounter in the ring. It is imperative that a fighter learns the proper way to kick and to punch, the right way to takedown an opponent, and how to throw, clinch and submit opponents. Once you get a solid grasp of the right techniques and have suitable fight training experience, it is time to work on building your strength, power, balance and agility.
Like everything else in life, some aspects of MMA come easier to some people than do other areas. We all have our own particular strengths and weaknesses, but if you are going to conquer your MMA competition, you must dedicate yourself to improving your weaknesses, as well as mastering your strengths.
In the MMA ring, anything can happen, so whether you are staring down at your opponent, in a clinch lock and feeling his breath on your neck, or on the ground staring up at your adversary, you need to have what it takes to overcome and become victorious. MMA fighters must know how to fight, but they also need to be quick and quick-witted. They need to be strong with lots of endurance. They need to be flexible and agile. They also need to have the fancy footwork of a boxer. In short, they need it all.
To become the master MMA fighter you were destined to be, first work on your overall fitness and strength level. If you are not in top physical shape, you will tire in the ring, and no matter how skilled your technique, if you lack the endurance and strength necessary to maintain domination, your performance will suffer.
Overall strength and health are like the foundation under a house—without a foundation to hold the walls and roof up, the house will crack and fall.
Eat a diet fit for an athlete, get the aerobic exercise necessary for prime heart function, and get as strong as you can.
Why MMA Fighter Workouts Should Include Strength Training
Overall physical fitness alone will not make a top MMA performer out of you. You have to also be strong. Remember that football player in high school who showed off to all the girls by lifting up the rear end of the coach’s car? You need that kind of strength, and you need it to last the whole time you are fighting. You need the strength that will give you sheer power, as well as the strength necessary to keep your balance and stabilize your stance.
A MMA fighter’s gym workout needs to be different from the typical bodybuilder’s workout. An MMA fighter’s body needs to work as a whole and strengthen different groupings of muscle.
A MMA fighter needs to be able to explode with POWER. A good portion of the workout exercises that the MMA fighter performs must focus on raw, explosive powerful strength. The best exercises for this are push presses, deadlifts, squats, chest presses, high pulls, cleans, snatches and variations of these exercises.
MMA STRENGTH TRAINING EXERCISES
In order for a MMA or UFC Fighter to workout properly to increase Strength, Power, Performance and Endurance; there are a few essential training exercises and lifts that you must know. The exercises are essential to any MMA Strength Workout.
Lower Body MMA Strength Exercises
- Squats are one of the best leg and full-body exercises that a mixed martial arts fighter can do. It will build overall body strength and give you tremendous power. You should vary your squatting routine—on some days, squat heavy and on other days, squat for repetitions. Squats give you the power and speed for takedowns, kicking, and explosive techniques. You can perform the squat using a barbell, dumbbell, sandbag, kettebell, etc…
- Deadlifts are a great overall strength and power developer. It is probably the best exercise for developing overall pulling strength. It is also amazing for your grip, leg and core strength. Deadlifts can be done with a barbell, trap-bar, sandbag or any heavy object that needs to be picked up. Deadlifts are also essential for grip strength.
- Cleans are the best overall explosive exercise. Football players swear by the clean. Adding a press to this workout makes it the famed ‘clean and press.’ Bill Starr, a well-known strength trainer for football teams said that if his athletes could only do one exercise, it would be the clean and press. You can do a clean and press with a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell clean and, of course, the sandbag.
- Lunges are an excellent exercise for an MMA athlete because they build leg strength. In particular, lunging develops the muscles that are required for standing on one leg at a time—since you are likely to have to stand on one leg in the ring, those are the muscles you want to empower. Lunges also give you incredible leg driving power for kicking and takedowns. One of my favorite ways to do lunges is with shouldering a sandbag.
- Kettlebell Swings – are arguably one of the most important exercises an MMA fighter should do for his / her workout routine. They develop incredible leg and posterior chain strength, while also working the MMA athelte’s aerobic and anaerobic systems.
There are obviously more lower body exercises out there, but for a MMA fighter, sometimes sticking with the basics will produce the best results.
Upper Body MMA Strength Exercises
- Push Press - Another upper body exercise that is great for MMA strength is the standing shoulder or push-press. The Push Press is one of the best explosive upper-body exercises a Mixed Martial Arts fighter should perform. The push press develops full-body power and explosiveness that with dramatically improve punching power, takedowns, and overall upperbody strength. There are a variety of “tools” an athlete can use to perform the Push Press. One of my favorites is using a sandbag. Sandbag training is odd, unbalanced and forces you to work your stabilizer muscles as well. It is an explosive movement that develops your power for punching, pushing, and driving. You can use kettlebells for this exercise and do a clean and press, or you can use a straight bar or even a sandbag.
- Pull-ups and Rows – A strong MMA fighter needs to have a strong back and posterior chain. Deadlifts work all areas of the posterior chain, but it’s also important to spend extra development on your mid and lower back muscles. If you were to do just one exercise to work your upper and middle back muscles, I would just do pull-ups. The pull-up is arguably one of the best upperbody exercises an athlete can do. You can also incorporate rows – either with a barbell, sandbag, dumbbell, etc.
- Push-ups – I believe push-ups DONE PROPERLY will provide a greater benefit to an MMA fighter over bench press. If you are able to bang out 50+ push-ups with perfect form, the start challenging yourself by adding weight to your back, adding claps, or doing one-arm push-up.
- Bench Press – Bench pressing gives you strength, and most athletes who need upper body strength rely on this classic. Since MMA is all about being the ultimate fighter under any circumstance, you will also need a powerful upper body and arms. MMA workouts should include the bench press, but not be limited to it. Since the MMA fighter is unlikely to encounter a perfectly balanced weight when he is in the arena, you would be wise to employ a weight routine that more closely simulates the condition of the fighting ring. A one-armed kettlebell clean and press is a good option, for example; another is the push press
Full-Body MMA Strength Exercises
- Clean and Press – No MMA Workout is completed without the Clean and Press. The Clean and Press is an Olympic Weight Lifting Movement that develops VERY explosive power, speed and strength. It can be performed with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag…. and more. It is essential for providing the MMA fighter the explosive power he / she needs to fight in the cage or UFC.
- Clean and Jerk – The Clean and Jerk is similar to the Clean and Press, but is even more explosive – but requires more technique. Personally – I believe that a fighter should work his fighting technique instead of focusing on weight lifting technique. If the MMA fighter does not “naturally” at a Jerk to his press, then I believe the athlete should not add this movement.
- Snatches – The Snatch the art of taking a weight on the ground or below the knees (hang snatch) and explosively put it overhead. Its basically a “one-motion” clean and press. Barbell snatches for a MMA fighter are not recommended. There’s a lot of technique involved and a MMA athlete would be better success using a kettlebell or dumbbell snatch. These movements produce the same result; yet require less technique.
MMA STRENGTH TRAINING WORKOUTS
An MMA Fighters Workout routine needs to be a combination of strength and power building; but also work their cardiovascular system. To do this, a MMA Athlete needs to workout using a variety of different training methods, tools, and strength / power circuits to achieve their goal of improving their strength and performance in the ring.
Using unconventional or “old school” training exercises and routines allows the MMA fighter work his / her full-body and also develop raw, beast-like power. These exercises and training methods are the “go-to” training methods at my school (Jiu-Jitsu and Strength Academy). Our program is called “Integrated Performance Training” – it combines unconventional and old-school training with modern science and methods.
Some MMA and Fighter Strength Training Methods we use for our MMA and Jiu-Jitsu Athletes are:
Strongman Training Workouts for MMA Fighting
Strongman Training for Fighters is brutal, but produce amazing results. Some popular fighters now incorporate strongman training methods and events into their routine. Some strongman exercises for a MMA workout would be:
- Tire Flips – Tire flips develop driving and grinding power. They are very taxing on the body, but gives the MMA fighter that deep-down power and strength that allows them to fight through their opponent in the MMA ring. Fighters increase their takedowns strength, grappling strength and power.
- Log Clean and Press – If I was only limited to one exercise to do for the rest of my life, it would be the log clean and press. It’s probably easier to list the muscles that this exercise is NOT working compared to what it does work. It is the ULTIMATE Full-Body Strength and Performance Exercise.
- Farmer’s Walks – The farmers walk will develop amazing leg, lower back, upper back, biceps, forearms and GRIP. One of the biggest benefits to this exercise is that you are MOVING. This is exercise perfect for a MMA fighter and should always be included in a fighters workout routine.
- Sandbag or Odd-Object Carries – Pick-up something odd (sandbag, stone, atlas stone, human being) hold it – and go for a walk! Walking while holding a sandbag or odd-object is brutal…. it’s not fun at all. To be honest, I DREAD doing these. But the benefits far outweigh the pain. Incorporating carries into your MMA workout routine, will improve your endurance, but also improve your fighting strength.
- Atlas Stone Training – Training with atlas stones is PRIMAL. It’s in every Warrior’s DNA. There’s a big heavy stone on the ground and as a man, we must move it. You can pick it up and put over a bag or load it onto a platform OR you can shoulder it (My Favorite). One of my favorite ways of training is shouldering an atlas stone a few times, then “go for a walk” – BRUTAL FIGHT TRAINING.
Unconventional Strength Training Workouts for MMA Fighters
The old-time wrestlers used a variety of training methods using kettlebells, maces, Indian clubs, hammers, bodyweight exercises, and some strongman like exercises. These exercises are a combination of strength, performance, and endurance training.
- Kettlebell Training – Kettlebells have been around for centuries and have been the go to training method for Russian Athletes. There is not one exercise or MMA workout you could not do with a kettlebell. Some popular exercises are:
- Kettlebell Swings – a necessity for MMA training
- Kettebell Clean and Press – develop full-body power and punching power
- Kettebell Snatch – developer explosive strength and core strength
- Renegade Rows – Perfect for developing pulling strength, grip and core strength
- Kettlebell Turkish Get-ups – These are brutally awesome for MMA training or any fighter training. Full-body, grinding exercise that is heavy on upper-body strength, leg strength, rotational power and core strength.
- Mace Training – Training with a Mace is just cool! They have also been around for centuries and were used by Catch-Wrestlers and Professional Wrestlers in the late 1800 to early 1900s. There are many exercises you can do with the mace to develop fighting strength and power.
- Mace Swings – Shoulder, upperbody, forearms, grip and core strength are all being worked with the mace swing
- Mace Squats – Increase your core strength, while training your legs
- Mace Gravediggers – These are a person favorite for working your shoulders, lower-back, core, arms, and grip strength. Essential for a MMA fighter to include in his workout.
- Sledge Hammer Training – a MMA fighter NEEDS to have Sledge Hammer Training in their workout. Hitting the sledge on a tire develops incredible explosive power, rotational power, striking power, grip strength, and mobility. It will challenge your aerobic and anaerobic systems.
- Bodyweight Training for MMA: Incorporating bodyweight training into you MMA workout is a perfect complement to a MMA fighter’s already rigorous training schedule. Bodyweight training should be incorporated into your workout routine, rather than replacing it. There are many workouts out there that consist purely of bodyweight exercises, and while those work, MMA fighters need a little something extra to increase their overall strength.
Sandbag Training- Sandbag training by itself is great for MMA athletes. There are many exercises you can perform a with sandbag to help your become the ultimate athlete in the cage.
- Sandbag Push-Press: The sandbag push-press I believe this is probably the best strength upper body exercise you can do for fighting. Mix it with a clean, and it becomes a full body explosive power building kick-ass exercise!
- Sandbag Cleans: Sandbag Cleans, like any clean develop explosive leg, posterior chain, and pulling strength. All these strength benefits are necessary for a MMA fighter to have.
- Sandbag Clean and Press: The “Ultimate” Sandbag Exercise. Pick the sandbag up, get it to your shoulders and press it overhead. It’s the “Ultimate MMA Exercise”
- Sandbag Shouldering: Be a beast and get a heavy sandbag on the ground and explosively get it to your shoulders. Improves your throwing abilty, sprawl, takedowns, kicks, and hip power.
- Sandbag Lunges: Shoulder a Sandbag and do some lunges – they suck…. But if you want a good MMA takedown and develop strong and powerful fighting legs, they lunges need to be included.
- Sandbag Get-ups: If you want to be a Warrior, then get-ups have to be in your routine. Get a heavy sandbag, put it on your shoulder and stand-up with it.
- Sandbag ______: The Sandbag is SO Vertsatile that the only limitation for your MMA workouts is creativity!
Recommended Unconventional MMA Strength Training Programs:
Ultimate Sandbag Training
MMA Gym and Weight Workouts
If you are only limited to a standard gym, you won’t be able to strength train for MMA as effectively if you did no include some of the other workouts I am recommending. You can still perform the standard exercises: Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Etc.
Additional Focus Training Areas for MMA Athletes
Core Training for MMA Fighters
All movement—whether it is a strike, throw or submission–originates from the core and all power is created and amplified by having a rock solid torso. The “core” is all of the musculature, anterior and posterior, starting at your knees and going all the way up to your chest. This encompasses a ton of muscle groups! And these muscles must work together to execute all movement. But, if your core is weak, your movements will be weak and you won’t be able execute in the gym or in the ring.
Resources for Core Strength Training for MMA
- How to Develop Core Strength for MMA Fighting and Jiu-Jitsu
- Core Training with Expert Fight Trainer: Ross Enamit
Grip Strength Training for MMA & Fighters
Grip strength is an important aspect in MMA, Jiu-Jitsu and Grappling – but sometimes overlooked when creating a Strength Training Program for MMA. Some of the exercises you perform, such as the deadlift, work your grip; but not as effectively as working your grip alone.
Resources for Training Your Grip for MMA and Submission Grappling
Agility and Mobility Training for MMA
Fighters and MMA Athletes are finally starting to learn about ability and mobility training to improve their overall MMA fighting ability AND to reduce injuries.
Resources for MMA Agility and Mobility:
TOP MMA FIGHTERS WORKOUT VIDEOS
MMA fighters must incorporate all types of training methods into their workouts. They need to hit the weights, focus on exercises for specific combat techniques and build core strength and strength endurance. There are many ways top fighters approach training and prepare their bodies to fight. Each fighter has a different philosophy on what works best for him or her to be in optimal condition for fighting. You’ll see that many fighters are starting to move away from traditional gym lifting and incorporating a variety of training methods, including bodyweight exercises, combat-specific exercises, strongman training and more. The following videos show you the workouts of some of the top MMA and the types of trainings and fight preparations they use.
Why Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise is Critical for MMA Fighting
While aerobic exercise increases general fitness, anaerobic preparation is also critical to top performance in an MMA fight, as it will allow you to avoid muscle exhaustion. Muscle fatigue occurs when too much lactic acid builds up in the muscles, so if you want to outlast your opponents in the ring, you must build up a tolerance so you don’t wear out too quickly in the fight.
Try circuits or sprints to lessen muscle fatigue. Isometrics, too, will help your body outlast the competition. Try isometric push-ups where you get in position for a push-up and hold. Other isometric techniques where you exert force on a muscle or muscle group that you need to rely on in the ring can be beneficial. Remember, that if you are going to build up your strength, you must hold the position for a minimum of six seconds. If you are a top MMA athlete, you must increase the time of the hold as you continue your training.
Basic MMA Workout Routines
This is a basic / simple MMA Strength Workout that can be used as a beginning routine. If you are looking to enhance your routines and are ready to increase your core power and strength, the check out our Recommended MMA Workout Routines on the right
Sample Mixed Martial Arts Strength Workout:
- Power Clean – 3 sets of 3 reps warm up, then 3 to 5 sets of 3 reps with a work weight, about 80% of a 1RM.
- Bench Press – (medium to heavy day)- (if med)- 3 sets of 5 to 6 reps warm up then 3 sets of 5 with a work weight. (if heavy)- work up over six sets of 5 to 6 reps to limit set of 3 to 5 reps on the last set. A rule of thumb puts a limit triple at about 90% of one’s 1RM.
- Squat – (light speed day)- one warm up set of 10 reps. Then 5 sets of 5 reps with no more than 65% and no more than 60 seconds rest between sets. Start with 60% . Apply 100% effort on every rep and do each rep as fast as possible.
- IPT Conditioning Circuit – Intergrated Performance Training Workout focusing on high intensity and endurance training.
Day 2: Rest
- One Power Clean followed by 3 Military Presses followed by 2 Push Presses for 5 reps total per set – 3 warm up sets, then 3 sets of 5 reps with a work weight.
- Deadlift – warm up- 10 reps, 6 reps, 4 reps. Either keep adding weight and go for strength, or you can use the same weight at your last warmup set and do that for 3-4 sets and for 3-4 reps. If you continue to add weight, continue to pyramid up until you reach 1 rep.
- IPT Explosive Training Circuit – Intergrated Performance Training Workout focusing on developing explosive power
NOTE: Because squats and deadlifts overlap the working of a lot of the same muscles, squats are not recommended the same day as deadlifts.
Day 4: Rest
- Bent Row – 3 sets of 5 to 6 reps warm up, then 3 sets of 5 to 6 reps with a work weight.
- Squat – (medium to heavy day) same formula as BP on Day 1.
- Bench Press – (light speed day) same formula as Squat on Day 1.
- IPT Conditioning Circuit – Intergrated Performance Training Workout focusing on high intensity and endurance training.
Day 6, 7: Rest
Advanced and Recommeded MMA Workout Routines
MMA Fighters, Get Beast-Like Strength and Power While Getting Ripped
These programs are many that I have tried myself or have used for my clients while training at the Jiu-Jitsu and Strength Academy. They work and produce results.