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Training for MMA

First off to train for MMA you need to do MMA. If you don’t actually do the martial art aspect of training for MMA, but you do all the gym work, then all that will happen is that you’ll be the fittest person ever to be murdered in a cage. The purpose of this article is to identify what elements of strength and conditioning you need to focus on to be a stronger, fitter fighter.

The first question to be asked is: What is fitness?
Well, dictionary.com has this as a definition;


1. health.

2. capability of the body of distributing inhaled oxygen to muscle tissue during increased physical effort.

3. Also called Darwinian fitness. Biology .

a. the genetic contribution of an individual to the next generation’s gene pool relative to the average for the population, usually measured by the number of offspring or close kin that survive to reproductive age.

b. the ability of a population to maintain or increase its numbers in succeeding generations.
Which personally doesn’t help much.
 I think the question should be: Fit for what? There is no doubting the fitness of a professional UFC fighter or that of a Ironman triathlete, but they would both suck at each others sport. Each sport, and indeed every sport, has it’s own list of physical demands that it places on the body. Here is a list (gotta love a list), of the components that make up the overall requirements of any sport or activity.
Stamina – how much gas you have in the tank. The ability to exert yourself for long periods of time, but at sub-max effort. Stamina is about aerobic capacity.

Strength – how much force your muscles can exert on physical objects. I believe that strength training is the most underused facet of fitness training. If you can make your muscles stronger than they need to be to perform a certain movement then doing that movement becomes less effort, so you can do that movement easier and more often. Which is surely what fitness is.

Power – different to strength in so far as it’s a measure of the rate of which work is performed. In sport terms it’s about being able to put in the most amount effort in the shortest amount of time.

Muscular endurance – similar to stamina but pertains to anaerobic activity, which is measured in minutes not hours.

Flexibility – this is the absolute range of movement (ROM) of a joint, or series of joints and the length of the muscles that cross the joints.

Specific skills – how good you are at your chosen activity. Perfect practice makes perfect.

All sports and activities need some of each of these qualities in greater or lesser degrees. For example a marathon runner needs a high level of stamina but a low level of strength. MMA is peculiar because it needs high amounts of all of these qualities. Which makes training for MMA hard work. Realistically there is a finite amount of time you can train each week. So if you’re taking part in 3 MMA classes per week, plus 1 muay thai, 1 BJJ, 2 runs, 2 gym and a kettlebell session you will hit the overtraining wall very quickly. Your fitness will not improve and may even deteriorate.

A common problem that occurs with athletes, especially amateur ones, is that they end up doing too much training for the main elements of their sport and what they should be doing is focusing on the gaps in your training. If we were to look at what doing an MMA session gives you, just by taking part in a class, from our list of fitness requirements you can see that stamina, muscular endurance, flexibility and specific skills are well catered for. What is missing, however, is strength and power. To improve your all round fitness an MMA fighter should be doing a strength and power session twice a week. Obviously if he, or she, has a fight coming up then the emphasis should be shifted over towards stamina and specific skills, but between contests  – get your arses in the gym.

Here is a little program that I would recommend to a MMA fighter looking to improve their strength and conditioning.

You could do this workout 1,2 or 3 times a week. If you do it once then do the higher amount of sets, if you’re doing 3 times per week then use the lower set range. It would also work well (if not better) splitting the workout up over the 3 days and adding some sprints at the end. I will include both versions.

The full workout ( s/s = superset )

Squats s/s Jerks – There is only one way to do squats which is all the way down. As MMA ninjas you’ll need to be strong through your full ROM, so don’t be scared about going arse to grass. Jerks are a way of explosively locking a weight overhead. I suggest you get one of the instructors to nail down your technique, however, once you’ve got it no other exercise delivers as much power to your upperbody. Do 4-7 sets of 3 reps focusing on speed and explosive drive. In between sets I want you to do 3 jumps, also as explosively as possible. The type of jump doesn’t matter, in fact it’s good to mix it up. Vertical jumps, box jumps, depth charges, long jumps and as many others as you can think of. Rest in between exercises – but only as much as you need, don’t go into the next set having not recovered from the previous. Good technique is vital – as is the speed of each rep. The weight needs to be heavy but not so heavy that you can’t perform the reps explosively. Do the sets like this: Squats-rest-jumps-rest-jerks-rest-repeat. Remember only rest enough so you can give the up coming set 100%.
Dips – awesome, amazing, brilliant exercise. Now pay attention, this might get a bit confusing. I want you to do 50 reps. But not in 1 set. Instead I want you to do multiple sets until you reach the total of 50 reps. Here’s the confusing bit – If you can manage to do all 50 reps in 5 sets or fewer then I want you to add 10kg to your body weight next time.

( If you want to do the whole workout in a single day only do 4 sets and carry on to the next exercises. If you want to split it up over multiple days then stop here and do 10-20 50m sprints.)

Bench press s/s Hang Snatch – You’re going to need a partner for this one. Hopefully the bench press part is fairly straight forward. Do 3 fast reps. The hang snatch is a different creature all together, you will definitely need some instruction on this full-body power exercise. 3 reps with this as well. In between sets I want you to do Lying Medicine Ball Throws. This is where your partner comes in. You lie on the ground and throw the ball up as hard and high as possible. Your partner catches the ball before is crushes your head into pink goo and drops it onto your chest, whereupon you catch and repeat. Do 5 reps. 4-7 sets following the same pattern as the squat complex. Remember; speed, explode, rest just enough, go as heavy as possible without losing form or speed.
Curls – I might catch some flack from the hardcore crossfit types out there for this one. The humble bicep curl is not a popular exercise amongst the functional elite. I can see their point . . . actually, fuck it, I can’t. Just like earlier I asked the question :’Fit for what?’ You could also ask: ‘Functional for what?’. In a sport where being arm-barred is a occupational hazard then having big, strong biceps is as functional as hell. We’re going to do these like the dips. 50 reps over multiple sets. If you can do all 50 in 5 or fewer sets then slam on some extra weight. Go get some Guns.

( If you want to do the whole workout in a single day only do 4 sets and carry on to the next exercises. If you want to split it up over multiple days then stop here and do 10-20 x 50m sprints)

Deadlifts s/s Power cleans – If I was going to pick just one exercise that would improve you as a MMA fighter then it would be deadlfts. No other exercise makes you as all over strong as deads. If you want to toss opponents around like confetti then you need to spend to serious time pulling inhuman poundages off the ground. Power cleans will add some speed to your deadlift and strengthen up your upper back and traps. Do 3 reps of each. The inbetweeny exercise this time is kettlebell swings this time done for 10 reps. Get taught how to do these exercises well. Get fast. Get strong. Get unstoppable. You need to do this sort of training if you want to fullfill your potential as a MMA fighter.
Chin ups – You can probably guess what I’m going to say here. 50 reps in the style which we have become accustomed to.

( If you want to do the whole workout in a single day only do 4 sets and carry on to the next exercises. If you want to split it up over multiple days then stop here and do 10-20 50m sprints.)

Of course, if you are not a MMA double-hard bastard then doing this routine just might make people think that you are.

Right, I’m off to guillotine one of my kids,

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