Saturday, September 25, 2010

Strength Training for MMA

This one is another request but I had actually started on this article a while back and let it sit on the back burner. After the request I decided to dust it off, especially since I am going to wait before I publish my article on strength peaking.

Obviously MMA has exploded over the last few years and I feel fortunate enough to have followed UFC and MMA since UFC1.  Fighters have evolved and training has evolved as well, just like any sport.  The majority of guys you see at the top of the fighting heap are in shape and look like fighters.  This comes back to my mantra about your function creating your form.  If you want to be a complete fighter then your strength and conditioning program is paramount.  As much as people love to cheer for Roy Nelson, he's never going to challenge for a championship fight until he gets his fat ass in shape.

For this article I'm going to cover the strength training aspect of MMA, and what a fighter can do to get stronger.

Train for Strength AND Power -

These terms get mixed up sometimes.  Strength is referring to absolute strength.  How much weight you can move maximally.  Power is about the rate of force, i.e. strength x speed.  A mixed martial artist should train for both.

Train Movement Patterns -

An athlete is always better off training for strength and power in the movement patterns closest related to his skill.  This is why, for example, that the incline press and front squat are really better lifts for football than the bench and back squat.  So picking movement patterns that relate to your skill will always pay bigger dividends.

Train Hard and Fast -

Always train like you play/fight.  If your sport calls you to go fast and hard, train fast and hard.  Everything should be applied to your goal of being a stronger/better fighter.  Make sure you are aware of your time between sets, and constantly push to reduce that.

Limit Strength Training Days -

Your goal should be to get stronger, not be worlds strongest man.  Think about that.  It doesn't take a lot to get a little bit stronger.  Unless you're already at world class level.  It's far more important to be on the mat, in the ring, and practicing your craft than in the gym lifting weights.  When I am focused on MMA training I never lift more than twice a week.  Also, this is not training for size.  This is training for strength and power in certain movement patterns.  You don't want a lot of volume.  Again, this isn't powerlifting or bodybuilding.  Just simple strength training.  Doing 20 sets of squats or deadlifts doesn't really have a place here.

Train your whole body -

You don't fight with bodyparts, you fight with your whole body.  So train your whole body each time you strength train.

Get rid of advantages -

Get rid of belts, wraps, and straps and the excuses why you need them.  You don't fight with a damn weight belt on do you?  Then why are you training with one on?  You don't fight with straps do you?  Then why are you doing deadlifts with them?  Save me the bullshit excuses.  Train like you fight.

Do single limb work -

This one should be obvious.  You need to train each limb to work independently of the other as well.  Not only to even out strength imbalances but to simulate having to push off the mat with 1 arm, crab out from being mounted, so forth and so on.

The Program - 

Here is the kind of program that an MMA trainee could do well with to increase power and strength, flexibility and conditioning.

Day 1 -
General Warm Up - 10 minutes
Static Stretching with hip and shoulder mobility work
Pause Squats - 10/8/5/4 - 3  Work up to a top triple that moves fast.  Explode out of the hole as fast as possible.  Hold for 3 seconds in the bottom.  And "bottom" means basement.  You should have no doubt that every rep is below parallel.  God I hate high/parallel squatters.
Alternating Dumbbell Floor Press - 12/10/8/6 - 5 Work up to a top set of 5 alternating arms on the press.
Sandbag Turkish Get Up - If you don't have a sandbag, use a dumbbell and do the traditional get up, but the sandbag is better for MMA.  Do 3 sets of 5 reps per side.
Weighted Chins - warm up, then 3 sets of 3 reps.  Vary your grip from workout to workout.

Day 2 -

General Warm Up - 10 minutes
Static Stretching with hip and shoulder mobility work
Deadlift - 10/8/6/5 - 3 sets of 3 static weight.  Pick a weight that you can move explosively.  Rest only 60 seconds between sets.
Clean and Press - 5/4/3/2 - 1,1,1 with a static weight.  Do three singles.  Clean the weight from the floor and press overhead.  Rest 60 seconds between singles.  
Full Contact Twist - 4 sets of 10 reps.  Don't go super heavy here, make sure you move the weight explosively.  
Db Rows - 2 sets of 8 reps.  Pick a heavy weight that you can pull explosively.  

Notes - 

If you don't know how to do any of these, youtube is your friend.  

Worry about speed and strength.  You don't want to move up in strength so fast that your speed slows considerably.  Remember you want to be able to move a heavy weight fast, not just move it for the sake of moving it.  

You should be sweating like a freight train at the end of these training sessions.  Move as fast as possible and track your time between sets, and how long the session took.  If you can push your strength up while keeping the rep speed fast AND reduce time between sets, you are on the right track.  

You should not be very sore after these.  This is be design.  Soreness may be ok in lifting, but I have found when my muscles were sore and I was doing martial arts I always ended up hurting something else.  Minor soreness is fine, major soreness is bad.  Adjust the training based on that.

Note:  You sherdog faggots that bench 2 plates and squat 3 plates need to learn how to read and remove your head from your ass.  You know about as much about strength training in regards to MMA as you do about quantum physics.  


  1. I enjoyed this article, and the program you provided looks good but there are some rules you listed i woukd like to discuss:

    I used to feel the same way about full body workouts vs split routines for martial arts. But think this way: if you have some lifts that you feel are related to yor performance in the mat, for example front squat, press and chin, if after few months you increased your poundage in these exercises, your strength training will have achieved its goal. It doesnt matter if you trained the three lifts the same day, or did squats in the lower body day and press and chins in the upper day... what matters is that you got stronger and that new found strength translates in to better performance.
    I found that using an upper-lower split is a good tool to train each core lift with more focus and give more recovery to the joints after some level of strength is reached.

    Second, while i agree on limiting the number of workouts, i think most do well training 3 days a week and even 4 for some(of course not in the weeks preparing for a fight). This remembers me that Mark Phillipi said something about that most figthers over train their skills and undertrain their atleticism. And their atleticism can limit their skills.

    I'm not trying to discredit your experience and knowledge on strength training since you are bigger and stronger than me. I just wanted to share my views(that are constantly changing) based on my own experiences and observations of some professional fighters i trained with.
    The overall message of the article is very helpful, i still see a lot of fighters doing what they think a bodybuilding routine is or doing some retarded specific work trying to emulate their sport actions in the weight room.

  2. Hey Paul! I have 2 questions about the template you wrote for MMA practitioners [thanks again for writing it]. Pause squats really hurt my knees. Would box squats or regular back squats work okay as a sub? And what can I do if my pull-up strength is horrid [for the weighted chins]. Thanks.

  3. If pause squats hurt your knees then you're probably doing them wrong. I would start with bodyweight only and sit down into it like a little kid sits down in a squat. Squatting down is natural and should not hurt your knees. More than likely you have too much forward knee motion going on when you squat down.

    I hate box squats so no.

    If your chins suck, then get stronger. Do more chins. If you can only do 3 chins just do 3 until you get better at them.

  4. Victor - first off, I apologize for this comment not getting posted as somehow it fell under spam (I have no idea why).

    I think all of your points are valid completely. A lot of guys do worry too much about their skills, and then completely forget about being an athlete. I think this is why some really technical fighters often aren't the best fighters, while lots of "sloppy" guys can be. Because there has to be a balance there.

    I don't have a problem with full body splits at all. Remember I'm not dogmatic about my approaches. A guy still has to find what suits him best and go after that.


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