MMA workouts are designed to train your whole body, while focusing on strength and endurance. Unlike many workouts, strength and conditioning for MMA must focus on functional movement, and strength that can last several rounds of battle.
An MMA athlete should have enough strength to at least hold their own, by throwing powerful punches and kicks, absorbing impact, and being resistant enough to force coming their way.
Here are some of the top exercises, that usually trend in the news, which assist MMA fighters in building strength and conditioning the body for fighting.
Whether or not you often go to the gym and train (i.e. by lifting weights), building a body for MMA starts from zero.
Learn More: Strength Training for BJJ
Power Technique for MMA: Contrast Training
For generating maximum power in MMA fighters, Contrast Training – commonly known as Post-Activation-Potential – is the most effective and efficient way.
The basic idea of Contrast Training is alternating strength exercises (i.e. compound lifts with high weight and low reps) with power exercises (fast, explosive movements with lower weights).
The prime concept behind Post-Activation-Potential is the stimulation of the central nervous system in the human body to the highest degree, by performing exercises to near-max potential. This results in higher motor unit recruitment and force for the following sets.
It is commonly perceived that muscles which have lower twitch contraction period show fast predominance or type-2 muscle fibers and exhibit higher force than muscles which have longer twitch contraction period like slow-twitch (type I fibers).
The primary goal of including Post-Activation-Potential is increasing force development for greater explosive power in athletes. It is perfect for those activities which need explosive power moves, like sprinting, ski jumping, high jumping, weight lifting, and mixed martial arts.
This video takes a deeper look into Contrast Training, and gives a sample of what your workout might look like:
Strength Training for MMA: Cluster Sets
The ATP-PC system in the human body is mainly responsible for producing energy during the initial 10 to 15 secs of most maximal exercise.
One of the best and most underutilized strength workouts is Cluster Sets. This set of exercises are designed with built-in recovery periods that allow the manipulation of intensity and volume as well.
To simplify it, instead of one set consisting of 10 consistent reps, your set might go for 4 reps, then 3 reps, then 3, with about a 10 second gap between each mini-set. This 10-rep sequence is a Cluster Set, and you might do 3-4 Cluster Sets in total, with normal rest in between each.
Cluster sets equip you with the tools to create a high volume of training without intensifying your reps.
Rather than doing traditional sessions of straight sets, this training consists of a variation of low rep/high series of weight movements that are followed by an optimized rest period. By accessing your ATP-PC system you create a maximized strength training environment.
Check out this video for a closer look at how Cluster Sets work:
Muscle Technique for MMA: Tempo Training
A lot of MMA fighters are curious about cutting weight while maintaining muscle mass. Tempo Training is a way to do this.
Tempo Training – also known as Time Under Tension Training – is among the most highly effective training techniques for building muscle mass. This form of Hypertrophy training keeps your muscles under constant tension for a much longer time period than you do in strength or power gaining exercises.
Tempo Training means focusing on doing each rep at a specific tempo, with a certain time spent in each position – descent, pause at the bottom, ascent, pause at the top.
For example, you might do a 3-3-1-0 tempo, which means 3 seconds descent, 3 seconds pause at the bottom, 1 second ascent, 0 seconds pause at the top.
This workout plan makes you work at a reasonably higher intensity, by relying on the anaerobic system. It leads to muscle fatigue while causing muscle tissue breakdown, which will further cause a hormonal response of testosterone and muscle growth hormone, which is responsible for increasing muscle size.
The time period for which you are supposed to put your muscles under tension in order to do hypertrophy training is between 30 to 60 seconds. A less intense tempo will help in getting a powerful muscle stimulus.
Check out this video for an example of Tempo Training, and Time Under Tension:
Additional MMA Strength & Conditioning Exercises
You can also add the following conditioning exercises in your daily workout plan for strengthening your upper body, core and enhancing your overall performance. Pick a few of these workouts and do a few reps during your training while wearing your workout clothes.
- Push a prowler: Make sure you use a set weight and distance; also increase the number of trips you do in 10 minutes every time you work them out.
- Kettlebell clean & jerks: Try picking a kettlebell, initially do around 50 reps with (25 each arm) for 10 mins. When you are able to do 100 reps easily, switch to a heavier kettlebell.
- Walking Lunges. Go walking by using a pair of Kettlebells or Dumbbells, make sure you properly lean over and touch the KB’s to the floor in each step, and keep a record of the distance you have covered.
- Turkish get-ups: Do as many of them as you can easily in 10 mins. Kettlebells work in an effective manner with them but you can also do it by using a dumbbell.
- Loading a log: Tie a rope piece by the level of your waist between two objects. Take some sandbag, a log, or a big rock and place it on the floor at one side of a rope, then pick it and toss it over. After that, duck down and crawl underneath the rope, then stand up and pick up the rock back and throw it to the other side. Repeat this activity for 10 mins.
- Farmers walk. Try keeping a record of the total distance you covered in about 10 mins. If you’re not able to beat more than 1 or 2 times every 10 minutes, consider using heavier implements. You can use 5-gallon buckets with rubbed pads and add sand for weight.
MMA Strength and Conditioning Workouts: In Summary
If you try to train for MMA or BJJ using conventional weightlifting programs, you’re going to have a bad time.
I know by experience – I’m a smaller guy, and I lick my lips each time I see a bodybuilder roll up to open mats thinking he’s going to easily dominate me.
For MMA you need functional, full-body strength, which can be maintained over several rounds of 3-5 minutes each. The workouts we’ve discussed above are designed to do just this, and give you the exact type of strength and conditioning you need as an MMA or Jiu Jitsu fighter.