Monday, February 6, 2023
MMA Workout Routines

MMA Workout Routine Principle #1- Lift heavy objects to get strong.

It sounds simple, but with all of the bodybuilding and "functional training" information available that seems to work its way into MMA workouts, I've found this simple fact to oftentimes get lost in fancy program design. Look at the strongest and most powerful individuals in the world- powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and strongmen. They all follow this very simple principle.

On the opposite side of the coin- don't go overboard on "functional training." While you should incorporate a number of styles and principles into your MMA workouts, you should also avoid delving too deep into any one style, especially "functional training." I put that term in quotes because any training that you do should be functional (ie help you improve your performance as a fighter), otherwise, why are you doing it? What I mean by "functional training" is this new push to put fighters on balance pads and Bosu balls and have them perform exercises. The belief is that this style of training will best simulate the instabilities found during fighting an opponent and train your nervous system to be ready for these situations.

My belief is that the best way to feel an opponent's actions and reactions and prepare yourself for the unpredictable nature of the sport is by practicing your technique and by sparring. Nothing will better simulate sprawling on an opponent and reacting to his moves while he's under you better than by working on the situation with an actual fighter, not a Bosu ball! It is my belief that your time in the weight room should be spent developing your power to throw harder punches and your strength to help you muscle through takedowns and finish submissions.

A great example of this is Brock Lesnar. I think it's safe to say that he is not the most technically gifted fighter, however, his strength and power are years ahead of any other heavyweight. Another great example is a comparison of GSP and BJ Penn, especially in their first fight. BJ undoubtedly showed he had the far superior striking so Georges was forced to take the fight to the ground. The leg attacks Georges used were not his best timed and, as a result, BJ was driven against the cage. Because BJ stopped his initial shot, Georges was forced to muscle BJ up off the ground in order to finish his takedowns. No amount of balancing on a Bosu ball is going to give your body the horsepower it needs to finish shots like that late in the fight. That kind of strength and power comes from heavy squats and cleans.

MMA Workout Routine Principle #2- Be audible ready.

Audible ready is an idea I stole from Dave Tate of It basically means that you should have a plan, but be ready to make changes on the fly. It's always smart to have an outline of your training, but having a set in stone plan is something you want to avoid when considering MMA workouts. Outlining where you want to be at the end of a training camp or a focused block of strength training is important but be ready to take advantage of days you feel great by looking to set new records. There have been days that Tamdan will come in and just not have the firepower needed to get through a heavy lift because he sparred the night before. On days like that you have to be ready to make adjustments and back off enough to where you still get a good workout in, but don't push yourself into an injury or further fatigued state.

MMA Workout Routine Principle #3- Incorporate a number of training styles.

Newsflash- there is no one way to get stronger and more powerful for MMA. Olympic lifting, powerlifting, strongman, kettlebells, medicine balls, band training, and even bodybuilding have a place at some point in your MMA workouts. Committing yourself to one style of training is limiting your strength potential as a fighter.

MMA Workout Routine Principle #4- Use complex, multi-joint exercises.

If you've ever read anything by a reputable strength and conditioning coach you probably know that the bulk of your time in the weight room should be spent on multi-joint exercises as opposed to single-joint, isolation exercises. There are a few reasons why this is a common recommendation.

  1. Multi-joint exercises (things like squats and deadlifts to work the legs and back as opposed to leg extensions, leg curls, back extensions, etc) are a more efficient use of your time. If you can get the same stimulus on your legs with 4 sets of squats that you could get from 4 sets of leg extensions and leg curls (so 8 total sets) plus the additional core stability work that you wouldn't get by skipping on the squats, unless you have all the time to train in the world, you'd be crazy to not squat.
  2. Multi-joint exercises are more functional. What I mean by this is when you fight your body moves as a unit (watch a fight and see how much squatting, lunging, pulling and pushing takes place). Because your body moves as a coordinated unit in a fight, don't you think you should train it that way? Strengthening your muscles the same way they're going to be working in the cage is key when looking to get the most out of your MMA workout.
  3. Multi-joint exercises develop the body evenly. Now obviously if you do all pushing exercises and no pulling you will develop unevenly no matter how many multi-joint exercises you perform. However, when you balance your program and perform multi-joint exercises your body will develop evenly. Why is this important? An uneven body is going to lead to instabilities and injuries. A prime example of this is the shoulder joint. Because of the importance placed on the bench press as well as the fact that that lift is synonymous with lifting, a lot of fighters and recreational lifters alike have overdeveloped and tight pec muscles. Similarly, because chicks don't really dig muscular external rotators and rear deltoids, these muscles tend to be underdeveloped. As a result, instabilities within the shoulders will exist leading to pain and a higher risk of serious injury.

MMA Workout Routine Principle #5- Have goals.

As a fighter, having/setting goals is something I'm sure you're familiar with. I'm sure you have goals in regards to fights you want to win, organizations you want to compete in, belts and rankings you want to earn, etc. But have you ever done it for your strength and conditioning program? One of the big reasons I feel Tamdan was so successful is that he came in every workout with a goal. There were even times when he would crush the poundage he had set as his goal for the day but wouldn't move up because he knew he didn't have it in him. It had nothing to do with a strength issue; it was all mental. He was so prepared and so focused to put his energies into that one lift that it didn't matter how easy or hard it looked, that lift was what he prepared for and was all he had in his gas tank for the day. I know it seems stupid, but we really started to focus on doing this during his 9-week Peaking Program. It was after his 9-week Base Building Program, usually when people start to plateau after beginning a strength and conditioning program. I'm confident that having daily goals is the reason why Tamdan was able to still make steady progress many months into his training and not plateau like many others would have.

On top of introducing you to a few of the principles that I use as the basis of my strength and conditioning programs for fighters, I would also like to mention a few "no-nos" that I've seen in other coaches MMA workout routines.

  1. Stop lifting entirely during a training camp. While you may certainly not set any new records during a training camp (mainly due to the increased volume of conditioning and technique sessions), eliminating your strength training program entirely is a great way to lose a lot of strength and show up weak for a big fight. If you're concerned about making weight, simply cut down on the volume of the program. Instead of 4-5 sets of 8-10 reps, do 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps. That will cut your total volume down by over half in some cases and will better ensure you're not stimulating muscle growth during a time when you're looking to lose weight.
  2. Performing high rep conditioning workouts in the weight room. Between all of the conditioning, sparring, and technique sessions, don't you think you get enough conditioning? Why then are you doing super high rep workouts in the weight room during your strength training sessions? Training camps are similar to wrestling seasons in the duration and physical demands on the body. There have been a number of studies performed on wrestlers to measure pre, during and post-season strength and power and researchers (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oklahoma State, etc.) have found that those wrestlers who don't partake in a strength maintenance focused program during the season experienced significant losses in strength and power by the end of the season. A 12-week camp is very similar in length to a wrestling season. Don't let similar losses in strength and power ruin your chance at success!

Now that the groundwork has been laid, let's put this all together into a program. Below is a sample week from a MMA workout routine I used with Tamdan "The Barn Cat" McCrory during his 9-week Peaking Program.

Day 1- Lower Body/Core Focus

Superset 1: Reverse Band Safety Squat Bar Box Squat (5x3) and Dumbbell Side Bend (4x10)
Superset 2: Deadlift + 3 Chains (5x2) and Weighted Decline Situp (4x8)
Superset 3: Dumbbell Lunge (3x6 each leg) and Dumbbell RDL (3x8)

Day 2- Upper Body Focus

Superset 1: Reverse Band Bench Press (5x3) and Reverse Band Weighted Chinup (5x3)
Superset 2: Dumbbell Bench (3x6) and Chest Supported Row (3x8)
Superset 3: Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press (3x8) and Hammer Curl (3x8)

Day 3- Strongman/Power Focus

Superset 1: Band Resisted Vertical Jump (4x4) and Band Arm Spin (4x5 each side)
Superset 2: Log Clean + 1 Chain each side (5x2) and Decline Ab Wheel (4x8)
Superset 3: Dumbbell Push Press (4x2) and Weighted Glute Ham Raise (3x6)

Stone Lifts (3x3 to various box heights).

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