Strength and Conditioning for MMA Fighters: Complete Guide
MMA is one of the most demanding sports on the planet, and any weaknesses in your physical preparation will be ruthlessly exploited in competition. To stop that from happening, I've put together this complete guide on strength and conditioning for MMA fighters. We're going to cover...
This article is also available in video form if you prefer...
Physical Demands of MMA
Mixed Martial Arts is an incredibly physically demanding sport. In essence, you're combining the physical requirements of multiple different combat sports.
As well as conducting my own sports breakdowns, and drawing on my own experience from within Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing, I've also used some of the great information drawn from Papers by Chris Tack and Ben Lonergen, which I highly recommend checking out if you really want to geek out on this stuff.
At their core, MMA fights consist of 3 five-minute rounds, or 5 five-minute rounds if for a title. During this time, physical demands for fighters include...
Power: Ability to express force quickly
Strength: Ability to generate maximal forces
Power Endurance / Anaerobic Endurance: Ability to repeatedly express force quickly
Glycolytic / Lactate system endurance: For intense work lasting 40+s
Aerobic capacity: For rapid recovery between intense work and between rounds
Dynamic Movement, Agility and Mobility: For all technical qualities
We also have to consider that the amount each of these qualities is used per fight will vary based on both the individual mma fighter, and their opponent. I.e. if you’re in a match against someone who loves grapping and groundwork your physical demands are going to be pretty different than if you're fighting someone who stays stood up, works the jab, and relies on defensive counterpunching.
3 Common Mistakes in MMA Strength & Conditioning
For a sport that began as a way to find and prove the most effective fighting style, it's weird that a lot of MMA gyms don't always take the same approach to strength and conditioning. Here are three mistakes I see over and over again...
Random Timed Circuits & Exercises: Look, throwing 5-10 random exercises together in a circuit and calling it 'metabolic conditioning for MMA' is not good strength & conditioning. But I still see it across hundreds of gyms. Just because it looks cool and gets you out of breath doesn't mean it's making you a better fighter.
One Dimensional S&C: Since we have so many physical qualities to train, why do so many MMA strength and conditioning programmes just focus on 1 or 2. Who cares how strong you are if you fatigue after 30s? Similarly, who cares if you can fight for an hour if you’re not powerful enough to pose any real striking threat? You have to be a well-rounded fighter.
Too Much S&C / Too Much Fatigue: S&C Supports MMA practice but shouldn’t negatively interfere with it. If your strength and conditioning training is leaving you too sore or tired for MMA practice then you're messing up.
Recommended Strength and Conditioning Exercises for MMA Fighters
Power exercises for MMA
These are all about teaching your muscles to contract quickly, allowing you to create explosive movements for your striking and takedowns.
Simple exercises like med ball throws, banded punches, and various jumps will work perfectly. They're quick to learn, require very little equipment, and they work.
Strength Exercises for MMA
Strength underpins power. The stronger you are, the more power potential you have. Strength also keeps you robust, and reduces injury risk.
Aim to stick to basic movements across the upper push, upper pull, lower push and lower pull (hinge) movement categories.
Power Endurance for MMA fighters
Maybe you're lucky and KO your opponent in the first couple of strikes. For 99% of fights though, this isn't the case, so you need the ability to repeatedly deliver powerful shots, takedowns and grappling manoeuvres.
To do this, combat intervals can be used. These are a full-body, sport-specific conditioning tool that you can use to give yourself the edge. Essentially, you're recreating the demands of a match against an unrelenting opponent, with the primary aim of maintaining powerful movements and good technique under fatigue.
Glycolytic / Lactate System Endurance
When intense bouts of work go on for longer than about 40s, lactate starts to build up and your muscles burn and cramp like hell.
To prevent this, you need to improve your bodies ability to buffer lactic acid.
This type of workout is painful, it's hard, and it will leave you feeling drained for hours afterwards. But as the saying goes, train hard so that you can fight easy.
Aerobic Capacity for MMA
You might not be running a marathon, but aerobic capacity still plays a part in recovery between intense bouts of fighting, and in between rounds.
Luckily, it's easy to improve, and a simple 30-minute off-feet (low impact) activity like cycling, swimming or time on the cross-trainer will work just fine.
Agility and Movement for MMA
For the most part, your agility and movement should be being developed in your MMA training under the eyes of a coach. However, you can enhance the process by adding some varied exercises into your warm-ups; lunges, side lunges, skips, yoga flows, hurdles, hops. Literally, anything that presents a new movement and coordination challenge for your body
A Sample Strength & Conditioning Program for MMA Fighters (Recreational / Amateur)
*All workouts to be performed with a good dynamic warm-up beforehand