You can’t shoot a cannon out of a canoe. Here’s how to use strength training to construct a strong foundation for optimal performance.
In this 6-part series, I will explain each of the essential pieces that comprise a complete strength and conditioning program for an MMA athlete. The six components are:
Believe it or not, strength training has been a hot button issue amongst the MMA community as some swear by it, and others still haven’t fully jumped on board. But even as more and more MMA athletes are “buying” into the benefits of strength training, the current methods and programs I see out there are all over the board.
I’ve heard of fighters that follow machine-based workouts, traditional bodybuilding routines, strictly use Olympic lifts, strictly anaerobic circuit training, Crossfit, no strength training at all, and just about everything in between. The point of this article is not to declare any one method is better than another, but rather to assert that the athletes I work with follow a periodized strength training program that has them strong, injury free, and peaked for their match or tournament. Which is why I’d recommend following some sort of periodized plan, as this type of weekly resistance training will help you get faster, stronger, and more prepared for life in the octagon.
One of my goals as a strength coach is to have my athletes as strong as possible for their weight class. My “Secret Training Protocol” to achieve this goal is, surprise, good old fashioned strength training. There’s really NO secret exercise or method here. There’s a reason the basic, somewhat boring, non-flashy, base movements have been around for so long, and it’s because they work!
We predominantly deadlift, squat, and lunge for lower body strength. And we include pulls, presses, and rows for upper body strength. Sorry. Nothing too exciting here. I love new “toys” as much as the next guy, but in reality the foundational lifts won’t vary all that greatly, regardless of the sport you play. I will try the latest piece of rubber tubing, the Kamagon Ball, the sandbag, the TRX, and just about every other tool on the market today (well, except for the shake weight perhaps), but I use these more with my circuits and for a smaller percentage of my strength routines. They’re really just ancillary movements for conditioning that complement a solid strength training program.
At the end of the day, maximum strength training is a great way to “lay that foundation” early on in the periodized program. As you get closer to your fight or tournament you can then start to transition from max strength work into more “functional,” or “combat specific,” strength training. But the protocol below should give you a sense of what my MMA athletes do in the offseason.
Sample Strength Training Session
Line drills, thoracic spine mobility drills, glute activation movements (link to article here).
Med Ball Complex
Medicine ball power work including slams, rotational throws, and overhead throws (link to article here).
Strength Training Routine
A. Rear Foot Elevated Plyo Split Squat 4x8
A. Weighted Pull-Ups 4x6
B. KB Front Squat 4x8
B. 1-Arm DB Rows 4x8
C. KB Turkish Get Ups 3x4
C. Superband Torso Rotations 3x20
Static stretch routine including calves, hamstrings, glutes, lats, chest, and shoulders.
Putting it all together
While this is a full body routine, this sample workout focuses a bit more on upper body pulling and lower body knee dominant work. The second strength day this week would have an upper body push and lower body hip dominant focus. When 1-2 months out from a fight, we typically strength train two times per week. If we are outside of camp (think off-season for fighters) we’ll train 3 times per week. With all the other disciplines they’re working on (sparring, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, etc.) this comprises a full training schedule.
Regardless of your sport, incorporate a sensible full-body athlete workout to build your base strength to ensure you’re strong, injury-free, and absolutely prepared when it’s time for battle.
To improve your strength and lean muscle mass so that you're ready for the Octagon, 1R would recommend the following supplements: