We all know that cross-training is an important part of a mixed martial artist’s training regimen. At this point in MMA’s development and history, you’d be hard pressed to find a successful fighter who doesn’t dedicate at least a portion of their gym time to strength and conditioning exercises.
While the value of a good strength program has become common knowledge, what specific exercises could and should be included in that kind of program is a little less well known. Sure, most strength and conditioning workouts put together by experts in the fitness field will give mixed martial artists at least some gains in strength, power, endurance, balance, and agility, but not all exercises will have an equal impact on your performance in training, sparring, and competition. Which strength exercises are best suited to the unique demands and goals involved with MMA training? Which will make you the best possible version of yourself in the cage, in the ring, and on the mats? And what is it about these particular exercises that makes them so good for MMA?
Let’s take a look at five strength exercises and what makes them an excellent choice for any MMA fighter.
If you’re struggling with a full pull-up, these modifications are a great alternative:
What it works: The pull-up is a multi-joint exercise that primarily targets your back muscles, the latissus dorsi, rhomboids, and traps. Your biceps also help you to pull up your body weight and lower yourself back down with control. Your core works to stabilize your body throughout the motion.
Why it’s good for MMA: Most of us probably focus on the pushing that happens in MMA, in everything from striking to takedown and submission defences. But pulling is equally if not even more important, and the back and biceps are the primary muscles involved in those moves. Your pummel, cage control, clinch, takedowns, and guard work all rely on them to do the bulk of the work. Back muscles are an undervalued part of a good striking game, too — as anyone who has woken up with stiff lats and rhomboids the day after a good pad session can tell you.
What it works: Squats primarily target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Your core and shoulder girdle will also get a great isometric workout as they support your posture and your form in a properly executed squat.
Why it’s good for MMA: The glutes are, arguably, the driving force behind almost everything that happens in MMA, from striking to takedowns to grappling. Squats, done properly, train this muscle group functionally while emphasizing good form and posture and being careful not to place too much press on the knee joints, all of which will lead to better performance and better health in training and competition. For a more detailed explanation of good squat form and its role in MMA training, check out the thoughtful breakdown of the move in the video above.
What it works: A properly executed deadlift works your posterior chain. Your hamstrings and glutes work together to extend the hips and lift the load off the ground and your spinal and back muscles work to maintain a healthy posture and a stable shoulder girdle while you do so. Your core is also working to maintain a proper spinal position, which will prevent you from transferring too much of the load to your lower back and putting that area at risk of pain and/or injury.
Why it’s good for MMA: Working your posterior chain with this functional, multi-joint exercise can improve the power, precision, and timing of any movement that is driven by the hips. Incorporating deadlifts into your training routine will make your takedowns, sprawls, knees from the clinch, hip pressure on the ground, and sweeps stronger, more efficient, and faster. The secondary core and back work in the deadlift can also improve your posture in both your standup game and your work from the top position while on the ground.
What it works: Like more traditional push-ups, plyo push-ups work your chest, shoulders, and triceps as they push you away from the ground and lower you back to your starting position with control. Your core and shoulder girdle also get a great isometric workout here as they stabilize your form. In addition to the benefits of the regular push-up, the plyo version also works what’s known as the stretch-shortening cycle, which improves your explosiveness.
Why it’s good for MMA: Improving your chest and shoulder strength in conjunction with core strength and explosiveness will make your striking, pummelling, clinch work, and grappling faster and more powerful.
Turkish Get Ups
What it works: This functional, multi-joint, multi-planar exercise tackles almost every major muscle group in your body. Your core and spinal muscles keep your posture in place to make the move as safe and effective as possible. Your core also helps you to flex your spine as you first sit up in the move and helps you resist gravity so that you don’t collapse on the way back down. Your shoulder girdle works as a stabilizer for the upper body while your shoulders, chest and triceps hold the load in place. Your glutes, quads, and hamstrings work together to both finish the get up and lower back down to the ground with control.
Why it’s good for MMA: The most obvious benefit of the Turkish get up for MMA fighters is that it’s very similar to the posture and form that you use to stand up while defend yourself from possible strikes and how you would begin to posture up and break guard while on the ground. But the move also has more general implications. Working multiple joints in multiple planes of motion while working both sides of your body differently at different times like this is a perfect form of cross-training for the constant demands of fighting and defending yourself from all positions while attacks can come at you from all possible angles.
Are you an MMA fighter? Do you cross-train? What are your favorite strength exercises? Let us know in the comments!