Strength Training For MMA Fighters - The 5 Top Exercises

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Published: 22nd December 2010
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Too many MMA fighters out there are training with light weights and low reps in hope they will improve their overall strength conditioning. This is wrong and I'm going to talk about what is right.

Instead, fighters should focus on using heavier weights and do conditioning separate from their strength training sessions.

I'm about to show how fighters can focus on getting stronger all while still building up their wind. To do so I'm going to talk about the 5 essential movements all MMA fighters should be doing in their strength programs.

1) Deadlifts

Deadlifts are the king of strength exercises! There's no other exercise that will add lean muscle and strength to your whole body then deadlifts.

Deadlifts also target the weaker muscles in the body that lots of athletes and fighters neglect.

Fighters should use deadlifts in the 3-5 rep range and even sometimes maybe hit singles and doubles. The 3-5 reps range is the sweet spot for strength when it comes to fighters. When you use more than 5 reps in a set, you're using too little of load.

Deadlifts should be performed at the start of a session when the trainee is fresh. Deadlifts should be done preferably after an explosive type exercise.

2) Front squats

Deadlifts are king, front squats are the prince! Front squats help build both upper and lower body strength at once.

The reason front squats work so well at getting fighters strong is based around how the weight is loaded on the body. When its front loaded, there's so much more stress placed upon the body which really forces the core to be engaged.

Front squats are amazing at building core and lower body strength both at the same time.

Like with deadlifts, front squats should be done in the lower rep range, preferably somewhere around the 3-6 rep range and right after an explosive exercise around the beginning on a session.

3) Heavy sled / prowler pushes

Sled and prowler work by far takes the cake in terms of conditioning benefits and strength building. Not too many exercises out there can do both.

The best bang for your buck exercise out there has to be your heavy prowler and sled drags.

More and more MMA fighters are starting to realize the benefits of pushing a heavy prowler around or pulling a heavy sled. It just does wonders for building lower body strength as well as increasing conditioning.

I like to have fighters do short ALL OUT goes with a heavy prowler. 10 sec ALL OUT sprints with a heavy load is an excellent choice for heavy prowler pushes. You can use sleds to work longer distances by pulling and dragging a heavy sled for overall time or just reps.

Either way, sled and prowler work MUST become a part of your program if you are a serious MMA fighter! Typically, for conditioning wise, do sled and prowler work at the end of a session. But if the goal is more on the strength side, you could perform super heavy prowler and sled work at the beginning of a session.

4) 1 Arm KB / DB clean and press

Kettlebells are by far one of the most versatile pieces of strength equipment one can have. But, many MMA fighters and trainees find it hard to get their hands on their own kettlebells so dumbbells can also be used for this particular exercise.

The clean is an excellent movement to explosively get the weight up to the shoulders. From there, the fighter can either press strictly or use their hips to explosively drive the weight overhead. Once to the shoulder, the weight is explosively pressed over head to lockout. Cleans are naturally a power exercise. You can perform a kettlebell or dumbbell clean easily. The one common thing about both of these movements is that they must be performed explosively.

I like to use a heavy weight, one that can be lifted with good form about 3-5 reps/ arm. 3-5 sets is the ideal recommendation.

5) Weighted pull ups

Pull Ups are the upper body squat! For MMA fighters, pull ups will help increase punching power and strength. As weird as it sounds, it's true. The stronger your back gets, the more force you can produce when you throw a punch.

Do be like a lot of fighters and skip out on your pulling movements. These are essential.

When doing weighted pull up variations, I like to use chains, dumbbells and kettlebells hung form a belt, or a weighted vest. All variations work well.

When doing weighted pull ups, I would work in the 3-8 rep range using tons of different variations with your grip style. You can use close grip, wide, baseball, palms facing you, palms facing away, and even rope pull ups.

Either way, MMA fighters should have these in their program no matter what!

So the big idea is to focus in on these 5 movements. Add them in throughout the week into different sessions. A fighter does not want to add all of them into the same session, which would be overkill.

Instead, pick one and have that movement be the strength focus of the day.

As far as conditioning is concerned, add short metabolic conditioning sessions in at the end of strength session or do conditioning sessions on off days. Too many MMA fighters mix strength and conditioning workouts together which then takes away from both.

Get stronger and in turn, you WILL gain more endurance. Truth me.


Travis is a highly unconventional hardcore strength and conditioning specialist that focuses in on serious athletes and trainees to help them improve their overall performance and physique.

For more information on Travis, go to his personal blog at and look into all of the other articles, posts, and videos available.

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