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MMA Conditioning

MMA conditioning is much different than the martial arts and boxing conditioning of the past. In the past boxers and martial artists went on long road runs and did endless other cardiovascular exercise. Strength training played an almost non-existent part in conditioning a martial artist or boxer. 

This sort of conditioning was inaccurate and non-specific to the fighter. Sure, a fighter needs cardiovascular conditioning but the kind being practiced in the past was not specific to their needs. 

Here we will look at MMA conditioning from a specific perspective. For those who don’t know, MMA stands for mixed martial arts. MMA is now a popular sport and is the kind they do in competitions like UFC and Pride. MMA is a sport, the fighters are elite athletes. They need to be conditioned like athletes and it needs to be specific to the task at hand.

Physical Demands of MMA Fighting

MMA fighting has specific demands like any other sport. As a result there is a need for specific MMA conditioning. 

MMA involves rounds of usually five minutes duration. During that time the fighter may need to throw many punches, kick, dodge, block, take down the opponent and fight from the ground. This sort of activity requires the use of the entire body. There are periods of maximum exertion and periods of continued stress. For this reason the MMA fighter needs to have a high level of strength, muscle endurance, cardiovascular endurance, speed, agility and just about every other physical fitness component.

Structure of an MMA Conditioning Regime

An MMA conditioning regime requires a lot of variety, however it cannot be hit-and-miss and hope for the best. Simply running and generic strength training is insufficient for this kind of athlete. Why? Well how often does an MMA fighter run in the ring? Never! So why should running play a major part? 

Athletic conditioning involves the training of specific movement patterns and energy system demands that will be expected in the actual sport. MMA conditioning needs to take into account the primary demands in the ring. 

Progressive conditioning for an MMA fighter…

  • First things first, the MMA athlete needs to build a solid base. This base should be developed with the energy system demands expected in a fight. The best approach to building a solid base is to train major movement patterns in strength training with a varied repetition range. This means cycling low reps and higher reps. During this time the athlete should concentrate on strengthening weak links. Also, the anaerobic demands of the MMA fighter are huge. Anaerobic, high intensity intervals should be employed utilising movement patterns that are varied as opposed to a single modality like running or swimming.

  • Once the MMA fighter has a significant base of strength and conditioning, he/she needs to start getting specific to the task at hand. From here the movements in a fight need to analysed. Take a look at the demands during a fight. Notice the duration of various levels of exertion. You need to train specifically for the movements used and the duration and intensity. If you have a lot of technical skill on the ground then physically condition yourself to cope with the energy demand to back up this technical skill. 

  • After the base has been developed and some specific movement patterns are trained, the MMA fighter needs to keep improving both while also maintaining technical ability. This is not an easy task. MMA is a stressful sport, it involves high levels of exertion in a very high stress environment. Adrenaline is released big time and the stress of a fight can often cloud the skill of a fighter. The final phase of conditioning should combine conditioning with technical skill. The athlete needs to get used to applying good technical ability under extremely stressful situations.

Sample MMA Conditioning Program

FREQUENCY: Five days a week.


SPLIT: Strength x 2, HIIT x 2, COMBO x 1.

Day One: Strength

Back Squat 5 x 5

Bent over row 5 x 5

Pull-ups 2 x max reps

Rest 90 seconds between sets. Keep increasing the weight each workout and ensure the weight used is a challenge.

Day Two: HIIT

This workout will involve explosive movements using one's own body in varied patterns. Notes that we do not use technical lifts in the context of a high fatigue training session. Things like Olympic lifts are dangerous under such circumstances.

Perform each exercise for 5 minutes. Within each 5 minute round you will do 30 seconds at absolute maximum intensity followed by 30 seconds at moderate intensity until the 5 minutes is up. Rest 60 seconds after each 5 minute round.

1. Burpees.

2. Punching and kicking a heavy bag. Each 30 second max interval should involves maximum power and maximum speed.

3. 10 metre shuttle sprints.

4. Deck squat jumps. Roll onto your back then roll back to your feet and jump then repeat etc.

5. Bear crawl. Just crawl on all fours as fast as you can.

Day Three: Strength

Bench press 5 x 5

Overhead press 5 x 5

Push-ups 2 x max

Day Four: HIIT

Repeat day two workout.

Day Five: COMBO

Do the exercise listed for a max pace 90 second interval, immediately followed by a technical skill of choice. For instance, the first one is burpees. Do burpees as fast as possible for 90 seconds then practice a move such as an armbar. Each technical skill should be practiced for 3 minutes. The last interval is just free sparring, whether that's grappling, boxing or whatever.

1. Burpees.

2. Squat jumps.

3. Kettlebell or dumbell swings.

4. Pistol squats. Alternate with sets of 3 reps on each leg for the duration of the interval. This last exercise should be followed by free sparring instead of a technical skill.

Repeat this sequence for a total of twice through.

After day five rest for two days then repeat.

After the fighter has developed a good level of strength it is recommended that more advanced explosive lifts are added, such as Olympic lifting.

Of course this is just a basic overview of MMA conditioning. The point to take away from this is that it needs to be somewhat specific to the task at hand. MMA is not like running a marathon. Instead there are varied movement patterns and energy demands that cannot be easily predicted. As a result the training needs to match that need and condition the athlete to cope with those demands.

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