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Strength Program for MMA

I’m an aspiring strength coach. One of my buddies is an MMA fighter and needed a strength program. I’ve been training MMA for 5 years on and off, so I decided to give it a try. I was just wanting some opinions on the program i wrote. Thanks!

Monday:
Warm Up: DeFranco Agile 8
Box Jumps 3x5
Squat 5x3@ 80%
Hang Clean 3x5
Kettle Bell Swing 3x10

Wednesday:
Warm Up: DeFranco Agile 8
Push Up (Explosive) 2x10
Bench Press 5x3@ 80%
Push Press 3x5
Dumbbell/ Kettle bell Snatch 3x5 (each arm)

Friday:
Warm Up: DeFranco Agile 8
Pull Up 3x5
Deadlift 3x3@ 80%
Barbell Row 3x5
Dumbbell Shrug 3x10

Core Work 3x a week:
1A: Stir the pot for 10 slow alternating reps (5 in each direction)
Rest 30 seconds
1B: Side plank with leg elevated, hold each side for 30 seconds
Rest 30 seconds
1C: Hanging leg raise for 5 super slow reps
Rest 30 seconds, repeat all three exercises for 3 rounds

i would replace dumbell shrugs with farmers walks. When does your fighter do MMA training?

5 days a week. I tried to keep the volume fairly low, he’s not a very strong dude so i figured that lower volume with some heavier weights would work great for him. I also thought about the farmers walks but he lifts in a small commercial gym so I dont know if he’d have the room.

Well, first I think it’s important to ask…

  1. why does your buddy feel that he needs a strength program? Is he an already accomplished/skilled fighter but just getting bullied in his fights and feels that extra strength would narrow the gap and allow his superior technical skills and conditioning to shine through? Or is he just starting out and under the false impression that the reason he is getting routinely whooped is because he’s too weak and not because he is unskilled?

  2. are you sure that maximal strength is really what he needs, or might it be better for him to work on developing superior strength endurance and conditioning? Let’s face it some people are just not ever going to be crazy strong, no matter how hard they try, and even if they could be, would investing the time needed really be worth the investment? Since we’re talking about sport MMA here we need to realize that the fights are going to generally last longer than 30 seconds and thus strength endurance and conditioning are generally superior to all out maximal strength for a MMA fighter. But, again if the answer to question 1 is that he really would benefit from some extra maximal strength then cool.

  3. what type of notice does your buddy have for his next fight? If he’s got a while, then cool, having him do a dedicated maximal strength block of training could work well. If his fight is happening in the next few months, then I would suggest having him hold off on the maximal strength work till after his fight and instead focusing on conditioning, mobility, and skill work.

  4. what type of format were you planning on using with the workout you wrote up? Straight sets? Super sets? Paired sets? Circuits?

[quote]Facepalm_Death wrote:
i would replace dumbell shrugs with farmers walks. When does your fighter do MMA training?[/quote]

i would replace all of the above with takedown drills and sparring sessions

it all seems like a waste of energy to me

[quote]Jarvan wrote:

[quote]Facepalm_Death wrote:
i would replace dumbell shrugs with farmers walks. When does your fighter do MMA training?[/quote]

i would replace all of the above with takedown drills and sparring sessions

it all seems like a waste of energy to me[/quote]

No argument against drilling and sparring, but I do feel that supplemental strength and conditioning is beneficial for combat athletes.

That said, my personal feeling is that supplemental conditioning should have at it’s core the primary focus of:

  1. preventing injury (be they chronic or acute)
  2. maintaining athletic balance

Let’s face it combat sports are rough on the body and many of them involve repeated efforts or chronically stressed movement patterns which can often lead to soft tissue injuries. And even though you may gain strength or endurance at a faster rate in the short run by focusing solely on those attributes, that does you no good if you wreck your structural balance or neglect your mobility work and wind up injured; nothing brings your progress to a screeching hault like an injury.

So, I prefer to have combat athletes perform their supplemental conditioning with a focus on “general physical preparedness” (although that terms gets used to death and there are so many interpretations) as in balancing out their athletic qualities, rebuilding and/or maintaining structural balance, bringing up weaknesses (again to return to balance), and essentially just preparing their muscles, connective tissues, and nervous system to be able to pretty much do whatever their mind tells them to do.

But that’s just my preference. Take it with a grain of salt.

[quote]Jarvan wrote:

[quote]Facepalm_Death wrote:
i would replace dumbell shrugs with farmers walks. When does your fighter do MMA training?[/quote]

i would replace all of the above with takedown drills and sparring sessions

it all seems like a waste of energy to me[/quote]

The volume is so low overall though, i can’t really see it being a huge drain on energy or recvery

His main problem is that he just gets bullied in alot of his fights. He’s a good technician but he seems to get overpowered alot. Also note this is just a strength program, i have nothing to do with his skill or conditioning, I let his main coach take care of that.

There are a lot of factors involved to figuring this out. It would be beneficial to see what activities are going on with the MMA training and the layout with the strenght training. I agree with what Sento has said so far, and In my own experience strenght training is something that needs to be done before a “fight camp” to use that term as people do. If your guy is 6 weeks out from a fight then I would stop almost all strenght training.

If he is a way out from a fight then I would go ahead with a regular weight training program Squats, Bench Deads and the regular auxillary exercises. That being said what you have listed there is really not very much strenght training at all, that is like the warmup before class on most days and I don’t see a problem with it at all.

The thing is that you can’t really separate strength and conditioning in MMA (or combat sports in general) as it is not a “one and done” short duration maximal strength sport (like powerlifting, Olympic lifting or sprinting). So strength is really only beneficial if it can be sustained throughout the duration of the fight.

Not saying that having more maximal strength won’t help, it will, but training low volume high rest interval powerlifting style does not transfer to combat sports the same as it does to say American Football; the demands of the sport and even the type of strength required are very different. Just look at MMA and you’ll generally see that the guys who are really “strong” out of the gate and look like “strength athletes” generally have poor gas tanks. There are of course exceptions, but those are generally genetic anomalies who are just naturally very strong and have actually trained mostly for strength endurance (guys like Matt Hughes, Sean Sherk, Rampage, etc…,), not maximal strength.

This is also the reason why very, very few successful high level MMA athletes utilize traditional powerlifting or bodybuilding strength templates and instead favor things like strongman/dinosaur/primal strength training, conditioning circuits, or gymnastics strength training.

So I would suggest that if you were going to utilize those exercises and rep schemes that you at least utilize something like a circuit format or a paired template to cut down on the rest and increase the conditioning demands (unless again you have several years to develop the strength and then try to essentially do damage control to bring his ability to sustain it back up and bring his mobility back up into balance, since you have none in your program to where it’s really going to benefit him in both the short and long term) and even better would be to evaluate what his actual strengths and weaknesses are (both from an acute muscular strength standpoint and also from a more general athleticism standpoint) and then choose exercises to strengthen them (be they say a lack of rotator strength, a lack of mobility in certain joints or planes of motion, a lack of neural drive/explosiveness, etc…).

[quote]Sentoguy wrote:
The thing is that you can’t really separate strength and conditioning in MMA (or combat sports in general) as it is not a “one and done” short duration maximal strength sport (like powerlifting, Olympic lifting or sprinting). So strength is really only beneficial if it can be sustained throughout the duration of the fight.

Not saying that having more maximal strength won’t help, it will, but training low volume high rest interval powerlifting style does not transfer to combat sports the same as it does to say American Football; the demands of the sport and even the type of strength required are very different. Just look at MMA and you’ll generally see that the guys who are really “strong” out of the gate and look like “strength athletes” generally have poor gas tanks. There are of course exceptions, but those are generally genetic anomalies who are just naturally very strong and have actually trained mostly for strength endurance (guys like Matt Hughes, Sean Sherk, Rampage, etc…,), not maximal strength.

This is also the reason why very, very few successful high level MMA athletes utilize traditional powerlifting or bodybuilding strength templates and instead favor things like strongman/dinosaur/primal strength training, conditioning circuits, or gymnastics strength training.

So I would suggest that if you were going to utilize those exercises and rep schemes that you at least utilize something like a circuit format or a paired template to cut down on the rest and increase the conditioning demands (unless again you have several years to develop the strength and then try to essentially do damage control to bring his ability to sustain it back up and bring his mobility back up into balance, since you have none in your program to where it’s really going to benefit him in both the short and long term) and even better would be to evaluate what his actual strengths and weaknesses are (both from an acute muscular strength standpoint and also from a more general athleticism standpoint) and then choose exercises to strengthen them (be they say a lack of rotator strength, a lack of mobility in certain joints or planes of motion, a lack of neural drive/explosiveness, etc…).
[/quote]

what he said…lol

Just read through all responses to make sure this hasn’t been said yet and a lot of good points were hit, but still some major simple factors being left off the table.

Sento touched on a lot of major questions to ask before developing the program:

  1. When is the next fight. Treat this like in-season vs. out of season, periodize the programming and ramp accordingly to peak performance around bout time (maintain top strength, endurance, and overall stamina without risking injury).
  2. What is his current lifting program (if any) and what is covered in his MMA training. This also depends on his martial arts disciplines. Generally Muay Thai will include jump rope and calisthenics in the warm-up and the entire class is essentially an interval-based cardio session, while Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or MMA Grappling will involve a lot of slower tactical training going live closer towards the end. Keeping this in mind, it may not be necessary to perform added cardio on Muay Thai days, while he could benefit from it on grappling days, unless he takes both training sessions in the same day.
  3. Understand the demands of the sport. I have to agree AND disagree with Sento here. Spot on with establishing the importance of strength endurance in MMA, but there is also significant benefit to low-rep strength training, so I’ll outline a few program considerations below:

A. SMR: Strength to Mass Ratio: Weight is a key factor in MMA, so knowing his weight class target and current weight is vital. The program should be designed at getting his target weight to the upper end of his weight class limits so he has a mass advantage over those lighter than him in his weight class. Now take into consideration where this weight is coming from and tailor the program to encourage lean, functional mass that has as much strength for his size as possible. I will generally have the athlete perform their lower rep strength lifts before going into a higher tempo metabolic portion (described below) that addresses higher rep ranges as opposed to high-set volume hypertrophy training.

B. MMA ENERGY DEMANDS: MMA is one of the few sports that require strength, power, and anaerobic components as well as both cardio and muscle endurance, so it should be trained for in this way. Look at the Work:Rest ratio (Round Time vs. Time in between rounds to recover) and develop an interval-based hybrid of strength and power training finishing with a metabolic component. So UFC fighters would train for 3-5 sets of 5 minutes work (SEP: Strength/Endurance/Power Hybrid) to 1 min Rest (True Rest or a low-level active recovery/mobility exercise). The SEP Hybrid would could include 3-5 exercises like Standing Military Press, Half-Kneeling Landmine SA Press, or weighted Pullups as a strength exercise and battle ropes, kettlebells, treadmill sprints, box jumps or other plyometrics to address power and endurance.

C. ACCESSORY WORK: Grip Strength, Shoulder/Scap Stability and Isometric Neck strengthening | Whether taking the Diesel Crew route and training specific exercises just for grip strength or utilizing pull-based exercises with varying grip widths, this can enhance your ability in the cage and give you an advantage on the ground as many submissions revolve around different hand-holds and anyone who has competed in the sport knows how difficult this gets when you have a sweaty opponent. Shoulder and Scap stability, while helping to prevent dislocations and other shoulder injury can also serve as a supplement to your pushing and pulling strength. Last, neck strengthening is included in every MMA fighter’s program as they often have to brace off their head in certain positions either against the ground or their opponent. There have also been a few research studies (better quality studies are needed) that relate neck strength and head-to-neck circumference ratio to incidence of concussions.

D: INJURY PREVENTION: Mobility is key in this sport, and while general flexibility is addressed during training, things like T-Spine Extension, Rotational Mobility, and Glenohumeral IR/ER and not until you are forced beyond your limits by your opponent. I like to include this at the very end of the workout with one dynamic stability exercise with movement while balancing (balance exercises used at the end of training are aimed at stimulating the muscles to continue to stabilize through fatigue), followed by two mobility exercises like Side-lying Windmill or Supine Overhead Y-W long ways on a foam roller. Foam roller work itself and yoga/breathing exercises are also good inclusions if you want the gold-standard.

E: MMA MOVEMENT PATTERNS: Know the sport and understand what movements they will need to produce to be successful. Using this, you want to develop your exercises to closely mimic these patterns keeping in mind that multi-joint compound movements that challenge your muscles to work as a functional unit and require stability at your core will be optimal. Below are a few exercises I’d include in the program:

Inverted Row: Requires posterior chain activation and stability while pulling in a horizontal plane as seen in many grappling positions.

Deadlift/RDL/SL RDL: Can’t go wrong with any one of these or all of them. Posterior chain power, hamstring, glute/hip strengthening for shooting and take downs combined with grip strength.

Bench Press: Although the bench is taking on some of the stability roles, there are moments when you shoulders are flat on the ground and you are required to produce “pushing” strength. However, I would definitely consider variations (Stability Ball DB Bench press) and pushup variations (Plyo pushup, Judo Pushup, Divebombers) for more full body and increased muscle activation. Regardless, developing strength and power in this movement pattern can definitely help you pack a harder punch.

Landmine Presses: Landmine Squat-to-Press, Half-Kneeling SA Landmine Press, Landmine Pull to press-All of these are phenomenal for working variable resistance and free-moving shoulder strength/stability. The Squat-to-Press and Pull-to-Press variations both train power development from legs to upper body while the Pull-to-Press addresses a rotational power component.

Kettlebell Cleans and Snatches: You don’t have to take as much time training O-Lift form before adding on enough weight to stimulate muscle adaptation. Kettlebells help address muscle endurance, leg power and shoulder strength all in one.

Anti-Rotation and Anti-Extension Exercises: Training the muscles to resist both rotation and extension is vital if you don’t want to get muscled around by your opponent. Include the Pallof Press and Ab Roller/Barbell Rollout and you’ll be in good shape.

Grip Strength Variations: Play with the width of the barbells/dumbbells with either fat-grips or wrapping towels to simulate the width of grabbing a wrist or leg or consider pinching grip exercises like plate pinches or pull-ups from towels to improve grip endurance and strength while mimicking a Gi hold in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

[quote]TheSenator wrote:
His main problem is that he just gets bullied in alot of his fights. He’s a good technician but he seems to get overpowered alot. Also note this is just a strength program, i have nothing to do with his skill or conditioning, I let his main coach take care of that.[/quote]

How strong is he?

Not very. I wrestled with the guy in highschool and he just had no power. He just had a fight and i told him to back off for a bit before he starts, i also plan on adjusting depending on how he feels.

I have to agree with Scott’s point about MMA movement patterns, and the body moving as one unit. As a former wrestler, it seems to me most weak wrestlers just don’t move that well. I picture guys with bad stances, the feet too close together, legs too straight, back slumped and hanging their heads. Weak hamstrings, so they have to kind of lean over instead of crouching down into a stance. You can push these guys all over the matt.

When attempting take-downs they don’t really drive the hips in and under.

Or in BJJ, they try to apply submissions with all arms, instead of using their backs and legs to really put the pressure on.

I don’t know if this describes your friend, but if he is anything like this you can make him much “stronger” just by teaching him to move around better. How does he look jumping or throwing medicine balls? Is he coordinated and explosive? Is he engaging his glutes and hamstrings? If not, just doing some hamstring curls and romanian deadlifts to teach him to use these muscles will make him stronger at everything he does without much effort.

All the half kneeling and anti rotation exercises can teach him use his abs and hips to “turn” on his punches and throws. Again, I don’t know if he has this weakness, but just fixing one “hole” in his movement could have big carryover to everything else.

[quote]TheSenator wrote:
Not very. I wrestled with the guy in highschool and he just had no power. He just had a fight and i told him to back off for a bit before he starts, i also plan on adjusting depending on how he feels. [/quote]

If that’s the case then you don’t need any fancy shit, really. He just needs to get stronger

Just do really simple exercises frequently and don’t beat yourself up because MMA training is supposed to take care of that.

I like Dan John’s list when it comes to just being strong enough to do basic physical activities, largely because I found myself just plain more capable when I reached at least the expected in all of them-

"Push
Expected: Body weight bench press
Game Changer: Body weight bench press for 15 reps

Pull
Expected: 8-10 pull-ups
Game Changer: 15 pull-ups

Squat
Expected: Body weight squat
Game Changer: Body weight squat for 15 reps

Hinge
Expected: Body weight to 150% bodyweight deadlift
Game Changer: Double body weight deadlift

Loaded Carry (Farmer Walk)
Expected: Farmer Walk with total body weight (half per hand)
Game Changer: Body weight per hand

If your friend can do at least expected in all of them, then strength probably isn’t an issue. Application of strength (also called technique) is probably the issue.

[quote]FlatsFarmer wrote:
As a former wrestler, it seems to me most weak wrestlers just don’t move that well. I picture guys with bad stances, the feet too close together, legs too straight, back slumped and hanging their heads. Weak hamstrings, so they have to kind of lean over instead of crouching down into a stance. You can push these guys all over the matt.

[/quote]

there is some truth to this
What is going on with his weight and body comp

Is this guy in his right weight class?
giving up too much size and strength?
or is this a kid who is cutting a ton and always kind of feeble
body comp ties in here does this kid have the ‘gym or mats/ring’ maturity
of someone who trains? and just needs a boost in strength