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Strength Training for Fighters

Coach Thibaudeau, in your opinion what are the movement patterns that an MMA athlete should focus to be strong?

Also there is a lot of bs around knockout power as most say that it is genetic and I am yet to see an intelligent coach like yourself give us some insight on the topic. Do you think there are exercises/movement patterns that if strengthened will lead to more punching/kicking power?

I believe strength training for MMA is still in its infancy so I refuse to accept that hitting hard is only genetics. Just like vertical jumping. For sure some have 40 inch verticals without even training, but that doesn’t mean that the average joe can’t increase his vertical to something like 35’ with intelligent training, right?

I think a lot of it is genetics. The best example I can give you is a baseball pitcher. The hardest throwers aren’t always the more muscular/strongest guys. They are normally tall but some guys with a slight built have a great fastball… Pedro Martinez was an example at 5’10" and a generous 175. Mitch Williams who three 99mph was 6’3" but 180lbs (180lbs on 6’3" is SKINNY),… in fact very few pitchers look like they lift heavy (Roger Clemens being an exception for example). In fact many baseball pitchers are asked NOT to train their upper body that hard/heavy.

I’ll give you an opposite example, a friend of mine play minor league pro ball. Th guy is 6’4", 230 and lean. Power cleans in the 300, power snatch over 225, push press about 300 too. And he has great throwing mechanics (go some tryouts for the majors)… yet he throws about 89-90, maybe 91 if he pushes it. That is 5-8mph slower than what a lot of much weaker/smaller pitcher are throwing in the majors. And in baseball, 2mph is a BIG difference!

Why do I talk about pitchers? Because I think throwing a baseball is similar to throwing a punch. As such I think the hardest hitters or pitchers are born to be that way. You can increase pitching and hitting power somewhat, but not as much as other components of MMA. That’s why you almost never see elite boxers who are not hard hitters, become hard hitters… it just doesn’t happen.

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At first thank you for your answer.

Indeed throwing a baseball is pretty similar to throwing a punch. Almost same body mechanics, just different arm movement.
But what about comparing punching to throwing a shotput? Is it much more different because of the weight of the shotput?

You talk about other components of MMA you can improve with strength training. Is it the wrestling part? Could you please give a little more details on your thoughts?

Weight is a HUGE difference. In shot put you are throwing a 16lbs implement, in baseball a 140 grams/5oz ball, this is a 50x difference!!! And when punching you aren’t “throwing” any resistance.

The heavier implement makes it VERY relient on strength, which is why shot putters are super strong.

\And the technique is a lot different than a throw or a punch.\

From your questions can feel that you desperately want to improve punching power and you WANT to believe that an average puncher can become a knock-out artist. But sadly oit is likely not possible. Otherwise don’t you think that the “skill” boxers lacking knockout power would have worked toward fxng that problem and at least one of them would have found a strength coach who could accomplish that?

Your best bet if you want to punch harder is to get better technique and gain overall strength. You can improve… but if you aren’t “born to throw a 98mph fastball” no amount of training can get you there.


In track for example it is often said that champions are born, not made. It’s not entirely true since even with the proper wiring you still need to train; but you aren’t born with the right neurological wiring and muscle fiber composition no amount of training can turn you into an elite sprinter.

You CAN get faster but you will be limited in how fast you can become.

Same thing with jumping.

Of course regarding punching power, if you go from a total weakling to someone who is fairly strong you will punch harder. But that doesn’t go on linearly and not forever either otherwise all the hardest punchers would be bodybuilders and powerlifters.


So it goes down to genetics after all…A bit saddening but in the end every athlete must do the best he can with what he has…

Coach, in your point of view, what numbers would be perfect for a middleweight fighter to lift in the weightroom?
If you wanted to create a monster of a fighter, how strong would you aim to make him?

As a massive MMA fan, and someone who has trained with a couple of amateur combat athletes I have always wondered how CT would train an MMA fighter.
Any additional info eg (main lifts to focus on, how you would set up their training week) would be awesome!!!

Hmmn sounds like you’re well versed in fighting CT. Curious what do you think about size/muscularity in terms of actual fight

Is it more technique? or is sheer poundage (weight/height) the best indicator of who would win in fight?

and does doing explosive weightlifitng (like power look/layers training) make you not only physically imposing but could also help you in a fight?

random but just curious lol

I’m not an expert but I love boxing and MMA.

I think that size (which is one thing) and muscularity (which is another) can both play a role. But fighting potential is influenced by many more factors too.

Technical mastery, speed of reacting, psychological mindset, neurological nature, pain tolerance, natural explosiveness, instincts, strength of the adrenaline system, etc. All play a role too.

So size and muscularity rarely make a fighter great by themselves.

I also think that size is more important than muscularity. By size I mean the natural size of the body structure: height, limb length, size of head, size of hands, etc.

Muscularity by itself doesn’t do much. Muscle size, if it doesn’t make you stronger and more powerful wont matter. So it’s not the size that is important but rather what those muscles give you.

I would say that the only advantage that muscularity has by itself is psychological: a super muscular body can be intimidating to others, putting them in a negative mindset when they start the fight; and it can give you confidence in yourself, which will put you in a positive mindset.

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Well the layers and power look aren’t really an explosive strength program at all.

But if you are talking about a program based on explosive movements like power cleans, power snatches, jumps, throws, etc.They can make you a better athlete overall. They can certainly improve explosiveness as long as you already have a solid base of strength. But there is a limitation to how explosive you can become.

Most fighters do these exercises to some extent and it doesn’t transform them into hard punchers/strikers and lightning fast fighters either. They can make you a better athlete, which improves your general physical potential. But that will not translate 100% into fighting performance.

A fight is likely around 30-40% physical… and out of that a large part is conditioning, not strength and power. Power work might account for 25-30% of your physical potential, which itself is about 30-40% of your fighting potential. So yes it plays a role. No it should not be underestimated. But Being a physical freak will not make you a great fighter (Bob Sapp for example).

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Very nice sir

This is in a MMA/boxing/organized scenario? I was thinking like real life street fight. Obviously lots of variables (including weapons, environment, viscious/dirty strikes).

I always picture a Kimbo Slice kind of guy in real life, and just see him stomping on just about anyone regardless of their pyschological preparedness

I have also seen shorter/smaller dudes knockout a bigger guy (youtube videos lol) but if both enraged and went at each other, would wager for the larger guy (having more size is not just offense but also defense, each strike distributed over larger surface area).

Like a thick neck, big bones makes it harder to be knocked out it would seem…

Studies have shown that people with the thicker/larger head are naturally better fighters, so there is some truth to that.

However in a street fight I would say it’s almost 80% mental/psychological… normally the most aggressive person and/or the one who attacks first will win.

Bigger guys can be at an advantage because they can simply initiate the fight by bull rushing you and tackling you down and now you’re in trouble. The best defense s striking before he can tackle you down, and this comes down to aggressiveness and reactivity. If the big guy bull rushing you is more aggressive he will take you down, especially if you hesitate even for a fraction of a second. If the smaller guy is quicker and can strike before the big guy does his thing, then he has a chance. But to do that he has to be the most aggressive person in the fight.

I think that in street fights the big guys often think that they have the upper hand automatically and fail to protect themselves properly and open themselves up to a hard strike.

I’ve only been n one street (bar) fight back in my football playing days and my “advice” would always be, don’t think, don’t react, attack… attack first… don’t think about any strategy or anything just be make the first move"

the truth right there

Wow, CT your knowledge on just about anything regarding performance is incredible! Thanks for all your answers!

So after all this, considering the demands of fighting, what are most important basic patterns/lifts, that you recommend fighters should structure their training with?


So after all this, considering the demands of fighting, what are most important basic patterns/lifts, that you recommend fighters should structure their training with?

Coach Thibaudeau, if you could give us the answer to that, it would be the most awesome gift you could give to the martial artists that follow your work here on T-Nation !!!

So after all this, considering the demands of fighting, what are most important basic patterns/lifts, that you recommend fighters should structure their training with?

Coach Thibaudeau, if you could give us the answer to that, it would be the most awesome gift you could give to the martial artists that follow your work here on T-Nation !!!

wtf, I was about to post almost the same thing!
Coach something like your post/tip in the thread about strength training for crossfit, but for mma this time would be really cool!


@Christian_Thibaudeau please enlighten us on the topic coach :slight_smile:

Dudes. I love to help people out. You all know that. But those who have been coming to my forum for a while know that I REALLY don’t like when people put pressure for me to answer or give them something.

Listen, within reason and my schedule I will always be looking to give you as much info as possible… It is my pleasure… BUT I don’t like repetitive posts like this. It is BY FAR the best way NOT to have me answer.

In all honesty I have never trained a MMA guy. I have thus never studied what was needed nor tested my beliefs on a live athlete. I HATE when people claim to be experts in something that they have no experience in so I certainly will not be an hypocrite and claim that I’m an expert on how to train MMA guys.

Ya’ll are greatly underestimating accuracy and technique. Both of which almost anyone can improve pretty easily and also, vastly more beneficial than being a “genetically” gifted hard puncher, whatever that is. It doesn’t take much to knock someone out if they’re caught in the right spot. Anyone can train to be a harder puncher up to a point.

Coach if you don’t mind me plugging another coach’s article…
There is a “How to train for Fighting” on T-Nation which sets up a nice basic strength template (based on 5/3/1 but this particular program is not written by Wendler) and including explosive starters (jumps, etc.) and conditioning after lifting. Check it out. I like it, although my opinion isn’t worth much.

Remember George Foreman 82 inch reach 8 inch wrist, his punches look slow but knock you the fuck out met him at 17 little boxing under belt we were mutual friends of Anthony Clark, wanted to see how hard he could hit, never found out thank God.