5 Bodyweight Exercises for MMA Athletes | STACK

Become a Better Athlete. Sign Up for our FREE Newsletter.

5 Bodyweight Exercises for MMA Athletes

December 6, 2011

Must See MMA Videos

When training MMA fighters, I've incorporated every exercise and tool you can imagine—dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, tires, sleds, Prowler, TRX, Ultimate Sandbags, Kamagon Ball, Home Depot creations, bodyweight exercises and many more.

The more experience and knowledge I acquire, the more I believe in the "less is more" theory. Although I love to experiment and try new methods and tools, I will always incorporate some essential bodyweight exercises into my fighter programs. Your body is truly your greatest "piece of equipment," and there is no membership fee required to use it.

My favorites change on a weekly basis, so this is not an exclusive list. But here are my current top five bodyweight exercises for MMA athletes. (See the video below for more details on how to perform each exercise.)

1. Upper Body Pull: Pull-Ups
To develop upper body strength, the Pull-Up is still king. It engages several muscle groups in the shoulders, back and arms—including the delts, traps and biceps—plus, studies have shown that Pull-Ups also activate the ab muscles. With so many muscles recruited, this compound exercise should be a keystone in your program.

Variations include band-assisted Pull-Ups for people still developing strength and weighted and plyometric Pull-Ups for advanced athletes. Grips vary as well. Because they a bit more shoulder-, elbow- and wrist-friendly, I prefer to go with a pronated grip (palms facing away from body) or a neutral grip (palms facing each other), as opposed to a supinated grip (palms facing body).

MMA Skills Improved: Controlling your opponent on the ground or along the cage

Band-Assisted Pull-Ups (Beginner): 3x8-12
Pull-Ups (Intermediate): 3x8-12
Plyo Pull-Ups (Advanced): 4x8-12

2. Upper Body Push: Push-Ups

Push-Ups are another staple bodyweight exercise. When done properly, they force you to engage your entire body, from your feet to your fingertips. To protect your lower back and shoulders, keep your body stiff and engaged throughout the movement.

I recommend performing three variations, in order of difficulty—Bench Push-Up, Plyo Bench Push-Up and Around-the-World Plyo Push-Up—to develop strength and power.

MMA Skills Improved: Punches, kicks and takedowns; the ability to create space between you and your opponent

Bench Push-Up (Beginner): 3x8-12
Plyo Bench Push-Up (Intermediate): 3x8-12
Around-The-World Plyo Push-Up: 2-3x6 each direction

3. Midsection/Mobility: Inchworms

This movement provides a great backside stretch for the hamstrings, calves and Achilles, as well as developing stability and strength for the trunk and shoulder joints. The version demonstrated in the video includes a small hop to get you into a deep Squat position,which aids with hip joint mobility.

MMA Skills Improved: Overall mobility; kicks

Inchworm (all levels): 3x6

4. Lower Body: Broad Jumps

One of my favorite exercises to develop lower body power is the Broad Jump. Generally speaking, power is the ability to generate force as quickly as possible, which is crucial for MMA athletes. If you can train your body to be quicker and more powerful, you'll be much more dangerous in the octagon. Work your way up to Broad Jumps by mastering the beginner and intermediate levels first.

MMA Skills Improved: Striking, kicking, takedowns, takedown defense and grappling

Bodyweight Squats (Beginner): 3x5
Squat Jumps (Intermediate): 3x5
Broad Jumps (Advanced): 4x8

5. Conditioning: Hill Sprints

Hill Sprints don't take long to complete, but they push you to your physical and mental limit. I prefer performing them on a soft surface, like grass, if possible. MMA athletes endure enough pounding throughout the week from all the sparring and joint locks. If you can incorporate conditioning sessions that are "joint friendly," your body will thank you in the morning.

MMA Skills Improved: Conditioning, for endurance in the octagon

Beginner: 6-8x30 seconds; rest for 45 seconds
Intermediate: 8-10x30 seconds; rest for 45 seconds
Advanced: 10-12x30 seconds; rest for 45 seconds

Photo:  extreme-fitness.org

Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is a personal trainer and strength coach in San Diego, Calif. He works with the Alliance MMA fight team, where he trains UFC champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Alexander Gustafsson and others. Visit DBstrength.com for more information.

- Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is a personal trainer and strength coach in San Diego, Calif. He works with the Alliance MMA fight team where he...
- Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is a personal trainer and strength coach in San Diego, Calif. He works with the Alliance MMA fight team where he...
Must See
Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied
Views: 7,895,016
How to Perform the Euro Step With Iman Shumpert
Views: 82,969
Patrick Willis' Homegrown Off-Season Workout
Views: 1,221,618

Featured Videos

Olympic Marathoner Ryan Hall: A Day in the Life Views: 327,109
Path to the Pros 2015: Danny Shelton Views: 161,266
Learn to Hit Open Three-Pointers With Damian Lillard's Baseline Drift Drill Views: 228,843
Load More


STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers


Latest issues of STACK Magazine


Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice


Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes


Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

How Greg Nixon Converts Strength to Speed
Views: 959,609
Corey White's Off-Season Guide to Making Plays
Views: 1,396,869
Abby Wambach Will Do Whatever It Takes
Views: 2,814,024
Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night
Views: 3,930,693
Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall
Views: 3,360,036

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

Abby Wambach's Soccer Power Workout

The Top 10 Mistakes Athletes Make in the Weight Room

Jump Higher After a Month With These 3 Exercises

The Best Lower-Body Landmine Exercises

12-Week Resistance Band and Chain Workout

Train Like a Pro: Damian Lillard's Basketball Core Workout

Build Awesome Arms With This 15-Minute Workout

3 Tricks for a Stronger Front Squat

Evan Longoria's Off-Season Strength and Resistance Workout

3 Habits of Highly Successful Coaches

Deadlift Grip Guide: How Hand Placement Changes the Exercise

5 Quick Workout Fixes for Faster Muscle Growth

Build Max Power With These Pulling Exercises

Use Eccentric Lifts to Increase Size and Strength

Grab a Broom for This Fast-Paced, Full-Body Workout

Get a Full-Body Workout With Just 2 Exercises

Prevent Volleyball Shoulder Injuries With These Exercises

Putting Together an Off-Season Workout for Point Guards

What Happens When You Do The Same Exercise Every Day?

Build Bulletproof Chest Strength With This Unconventional Method

Posterior Chain Fixes to Improve Your Game

Train Like a Pro: Peyton Manning's Core Workout

How to Improve Shoulder Strength and Flexibility

7 Farmer's Walk Variations for Improved Core Strength

Todd Durkin's Complete Football Strength Training Program

5 Ways to Get a Higher Vertical Jump

12 Strength Moves from NFL WR Harry Douglas's Full-Body Workout

3 Tips to Blast Through Training Plateaus

The 3-Minute Total Arm Pump

6 Gym Machines That Are Actually Worth Your Time

Add Surprise Sets for a Great Workout Finisher

Prevent ACL Injuries With This Exercise

3 Simple Strategies for a Better Workout

When Not to Try Unstable Hockey Training

3 Keys to Better Softball Workouts

Can You Survive This Insane 100-Rep Push-Up Challenge?

How Strength Training Changed Rory McIlroy's Game

Todd Durkin

Improve Your Squat Depth With 5 Easy Warm-Up Exercises

Train Like a Pro: Dustin Pedroia's Baseball Power Workout

4 Simple Golf Core Exercises to Increase Your Driving Distance

Train Like a Pro: Los Angeles Lakers Strength Training Program

Build Wrestling Strength With the Gable Lock Isometric Hold

Increase Your Explosiveness with the Power Curl

4 Exercises From NFL Players to Build True Game Speed

3 Keys to In-Season Baseball Training

Save Your Shoulders With These Barbell Landmine Exercises