Improve Your Training for MMA

STACK Expert Phillip Michael Vaughn prescribes five essential exercises for MMA fighters.

MMA Training

To be an elite mixed martial arts fighter you must be quick, powerful and well-conditioned. You also must be able take advantage of your opponent's mistakes within your unique window of opportunity (which may be very small). That's why creating a quality MMA training plan is critical.

Here are five of the best exercises for MMA conditioning that I've come across as a sports performance coach.

1. Push Press

This requires you to maximally exert force against the barbell to an overhead position. It recruits muscle fibers throughout the whole body against an external load to complete the movement.

You load the primary muscles of your lower body and coordinate them with a pushing movement overhead.

This exercise also improves your ability to land a powerful strike—a main component of MMA.

2. Dumbbell Step-Up

Not only does this exercise mimic movements that occur during a fight—such as a flying knee or shooting for a takedown—it also focuses on loading each side of the lower body individually.

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand
  • Step up onto a raised surface (box or platform) and drive your rear leg up in a kneeing motion.

Balance is important to controlling a fight, so learning to support your body weight while moving is key. This exercise reveals muscle imbalances and targets specific postural support muscles.

3. Front Squat

The majority of an MMA fighter's career is spent battling an opponent directly in front of him. The Front Squat provides resistance to the lower limbs and teaches you to be comfortable with an external load from the anterior side. It also teaches the proper catching position of the Clean, while loading weight on the lower body in an anterior position.

The Front Squat mimics the effects of pushing against an opponent, either while standing or lying on the ground, and can improve your takedown skills.  Keep a full range of motion and depth to the bottom of the Squat with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Body position is a big factor when a fight goes to the ground. This movement develops the muscles necessary to achieve better positioning during a fight, which can be the difference between a win and a loss.

4. Bent-Over Row

Spending so much of their time practicing, attacking a bag or wrestling, MMA athletes have a tendency to have very strong anterior muscles and weaker posterior muscles. The Bent-Over Row focuses on the back muscles while teaching proper torso positioning. The movement targets all parts of the posterior chain and develops the muscles for any pulling motion.

Stand up, extend your upper body parallel to the ground and bring the barbell to your chest in a rowing motion.

The shoulders of many fighters naturally round forward due to all their years of training. This movement helps pull the shoulders back to a more neutral position, helping you keep your balance.

5. Pulls from the floor or cleaning movements

Pull progressions and Cleans are critical to success in any sport. These movements usually involve pulling the bar from a stationary position on the ground or from a weightlifting rack/platform. They require you to exert force very rapidly to get the bar to its final destination.

Pulls and Cleans are great for developing maximum strength and explosive movements. Technique is key, so be sure to have a coach present to check your lifting form.

Technique is critical to training success. Most of these exercises are multi-joint movements, which teach coordination and better body awareness. Use them to dominate your next opponent in the ring.

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