How Training Like a Fighter Can Make You a Better Athlete

MMA and boxing-style training has many advantages that can benefit athletes in all sports.

Every fight we watch, whether it's boxing, MMA or something else, is won in the gym before either contestant enters the ring. Fights of all kind are full-body sports, in which the athletes' muscles and brain must be sharpened to their highest level if they don't want to find out what the mat tastes like.

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Training like a fighter is useful for any athlete. And though putting on a pair of boxing gloves and slugging a bag for hours won't actually do that much for you (though it's an interesting way to lose calories), there are numerous exercises fighters use in their workouts that you can incorporate. Here are a few examples of key fighting exercises and training habits that can improve your cardio, reaction time and more.


Agility may be the single most important attribute a fighter needs to survive in the ring, and that is what plyometrics improves. Plyometrics is also a terrific way to improve your reaction time and coordination by jumping in an explosive manner and developing your fast twitch muscle fibers.

Watching videos of NFL and elite athletes can make plyometrics seem challenging, and plyometrics is dangerous if you immediately jump into the harder exercises. You can have a plyometrics session at the beginning of your workout, or you can do a full plyometrics exercise session in place of a cardio or lifting session, as many Muay Thai athletes prefer.

If you are unsure about performing exercises such as Box Jumps or throwing medicine balls, perform the classic boxing exercise of Jumping Rope. Seriously, there is no excuse for not devoting at least a few minutes to jumping rope every single day. That is what plyometrics is about at a basic level.

Cardio Exercises

When we think of fighters working out, we think of cardio. Every athlete recalls the image of Rocky Balboa running down streets for miles in the early morning. Exercises like that obviously improve aerobic capacity.

But great fighters and athletes need to think more about anaerobic exercise. Boxing and MMA are fundamentally anaerobic activities, so long runs that improve their aerobic capacity don't do fighters much good in the ring. Anaerobic exercise may not build up your endurance or cardio, but it's a good way to improve your strength.

If you want to work on your anaerobic power, replace those long runs with interval running. In interval running, you run extremely hard for a set distance , say between 400 and 600 meters, several  times, with short rest periods (a minute is good) between intervals. Interval running should be done with the goal of reaching your optimal heart rate as soon as possible. You want to push yourself to the limit. Don't pace yourself on the first few intervals before blazing as hard as you can on the last one.

Strength Training

Although fighters need strength more than joggers or swimmers do, anyone exercising should think about their strength. Strength is fundamentally about your muscles' ability to exert more force than before, and that matters for every athlete.

But many athletes don't understand how to properly train their strength, and they also confuse strength training with conditioning. The exercises are very different, and trying to achieve both at the same time can leave you with the worst of both worlds. Strength training involves tougher exercises with plenty of rest between sets, while conditioning training is about enduring pain and working for a longer time with a lesser burden.

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Strength training can be easier given its longer rest periods, but focusing on strength training does not mean you can ignore conditioning—or vice versa. But at a certain level, conditioning training can help improve your strength training, which can then improve your conditioning training and so on, as detailed here.

A different kind of training

If your exercise routine includes long jogs or other forms of aerobic exercise, training like a fighter can be an entirely new experience. While fighters obviously need to take care of their conditioning, they also need to monitor their strength and agility. These are things most athletes don't pay too much attention to, but they matter if you want to do your best in a race on the track or in the pool.

So start jumping and sprinting more, and consider the benefits of plyometrics, strength training and anaerobic exercises. The result will be stronger muscles and a body with the strength and mobility needed for any competition.

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