Exercise Specificity of Mixed Martial Arts Training

How much do Mixed Martial Arts athletes train?


An individual training for sport needs to train specifically for that particular sport’s demands and not waste time and energy on outside techniques that will hasten performance. A long distance runner needs to be able to utilize his aerobic energy system by consistently running many miles each day and week. It would be detrimental for him to use a sprinter’s workout routine, since it is performed in the anaerobic energy system and uses more fast twitch than slow twitch muscles.

If one wants to be explosive, he needs to train in explosive movements, if one wants to be stronger, than he must lift heavier weights. Every exercise, drill or set a competitor performs must be precisely catered to fit his sport’s demands. The physiological changes that take place when an athlete trains explicitly for his particular sport helps the mind to muscle connection to become more utilized and perfected. An athlete who necessitates a need for strength, muscle endurance or size, must realize there are definite patterns of training that have to be used to make certain that his body is becoming accustomed to the training appropriately and adjusting itself to improve in the sport activity (Triplett, p. 3).

Mixed Martial Arts: cardio vs weight training

Mixed Martial Arts training is one sport where workouts and training regimens have to be very specific to the actual match their fighting in. Too much emphasis on bodybuilding type workouts will leave the fighter feeling “gassed-out” early into his fight and slow him down in the long-run.

On the other hand, placing more importance on cardio and distance running will only return detrimental effects to the fighter as he will not have adequate strength or power to execute takedowns and slams. Many Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters are still having problems with understanding the concept of specific training tailored for overall success.

Some believe that weight training will leave them bulky and inflexible while others feel that cardio and flexibility training is counterproductive to their objectives of force and power. When cage fighting first started, it was not “mixed” at the time and athletes only fought and trained in their respective disciplines. Once it became evident that bridging multiple styles together resulted into a more proficient fighter, training camps started sprouting all over the country trying to incorporate a training system that put all the major disciplines together.

Now that MMA is so popular and effective, young athletes are training everyday with several disciplines incorporated with cutting edge strength and conditioning workouts. The results from this type of training have made Mixed Martial Arts competitors some of the best athletes in the world. No longer are there just jiu-jitsu or boxing fighters, but a combination of all disciplines into one.

Mixed Martial Arts training program

When designing a training regimen for these types of fighters, you have to look at the type of fighting match they are getting paid to perform in. Most rounds are five minutes with a one minute break in between each round. Non-title fights are three rounds, while title fights can be sanctioned up to five rounds. Knowing that most matches will only last 15 minutes at the most and that the fighters get two minutes of rest for the entire fight, MMA athletes should train in the anaerobic energy system to maximize benefits and preserve muscle.

Chad Waterbury explains that long duration cardio is detrimental to a MMA athlete’s success: “Since you’ll likely lose maximal strength and muscle mass while causing a muscle fiber type shift away from high-force power toward low-force endurance” (T-Nation).

It is important for Mixed Martial Arts fighters to have a higher ratio of fast-twitch muscles than slow-twitch because they are fighting predominately in the intermediate energy system of anaerobic glycolysis. The anaerobic glycolysis system is important for producing endurance strength, which is what a MMA fighter needs to be able to function and perform at the highest level. A fighter is using his whole body during a fight, so it is imperative that he uses exercises that work both the upper and lower regions.

Movements such as the deadlift, push-press, snatch and power clean are all great at generating full-body power. These athletes also need to incorporate ballistic movements such as medicine ball slams and rotational activities to generate power for throws and slams. Rotational movements are very important in Mixed Martial Arts training to incorporate explosive power and strength that is necessary to jostle opponents from side to side. Using a circuit of exercises that challenges the whole body to work together can be used to signify an actual round with 30-45 sec rest periods.

The main goal when designing a program based around endurance strength is to make it harder, faster and with less rest periods than an actual fight would consist of. This way the fighter’s body can still have some energy left over if he needs it at the end of a round.

Muscular endurance and strength

Mixed martial arts specific strength training doesn’t just end with great muscular endurance, it deals with explosive strength as well. Waterbury explains that Mixed Martial Arts fighters need to be explosive so that they can produce the maximum amount of force at the shortest amount of time (T-Nation). If a cage fighter is relatively weak in strength and power, then using Olympic lifts such as the deadlift, snatch and power clean can greatly improve those issues. But if another athlete is already generating lots of power and force with his lifts, using heavier weights will only decrease his rate of force production.

Waterbury states that “RFD is a direct measure of explosive strength” (T-Nation). Being able to move an object at a higher rate of speed increases force production and explosiveness. Due to needing a fast RFD, MMA athletes need to be able to train for both speed and power. Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell explains to have training days of lifting lighter weights with a faster rate of force and days of lifting for absolute strength (Westside Barbell). Here, the combat athlete can achieve success in both speed and power by having greater maximal strength which will carry over to lifting a sub-maximal load at a faster rate. Mixed Martial Arts competitors have to consistently train for both absolute strength as well as speed work because in a fight scenario, usually the first one to get hit is going to be in a disadvantage from the start.

Using plyometrics training in an MMA athletes program

Developing quick feet and explosive movements in training can create a great carry-over effect to the fight itself. Jump rope skipping is great for developing a fighter’s foot work to help in quick movements that are essential to gaining an advantage in a fight. Plyometric training is another great tool in the strength and conditioning coach’s arsenal for designing sport-specific training. Plyometric training increases power, rate of force development and reactive ability that brings together weight room training and speed work (Myszka, p. 2). Using plyometrics in an MMA athletes program can be beneficial by bringing him more explosive force on kicks, punches and jumps. Soviet Union jump coach and scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky notes the best jumpers are those who spend the least amount of time on the ground by maintaiing greater dynamic strength and reaction abilities. (Myszka, p. 3). Plyometric jumping and bounding exercises help the athlete’s reaction speed and explosive force during the stretch-shortening cycle.

Overall, training a MMA athlete to compete in an actual fight takes picking the right exercises, movements and activities that will efficiently carry-over to them performing at the best come fight time. Mimicking movements that closely resemble their fight scenarios is the most beneficial way of making them become a better athlete.

Those athletes who train their bodies for combat using fight-like activities will better train their neuromuscular system to relay the message and impulse when they need it the most. Perfect practice makes perfect when an athlete utilizes his mind to muscle connection more frequently than his opponent.


  1. Myszka, Shawn. The Amortization Phase: Making Plyometrics Work In Your Program. National Strength and Conditioning Association, p. 1-4.
  2. Simmons, Louie. Training Methods Part 1: Speed Day. Westside Barbell, p. 1-3.
  3. Triplett, Travis. Specificity for Sport. National Strength and Conditioning Association, p. 2-4.
  4. Waterbury, Chad. (2006). Hammer Down: Strength. How to Develop MMA-Specific Strength. Retrieved from: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/hammer_down_strength;jsessionid=83DE177959355E736AC37DCA98D2BC68-hg.hydra
  5. Waterbury, Chad. (2006). Hammer Down: Endurance. How to Develop MMA Specific Endurance. Retrieved from: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/hammer_down_endurance

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