14 Moves to Build the Strength and Stamina of an MMA Fighter
Last Updated: Dec 03, 2014
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Training like an MMA fighter is tough, but it's worth it. Mixed martial arts (MMA) strength and conditioning requires a lot of dynamic and compound movements. MMA is incredibly demanding on the body and fighters need to be able to generate a tremendous amount of power, speed and explosiveness. A successful MMA training program will build strength, increase lung capacity, improve core stability and develop power and speed.
You can do this explosive variation on a classic exercise either for time or for reps (i.e., 25 to 30 seconds or 15 to 20 reps). You’ll target the muscles of your chest, triceps and shoulders. HOW TO DO IT: Begin in the standard push-up position with your hands straddling an elevated platform about four to six inches tall. Perform a traditional push-up, inhaling as you descend. But while pushing back up, drive your hands into the floor with maximum force to elevate your hands and upper body off the floor to the top of the box. Walk your hands down to the floor and repeat. For a more advanced version, rather than walking your hands down, repeat the plyometric push-up both onto and off of the box. Be sure to land with your elbows slightly bent and ready for the next push-up -- never lock your elbows. Maintain a strong core, and don’t allow your hips to dip.
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This plyometric movement is great to do for time (i.e., 25 to 30 seconds). The major muscle groups targeted with this exercise are the legs, including quads, hamstrings and glutes. HOW TO DO IT: Begin in a square stance, standing with your feet hip-width apart. Jump into a lunge, with your right foot forward and your left foot behind you. When you land, immediately sink your back knee to a 90-degree angle till it almost touches the ground. Explode out of the lunge position, driving from your front heel and lifting both feet off the ground before landing back in the starting position. Repeat with the left foot forward, making sure to keep your back knee below the hip and your front knee stacked over the front heel. Keep your chest up and shoulders back.
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HEAVY BAG PLANK WITH KNEES
This core stabilization exercise -- which also targets your shoulders -- is great to do for time. Start with 30- to 45-second rounds. If you don’t have a heavy bag, you can use a wall ball, BOSU ball or medicine ball. HOW TO DO IT: Begin in a plank position with your elbows on top of the heavy bag. Your elbows should be directly below your shoulders, with your upper body elevated off the bag. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your weight pressed back on your heels. Keeping your core tight and maintaining proper plank form, forcefully drive one knee into the heavy bag as you exhale. Take your foot back to the starting plank position before switching legs. Be sure to maintain the integrity of your spine -- preventing your lower back and hips from sagging -- by pulling your belly button to your spine.
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With this plank variation, you’ll target your shoulders, chest, triceps and obliques. Start with 10 reps and work your way up to 20. HOW TO DO IT: Begin in a push-up position with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Bring your right knee to your left elbow, rotating your right hip under and opening your left hip so they become stacked, exhaling to contract and properly engage your core. Reset to the starting position before repeating the same movements on the other side. When bringing your knee to your elbow, your hips may slightly shift forward as they rotate to a stacked position in order to get the full range of motion on this exercise.
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MEDICINE BALL UNDERHAND ROTATIONAL SLAM
This core-blasting exercise is best when done for time, so start with 30 seconds and work your way up to 45 seconds to a minute. You’ll really feel the burn in your arms, quads, glutes and abdominals. HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your feel shoulder-width apart, approximately two to four feet from a sturdy wall, holding a medicine ball with an underhand grip and facing the wall. Rotate the ball to one side behind your hip, hinging and pressing your hips back. Once your hands have rotated behind the hips, thrust your hips and hands forward and release the ball into the wall in an explosive, controlled motion. Exhale as you let go of the ball to contract and engage your core. Catch the ball and swing back into your starting position. Repeat this, alternating sides each time.
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BOX JUMPS WITH A SQUAT
Get ready to jump! Start with eight to 12 reps of this plyometric exercise to strengthen your lower body (quads, hamstrings and glutes, to be exact) and generate more power. HOW TO DO IT: Stand facing a box or a platform you can comfortably jump onto with both feet (the lower the better when starting out). With your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, sink your hips to a half-squat as you reach your hands back behind you. Driving through your feet and throwing your arms upward, explode up to the platform, landing in a square stance with your feet flat. Sink down to a full squat once you’ve balanced on top of the platform. When squatting, be sure to hinge from your hips while you’re in the squat and drive through your heels as you stand from the squat. Step backward off the platform to the starting position and repeat.
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SEATED DUMBBELL STABILITY PUNCHES
Core strength and stability is paramount for MMA fighters, as nearly all movements originate there. You can do this exercise for time, starting with 30 seconds and working your way up to 45 seconds or a minute for each set. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a seated position with your legs elevated a few inches off the floor and your upper body tilted slightly back. Tuck your chin toward your chest and contract your abs to maintain balance. Using two- to eight-pound dumbbells, hold the weights to your chin, palms turned inwards. When you’re ready, begin alternating straight-arm punches from your chest, fully extending your arms outward and rotating your hand with each punch so that your knuckles are up. For a more difficult progression, punch over the head, touching your bicep to your ear at full extension for each punch.
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MEDICINE BALL SQUAT TO CHEST PASS
Do this explosive and power-generating exercise in timed rounds, starting with 30 seconds and progressing to 45-second or one-minute sets. As you move through the exercise, you’ll be strengthening both your arms and legs. HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart about two to four feet away from a sturdy wall, holding the ball directly below your chin. Sink down into a squat, driving your hips down and back as your weight shifts to your heels, keeping the ball just below the chin with your chest up. Explode out of your squat, simultaneously driving your arms forward and throwing the ball into the wall with full arm extension. Catch the ball after it bounces off the wall and bring it back under your chin, keeping your chest upright through the entire movement.
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Similar to a burpee, this endurance and overall-strength exercise is great to do for time. Try to start with just 25 seconds and see if you can work up to 45. HOW TO DO IT: Start in an upright square stance with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold dumbbells (eight to 15 pounds) at your side. Pull your shoulders back and lift your chest. Bend your knees and sink your hips down, similar to a squat, but instead drop your hands/dumbbells to the floor just to the outside of your feet. Kick your feet back so that you’re in a push-up position. Immediately tuck your feet and knees back to your chest, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. Stand all the way up to your beginning stance, keeping the dumbbells at your side throughout the entire movement. For a more advanced progression, add a push-up when you drop to the floor.
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LATERAL HIGH KNEES
Speed and quickness is key here. The goal of this drill should be to minimize the amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground. It’s best to run through this agility exercise for time. Do 30-second rounds at first and progress to 45 seconds. HOW TO DO IT: Set up three cones or hurdles (four to 12 inches in height and equal distance apart) in a line. Begin at one end of the line and move laterally across the cones while pumping your knees and arms. Your knees should come up at least as high as your waist. When stepping between cones, each foot should strike the ground once. When stepping on the outside of the cones, you should strike the ground only once with your outside foot the quickly change directions. Strike your foot to the ground with the ball of your foot only (no heel strike).
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SUICIDE SPRINT TO BACK PEDAL
To increase your lung capacity and overall endurance, you’ll need to incorporate this speed and agility run. Perform sets for time, taking about 20 to 30 seconds to complete the entire exercise. HOW TO DO IT: Set up four equally spaced cones in a straight line (each about 10 to 20 feet apart). Begin at the first cone and sprint to the second cone. Bend down to touch the cone then backpedal to return to the first cone, staying low as you move backward, pumping your arms and landing on the ball of your foot. Once you’re back to the first cone, immediately sprint to touch the third cone and backpedal back to the first cone. Upon returning to the first cone, sprint to the fourth cone and again backpedal to the first cone. After returning from the fourth cone, repeat this in reverse order -- sprinting to the third cone, then the second, then back to the first.
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KOMODO DRAGON WALK
This full-body strengthening movement can be done either for distance or time. For instance, you can either walk 30 to 50 feet or go for 30 to 60 seconds. No matter how you measure it, your shoulders, chest, triceps, obliques and abdominals will feel the burn. HOW TO DO IT: Starting in a push-up position, bring your right hand back slightly as you reach your right knee to your right elbow, leaving your left foot back and your left arm forward. Slowly reach your right arm forward, slightly raising your body from the ground, and simultaneously bring your left knee to your left elbow. When your left knee hits your left elbow, your body will lower back to your starting position. Repeat this, alternating sides with each step forward. Keep your core tight and hips low and in line with the rest of your body.
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MEDICINE BALL OVERHEAD SLAMS
Target your core, arms and legs simultaneously with this explosive exercise. HOW TO DO IT: Using a medicine ball, begin in an athletic stance with the ball at your chest. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. To begin, raise the ball above your head, inhaling deeply and keeping your hands on the sides of the ball. Quickly lower the ball from over your head to slam it to the floor as you exhale, sinking your hips and throwing your arms down and back in attempt to generate the maximum force with your slam. When you release the ball, your hips should drop to half-squat position, your chest should remain upwards and your arms should be angled toward the ground and slightly back. Catch the ball on the bounce and repeat these motions continuously for 30 to 45 seconds.
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SCISSOR STEP WITH TOE TOUCHES
Get ready for some serious cardio and coordination! This speed and agility drill is best done in time intervals of 30 to 45 seconds. HOW TO DO IT: Using a medicine ball, tire or other elevated, round platform, start facing the platform with one toe on top and standing on the opposite foot. When you’re ready, lean back slightly and alternate which foot is on top of the platform, remaining light on your feet and striking both the floor and the platform with the ball of your foot only (no heel strike). As you continue switching feet, circle around the platform. Do this drill as quickly and efficiently as possible, changing the direction in which you’re circling every three to seven seconds.
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