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Weight Training for MMA

by 
author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Weight Training for MMA
Weight Training for MMA Photo Credit: dolgachov/iStock/GettyImages

Mixed martial artists are some of the most well-rounded athletes. They have to master multiple martial arts that use different muscle groups, with a variety of punches, strikes and holds. To succeed they need the speed and stamina of a boxer, the strength of a wrestler and the flexibility of a grappler.

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To have a well-rounded body, weight training is essential. With weights you can build your muscles up to become more powerful, which helps when you wrestle an opponent. Stronger muscles make you more powerful, which helps you punch and kick harder.

While weights are generally helpful for mixed martial artists, athletes need to be cognizant of weight class limitations. If a fighter is too bulky, they'll be forced to move up a weight class to fight taller people, putting them at a disadvantage. If weightlifting makes you too bulky, take it out of your training program and put in bodyweight training instead.

Three of the most basic strength exercises have been around since the dawn of modern weightlifting. These exercises are: the bench press, squat and deadlift. They're sometimes known as the "big three" and have been used by mixed martial arts champion Shane Carwin, according to an interview he did with Elite FTS.

Read more: A Diet for MMA Fighters

The Big Three

Combined, these strength exercises work your legs, back, chest and core muscles. Incorporating them in your program will help you build a strength base. For all three exercises you should use a barbell, either with or without weights.

Squat

The squat builds power in your legs and flexibility in your spine.

HOW TO DO IT: Position yourself under the barbell with the middle of the bar lined up with the middle of your spine. Rest the bar on your back on the tops of your shoulder blades. Grip the bar a few inches wider than your shoulders and move your grip out if it's uncomfortable.

Put your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider and point your toes out an inch or so. Puff your chest out and squat down, looking straight forward. Go as low as you can while keeping your feet flat on the ground and spine straight. Once you reach the bottom, stand back up to the top.

Squats help you build powerful legs and core strength.
Squats help you build powerful legs and core strength. Photo Credit: Belyjmishka/iStock/GettyImages

Bench Press

To bench press, you use the same muscles as a punch. Your chest, shoulder and tricep muscles all contribute to the movement.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie down on a bench under a barbell. The bar should be in line with your chest. Plant your feet flat on the floor. Lift the bar up so that your elbows are straight and the bar is directly over your chest. Lower the bar down until it rests briefly on your chest, then press it back up.

Deadlift

The deadlift is a classic move that trains your backside.

HOW TO DO IT: Begin with a barbell on the ground. Either put weight plates on either side, or put the barbell on small boxes so that it's around mid-shin height. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, shins a few inches from the bar. Stoop down and grab the barbell with both hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your arms should rub against the outside of your knees. Puff your chest out, stick your butt back, and lean backwards so that your weight is on your heels.

Stand up, pulling the bar up with you. Keep the bar close to your body as you come up, as close to your legs as possible. Stop when you're standing straight up with your elbows straight. Then, lower the bar back to the ground to complete the repetition.

The deadlift works your leg and back muscles.
The deadlift works your leg and back muscles. Photo Credit: UberImages/iStock/GettyImages

Accessory Training

While the big three lifts help improve strength and muscle size, they're not the only valuable moves in weight training. There are plenty of other pieces of equipment that can help you during a fight.

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebells are popular in the mixed martial arts community because they combine athleticism with weightlifting. The kettlebell swing is an accessory exercise that mainly works your glutes. It's a fast-paced exercise, which mimics a mixed martial arts fight.

HOW TO DO IT: Start with a kettlebell on the ground. Stand two feet behind it. Squat down, stick your butt back, and reach forward to grab the kettlebell. Keep your feet flat on the ground and pull the kettlebell back between your legs.

When your forearms hit your inner thighs, drive your hips forward. At the same time, stand up straight and swing the kettlebell up until your arms are parallel to the ground. Then, swing it back down between your legs. Try to move quickly throughout the exercise.

Read more: Fighting Styles in the MMA

Sled Pushes

A hybrid exercise that works your leg muscles and improves stamina, sled pushed are a necessary evil in mixed martial arts training. They're a grueling exercise, but they'll prepare you for an equally grueling sport.

You'll need a sled that you can load up with weights and a strip of turf or equally smooth surface that you can push the sled on.

HOW TO DO IT: Set up behind the sled and push it as fast as you can. If you have 50 feet of space to push, that's plenty. Push it back and forth, resting after every other length.

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