Strength and conditioning has exploded in popularity within the last few years, it is seen by many as the magic bullet that can revolutionize our approach to training athletes.
This is not to say that strength and conditioning hasn’t always been utilized by trainers looking to help their athletes, but it certainly took a backseat to cardio and regular fight training.
The purpose of this article is to examine the importance of strength training for MMA and BJJ fighters.
Benefits of Strength Training for MMA Fighters / BJJ Practitioners
As a fighter your ultimate goal is to make weight before a fight while being as powerful as possible. If two fighters weigh the same, but one has a lower body fat percentage, then that fighter should have more power to use during a fight.
Power is a combination of strength and speed, and it can be increased by either improving technique or by increasing strength.
But strength training also allows you to conserve more energy during a fight. Runners who perform strength training programs have found that they have a better run economy – in other words they burn less calories during a race.
This is due to efficiency, improved flexibility, and an overall better technique. By building stronger muscles with better ranges of motion, you will expend less calories during a fight and will therefore be able to fight longer.
Being stronger can also help improve your speed, in the same way as it improves your endurance (mentioned above). By making your muscles stronger and helping improve their range of motion you will be able to move faster. Faster fighters will always have an advantage over their opponents, remember that speed is also a crucial component of power.
Strength training is well known to be effective at reducing the risk of injury. Lifting heavy weights will create stronger, more flexible muscles, will help strengthen your joints, and will improve coordination. There isn’t a fighter alive who wouldn’t be interested in reducing injury risk and avoiding unnecessary pain during a fight.
Myths about Fighting and Strength Training
A common belief among fighters is that strength training can hinder your progress, slow you down. Reduce your flexibility, and affect coordination. This is categorically untrue – provided that you program your strength training program correctly.
Yes, if you train like a power-lifter or bodybuilder while following a similar diet you may see a stalling of progress as a fighter. But if you combine strength training with your regular fighting training you will see huge benefits.
Runners have a similar belief, as do many members of the public. But this is a myth.
Runners can run better, faster, and for longer if they incorporate strength training. Members of the public can become more athletic, leaner, and more flexible with strength training (or they can use it to build bigger muscles and gain mass).
Fighters can use strength training to become stronger, faster, more powerful, and strength training can definitely compliment fight training.
Strength Training for new Fighters vs Experienced Fighters
How crucial strength training is to your career depends heavily on
- 1) your level of experience
- 2) your age
- 3) your goals.
If you are a complete amateur fighter who is just getting started then learning the basic mechanics of fighting (be it muay thai, boxing, bjj) is more important than strength training.
Another important factor is what your goals are. If you are looking to become a professional fighter then you should first focus on fighting and fighting mechanics and then gradually add strength training into your routine to supplement your core training.
If your goal is to improve fitness or body composition through fighting then a combination of both fighting and strength training will be best.
Experienced fighters should look for a decent balance between the two that suits their unique goals/abilities. If you are training seven times per week, then you could follow a five-day fighting, two-day bare bones strength training split. Obviously, you would need to vary the amount of intensity used to prevent overtraining.
How to Design an Effective Strength Training Program for Fighting
Let’s say that you are training six to eight sessions per week, three of which are strength training sessions and three to five sessions are fighting/cardio. In this scenario you would perform two sessions per day, one in the morning and one in the evening, with a day’s rest in between.
Your strength training sessions should concentrate on the upper and lower bodies rather than following an upper/lower split or a bodybuilder’s split. You should try and use exercises that are related to your training style, but try to avoid the trap of just recreating common fighting moves with weights (no dumbbell punches or ankle-weighted kicks etc).
If your fighting style involves a lot of punches etc … then you would want to avoid exercises that target the front deltoid muscles, and incorporate exercises that target the rear-delts (such as face pulls, bent over rows etc).
The main strength training exercises:
- Pull ups
Should make up the meat of your training program.
If you are training for a fight, then you will also want to consider varying the intensity as you get nearer to the deadline – particularly if your calorie intake is being lowered so that you can “make weight”. But that is a subject for a completely different article.
We’re going to keep things basic here, a strength training program that is suitable for people training for MMA or BJJ who want to train alongside a typical fight program.
Strength Training Program (3 x per week)
This strength training program is just an example, it is not designed to suit an individual who has specific needs, old injuries, strengths/weaknesses that need addressing. It’s a typical strength training program that many MMA fighters and BJJ fighters could benefit from.
It will give you strength gains and because of the volume induce hypertrophy if you’re looking to maintain or grow your muscles.
- Seated Hamstring Curls 3 x 12-15
- Deadlifts 3 x 6-8
- DB Goblet Squats 3 x 12-15
- Push Ups 3 x 15-20
- Pull Ups 3 x As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP)
- Seated Cable Row 3 x 15-20
- Romanian Deadlifts 3 x 12-15
- Barbell Back Squats 3 x 6-8
- Nordic Curls 3 x 12
- Face Pulls 3 x 15-20
- DB Bench Press 3 x 6-8
- Barbell Push Press 3 x 6-8
- Rear Delt Flyes 3 x 15-20
- Nordic Curls 3 x 12
- Romanian Deadlifts 3 x 6-8
- Walking Lunges 4 x 10
- Dips (or Assisted Dips) 3 x 8-10
- Chin Ups 3 x AMRAP
- Barbell Bent Over Row 3 x 6-8
- Face Pulls 3 x 20
If you’re looking for a bare bones minimalist strength routine that will take a lot less time to do, focus purely on the main big lifts and gaining strength, I highly recommend Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1