Weight Training in MMA - Everything You Need to Know

26 March 2019

The emergence of MMA into the mainstream for fitness and competition has been slow but it seems to be getting stronger every day.

Social media platforms have pushed it from the shadows and into the light. The reason it stayed in the shadows for a long time is because of the lack of good training platforms and for being more violent than traditional martial arts.

But this style of martial arts can be traced back to ancient times. Pankration was introduced into the Olympic Games in 648BC and it was even more dangerous than today’s MMA. Only the best athletes competed.

Today the champions in MMA have one of the best physiques in the world.

Most practitioners of MMA come from other martial arts backgrounds and concentrate on body conditioning using one’s own bodyweight (professional traditional martial artists do use weights to supplement their training).

Practitioners who come from bodybuilding backgrounds do use weight training, but most never move beyond the conventional bodybuilding regime of 8-12 reps for 3 sets and isolation movements that concentrate on muscle definition or mass. This happens because people tend to think bigger means stronger.

The development of a fighter’s body should be uniform, his/her body should be trained as a single piece of machinery so that the body will not have any trouble working side by side with a part.

Working in the gym to increase your shoulder width and arm size without caring about your core strength will make your body imbalanced, your mid and lower body should be able to carry your upper body efficiently. The best way to achieve a balanced body is to do compound exercises.

Compound exercises involve multiple joints and more than one muscle groups. Weightlifting and powerlifting movements make use of multiple joints and major muscle groups. They help in improving ones explosive strength, 1RM, mobility and prevent injuries.

Most people avoid these exercises because they look hard and involve heavy weights. And lack of proper understanding and supervision will result in injuries.

The few compound lifts that will improve your body composition are;

  • Deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Overhead press
  • Bent over row
  • Squat
  • Clean and press
  • Snatch

All of these moments involve multiple muscle groups and joints. They put a great deal of importance to your core strength which will improve your overall strength and balance and help in injury prevention. But a beginner should be very careful when starting the movements above. Always consult a doctor before starting this, even more, important is proper supervision.

Movements like Deadlift, Squat and Bench-press are the basics anyone should know. The Deadlift and Squat are hard to master with proper form and most find that they can lift heavy when they do it the first time, but don’t be fooled by that.

Beginners sacrifice form to lift heavier weights and injure their lower back and knee. I suffered nearly 12 hours of excruciating lower back spasms 4 hours after I first tried Deadlifts. I managed to lift 60kg for 8x3 sets, the weight did not seem heavy at the time I was lifting it. Start small until you are confident about your form (filming myself helped me a lot.)

Movements like overhead press and bent-over row are easy but easier to mess up. Beginners give unnecessary strain to their lower back when performing these movements. This can be avoided with the help of reliable information and a spotter.

Things get complicated when the last two exercises enter. The clean and press is a complicated move that consists of a deadlift, squat and an overhead press. All of them done in two steps.  And the snatch is even more complicated with the squat being done with the barbell overhead with your arms locked.

It is very easy to injure yourself doing these actions without proper form. An important point to remember while doing these actions is to maintain a tight core; this will decrease the chances of injury. I did make these exercises sound treacherous, but it is important to understand the complexity of these exercises if you want to keep doing them longer.

Another point while weight training for MMA is about the reps and sets. Always aim for heavy weights and low reps, your movements should be explosive and short.

Movements like deadlift and squat have a huge effect on your CNS (central nervous system), keeping the workout short ensures that you can still work on your fight training later or the next day. A simple way to start your training is to follow the 5x5 Stronglift system.

It involves doing the Bench-press, Squat, Overhead press and Row for 5 reps and 5 sets. The Deadlift is only done for 1 set and 5 reps, given it is the most taxing on the CNS.

I also want to give attention to the importance of rest, working 7 days a week and expecting to make great gains is stupid. Our body grows with rest.

Working 5 days a week with rest days in between is enough and always take a day’s rest after a heavy workout, MMA or weight training. Supplementing your workouts with wholesome foods and great sleep will help you achieve your goals, both in competition or just elite fitness.


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