Weight Training for MMA & Other Combat Sports

Written by Adam Spalding

Over the last five years, the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has grown at a rapid rate. I myself began training around 3-4 years ago, originally with Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) before training and eventually competing in MMA at an amateur level. A frequent question that is asked by both gym goers and people that participate in martial arts is what type of weight training exercises would help improve performance in MMA. There are a number of benefits that weight training will bring to an MMA athlete, including injury prevention, increase force and increase the speed that the force is applied.

When it comes to weight training or adding strength & conditioning to a routine, there are a few things that need to be considered.


MMA athletes training schedule is unique to other athletes as they have so many different techniques to drill and train from a variety of single discipline martial arts (eg. Boxing, Thai boxing, BJJ, wrestling) as well as bringing all the techniques together in sparring situations. With this in mind, myself and other MMA athletes are various levels can realistically only fit 2-3 strength and conditioning sessions in a week.


With limited time available, the stress that is applied during the strength & conditioning sessions needs to be aiming to improve the athlete rather than just simply fatiguing them just for the sake of it. If the athlete is fatigued for his or hers technical session or sparring in the evening due to the strength & conditioning session in the morning, the person conducting that session did not do their job correctly.


Due to nature of the sport, the training in preparation for a fight can be gruelling. Often MMA athletes pick up a lot of soft tissue damage and mini injuries that nag at them during training, so there needs to be a degree of adaptability in the strength & conditioning sessions. I have felt this first hand where the evening session before strength & conditioning in the morning, I was on the receiving end of one too many hard leg kicks. This of course, limited my range of motion in the morning despite foam rolling as best as I could. Because of this the session had a change so instead of doing heavy squats, the session changed to stiff leg deadlifts.

In the majority of sports the main movement trained in weight sessions is the lower body to improve force development from the feet and transferred that force through the hip, MMA is no different. Whether you are stepping into a jab or shooting in for a double leg takedown, all the force is generated from the feet and through the hip.

For this reason, the majority of strength & conditioning sessions will consist of either a squat variation (front or back) or deadlift variation (traditional, stiff leg or trap bar). Further away from a fight the load will be heavy at around 80-90% ORM, as the fight draws closer the load is reduced significantly to insure full force production is performed as we peak for competition.

The rest of the training session would consist of a complex of an upper body pressing exercise, upper body pulling exercise, and specific weak areas the particular athlete may have. In my case it is often my posture that hinders my technique in lifts so a posterior chain exercise is often prescribed for myself. For other athletes it may be their core that's need to be developed or an improvement in grip strength would need to be addressed. Depending on the how heavy the training schedule is, some short sharp conditioning work can conclude the session. This is typically in the form of sled drives, battle ropes or rowing. Most MMA athletes are tremendously aerobically conditioned, this largely due to the volume of technical training and sparring they participate in. For this reason the conditioning won't be anything overly time consuming with focus of it being short and intense for an anaerobic response.

Here's an example of a basic session, that any martial artist that has not yet applied  strength & conditioning into their training regime.

Adam Spalding MMA

A1 Goblet Squat (see  picture) 5 sets of 5 reps tempo (3/1/1)
A2 Jump Squat 5 sets of 5 reps tempo (reactive)
B1 Tempo press up 4 sets 6 reps tempo (3/1/1)
B2 Inverted row 4 sets 6 reps tempo (3/1/1)
B3 Plank variation 4 sets for time 30-60 secs
 C1 Rower tabata    20 sec sprint  10 sec rest x8



One thing that I strongly suggest any one looking to apply strength & conditioning into their training is to avoid sports specific movements. An example of this can be performing mma techniques on a swissball or bosu ball. These types of exercise I have not found to be useful and in all honesty if it is going to be that specific to the sport, you would benefit far more from just doing the sport itself.

In conclusion, I have found that weight training will help improve performance in MMA as well as contribute to injury prevention. Though it is crucial that quality over rides quantity in regards to rep range and exercises, the purpose is the build and improve them, not fatigue and hinder them.

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