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Unleash Your Inner Champion: A Guide To MMA Conditioning For The MMA Fighter

In the early stages of MMA, the era of style vs style match-ups, cardio didn’t play a significant role. But the sport has reached new heights, so today, the most important parameters for an MMA fighter are toughness and specific MMA conditioning or endurance (also called stamina in some areas of the world).

You can be the greatest on the list of all-time MMA athletes, but if your aerobic energy system sucks, you’ll gas out after a round or two, and you’ll turn into a sitting duck in the third. Even the fighter with the worst martial arts technique can destroy you via a barrage of bullets with superior cardio.

Mixed martial arts target high-intensity zone, as you constantly transition between high-intensity intervals and short periods of rest. Anaerobic chigh-intensitys too, you must be a real warrior to take part in three or five rounds of bloody and battered war.

This article will explain why MMA requires such a high level of strength and conditioning training program. Let’s deep dive into the world of the physical aspect of an MMA.

mma training, mma conditioning

Get In The Ring: The Importance Of Strength And Conditioning For MMA Fighters

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Do you think of entering the Octagon? Would you like to fight and push your mixed martial arts career to the next level? Have you had superb results in other combat sports?

If you’d like to test your skills, that’s great, but remember – you can forget your results in other combat sports, because mixed martial arts is a combination of striking, clinch, and grappling!

You’ll have to work on your technique, but you’ll also need a top-notch strength and conditioning training program and a knowledgeable fitness coach to reach the top of your weight class! Endurance training, aerobic exercises, metabolic conditioning… it all matters – the best fighters in the world are mostly the combination of stamina and toughness!

Unlocking The Secrets Of Combat Sports Fitness: Understanding The Physical Demands

Briefly introduce the various physical demands of MMA and the importance of preparing for these demands

– Suggestions: Use real-life examples or statistics to illustrate the physical demands of MMA and why strength and conditioning are crucial.

mma training, mma conditioning, combat sports

Key Physical Attributes For MMA Success

There are many critical attributes for success in mixed martial arts, alongside great stamina and mental toughness. Many fighters boost power, endurance, agility, footwork, strength, and explosivity.

For example, a great jiu-jitsu guy has power and endurance, but his movement and stand-up game would need a lot of improvement. Every single martial art offers good and bad sides, and good strength and conditioning make a difference when the two evenly matched elite athletes meet inside the Octagon.

Spanias et al. (2019) make a difference between “anaerobic capacity” and “aerobic energy system” in the fastest-growing sport in the world.

They describe the overall profile of a mixed martial artist as a person with low body fat, high flexibility, muscle strength, muscle endurance, anaerobic power, and average cardiovascular endurance. The present study emphasizes the importance of strength and conditioning trainers working with MMA athletes as a valuable tool in getting better performance.

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The Vital Role Of Strength And Conditioning In MMA

The round lasts for 5 minutes, and you will fight for three or five rounds, depending on the federation. Your physical preparation and conditioning work plays a vital role in outworking your opponent in later rounds.

The aerobic system usually takes over when the fighters stop throwing bombs after a few powerful toe-to-toe exchanges. Plus, the stronger fighters waste less energy during the same work period, which means the brain of the fighter with weaker cardio pumps more blood to peripheral areas of the body (arms and legs) to defend from the dangerous position.

Poor strength and conditioning will lead to injuries or poor performance. For example, a fighter who didn’t do strength exercises will be weaker in the clinch and off the back, and he’ll have a hard time evading from the back or off the fence. There will be more lactic acid in his muscles, which could lead to horrible fight performance too.

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Train Like A Pro: Endurance For MMA Fighters

When the two meet in a 25-minute title bout, an endurance training program plays the ultimate role. Even the most technical MMA fighter in the world loses when he’s out of gas.

MMA athletes of the modern era are known for superb endurance and extreme toughness – just take a look at a high-intensity five-round UFC 284 main event combat between Alexander Volkanovski and Islam Makhachev – it was everything but an aerobic exercise!

Pushing Your Limits: The Endurance Demands Of MMA

You must be able to take part in at least three five-minute rounds in the professional circuit (two or three three-minute rounds for amateurs). It is physically demanding full-body activity, where an aerobic energy system plays a vital role in the later stages of combat.

I will analyze the epic combat between the current interim 145-pound king Yair Rodriguez and the former title contender “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung. Everybody was laughing when Yair Rodriguez was spending hours on a stationary bike while preparing for his fight against tough Korean.

Aware of Zombie’s pressure, Yair’s coach put more effort into aerobic exercise because he knew the Korean won’t be able to push the pace for five rounds. After high-intensity actions in the first three periods of the match, Zombie started to slow down.

Despite all the heart of this world, Yair knocked him out cold with a reverse elbow counter in the dying seconds of the fifth round thanks to his aerobic workout sessions. In the championship rounds, fighters with better cardio win, even if they lack in the technical aspect of the game!

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Building Your Endurance Engine For MMA Success

There are many popular workouts for improving endurance for MMA, but the most often ones are an interval training program, cardio circuits, and endurance-specific drills.

In an interval training program, you combine high-intensity intervals with low-intensity periods of active or passive rest (for example, punching a heavy bag for three minutes followed by one minute of slow running). This method is very popular in the off-season.

Cardio circuits combine three to five high-intensity drills with a period of passive recovery. For example, sit-ups, punching with battle ropes, and medicine ball slams (one minute), followed by 30 seconds of rest. The heart rate monitor could help here – your heartbeat should be around 150-180 during the rounds.

Endurance-specific drills are a whole new invention – this training method focuses on the drills that can be seen in this sport (for example, sprawls, rocking chairs, ground-and-pound strikes, and other workouts that incorporate specific moves from the fight).

These drills can sometimes last for 5+ minutes (low-intensity workouts), or you can change the drills every 30-60 seconds, depending on your goals as a coach. The metabolic demands of these drills vary, as your primary goal is to prepare the fighters for the specific situation inside the Octagon.

Innovative Methods For Improving Endurance In MMA

There are tons of creative and cutting-edge methods for improving Octagon endurance, but HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is the most popular nowadays.

It means a fighter performs a few high-intensity drills back-to-back, then recovers via light activity, and transitions to the next difficult set. Circuits are usually 5 minutes long, with a one-minute recovery between the sets to simulate the realistic fighting conditions. It allows the fighters to feel the ring and adapt to sport-specific circumstances.

Some fighters like Michael Chandler like to use light running for recovery. Others prefer ice baths (Gilbert Burns, Georges St-Pierre, Jasmine Jasudavicius…). But you will also see many fighters undergoing sauna, massage, or even going to the spa to recover and get ready for their upcoming fitness goals. The appropriate amount of rest matters, the too-tired fighter is at risk of overtraining or injuries.

Power Up: Exercises To Improve Power In MMA

Strength exercises alone mean nothing, as your opponent can duck your strikes or take you down because of his ability to transform his strength into a kinetic energy system.

Any exercise that pushes power to the next level creates a potentially dangerous Octagon warrior. A good example of this claim is Jon Jones – no muscles but even the greatest names were unable to drag him to the canvas or knock him out cold.

The Punching Power Of MMA

The power equals force times velocity. It means when you compare the two fighters with the same muscles, the one whose limb travels faster toward the opponent will hit harder and have greater chances of putting his foe to sleep.

Very muscular Francis Ngannou broke the punching machine record, but then “fat” Derrick Lewis with zero lean muscle mass broke the Cameroonian’s record… How? Well, his punch travelled faster toward the target, plus Lewis is heavier (and yeah, both fight in UFC heavyweight class).

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Specific Exercises To Improve Power In The Ring

I could discuss all day about specific drills that improve the power in MMA, but I will focus in this article on plyometrics, Olympic lifting, and medicine ball throws.

Plyometrics training combines rapid and repeated stretching and contracting of the muscles to improve strength. This form of exercise serves to improve footwork, takedown offence, defence, and agility. Good wrestlers and long-range fighters love it. Look at Funk Roberts and his great 10 drills!

Olympic lifting boosts the explosivity of your whole body. It helps when you shoot in for a takedown and chain-wrestle your opponent to finish the takedown attempt due to his excellent takedown defence.

Medicine ball throws serve to simulate takedown and clinching and to give the edge to your working muscles once you and your opponent get stuck in the clinch. Cris Cyborg is a fan of medicine ball workouts, she uses them to take control and keep the fight standing as she’s a brawler.

Mastering Technique For Maximum Power Gains In MMA

Proper technique matters, but it comes with time. If someone trains to strike for his whole life, he’ll always be a better striker than a grappler and vice versa. For example, Lyoto Machida has never outwrestled his opponent, but he scored so many knockouts thanks to his perfectly-timed counter punch.

Yet, a fighter who performs power exercises regularly has a greater chance of scoring a knockout or dragging the opponent to the canvas. Yet, athletes with the better technique will have a greater chance of putting their opponents to sleep as they will generate more power in their bodies.

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Fundamentals Of Strength And Conditioning For MMA

The most important aspects of strength and conditioning for MMA are the understanding of the connection between anaerobic and aerobic endurance training, strength, and power.

In other words, a good coach knows that strength without power leads to poor results. A good coach understands the metabolic demands of the two and knows to combine power and strength sessions in the workouts for maximal effort and performance.

Laying The Foundation For Strength And Success In MMA

A great MMA fighter is either known for a knockout power or superb transition from stand-up to the ground game. Only the best of the best can connect both aspects of the game thanks to their superb training sessions.

Fighters mostly combine power and strength exercises with agility drills and local endurance workouts. The majority of strength and conditioning coaches prefer a low number of repetitions and massive loads when trying to boost fighters’ punch or kick power. Four-to-eight repetition zone is the key to power/strength success.

Key Components Of A Strength Conditioning Program For MMA

Do you know how will you recognize a good strength and conditioning program? It contains separate strength, power, and movement drills workouts in the week. Let me give you an example.

On Monday, a fighter performs 3-5 repetitions of the deadlift, bench press, hang clean, or other multi-joint exercises.

On Wednesday, the weight matters, but the number of repetitions increases to 6 to 8, while the fighter lifts a smaller percentage of his one repetition maximum. Rest periods shorten – it is time to focus on power.

Thursday or Friday are usually set for agility and movement drills and local core exercises, so every single area of the body takes part in a weekly workout. Training time decreases, and rest periods between the sets are smaller too.

Balancing Strength And Conditioning For Optimal Results In MMA

You must combine the two elements properly because here is what is going to happen when you forget to balance.

  • Too many strength drills will create a slow muscle mountain with poor cardio. When the fight enters round three, the opponent will annihilate your pupil.
  • Too much power is ok but when you forget to work on the strength, your student will have a hard time when a very strong opponent sits on top of him.
  • When you don’t train movement drills, it will teach your fighter to control the central line. Here is the problem – this is not old-school MMA, modern-day warriors move like cats – this kind of training will harm the performance once you meet an opponent like Aljamain Sterling or Cory Sandhagen.

When you balance between the three elements properly, you’ll turn your fighter into an all-around guy like Georges St-Pierre. “GSP” was a long-time welterweight champion, and you’d like to create a champion, would you?

Move With Precision: Agility And Movement Drills For MMA

The fighter who stands like a log takes tons of damage, while the one who moves like a cat takes way less damage. The damage is the most important parameter for judges – more movement workouts lead to fewer chances of losing the fight via decision.

The Importance Of Movement In MMA And Of The Aerobic Energy System

Any exercise matters in the fastest-growing sport in the world, but fighting on the back foot and moving sideways is the trademark of modern MMA. Movement rocks because you don’t have to eat shots and take unnecessary blows. The era of toe-to-toe fights ended in the 2000s, the modern fights are all about tricky moves and staying away from the centerline.

The aerobic energy system plays an important role when the fight advances into the championship rounds.

Cory Sandhagen is the greatest example of the fighter with the most perfect movement and angles. If you take a look at his Instagram profile, you’ll notice that agility and footwork workout plays an important part in his strength and conditioning preparation.

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Empower Your Fight Game: Mastering Movement With Proven MMA Agility Drills

Plyometrics, footwork drills, and reactive drills are vital for top-notch MMA defence and counters. You need to stay explosive to defend and fire back against the greatest names in the world. Proper technique matters, but combined with superb reaction time, it turns you into one of the most dangerous bois on the planet.

Take Your Training To The Next Level: The Importance Of Movement Drills In MMA

I suggest you take a lot at Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz. Good movement and footwork demoralize your opponent, disrupts his game plan, and help you win the fight way easier. Yes, your total distance covered value will be way bigger, but your ultimate goal is to win!

To incorporate your movement drills successfully, you must respect only one rule – your fighter mustn’t be tired or these drills make no sense. Do movement drills at the beginning of the MMA training, or when the fighter undergoes lower-intensity work in the morning. When the subject is too tired, his fatigue disrupts the explosivity and reaction time.

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How Often Do MMA fighters Do Strength And Conditioning?

MMA fighters tend to train in strength and conditioning 4+ times per week, while most of them undergo 2-3 S&C sessions weekly when there are less than 2 months left until the combat. In a fight week, the majority of Octagon warriors stay away from this aspect of the training due to weight cutting.


A good level of strength and conditioning makes the difference between an average fighter and the best names in the division.

Recap Of The Importance Of Strength And Conditioning For MMA Success

Every single aspect of training matters. Good strength, power, agility, footwork – the best program in the world is useless when you can’t balance between repetitions, weight, and rest. The fighter with better levels of physical preparation will get a critical advantage when the bout enters the later rounds, even if he lacks in the technical aspect of the game.

Boost every aspect of strength and conditioning training en your route to the division top. When somebody says cardio makes no sense, just remember what will happen if you’re out of gas.

You have a choice – a sitting duck after two rounds or a hard-to-hit fighter who moves like a cat and anticipates every single move. Prioritize your strength and conditioning program and every opponent will have a hard time dealing with you!

Final Thoughts On The Future of MMA Strength And Conditioning

The era of total MMA emphasizes two parameters – cardio and toughness. A fighter who can eat tons of punches or kicks is good, but a stamina specialist who marches forward like a zombie is even better!

The new era of MMA training brings wars of all-around fighters. When the two are evenly or closely matched, strength and conditioning training creates the difference.

Fighters’ S&C coaches will follow three trends in the future – maximizing one’s power and one-punch knockout, boosting stamina to unreal levels, and making a great connection between power, movement, and footwork. So, technically, it means the following – be ready for five rounds of war, or do not enter the Octagon!

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Transform Your Training: The Power Of Prioritizing Strength And Conditioning For MMA Success

Make strength and conditioning a priority in your MMA training and take it to the next level. Invest money in quality training programs and top-notch coaches. The fastest-growing sport in the world is like a combat of gladiators – you don’t want to get tired in the middle of the fight.

The success of MMA fighters inside the ring heavily depends on their level of strength and conditioning. Work on your weaknesses and don’t be lazy! Do not ignore the bad sides of your game, try to improve them! And remember, MMA is a never-ending journey – there is always space for improvement! An open-minded approach is your key to success and winning the division!

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
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Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
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