How To Improve Physically and Mentally

MMA is a dynamic and multifaceted combat sport that combines elements of various martial arts disciplines, allowing athletes to employ a diverse range of techniques both standing and on the ground. Unlike traditional martial arts, MMA encompasses a broad spectrum of fighting styles, including boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling, and kickboxing.

The best fighters in MMA are proficient in striking, grappling, and submissions. They're in fighting shape during competition and put in the work to achieve an impressive physique.

The importance of physical training in MMA cannot be overstated. Given the diverse skill set required, fighters must undergo rigorous and comprehensive physical conditioning to excel in the sport.

MMA physical training focuses on developing strength, cardiovascular endurance, agility, flexibility, and skill-specific techniques. Strength training, incorporating exercises like deadlifts and squats, enhances power and overall physical resilience.

Cardiovascular conditioning, through high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and long-distance cardio, is crucial for sustaining energy throughout the demanding bouts. Agility and flexibility drills contribute to a fighter's ability to move and respond to diverse situations in the cage. Proper training is integral not only for performance but also for injury prevention and recovery.

Here are 6 areas to pay attention to while training for MMA:

Make Yourself Injury-Resistant

A well-conditioned athlete is less susceptible to injuries and can withstand the physical demands of training and competition. The commitment to a comprehensive physical training regimen is the cornerstone for success in the ever-evolving and challenging landscape of MMA.

Here, you'll get a solid starting point (or base) to build your workout around. You can use all, or some of it, but the main thing to keep in mind is that while technique is extremely important, so is cross training.

The Importance of Warm-up in MMA

Dynamic stretching exercises are a fundamental component of any effective warm-up routine, serving to enhance flexibility, boost circulation, and prepare the body for physical activity. Unlike static stretches, dynamic stretches involve controlled, fluid movements that take joints and muscles through a full range of motion.

These exercises activate the nervous system, increase blood flow, and improve overall mobility, making them particularly beneficial before you perform dynamic exercises or workouts. Dynamic stretching incorporates a variety of movements such as leg swings, arm circles, hip circles, and lunges.

Man performing a deep lunge stretch to improve mobility.
Man performing a deep lunge stretch to improve mobility.

These exercises actively engage multiple muscle groups, promoting flexibility and coordination. The dynamic nature of these stretches also helps elevate heart rate and body temperature, priming the body for more intense physical exertion.

When integrated into a pre-exercise routine, dynamic stretching not only reduces the risk of injury but also enhances athletic performance by optimizing muscle function and responsiveness.

  1. Neck Rolls
  2. Arm Circles
  3. Leg Swings

Here are some Neck Drills form Mark Wildman you can try:

Cardiovascular warm-up is a crucial preparatory phase before engaging in physical activity, designed to gradually elevate the heart rate and increase blood flow to the muscles. This essential component of any workout serves several vital purposes.

For starters, a cardiovascular warm-up helps the body transition from a state of rest to one of increased activity, minimizing the risk of cardiovascular stress and sudden strain on the heart. Secondly, it raises the core body temperature, enhancing the flexibility and elasticity of muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The increased blood flow during a cardiovascular warm-up ensures that muscles receive a rich supply of oxygen and nutrients, optimizing performance and reducing the likelihood of injury. Additionally, this warm-up stimulates the respiratory system, improving oxygen uptake and delivery to working muscles.

Overall, a well-executed cardiovascular warm-up primes the body for physical exertion, promotes circulation, and contributes to a safer and more effective workout performance.

Try one of these cardio warm up exercises to start:

  1. Jumping Jacks
  2. High Knees
  3. Shadow Boxing for Muay Thai and MMA

Benefits of Strength Training Exercises (with examples)

In the realm of Mixed Martial Arts, strength stands as a cornerstone attribute that significantly influences a fighter's success. The importance of strength in MMA goes beyond sheer power; it is integral to defending against opponents, and enduring the physical demands of the sport.

Strength training enhances a your ability to generate force, which is crucial for powerful strikes, takedowns, and grappling maneuvers. Increased strength contributes to overall resilience, reducing the risk of injuries and enabling fighters to withstand the intense physicality of bouts and competition matches.

The clinch work in Muay Thai, takedowns in wrestling, and ground control in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu all benefit from a solid foundation of strength. A well-balanced strength training regimen, including compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, not only improves performance but also fosters the mental fortitude necessary to persevere in the diverse challenges presented within combat sports.

Here are 3 functional strength exercises you should consider:

  1. Medicine Ball Slams
  2. Kettlebell Swings
  3. Bulgarian bag

In the video below, Fitness on Fire demonstrates how to use the Bulgarian bag:

Compound Exercises For Building Strength

Compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups and joints in a single movement, making them highly efficient for building strength and functional fitness. Examples include squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.

These movements not only stimulate the primary muscles but also activate stabilizing muscles, promoting better coordination and overall athleticism. Compound exercises are integral to well-rounded strength training programs, offering comprehensive benefits for muscle development, joint stability, and enhancing overall physical performance.

  1. Deadlifts
  2. Squats
  3. Bench Press

Killer Cardiovascular Conditioning Exercises

Cardiovascular endurance is paramount, where the ability to sustain high-intensity efforts over extended periods is a defining factor in success. MMA fights demand a combination of explosive bursts of energy, relentless pacing, and the capacity to quickly recover between rounds.

Effective cardiovascular endurance ensures that fighters can maintain optimal performance throughout the entirety of a match, executing striking combinations, defending against takedowns, and grappling with resilience. A well-conditioned cardiovascular system enhances oxygen delivery to working muscles, delaying fatigue and facilitating a quicker recovery between exertions.

Woman wearing shorts running on a treadmill.
Cardiovascular endurance is a non-negotiable for MMA training.

This kind of endurance is particularly crucial in the unpredictable and dynamic nature of MMA, where fighters must seamlessly transition between striking and ground-based techniques. Whether it's a fast-paced stand-up exchange or a ground battle, superior cardiovascular endurance is a strategic advantage, allowing fighters to outlast opponents and assert control over the course of a match.

Try High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) mirrors the physical demands of a competition fight, subjecting the body to intense, brief bursts of effort followed by short recovery periods. This closely replicates the unpredictable pace and varied energy demands of MMA bouts.

HIIT engages multiple energy systems, demanding rapid transitions between anaerobic and aerobic states, much like the changing dynamics of a fight. The explosive power, endurance, and mental fortitude required in HIIT closely parallel the challenges encountered in the cage, making it a highly effective training method to prepare you for the intense and diverse physical stresses inherent in competition.

Here are 3 examples of HIIT exercises:

  1. Sprints
  2. Burpees
  3. Rowing Intervals

Try this 10 minute HIIT workout from Funk Roberts:

Long-Distance Cardio (with a Purpose)

Long-distance cardio plays a pivotal role in MMA training by building a solid aerobic base, enhancing overall endurance, and promoting sustained performance. While MMA is characterized by intense bursts of activity, a well-conditioned aerobic system ensures fighters can maintain a high level of output over the duration of a match.

Long-distance cardio, such as running, cycling, or swimming, aids in developing cardiovascular efficiency, optimizing oxygen uptake, and supporting recovery between explosive actions.

  1. Running
  2. Cycling
  3. Swimming

Here is an interesting take on running for boxing or MMA:

Increase Your Agility and Flexibility

Agility and flexibility are indispensable components of optimal performance in MMA, significantly influencing a fighter's ability to execute techniques with precision and respond swiftly to opponents. Agility, characterized by quick and precise movements, allows fighters to change direction rapidly, evade strikes, and engage in dynamic footwork makes for more effective striking and defensive maneuvers.

Flexibility, on the other hand, enhances a fighter's range of motion, enabling fluid transitions between different fighting stances and facilitating ground-based techniques. In MMA, where adaptability is key, agility and flexibility will increase your overall versatility.

Improved agility aids in effective counterattacks, while enhanced flexibility supports fluid ground control and submission attempts. Both attributes also play a pivotal role in injury prevention, allowing fighters to move with resilience and reducing the risk of strains or sprains.

As a result, the impact of agility and flexibility on MMA performance is profound, so fostering a well-rounded skill set is essential for success in the dynamic and unpredictable environment of the cage.

Watch the video for some agility tips and drills from Phil Daru:

  1. Cone Drills
  2. Ladder Drills
  3. Reaction Time Exercises (reflex ball, double end bag)

Practicing with a reflex ball is a great way to improve your timing, accuracy, head movement, and footwork.

Flexibility Exercises for Better Mobility

Hip mobility is often overlooked in a regular training routine. If you want to throw powerful head kicks, increase your grappling versatility, and improve your overall range of motion, don't skip these exercises!

Here is a quick video on how to improve your hip mobility:

Other exercises include:

  1. Yoga Poses
  2. Dynamic Stretching
  3. Joint Mobility Drills

Skill Development Training - Master the Basics

Incorporating MMA techniques into workouts is smart because it allows you to focus on skill development that's directly applicable to competition or technique. From shadow boxing to ground drills and striking combinations, these exercises refine the intricate skills needed in various facets of MMA.

Through consistent and focused skill-specific training, you will sharpen your abilities and develop the necessary muscle memory for quick, instinctive responses during sparring or live competition.

  1. Shadow Boxing
  2. Muay Thai or Boxing Pad Work
  3. Ground Striking Drills
  4. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques
  5. Wrestling Drills
  6. Stand up Striking Drills (on the heavy bag)
  7. Clinch Drills

Ironboy Experience demonstrates how to do Muay Thai skip knees from the clinch:

Don't Overlook Your Recovery and Cool Down

Recovery is a cornerstone of effective training across all disciplines, ensuring sustained progress and preventing burnout or injuries. Adequate rest allows muscles to repair and grow stronger, optimizing the benefits of workouts.

Think of sleep as a superpower or cheat code.

If you can get as close to 8 hours of sleep each night, your body and mind will thank you, day after day.

It's during rest that the body adapts to training stress, enhancing endurance, strength, and overall performance. Sleep quality, hydration, and nutrition are crucial components of recovery, influencing mood, cognitive function, and immune health.

Overtraining, without sufficient recovery, may lead to fatigue, decreased performance, and an increased risk of injuries. Recognizing the significance of recovery is key to achieving long-term fitness goals, fostering a holistic approach to well-being that prioritizes both effort and the essential element of rest and restoration.

Here are 7 of the best recovery methods for combat sports from Tony Jeffries:

Static Stretching and foam rolling are two more important additions to a solid recovery regimen.

Pro Tips for Safe and Effective Training

Avoiding overtraining is essential for sustained fitness progress. Overexertion can lead to fatigue, increased injury risk, and performance decline.

Adequate rest intervals and varying workout intensity prevent burnout, ensuring the body has time to recover and adapt. Listen to your body and incorporate rest days keep your training well-balanced.

Proper Nutrition as a Bonus

Seeking professional guidance for nutrition is pivotal in optimizing health and fitness goals. Registered dietitians or nutritionists can tailor dietary plans to individual needs, considering factors like activity level, goals, and dietary restrictions.

They use their expertise to help you address nutritional gaps and support your overall well-being. Professional guidance fosters a holistic understanding of nutritional needs, empowering individuals to make informed choices for long-term health and fitness success.

Invest Today to Earn Tomorrow

That was a lot of information. As a final recap, our MMA physical training exercises covered the warm up, strength training, speed and agility, skill development, and finally - recovery and cool down.

Embrace the journey of consistent training to unlock your true potential. Every drop of sweat, every committed effort, is a step toward the stronger, more resilient version of yourself.

Progress may seem gradual, but every session builds a foundation for success. Remember, transformation is a process, not an event. Stay dedicated, trust the process, and celebrate the small victories along the way.

Man with white towel draped across his shoulder flexes in the mirror at an MMA gym.
Acknowledge your progress along the way!

The discipline you invest in today will shape the triumphs of tomorrow. Keep pushing, stay focused, and believe in the remarkable strength that consistent training can cultivate within you. Your dedication is the key to unlocking greatness.

Whether you're a hobbyist, amateur, or professional MMA fighter, optimal physical fitness is absolutely vital for success. The combination of technique and the resilience, power, and endurance cultivated through dedicated training goes a long way to ensure years of training.