Strength and conditioning for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a complicated affair. We have a number of MMA athletes who swear blind that sparring, rolling, and general calisthenics is the only thing that’s needed. Others follow more advanced programs that develop the athletic components of strength, speed, and power. But who’s right?
This is where things get complicated. Before you can really work out how to structure your strength and conditioning program, you need to have a very good understanding of your existing skills and abilities. You’ll also need to know exactly how you fight and how you want to be able to fight - this is a very important point.
MMA is a diverse sport, but perhaps not as diverse as in the early days. The Vale Tudo and original UFC competitions had style versus style - in fact, that was the UFC slogan for a while. It didn’t take too long for people to realize that the strong and powerful athletes who could control opponents did very well, especially after they learned a little bit about Jiu-Jitsu!
MMA is one of those sporting anomalies where strength and conditioning really does make a huge difference. It is possible for poorly conditioned athletes to rely on their superior skill, but it’s also possible for an unskilled but strong and powerful athlete to dominate a weaker opponent. I’ve seen a number of fights where a super powerful athlete has literally picked up their opponent and slammed them to a knockout. This is not to say that skill isn’t a prerequisite for elite performance, but that high level strength and conditioning should be a goal for all MMA athletes.
Utilizing “odd objects” when you step into that cage or ring, you’re stepping into the unknown. As much as you can prepare for MMA competition, we all know that anything can happen when that bell sounds. Your strength and conditioning program should reflect this. It should prepare you for the physical demands of the sport as a whole, but also the unknown nature of competition. We can aim to do this by utilizing training protocols, methodologies, and implements that closely match MMA.
I’m a fan of using odd objects for MMA strength and conditioning - especially sandbags. Your opponent is the ultimate odd object - hard to control, constantly shifting and generally uncooperative! Match the training tools to this and you’ll be a long way to developing some strength and conditioning you can really use.
Sandbag Training for MMA
Just like any regular strength and conditioning program, you need to base your exercises on big, multiple bodypart compound movements, with a big emphasis on power. Why? Because that’s what you’ll be required to do in competition. The sandbag is a great option for developing MMA specific strength, power, and conditioning for a number of reasons:
1) It’s very hard to get a hold of and it really makes you work for each lift. The constantly-shifting center of mass makes most standard exercises infinitely more challenging. It’s the next best thing to trying to hold onto an opponent who doesn’t want to be held onto!
2) The sandbag allows you to experiment with a variety of different grips that have parallels in MMA. A bear hug grip is like holding an opponent in a clinch; the zercher position is like having double-under hooks on an opponent; and gripping onto the material of your sandbag will help with gi-control.
3) The sandbag is about as close as a free-weight will get to replicating an opponent - its size, shape, and center of mass can all be very similar. Try using your sandbag for technique drills rather than just traditional exercises. Practice some side escapes from under a heavy sandbag, some powerful hip-bridges to develop the strength to escape from a mount or some bear hug load carries to build standing control strength.
It’s also important that you include exercises that are multi-planar; defined as an exercise that involves moving in multiple directions. We would normally see plenty of Sagittal Plane (forwards/backwards) exercises in the gym - like sit ups and bench presses. But be sure not to neglect exercises that have you working in the Frontal Plane (side-to-side) and Transverse (rotation). The sandbag will naturally stress you in these planes of motion as you try to work with it.
Strength & Conditioning for MMA: Workout 1: Fight Specific Sandbag Training
A1: Sandbag Thrusters - 3 x 1 minute
A2: Sandbag Shouldering - 3 x 1 minute
A3: Sandbag Floor Press - 3 x 1 Minute
A4: Sandbag Walking Lunges - 3 x 1 minute
A5: Sandbag Zercher Squat - 3 x 1 minute
Total all of your repetitions, rest for 1 minute and then repeat for a total of 3 rounds. Aim to maintain repetitions totals across all 3 rounds.
Strength & Conditioning for MMA: Workout 2: Sandbag & Bodyweight War
A1: 10 Sandbag Bear Hug Squats
A2: 20 Burpees
A3: 10 Sandbag High Pulls
A4: 20 Squats
A5: 10 Sandbag Push Press
As many rounds as possible in 15 minutes.
Strength & Conditioning for MMA: Workout 3: Sandbag Brute Force
A1: 5 Sandbag Cleans
A2: 5 Sandbag Push Jerks
A3: 5 Sandbag Back Squats
Repeat for 3-5 rounds.
Use the biggest sandbag you can handle for this workout.
When training for any competitive environment (even if it’s recreational), your training should be focused on the demands of that sport. Sandbag training is a close match for the demands of MMA so it’s a natural fit.
For more information on sandbag training check out Matt’s new eBook “The Complete Guide To Sandbag Training.” It’s currently available at 50% off retail for My Mad Methods subscribers. Use the coupon code “mmmsandbag50” at: http://fitedia.com/products/the-complete-guide-to-sandbag-training
This article was featured in the Feb/Mar 2012 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. “Unstoppable Strength & Conditioning for MMA: The Sandbag Way" was written by Matt Palphrey. Learn more about the My Mad Methods Magazine by Clicking Here
Matt Palfrey is a strength and conditioning specialist, consultant to the healthcare and fitness industry and the author of the Sandbag Fitness Blog - a free resource for those wishing to incorporate sandbag lifting into their strength and conditioning program. The Sandbag Fitness Blog contains information, tips and daily workouts for people to follow. Matt is based in the UK and his current clients include pro MMA athletes, individuals and a number of private sector health and fitness organizations. Find out more.
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