I really enjoy developing programs and circuits for my clients and athletes. Over the years, I’ve incorporated every tool you can imagine – dumbbells, barbells, tires, sleds, prowler, TRX, Ultimate Sandbags, Kamagon Ball, Home Depot hardware section creations, and many more.
The more experience and knowledge I acquire, the more I am starting to conform to the “less is more” theory. While I love experimenting and trying knew methods and tools, when it comes to the movements specifically; there are some essential exercises that I will always incorporate into my fighter programs. The variations will change up a bit depending on where we are at in the program, but you will always find them in there.
This is not an exclusive list. I took some liberties with the article and made my choices broad terms. I did pick one of my favorite exercises for each movement I selected though.
Here are my current ‘top 5’.
1. Hip Dominant
My choice: Kettlebell Swing
For lower body training, it is crucial to include hip dominant strength work. The hips are one of the most important areas of the body to train. I love training hip extension with sandbag cleans, tire flips, barbell deadlifts, and kettlebell swings. I realize these exercises will focus on a different fitness component; deadlifts for strength, cleans for power, and bell swings for power endurance. For this reason, I include them all into a full program. Since “power endurance” is critical for MMA, I really like the swing for this category.
2. Upper Body Push
My choice: Pushups With Sit-Through
I love bodyweight exercises and pushups have been a staple bodyweight exercise for years. When done properly, pushups force you to really engage the entire body. This variation below will add an additional challenge to the shoulder joint, your obliques, and your hip mobility. Keep the entire body “stiff” and engaged throughout the movement to protect your lower back and shoulders.
3. Upper Body Pull
My choice: TRX Rows
When it comes to upper body strength training, I love pulling movements. There is too much focus on the pushing movements and the anterior chain of the body. This is true for every population, from our “desk jockeys” to our professional athletes. We need to incorporate more pulling exercises to help with posture, grip, and backside strength. Some of my favorite tools include dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, heavy ropes, and the TRX. TRX rows are great because there is a quick learning curve for first timers and there are plenty of variations for all levels. I like to have my athletes perform their rows from directly underneath the anchor point with their hips extended to incorporate the lower body as well.
4. Torso Rotations
My choice: Superband Torso Rotations
While I am not a huge proponent of mimicking the exact movements of your sport in strength training, especially with heavy loads, I do see the obvious value in working those same muscle groups to have them strong, powerful, and more injury resistant. Torso rotation exercises have great carry over to the sport of MMA. I’ve used tubing, slosh pipes, Kamagon Balls, medicine balls, and superbands for these movements. I like using the superbands because you can really encourage the hip movement with proper band placement. I want the movement to involve the whole body, from feet to fingertips. To do this, I have the superband coming across the ASIS, which will almost force the lower body recruitment for proper technique.
5. Sprint Work
My choice: Hill sprints
These definitely fall into the “love/hate relationship” category. They don’t take very long to complete but they should still push you to your physical and mental limit. Treadmill, stairs, track, beach, resisted, hills…there is an endless list and some are more effective than others; especially from a biomechanical standpoint. I prefer hill sprints, especially on a softer surface like grass if possible. MMA athletes endure enough pounding throughout the week from all the sparring and joint locks. If we can incorporate conditioning sessions that are “joint friendly”, their body will thank us.
If you look at these five movements, we really get an entire body workout; a couple with an upper body focus, a couple with a lower body focus, and they will all increase the heart rate, which is the most important muscle we have. This could have easily been a “Top 20” list as there are so many effective movements out there. I feel this list includes exercises that will give you the most “bang for your buck”. If you want to get stronger, more powerful, and have more “gas in the tank”, integrate these variations into your strength and conditioning program today.
Doug currently works at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE). He is also the strength coach for Alliance MMA in Chula Vista, CA. He earned a B.S. in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State University and completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU. Certifications and specialties include the ACE Personal Trainer Certification, NSCA-CSCS Certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, Spinning certification, FMS training, and CPR/AED instructor status. He has appeared in multiple fitness videos, manuals and magazines; produced his own 2-DVD Set on strength & conditioning for combat athletes, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program, and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.
For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.