I love developing programs, workouts, and circuits for my athletes. Over the years, I’ve incorporated every exercise and tool you can imagine – dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, tires, sleds, Prowler, TRX, Ultimate Sandbags, Kamagon Ball, Home Depot creations, bodyweight exercises for MMA, and many more.
The more experience and knowledge I’ve acquired through the years, the more I continue to conform to the “less is more” theory. While I love experimenting and trying new methods and tools, when it comes to the movements specifically; there are some essential bodyweight exercises for MMA 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. Your body is truly the greatest “piece of equipment” you have and there is no membership fee required to use it.
This is not an exclusive list as my favorites change up on a weekly basis. Here are my current top 5 bodyweight exercises for MMA athletes:
1. Upper Body Pull
My choice: Pull-ups
When it comes to upper body strength, the pull-up is king. Muscle used include the lats, posterior deltoids, teres group, traps, biceps, flexors, pecs, erectors. There are even EMG studies that show a great deal of abdominal muscle (rectus, transverse, obliques) activation during a pull-up. With so many muscles recruited, this compound exercise is a must in your program.
There are a number of pull-up variations; from band-assisted for people still developing the relative strength to weighted and plyometric variations for the advanced individual. I prefer to go with a pronated or neutral grip as opposed to a supinated grip as they are a bit more shoulder, elbow, and wrist-friendly. The video shows two variations for you to try depending on where you are at.
2. Upper Body Push
My choice: Pushups
Pushups are another staple bodyweight exercise I have always used. When done properly, pushups force you to really engage the entire body, from feet to fingertips. Keep the entire body “stiff” and engaged throughout the movement to protect your lower back and shoulders. The advanced variation in the video will test your ability to produce power from the upper body.
My choice: Inchworms
This movement is a staple in my programs because of all the benefits it includes. It provides a great backside stretch for the hamstrings, calves, and Achilles, as well as stability and strength for the trunk and shoulder joint. The version in the video includes a small hop to get you into a deep squat position to really aid with hip joint mobility.
4. Lower Body
My choice: Broad Jumps
One of my favorite methods for testing power is with jumps. I love both vertical and broad jumps, however, I chose the broad jump simply because it’s easier to measure. Generally speaking, power is the ability to generate force as quickly as possible. This makes it crucial for MMA athletes. If we can train your body to be quicker and more powerful, you’ll be that much more dangerous in the octagon. The video shows a progression someone can use…bodyweight squats to squat jumps to broad jumps.
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”, your body will thank you in the morning. This clip shows a hill sprint where the goal is to take longer on the way down (~45 seconds) than on the way up (less than 30 seconds).
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 Balzarini is currently the strength and conditioning coach for the Alliance MMA Fight Team in Chula Vista, CA. He is also the founder of DBStrength.com, which provides fitness-related articles and education. Previously, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 for 6 ½ years as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).
A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State University. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, Spinning certification, FMS training, and received his CPR/AED instructor status. He has also appeared in dozens of fitness videos, written numerous fitness articles, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.
Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the Continuing Education Coordinator where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers.
For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.