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MMA Workout Routine

Updated on May 25, 2014
Forrest Griffin is one of the strongest fighters at light-heavyweight.
Forrest Griffin is one of the strongest fighters at light-heavyweight. | Source

The Importance of a Good MMA Workout Routine

Overall conditioning is a close second to technical ability in regard to overall performance in mixed martial arts.  Being able to go the distance and overpower your opponent is essential, especially if you are at a similar technical level.  Because of this, a solid conditioning routine may even be considered more important from a relativistic standpoint than technique.  My reasoning behind this is that you'll often face people of similar technical skill; it is something that is easily screened, whereas conditioning is not. 

That's not to say that you should forego training technique, since it's important in moving up the ladder.  My point is just that as an overall advantage in a fight, conditioning may be more important than technique since technique is typically on a fairly equal level.  Granted, this is not always the case, so it's important to keep improving in both.

Picking or Developing a Good MMA Routine

There are five things that I think are important to consider in the development and implementation of a good workout routine.

  1. Individualization
  2. Periodization
  3. Definable goals
  4. Functionality
  5. Safety


When you're creating or finding a routine, you'll need to tailor it to meet your needs. Some people may have a good baseline of strength from other sports and don't need to spend as much time weight lifting as others would. Alternatively, a runner may have good cardio, but he'll need to work on his force production and anaerobic endurance.

In order to tailor a routine to your needs, you first need to evaluate your abilities. You can do this yourself or with the aid of someone that knows a fair bit about fitness. If you're going to do it yourself, then ask yourself these questions and consider the advice attached to each one. Note that the questions do not account for all shortcoming, and really only cover a few, but they should give you a good idea of things to look for.

  • Do you have a difficult time maintaining wrist control during grappling? If so, then your grip is probably weak. You can improve your grip by doing a multitude of exercises, including grips, shrugs, pull-ups, and plate pinches.
  • Do your opponents break your guard easily? There are two muscles that play the largest role in maintaining closed guard: the hip adductors and tibialis. Since the contraction associated with the closed guard is isometric, you'll want to work the muscles at the specific joint angles needed. Good exercises include isometric cable reverse calf raises and lying isometric hip adduction.
  • Do your punches lack explosive power or do you have a hard time rolling over for sweeps? There's a good chance that this is a problem with technique. If it's not, you can improve your improve these by training hip rotation. Some popular exercises include the full contact (power) twist, medicine ball side throw, and power iron coils.
  • Are your hips easily collapsed during a takedown? This might be due to an issue with abdominal or quadriceps strength. Try working on front squats to improve these.
  • Do you gas out after a few minutes of sustained, hard grappling? If you're breathing and relaxing correctly, then the problem most likely lies in your overall cardio. I suggest doing intervals (perhaps the Tabata Protocol) in order to improve your anaerobic and aerobic capacity.  Long distance running may also help to an extent.


Sports periodization essentially refers to the breakdown of a program.  In order to get the most out of your MMA workout routine, you'll need to break your workout into cycles that eventually build to a peak in overall fitness for when you plan to fight. 

There are three terms that are important to understand for periodization:

  1. Macrocycle: The largest type of cycle is the macrocycle.  At the end of it, you should be peaked and ready to fight.  The macrocycle consists of a bunch of mesocycles, which in turn have a bunch of microcycles.  The overall goal of the macorcycle is to improve overall fitness and to peak.
  2. Mesocycle: The mesocycle usually lasts from six to twelve weeks, although they can be as long as sixteen or as short as four, depending on the goals of the athlete.  Each mesocycle should work on improving a specific trait, like force production, power, balance, or cardio.  Every mesocycle should build on the one before it.
  3. Microcycle: This refers to a period of one week.  You should have two or more different, but similar microcycles for each mesocycle.  The main goal with the microcycle is to switch things up to avoid accommodation, described below.

When you create a routine, it's important to avoid accommodation, which is an issue in which the body becomes especially adapted to doing a specific exercise.  You want to keep your body guessing so that it has to keep adapting nonstop, which leads to better gains overall.  Because of this, I suggest changing either the sets, reps, or exercises incorporated in a workout every week or so.  The replacement exercises can be similar, but they shouldn't be the same.  If you can come up with two or three weeks of routines and alternate them through a 6-to-12 week cycle, then you'll come out of it looking good.

Definable Goals

Every program should have specific goals that are able to be met.  If you do not set realistic goals, or do not set any at all, you will find yourself less willing to go to the gym and really strive to be the best you can, especially if you start to notice improvements and think you don't have to go any further.  You always have to go further and push harder.

In addition to an overall goal, you'll want to set goals for each mesocycle so that you can evaluate its effectiveness.  If you aren't meeting your goals, then you're either doing something wrong or had unrealistic expectations.


Simply weight training isn't going to cut it for mixed martial arts.  Your deadlift can be five-hundred pounds, but you'll still probably get your ass handed to you by a proficient wrestler who has strength more suited to picking people up and putting them on the ground.  The objective of your routine, then, should be to develop functional strength for mixed martial arts.

The best way to develop functional strength is to do exercises that mimic the motions of the sport without sacrificing form.  I covered some relevant exercises in the individualization section above.  Basically, the idea is to strengthen yourself primarily in the positions that you often find yourself in when fighting.  If you want to improve your clinch work, you might want to focus on zercher squats, front squats, or static bar hangs.

Strength, however, is not the only trait you need.  Developing balance, for example, is just as important.  Overall balance is good and is something that you should strive for.  That said, there comes a point where you'll want to do exercises that improve your balance in sport-specific conditions.  A good example would be one-legged medicine ball side throws, which helps improve balance during kicks and during takedowns, to a much lesser extent.


One of the most important aspects of any conditioning routine is its safety. The best ways to train safely is to acknowledge your limitations.  You might, for example, want to do three sets of twenty rep squats, but this isn't something that most people would consider safe, especially if you're working with any sort of resistance.  Excessive high rep squats (they are good, but in moderation) will often fatigue your back first, which can increase the chance of damaging it.

You should be especially careful of plyometrics, which should be done in a moderate volume and with adequate recovery, and running, which can cause shin splints or knee problems, especially if your form isn't good.  While these are good general exercises to avoid, the concept of individualization still applies.  If you have bad rotator cuffs, then don't bench press heavy or do upright rows.  Likewise, if you have bad knees, then avoid leg extensions and go easy on the squats.


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      Bob 6 years ago

      Great article! Definitely has some great tips on how to create a workout plan for MMA. I stumbled on this and saw some of these programs... I've done a few and think they are worth while!

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      Anna 7 years ago

      Think you could be an Expendable? Enter FB competition Win Trip to Vegas & Access to MMA Training camp

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      Luke 7 years ago

      I totally agree that you need to periodize your workouts...especially for MMA training. I have a good friend who fights and I've helped him with a lot of stuff, but this is going to be a great read for him. Thanks for the info!! -Luke