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Olympic Lifts for MMA

Updated on May 25, 2014

Explosive Power in MMA

MMA is a sport that requires coordination throughout the entire body, combined with continued explosive power. Being able to explode over and over again is very taxing on the muscles, cardiovascular system, and the central nervous system. Many fighters will gas in the first five to ten minutes of a fight that can go on for as long as twenty-five minutes.

Many MMA athletes have a hard time reaching this level of fitness, especially if they haven't been lifting for a several years prior. For these athletes, Olympic lifts and their derivatives might be the best way to gain quick explosive power combined with fantastic anaerobic conditioning.  These Olympic lifts give them the ability to go for the full fifteen or twenty-five minutes while maintaining a frantic pace, which allows them to overwhelm their opponents.

Pros of Olympic Lifts for MMA

There are many benefits associated with using Olympic lifts in an MMA strength and conditioning program. If more athletes used it, fighters would gas less and put on better fights. Here's a list that details the benefits of including Olympic lifts in your MMA workout.

  • Aside from heavy compound lifts, it is the quickest way to train strength.
  • Nothing comes close to developing the same sort of explosive power.
  • Olympic lifts will increase strength while limiting muscle gain, allowing a fighter to become stronger without moving up in weight.
  • Olympic lifts give more "bang for the buck," which means shorter workouts while still getting the same or better results.
  • It increases muscular coordination and cooperation, and therefore balance and agility.
  • Many of the movements are functionally similar to those used in MMA, making it easy to translate the power to the cage.
  • Olympic lifts will also increase cardiovascular conditioning, which means the fighter can last longer while using more force.
  • Since Olympic lifts almost entirely use eccentric contraction, the risk of injury is very low if they are done correctly.
  • They are modular, which means you can just practice on certain parts of the lift if you have a hard time doing the full motion.

Cons of Olympic Lifts for MMA

Like all exercise programs, one centered on Olympic lifts does have its downsides. Fortunately, they are few--although the main point of contention is pretty major and should not be overlooked. The choice of an Olympic program versus a standard program depends on your training background, which I'll discuss later.

  • Olympic lifts require a long time to master, which can detract from skill training and the like. While the movements translate well to MMA, it's still better to spend the time actually training how to fight.
  • It is very taxing on the central nervous system and the endocrine system, which can lead to a CNS crash and overtraining if done more than necessary.
  • While Olympic lifts are safe if done properly, they still put the joints in compromising positions which can increase the risk of injury if they are done incorrectly
  • It is very hard to learn proper form without instruction, so these exercises should only be practiced with an experienced lifter.

Should I use Olympic Lifts?

The choice to use Olympic lifts in your strength and conditioning program depends almost entirely on what your training background is.

You should not consider Olympic lifts if...

you've been lifting for a long time, then you might not benefit from Olympic lifts as much, as you already have a very strong base. You don't need to build it up as much, so adapting an entirely new form of training will not be a worthwhile investment. This is especially true if you don't have much training in martial arts, as the time spent on learning the proper form for the various Olympic lifts can instead be spent on training striking and grappling.

You should consider Olympic lifts if...

you're relatively new to lifting, but have a strong background in martial arts. If you've been cross-training for some time or are elite in any aspect of MMA, then you can probably spare some time to learn the proper form. Since many martial arts gyms do not stress weight training, you probably won't have much experience in it, so switching to Olympic lifts won't be a serious shift in training activities--you'd still need to spend time learning proper form for the normal lifts, so why not spend a little extra time learning even better ones?*

*Note that you'll still need to build up your core stability when preparing to do Olympic lifts.  Do not forego deadlifts, squats, or any similar exercises.  They are a required precursor to a successful and injury-free Olympic lifting program.  Core stability is absolutely required if you are going to do these.

Clean and Jerk

Here's an example of the clean and jerk, which is probably the best lift in the world. It's great for training explosive power, but also very hard to learn. If this exercise is too difficult to learn or you have no one instructing you, then you can instead work on hang cleans, power cleans, or high pulls, or any other derivative.

You should not attempt this exercise until you have improved your core stability, specifically in your lower back. This is an exercise that should be respected; a lack of caution will lead to injury.

Power Snatch

The power snatch is a variation of the snatch designed to promote power and explosiveness. This is one of the best exercises to gain explosive strength. In my opinion, the power snatch is easier to learn than the clean and jerk, so this might be a better exercise for MMA athletes.

Note that the power snatch is NOT an Olympic lift, but a derivative of one. 


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    • TheMMAZone profile image

      TheMMAZone 7 years ago from Kansas

      Olympic lifts are the best for MMA functional strength. Thanks