9 Best MMA Tips for your Strength and Conditioning

MMA tips

I’m going to get right to the point with this one.

Here I have 9 MMA tips for you to apply to your strength and conditioning.

1.  Pull More, Push Less

Let’s kick off these MMA tips with a big one… Overly emphasizing pushing is a modern plague in the gym. Too much pushing will create imbalances throughout the body and in a sport like MMA, these imbalances are already pretty prevalent in the fight training itself – Shortened, tightened pecs, inwardly rounded shoulders, winged scapula, tight hip flexors, I could go on.

Pulling more is incredibly important to help fix and strengthen out these imbalances. That, and pulling more will infinitely help with the grappling arts, clinches and takedowns, so win, win.

Utilize movements like pull-ups, chin-ups, commando pull-ups, recline rows, ring rows, barbells rows, Kroc rows, single arm rows – Doing so will get you stronger, sort your posture, build a wide back and keep your shoulders happy and healthy.

2.  Squat

Squats should never leave your program. Yes, heavy squats are king for mass, which as a fighter isn’t always ideal and yes, I’m not super fond of barbell back squats for fighters, given just how demanding the sport already is on the spine, but squats are a must.

They’re a natural resting position for the human, so at any given time you should be able to sit and camp out in a deep squat pain free. You want a fluid, comfortable full range of motion. The kind of squat you can rest in, move about the ground and generally feel comfortable in.

As far as weighted variations go for building strength and movement quality, I have a simple progression I follow – goblet squat, double kettlebell front squat, barbell front squat. Thrown in there are other odd object Zercher and front squats for good measure, namely sandbags, logs and other people.

In my mind, a fighter should be able to, at bare minimum, squat their bodyweight, ideally 1.5x their bodyweight. Anymore is unnecessary for fighters.

3.  Train Athletic Qualities – The Hinge

When it comes to strength and conditioning, I stick with Dan John’s human movements – push, pull, squat, hinge and carry.

The push, pull and squat are kings in terms of muscle mass and strength.

The other two are where the athletic qualities lie. Hinges are posterior chain movements that hit the entire backside of your body. These muscles are the big movers, the explosive muscles and the kings in terms of fighting.

When it comes to training the hinge, it’s ideal to hit it heavy and hard with a grind, i.e deadlifts, and then a power movement, i.e kettlebell swings – Doing both will ensure that all bases are covered in your plan.

Deadlifts are king in terms of strength, hitting the body hard as one, particularly the hamstrings, glutes, stomach, lats and the grips – all keys in fighting. The deadlift isn’t inherently as mass builder, meaning you can hit it hard, build up serious strength without any heavy weighing muscle mass.

The downside is the hit it has on the central nervous system.

While squatting can be done daily, deadlifts are pretty much a once to twice a week lift. Anymore and you risk under recovery and negatively effecting your MMA. In terms of standards you want to be hitting, I like athletes to get to a double bodyweight deadlift.

The swings you want to also err on the heavy side and focus on power output. Focus on 100 – 200 reps each session, powerfully executed and not rushed through. The swings, unlike the deadlifts can be performed daily.

4.  Train Athletic Qualities – The Carry

Carry things.

It’s not fancy. It’s not aesthetically pleasing, but it is incredibly beneficial.

Slow them right down. Make them controlled and graceful.

Go heavy and carry for distance or time.

Work in a multitude of variations. Strengthen your weakest carries and push the limits on your strengths.

From Dan John – “The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single lift or exercise I’ve attempted in my career as a coach or an athlete”
Put simply, go carry things…

5.  Use Pavel’s Program

The program I’m talking about is his Fighters Pull-up Program. In terms of getting stronger in pulls, this is by far the best approach I’ve encountered. The program itself is simple, but don’t assume for one second it’s going to be easy!

6.  Nutrition is King for Fat-loss

Admittedly, I was in the camp of “well as long as I’m eating cleanly, the training will cover everything weight loss/fat loss wise”.

Now, I follow principles of eating and nutrition much like I do with training and the results have been incredible.

Everyone reading these words will differ in what works for them on a physiological sense and a lifestyle sense, but applying some principles and guidelines into your eating habits will, without a doubt, go a long way. I personally use the Upgraded Grappler system after some long chats with Barry Gibson. Barry takes care of the strength side of things in the system and the nutrition is from Mike Leng.

I can’t say enough great things about it. I’ll do doing a full write up of the Upgraded Grappler system in the coming weeks, so look out for that.

Oh, and it’s ok to have a cheat meal or two. Hell, it’d be a crime not too. The key is not having that cheat meal turn into a cheat day, followed by a weekend, followed by a full week and at that point you’re just lying to yourself about eating healthily.

If nutrition is something you’d like to see more of around here, then please let me know.

7.  Rest – Yes, even you!

As far as MMA tips go, this is a big one.

Getting athletes to rest is a hard task.

I get it, I do it myself. Training feels great, fighting feels great and those days off you feel a lazy and a little stir crazy. Those off days are needed though. They are a vital part of your training as much so as strength and nutrition work. More is rarely better. Remember, better is better.

Program in 1 – 2 rest days a week in which you completely have the day OFF.

I wrote about resting way back when, so take a look here.

8.  Simplifiy it

Simplistic often gets overlooked because people feel it’s too little.

Simplistic is an art form. Its stripping things back to literally the quintessential of what works. Its then having the commitment, fortitude and desire to stick with it despite any potential boredom, because you know at the end of the day, it’s what you need and what works.

Nearly all of my biggest results have come through simplicity.

For BJJ strength and conditioning, I like just two days:

Day 1 –

Deadlift x 5, 3, 2

Recline Row x 100 (Controlled eccentric and a pause at the top)

Kettlebell Swing x 100 – 200 (Heavy, powerful swings)

Day 2 –

Goblet Squat / Front Squat x 5, 3, 2

Heavy Farmers Carries (or any carry variations)

Kettlebell Swing x 100 – 200 (Heavy, powerful swings)

The above routine is simplistic, but it hits the body hard and has strength work that will directly translate over to BJJ.

Some of my other favourite simplistic routines are Pavel’s Simple and Sinister,which consists of just two exercises and is perfect for BJJ players.

Dan John’s One Lift per Day program is an excellent example of simplicity and really squeezing the most out of each and every exercise, while seeing the importance of exercise selection.

And finally Dan and Pavel’s 40 Workout Strength Challenge, which I’ve, ran a few times and have seen major success with.

Warm-up with some agility drills, jump rope and some ground based movements and you’re good to go.

Jumping rope. . It's not terribly exciting to watch, but it forms an integral part of my week. . It's a practice that's been with fighters for centuries and for me it's become almost meditative. . It allows me to build an aerobic base while mentally drilling techniques, reviewing previous rounds of sparring and assessing my mental characteristics – How emotionally calm did I stay sparring? Did I give it my all? . Mental drilling is of the upmost importance, yet sadly often overlooked. . It provides you with a platform to hone the intricacies of techniques and movements without the needs of a partner, space or physical location. . "Neuromuscular theory proposes that visualisation activates the same motor pathways as if the skill were physically performed, but at a sub-threshold level. Studies using EMG equipment have demonstrated this activation, which is comparable to physical movement but at a lower level." . Take away point – it's ok to daydream… just make it count!

A post shared by Phil Bennett (@phil_completemma) on

9.  Sprint Hills

It’s hard to beat hills in terms of world class conditioning, fat-loss and mental toughness.

The incline makes the sprinting mechanics more natural and although it sounds counterintuitive, actually safer.

Jason Ferrugia wrote and excellent write up on hill sprints, so I’ll link you over there for a read.

MMA Tips Closing thoughts

There it is 9 MMA tips for your strength and conditioning.

Your thoughts?

Have I missed anything?

Would you like more MMA tips?

Do you have any MMA tips for strength and conditioning I missed?

Is there anything you’d like me to write about or cover in future posts?

Please feel free to let me know what you’d like to see. This blog is for you the reader, so interact with me, be social and let me know your thoughts.