MMA Workout Structure for Fighters

MMA workout

One of the biggest links I see in the questions I get from people is a distinct confusion about what to do in a workout.

I get a lot of messages I get are along the lines of “How do I structure my MMA workout?”

I can understand the confusion though. With the need for things like mobility, stability, strength, power, speed, conditioning and stretching, I totally understand just how overwhelming it can all be.

Hopefully this post will help you guys out.

It’s a simple template I follow with my athletes to ensure all the necessary point get hit in each workout in as a time efficient manner as possible.

MMA Workout Summary:

  • Self-Myofascial Release work
  • Dynamic Warmup Movements
  • Corrective / Activation Work
  • Strength
  • Conditioning Finisher
  • Cool Down Stretch

Let’s look a little deeper into each.

Self-Myofascial Release work

TIME FRAME: 5 – 10 minutes

This is the first thing that happens in every MMA workout. Everyone tightens up and has soreness, trigger points and little aches, so the goal here is to use foam rollers, tennis balls, lacrosse balls and other SMR tools to help relieve tight muscles, soreness and tightness.

This is gentle, albeit, kinda painful work. If you find a particularly tight or nasty spot, stick with it for 10-30 seconds to loosen it up and relieve any knots.

Honestly, the best resource for this kind of work and the book that has been my go-to for trigger work for years is Kelly Starrett’s “Becoming a Supple Leopard”. It’s a monster of a book that is an absolute gold mine of knowledge. If you train frequently, this book is a must.


Dynamic Warmup Movements

TIME FRAME: 10 – 15 minutes

Now is the time to raises the bodies core temperature, break a little sweat and get moving around. The goal is to gently raise the heart rate and loosen up stiff joints and muscles.

This may not be the most exciting part of training, but it is vitally important.

Things like dynamic leg swings, shadow boxing, jumping jacks, animal movements, agility ladders, side steps, carioca, jump rope…

Here is a great agility ladder drill from Matt Edgington, a Rigan Machado brown belt.


Corrective / Activation Work

TIME FRAME: 5 minutes

This is something that will be unique to you.

It’s the part where you address your own weaknesses, injuries and alignment issues.

It could be T-Spine mobility, weak inactive glutes, weak abdominals, poor posture or a lack of mobility in the hips.

Like I said, this bit is personal to you and your issues. By taking just a few minutes to work specifically on these issues will get you moving better, stronger and firing properly on the strength work ahead.


TIME FRAME: 30 – 40 minutes 

There are countless schools of thought when it comes to building strength and it’s something people will argue all day long about.

The fact is, there a numerous ways of getting the body strong.

  • Barbells – Yes, definitely
  • Kettlebells – Love em’
  • Handle less Sandbags – Love em’ as well
  • Bodyweight training – A staple
  • Odd Objects – Certainly have their place
  • Olympic Lifts – For those with the technical proficiency, yes
  • Strongman – Aspects of it certainly
  • Powerlifting – Again, for some it will have its place

The biggest thing here is, especially for fighters, is to do no damage to yourself and to not leave yourself too beaten up and or achy for the martial arts training you have in the week. Strength and conditioning remember is a necessity, but it is supplemental. Mat time is the most important aspect of your weeks training so don’t compromise yourself in the weight room.

My methods involve a lack or tribe mentality or dogma. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, then it’s discarded.

I look for patterns and methods that get athletes to their specific goals in as simple and effective manner as possible.

My 5 Go-to Exercises for Strengthening the Fighter

I realize my above answer lacked any specificity, so here are five exercises I program into every MMA fighters training.

#1 – Farmers Carry

Farm-boys, those in the military and those who work manual labour jobs for a living understand that carrying heavy stuff for time or distance makes the body and indeed the mind strong.

From the outside the movement seems too simple to do anything, but in practice, heavy and done correctly, it’ll build strength across the entire frame, in particular the hips, the grips and core.

Equally as important as the strength though, heavy and frequent carries will do wonders for improving posture – something fighters struggle with on a daily basis.

So, grab something heavy, farmer’s handles, dumbbells or kettlebells – whatever stand tall and get walking.

So, a couple of days after an amazing birthday I'm taking the 70lb-ers out for a walk with my new @scramblebrandofficial BJJ Grips. I walked to a field roughly 10 minutes away using a variety of grips, pistol, collar, spider, farmers and quickly became aware of every muscle in my fingers, hands and forearms. At the field, the training was kept simple. 3 double front squats, 2 double cleans and a single double strict press. This little Dan John inspired flow was done for a total of 6 rounds. The walk back was frankly a nightmare… The weather took a turn for the worse and by this point my grip was pretty fried. But hey, this is how you get tougher. You dig deep and keep moving forward! #mmafitness #mmatraining #strengthtraining #strengthandconditioning #bjjgrips #bjjlife #outdoorgym #outdoorworkout #unconventionaltraining #kettlebells #basics #ginger #tattoos

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#2 – Goblet Squat

Squatting is one of the most natural movements the human can do, yet it’s one of the most overly complicated movements in the strength world today.

Luckily, thanks to Dan John, the world has a squat variation that really irons out any kinks and almost instantaneously has people squatting correctly.

It’s called the Goblet squat and in essence it’s as follows:

  • Hold a kettlebell by the horns, supporting the weight up near the chest.
  • The forearms are held vertically, with the elbows underneath the hands.
  • The chest is held proudly, with the shoulder blades pulled back and down together.
  • Feet are shoulder width, with toes out slightly.
  • Now, sit back and onto the heels, sinking the body down between the legs.
  • As you descend, allow the elbows to push the knees out wards.
  • Keep the spine neutrally aligned, the knees in line with the toes and the chest proud throughout.
  • Brace and drive back to standing.

Do yourself a favour and read the original article from Dan John here

#3 – Crawling

Getting low to the ground and moving around should be a staple for anyone reading these words.

Crawling works a myriad of things needed in the fighter – core strength, shoulder girdle strength and mobility, cross lateral strength, proprioceptive system awareness and it works many of the opposing muscle groups found in the grappling arts.

On top of all that, crawls can be used for strength work, toughness work or conditioning work.

The first crawl for me is the bear crawl. The bear crawl done properly that is…

  • Start in an all fours position, hands below the shoulders, the knees below the hips and the spine neutrally aligned.
  • With weight on the toes and the whole hand, lift the knees off the ground around an inch. No more than that.
  • Under control, slowly and gracefully, take alternating steps with the left hand, right foot, right hand, left foot and so on.
  • The key is to keep the movement controlled throughout, the back like a table top and the knees a strict inch from the ground throughout.

One of the best examples I’ve ever seen of bear crawling is this from the awesome Jeff Sokol.

A little crawling for the win.

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#4 – Ring Rows

Inverted rows using gym rings are the quintessential upper body horizontal pull. Utilizing the rings allows the hands to have rotation and move more freely. The key thing here for me is controlled movements. I coach the movement to have a sloooooow descent to the bottom, an explosive pull to the top and a 3 – 5 second hold at the top on every single rep.

Some things to look out for:

  • Keep the spine neutral throughout, including the head. So, ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle in a nice tight alignment.
  • The shoulders are kept back and down “in the back pockets” to keep the lats engaged throughout.
  • The chest is kept big and proud.
  • The glutes are tight and the core is braced throughout.
  • The pull is completed when the thumbs reach the armpits with the elbows tight and behind.

#5 – Hip Thrusters

The hip thruster is really the brain child of Bret Contreras and is a god send to the fighters.

When it comes to strengthening the glutes, there is simply nothing better. Initially the movement is done bodyweight only, then resistance will be added over the hips, usually in the form of a sandbag to begin, then progressing onto a barbell when a more serious weight is required.

Check out Bret’s “how to hip thrust” post here for an incredibly in-depth read on the movement.

I could keep going on and on when it comes to strength and movement so I’ll leave it with there.

For further strength training reading, check out the posts below.

Conditioning Finisher

TIME FRAME: 10 – 15 minutes

This is, or can be the anomaly in the plan depending on the focus of the day. Certain days conditioning may be the sole focus. Here, it is used as a finisher to get the heart soaring, the mind tougher and to push the energy systems limits.

The key to solid conditioning is keeping things simple.

You want exercises and movements that don’t require too much brain power or technique.

Things like Olympic lifting require precise timing, high levels of technical proficiency and control. To program something like Olympic lifts during a conditioning phase would be a recipe for catastrophe.

You want to use drills like sprinting, sandbag get-ups, weighted carries, crawls, bodyweight movements and the like.

Here are some short time options for conditioning finishers…

#1 – Run, Run, Run…

  • Run flat out for 30 seconds
  • Rest 10 seconds
  • Turn and run back flat out for 30 seconds (reaching the start point each round)
  • Rest 45 seconds and repeat for 10 total rounds.

Maintaining a high output is key here – remember, it’s not a jog, it’s part of an MMA workout.

#2 – Sandbag Get-ups

  • Max reps in 10 minutes

Use a bag at either 25lb, 50lb, 75lb or 100lbs – err on the lighter side though first time out.

Just keep moving, keep grinding out rep after rep….again, MMA workout remember!

The brain is a funny thing. It's practical, its pragmatic and reasonable. It functions at a pace technology can only dream of, yet, it has its flaws. It can be lazy, succumb to lethargy and opt for the easy route in decision making. . The body runs differently. It has little will of its own. It's governed by the brains commands. . It's simply a carcass comprised of blood, flesh and bone. . It'll do truly outstanding things though. It'll keep pushing. It'll never stop. It'll be the driving force of your success. . The caveat – it's only as powerful as the mind commands it to be. . For that very reason, mental toughness plays a huge role in my training and coaching. . The sandbag get-up is the bastard sibling of the Kettlebell get-up. . While the Kettlebell version is slow, purposeful and comprised of movement mastery and grace, the sandbag version is smothering, crushing – almost suffocating. . It's a full body conditioner and a mind fucker. . It's about constant movement. Fighting. Grinding. Enduring. . It's about telling the little voice in your head to just shut the fuck up and get out of the way. . It's in this place metal toughness is forged.

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#3 – Warrior Sledgehammer Swings

  • 100 sledgehammer swings each side as fast as possible

My YouTube channel is new, so like this video and subscribe!

I’ll be posting workouts, tutorials and training tips on there so subscribe so you don’t miss out.

There are countless conditioning routines across this site, but here is one of the most popular posts containing seven metabolic finisher drills for you to try. Check it out here.

Cool Down Stretch

TIME FRAME: 5 minutes

After the hard work is done and the body is still warm and supple, spend five minutes or so having a gentle static stretch. This can help speed recovery, calm the body and mind down while bringing the heart rate to a normal pace again.

Again, everyone reading these words is different, but in general the sweet spots for static stretching are –

  • The glutes
  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip Flexors
  • T-spine
  • Chest
  • Wrists

Closing Thoughts on Structuring your MMA Workout

I’m hoping that this post will help you out and demystify some of the confusion surrounding all the facets that go into training for MMA.

The plan may seem long, but the entirety of this MMA workout is only around 60 – 90 minutes long and manages to cover all that is needed.

Fitting in all the little facets is key in becoming a better fighter. It’s about being well prepared and following a plan like this does just that.

If needed, I’ll happily delve into details of any of the sections in further posts for those who’re interested.

If anyone requires help with the strength, programming or conditioning side of things, I’m available for online coaching. Email me for details.

Next time you’re planning out your training, read this and try apply this structure to your MMA workouts.


MMA workout