It’s no secret to anyone who has read this site before that I love strongman training for MMA. The carry over is just phenomenal. Instead of me just telling you that I love strongman training, I thought it’s probably best to outline 10 reasons why. If you haven’t already read my previous strongman articles read them here and here.
1. Full Body Movements
Every single action in strongman training requires you to use your body as a single unit. The nature of strongman training is heavy, awkward objects. This adds an unpredictable and unstable nature to any given exercise. You are constantly asking your muscles to stabilize your entire body throughout the movements.
It’s this added stability training that has a great carry over to MMA. The nature of MMA, much like strongman, is unpredictable and unstable. Effectively training your stabilizing muscles throughout your musculature system and joints ensures you remain strong and resilient in every position.
2. Conditioning Specific to MMA
Conditioning for sports is tricky. Unfortunately not everything will transfer well into your conditioning in the cage. While there is no better conditioning than being on the mats or in the cage, strongman does offer a great carry over.
Take running for example. While running may offer you a great aerobic base, it’s far from the demands of the cage. When you strike, wrestle or grapple it’s a full body act, time after time. As I mentioned above, strongman exercises are a full-body act, over and over. Repeated reps and rounds of strongman events will put your body in the kind of stresses and strains found in the cage.
3. Core Strength
One of the immediate things most people notice when starting with strongman training is the demands placed on the core. Core bracing is something every lifter and martial artist should already be aware of. The core is the link between upper and lower body power. When you squat and deadlift, your core has to brace to support during the lifts. Strongman training takes this bracing a step further. Sandbag speed lifts, farmer’s walks and tire flips all put the core under tremendous stresses in a more dynamic way. This dynamic tension across the core is the same as combat offers.
4. The Missing Link
Strength training in more traditional methods is still vitally important. Every single successful athlete, regardless of level, is more than acquainted with squats and deadlifts in the weight room. This strength found in the weight room, however, doesn’t always translate too well into strength inside the cage. Movements like a strict deadlift or back squat are never seen in action. Strongman offers a more “functional” strength. Reacting to unusual movements and constantly having to make adjustments is common place in the cage and in strongman exercises.
Holding a heavy sandbag bear hug style simulates having a clinch on an opponent well. A heavy Zercher squat mimics double underhooks nicely. Heavy ass tire flips require strength in planes of motion found in double and single leg takedowns.
5. Grip Strength
Having your hands on an opponent and wrapped around a barbell are completely different worlds. Never in the cage will you grip an opponent the same way you hold onto a bar. Taking a grip on a sandbag, an atlas stone or a keg offers a more sports specific, open type grip. In MMA and strongman, it’s unusual for your hands to get a rest .This constant pressure and stress forces them to adapt, become stronger and grow.
6. Increased Power
There is not one strongman exercise that con be done without explosive hip power and leg drive. This hip and leg power, like grip strength is a must in MMA.
Exercises like sandbag loading, log lifts, tire flips and atlas stones all require maximum power in your hip extension. Tire throws and keg tosses will build speed, along with power in your hip extension. It’s this explosive power that transfers into powerful strikes and unstoppable takedowns.
7. Balance and Reactions
I’ve touched on this in several of the points above, but strongman training is unpredictable and unstable. Lifting a perfectly balanced barbell is one thing, but try lifting a sandbag that matches your bodyweight. The sand in the bag will shift, its centre of mass is constantly off and you will constantly be forced to react to the weight’s movements. Learning to have a steady, strong and stable base in strongman training is a must. When you tie up with an opponent, it’s this steady, strong and stable base that means you control the tie up and what happens next in the fight.
8. Easily accessible
Strongman training is inherently cheap and easily accessible for everyone. This was probably the first reason I was so drawn to it, and the reasons outlined within this article are the reasons I have stuck with it and converted others to it.
Sandbags are easily made from an old canvas bag and a couple of cheap bags of sand. A tire can be picked up for free from your local tire yard. Sleds can be easily made out of an old (again free) tire. A thick length of rope, a set of FatGripz and a keg can easily be picked up for less than a month’s gym membership.
9. A Break from the Norm
Training strongman is fun. It’s unusual, challenging and competitive. Whether you are training in a group or solo, there is some part of you that wants to beat the sandbag, beat your previous medley time or beat the person next to you. Being in the weight room constantly becomes somewhat dull, and inevitably you will have those days where you are “just going through the motions”. Training strongman once or twice a week adds variety and mixes things up a little.
10. Because it makes you a Beast
Suggested Strongman Workouts for MMA
1. Fat Grip Dumbbell Press- 4 sets of 5 reps.
Go as heavy as possible here. Drop into a slight dip before the press if needed.
2. Sandbag Shouldering- 6 sets of 3 per shoulder.
Load the sandbag to match your bodyweight. Powerful, explosive movement is needed here.
3. Light Tire Throw- 8 sets of 2 reps.
Squat down, grip the tire and on returning to a stand forcefully throw the tire up and forward. Use so much force your feet leave the floor slightly.
4. Farmer’s Walk- 4 sets of 25 meters.
Use whatever implement you have. Kettlebells, dumbbells with FatGripz, Farmer’s handles. Whatever just go heavy.
1. Sandbag Medley- 5 Medley’s Total.
Mark out a distance of 25 meters.
Walk the distance with the sandbag cradled in your arms Zercher style.
When you reach the end, without dropping the bag, press it over head and walk the distance a second time.
Again, without dropping the bag, place it on your left shoulder. Walk the distance for a third time.
Manoeuvre the bag to your right shoulder for the forth and final walk.
These four lengths are one Medley.
1. Sandbag Loading- 5 sets of 3 heights.
Find yourself three platforms, one waist height, one elbow height and the third shoulder height.
Squat down, grab the sandbag and clean it to chest height. Get the bag under control and load it onto the first platform. Roll it to the ground and repeat for the remaining two loads. This is one set.
2. Zercher Squat- 3 sets of 8 reps.
Cradle a sandbag that equals your weight into your arms Zercher style. Under control, perform 8 reps without putting the bag down. You may pause between reps, but the bag is never to touch the ground until all eight are finished.
3. Heavy Tire Flip- 3 sets of 5 flips.
Suggested Strongman Equipment for MMA
A Pair of FatGripz is a must for MMA and strongman. One cheap attachment will give you amazing grip strength without altering your current lifting program. Just attach the grips to every lift you do and watch your grip strength soar. I can’t suggest these enough. Check them out here.
A Selection of Tires
These can be picked up for free. Just contact your local tire place or garage. These places have to pay companies to take the old ones away from them, so they will happily let you leave with a few.
Grab a selection of sizes if you can. Smaller ones can be used for throwing. Larger ones can be used to make sleds and are great to hit with sledgehammers (amazing conditioning there by the way). Tractor tires are amazing for flipping, albeit slightly harder to store and get hold of.
A Thick Length of Rope
You are looking to get something tough, durable and thick. 1.5” – 2” is the general standard. A company called Fitness Solutions offer great training ropes at a variety of different lengths and thicknesses. Check them out here.
Once you have a length of thick rope you can use it to climb or attach it to a sled and hand over hand pull. You can also use it like a battle rope if it is long enough. Quality ropes are generally a one off purchase. Quality ropes will last years and take a lot of abuse. Trust me!
A sandbag is a must. I truly love sandbag training and the benefits for MMA just keep on going. It’s not necessary that you purchase a made sandbag casing. I trained for numerous years with an old duffel bag and it worked out great. The problem with the homemade versions though is the general wear and tear. These bags are not built for the stresses and weight you put on them. If you are new to sandbag training, stick with a loaded backpack or duffel bag. If you are, however, serious about sandbag training and want to use some significant weight, look no further than IronMind bags. I have mentioned them time and time again because frankly they are the best around. If they are good enough for The Worlds Strongest Man competitions, they are certainly strong enough for MMA training. Check them out here.
If you have a safe open space, a car or a truck you have to include truck pulls and pushes of some sort. Attach the rope to the truck, put it in neutral and hand over hand pull the truck towards yourself. Push the rope back to its starting position and repeat.
Skip to the 5 minute mark of the video below to see Josh Barnett doing the drill above. Or, better yet, just watch the whole damn thing because Josh Barnett is amazing.
Farmer’s walks are a must do exercise for MMA. So much so I already have an article all about them. Have a read here. You really can use anything for these, a pair of heavy dumbbells with the FatGripz attached. Perhaps use kettlebells using thick towels to hold onto instead of the handles. Maybe try two smaller sandbags, one in each hand. If you are really serious about heavy Farmer’s walks look into investing into a pair of Farmer’s walks handles. I have used these in the past and they are a great piece of equipment if you are serious about heavy farmer’s walks.