Can You Combine Bodybuilding And Martial Arts?

December 26, 2020

So you want to be a bodybuilder. But you also love martial arts. Whether that’s grappling, striking, or MMA, balancing both bodybuilding and martial arts takes some intense planning.

Combining bodybuilding and martial arts is possible but you will need to prioritize which is more important to you. Bodybuilding takes away from martial arts by adding extra fatigue while martial arts takes away from bodybuilding through high energy expenditure.

The question becomes, is it even possible to combine both?

Can You Do Bodybuilding And Martial Arts?

Balancing Martials Arts And Bodybuilding

When performing both bodybuilding and martial arts, you need to make a choice. Do you want to be great at martial arts? Do you want to be great at bodybuilding? Or do you just enjoy both activities and want to have a solid base of both?

These are important questions to ask yourself as bodybuilding and martial arts training will oppose each other. Meaning martial arts training may take away from recovery time to build muscle while bodybuilding adds further fatigue to martial arts training.

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Dabbling in both you won’t have a problem. But if you want to excel at one, you’ll need to prioritize one or the other.

Unfortunately, because of the large energy expenditure of martial arts training, you will need to make up for this by increasing your food intake by a large quantity.

Further, to effectively perform both styles of training, you will need to have the time to be a full-time athlete.

Combining bodybuilding and martial arts training is different than performing strength training FOR your martial art. The first is trying to fit two opposing sports into a training schedule while the latter is performing off the mat supplemental training to directly benefit your martial art.

Strength training for your martial art minimizes the fatigue being carried over to training and looks to maximize outputs that transfer to the martial art. Whereas bodybuilding is purely about building muscle mass with no regard to any other training being performed. It is a tunnel vision pursuit.

Balancing Martials Arts And Bodybuilding

Balancing both martial arts and bodybuilding requires some serious planning. The easiest weekly plan would be alternating each day of the week. For example:

Martial ArtsBodybuildingMartial ArtsBodybuildingMartial ArtsBodybuildingOFF

This gives you an even mix of both bodybuilding and martial arts training. You’d have to perform full-body sessions in order to maximize your bodybuilding training time.

If you wanted to prioritize bodybuilding and you had the time, you could add a 4th day on Sunday and run an upper/lower split or you could look to perform a double training day.

Martial ArtsBodybuilding (Upper)Martial ArtsBodybuilding (Upper)Martial ArtsBodybuilding (Lower)OFF
Bodybuilding (Lower)

To prioritize martial arts, you’ll also need to double day train or you can cut your bodybuilding back to two days which may not be ideal for those looking to add some size.

Martial ArtsMartial ArtsBodybuilding (Full)Martial ArtsMartial ArtsBodybuilding (Lower)OFF
Bodybuilding (Upper)

Here is an example program for the upper, full, lower body split as I feel that is probably the more difficult plan to program for.

A1) Incline Bench3 x 5-10
B1) DB Skullcrusher3 x 15-20
C1) Decline Push-up2-3 x 20-30
D1) BB Row3 x 10-15
E1) Lat Pulldown3 x 15-20
F1) Incline DB Curl3 x 10-15
F2) Reverse Fly3 x 15-20
A1) Back Squat3 x 5-10
B1) Back Extension3 x 15-20
C1) DB Press2-3 x 20-30
C2) Chin-up3 x 10-15
D1) Cable Tricep Extension3 x 15-20
D2) BB Curl3 x 10-15
F2) Reverse Fly3 x 15-20
E2) Seated Bent Over Reverse Fly3 x 15-20
A1) Leg Extension3 x 15-20
A2) Leg Curl3 x 15-20
B1) Leg Press4 x 15-20
C1) Romanian Deadlift3-4 x 5-10
D1) Walking Lunge2-3 x 10-20/leg
E1) Calf Raise3-4 x 10-20

Will MMA Build Muscle?

WIll MMA build muscle

MMA training will not build muscle. To build muscle, there are three key components according to hypertrophy researcher Brad Schoenfeld: metabolic stress, mechanical tension, and to some degree, muscle damage [1].

Metabolic stress is simply the build-up of waste products in the muscle. That feeling of “the pump” occurs when there is a large metabolic stress being placed on the muscle.

Mechanical tension on the other hand is a combination of the force generated and the stretch of the muscle. Meaning how heavy of a load is placed on the muscle and how large the range of motion is of the movement.

Moving a heavy load through a full range of motion will maximize mechanical tension. Whereas performing constant tension reps, high rep sets, or rest-pause sets can be ways to maximize metabolic stress.

Muscular damage is a by-product of the induced mechanical tension and metabolic stress.

These three components can be manipulated through volume, intensity, rest period duration, and exercise selection. In fact, there is a dose-response relationship between volume and hypertrophy meaning the more sets that are performed within a week, the greater the hypertrophy [2].

While MMA training may induce high levels of metabolic stress during grappling exchanges when holding various isometric positions, there is a lack of mechanical tension.

Muscles are never worked through full ranges of motion under tension so hypertrophic adaptations don’t occur.

If you want to build muscle for MMA, you need to perform weight training outside of MMA skill training.


1. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(10), 2857-2872.

2. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences35(11), 1073-1082.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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