Leg Workout For MMA: Explosive Power!

April 29, 2022

Seeing explosive fighters excel at MMA is a sight to behold. Flying knees, powerful shots, and ridiculous knockout power all come from the legs. But you may have noticed MMA fighters don’t have the biggest legs. Do MMA fighters even train legs?

Do MMA Fighters Train Legs?

MMA fighters train legs but not in a typical bodybuilding sense with a dedicated leg day. Instead, the legs are trained with lower volumes targeting specific qualities within a full-body routine. For example, heavy squats or deadlifts are used to develop maximal strength in the legs.

Loaded and unloaded jumps and plyometrics train the legs to rapidly transition from an eccentric to concentric muscle action enhancing power output. This is a far cry from the typical 8-12 reps and isolation exercises a bodybuilder typically does.

MMA strength training is to complement the primary goal of getting better at MMA, not looking a certain way in the mirror. Finding the right balance between lifting heavy and lifting fast is something you’ll need to get a feel for within your training.

A force-velocity profile test, in my experience, is the best way to inform your strength training. I cover this in-depth in my Warrior Strength For Combat Sports course. Jumping with set loads of 0, 20, 40, and 60 kg and analyzing jump heights through a spreadsheet or the My Jump 2 phone app will determine whether you need more force or velocity to maximize power output.

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This is also part of the UFC Performance Institute's assessment process to assess their UFC fighters and inform their training program.

Do MMA Fighters Train Calves?

MMA fighters do train calves with a variety of exercises. Various standing and seated calf raises are used as robustness to injury tools to strengthen the foot and ankle. However, the real work is done with plyometric exercises such as pogos, jumping rope, and hurdle hops.

The goal when training the calves is to improve their reactive ability and to endure rounds of fighting. That is why jumping rope is a staple within a fighter’s program, as it develops endurance within the calves and feet.

But you’re not limited to jumping rope for reactive calf development. Single leg line hops, bounding, hurdle hops, pogos, drop jumps, and other quick response plyometrics will round out an MMA fighters program.

How Do MMA Fighters Train Their Legs?

Do MMA Fighters Train Calves

MMA fighters train the legs with a low volume, high-intensity approach. High intensity may mean high force (high percentage of 1RM) or high velocities (fast speeds). Leg training is low volume because you don’t want to carry fatigue into MMA skills training.

Depending on the time of year, you may push leg training where you will have residual fatigue. However, as you get closer to a fight, you want to minimize this fatigue as much as possible.

How? By reducing the number of sets, reps, and exercises and prioritizing ballistic (jumping) and plyometric actions. I’ve detailed some examples in the next section.

Leg Workout For MMA

Here are three different leg workouts for MMA that emphasize three qualities. Most importantly, even though a workout emphasizes a certain quality, that doesn't mean you ignore everything else. All qualities should be present in all programs. MMA is a mixed sport that requires multiple physical attributes, so you lose them if you don't train them.

Typically, I would program a full-body session for MMA as it fits better within a fighter's training schedule. However, these will be primarily lower body exercises, for example's sake.

Leg Workout For Maximal Strength

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

A1) Double Contact Hurdle Hop

2 x 10

Cell

B1) Box Jump

3 x 5

Cell

C1) Rotational Medicine Ball Throw

3 x 4/side

3-5 kg

D1) Back Squat

4 x 3

80-85% 1RM

E1) Romanian Deadlift

3 x 6

7-8 RPE

F1) Ab Wheel

3 x 10


Leg Workout For Power Development

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

A1) Landmine Rotation

3 x 5/side

Cell

A2) Rotational Medicine Ball Throw

3 x 4/side

3-5 kg

B1) Jump Squat

4 x 3

10% bodyweight

C1) Hang Power Clean

3 x 2

60-70% 1RM

D1) Clean Pull 

3 x 3

80% 1RM

E1) Bulgarian Split Squat

3 x 6/leg

7-8 RPE

Leg Workout For Speed Development

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

A1) Pogo

3 x 5/side

Cell

B1) Drop Jump

3 x 4/side

Cell

C1) Box Jump

4 x 3

Cell

D1) Jump Squat

3 x 2

10% bodyweight

E1) Trap Bar Jump

3 x 3

35-45% bodyweight

F1) Squat or Deadlift variation

3 x 2

85% 1RM

Summary

When training the legs for MMA, refrain from a pure bodybuilding or Powerlifting approach. Leg workouts will typically be full-body with low volumes at higher intensities. This is to reduce the fatigue for MMA skills training so you can get better at the sport of MMA while enhancing physical development.

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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