Strength Training For MMA

As the sport of MMA evolves, fighters are becoming better and better athletes. In order to compete at the highest level, a well-developed strength training plan is needed. Neglecting strength training completely is likely to have you being left behind the pack.

Strength training for MMA should be performed twice per week as to not interfere with MMA training. The focus should be on developing both high-velocity and maximal strength in order to maximize performance when striking and grappling.

It’s also important to consider the common injuries that occur during an MMA fight and MMA training in order to mitigate the injury risk.

MMA Injury Profile

Two sets of data are in agreement with facial cuts, bruises, and altered mental states are the most common injuries during MMA fights [1,2].

Hand and wrist injuries were the next most common followed by knee injuries during MMA fights. Training tells a different story.

Knee injuries were the most common in training followed by shoulder and hand and wrist injuries. All of these injuries occur mainly when striking.

Grappling has a very low injury rate in both training and competitive fights.

MMA Strength Profile

Does MMA Training Build Muscle

With the birth of the UFC Performance Institute, a greater breadth of research has been done in the sport of MMA.

Which means we have access to athletic profiles of fully professional MMA fighters. My article “Strength Standards For MMA” breaks down the strength profiles of UFC fighters.

To sum the article up briefly, MMA fighters need a high level of reactive strength (reactive strength index >2.6), explosive or elastic strength (vertical jump >50 cm), and maximal strength (deadlift > 2.5x bodyweight).

Reactive strength players a large role in striking speed while elastic strength highly relates to powerful takedowns.

This kind of high-velocity strength training can potentially increase the number of Type IIX muscle fibers and improve the ability to produce force quickly.

Maximal strength positively influences all strength qualities. Not to mention maximal strength training can desensitize the inhibitory mechanism that decreases force output. Therefore, greater force can be produced.

Balancing these strength qualities in training is how you can optimize performance. Depending on your athletic profile, you may emphasize one over the other.

Does MMA Training Build Muscle?

When you see big, jacked MMA fighters such as Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa, or even guys in the smaller weight classes like Henry Cejudo, you may come to the conclusion that MMA training helps to build muscle.

Sadly, this is not the case. The large amount of muscle mass seen on most fighters is from years of weight training and well-performed weight cuts before the fight.

MMA doesn’t provide adequate loading of the muscle through a full range of motion which is needed to maximize the hypertrophic response.

Instead, MMA mainly focuses on quick striking and isometric contractions when grappling. These are not enough to build muscle no matter the size of the opponent you’re training with.

Should MMA Fighters Lift Weights?

100% yes. There are no reasons why an MMA fighter shouldn’t lift weights. The old myths of lifting making you slow are gradually dying out of combat sports.

Strength training for MMA fighters has far too many benefits that cannot be ignored. From reducing the risk of injury, increasing the power of striking, and helping make you more dominant during grappling exchanges.

When strength training is well designed for MMA, you will develop the ability to use it in the cage effectively against your opponents.

How Many Days A Week Should You Strength Train For MMA?

How Many Times A Week Should You Train MMA

It doesn’t take much to get stronger. As long as you’re consistent you will make progress. Juggling strength training and MMA training can be more complex than other martial arts.

MMA training has to juggle multiple striking and grappling disciplines within a week’s training. By the time you’ve covered all of your skills, finding the space to fit extra strength work is tough.

Depending on your phase of training, strength training should be performed 1-3 times a week. Two times a week will be the sweet spot.

2 Day Strength Training Program For MMA

This strength training program is designed in two phases. Phase 1 is more of a general strength and power training program.

It has been developed to lead into the next phase which has more advanced exercise variations.

Phase 2 brings into the program the use of complexes. A complex is when you pair a strength movement where heavier loads are lifted, and therefore higher forces are produced, with a lighter loaded velocity exercise.

The most common example you may have seen before and performing squats then box jumps or bench press then clap push-ups.

The soviet researcher Dr. Verkhoshanksy explains it best in my opinion. He says to imagine what would happen if you lifted a half-full bottle of water when you thought it was full. There would be a mismatch between the force needed to pick the bottle up and the actual force required.

The idea is that the half-full bottle will move twice as fast as intended due to this mismatch.

That is the theory behind performing a complex which you will find in Phase 2.

The scientific term is post activation potentiation or PAP for short.

Holistically, this program is a well-rounded program covering both high-velocity and maximal strength pretty evenly.

If you know you have a deficit in maximal strength or explosiveness, you may want to emphasize your weaker area which will likely carry over to all facets of your overall strength and conditioning.

Phase 1

Day 1

A1) Box Jump2-4 x 3-5
B1) Med Ball Rotational Throw2-4 x 2-5/side3-6 kg
B2) Band Pull Apart2-4 x 15-20
C1) Squat Variation2-4 x 3-670-88% 1RM
D1) Bench Press2-4 x 3-670-88% 1RM
D2) Row Variation2-4 x 5-865-80% 1RM
E1) Swiss Ball Leg Curl2-3 x 6-10
F1) Sandbag Bearhug Carry2-3 x 20-40m

Day 2

A1) Low Hurdle Hop2-4 x 6-10
B1) Med Ball Scoop Toss2-4 x 3-55-6 kg
B2) Band Face Pull2-4 x 15-20
C1) Deadlift2-4 x 2-570-90% 1RM
D1) Push Press2-4 x 2-570-90% 1RM
D2) Pull-up2-4 x 5-10
E1) Lunge & Twist2-3 x 5-10/leg
F1) Farmers Walk2-3 x 20-40m

Phase 2

Day 1

A1) Maximal ISO Trunk Rotation3 x 6 sec/side
A2) Med Ball Rotation Throw3 x 3-4/side
B1) Snatch Grip RDL3 x 3-670-88% 1RM
B2) Band Zercher Staggered Stance “Takedown”3 x 3-5
C1) Bench Press3 x 2-575-90% 1RM
C2) Shock Med Ball Chest Throw3 x 3-53-4 kg
D1) Weighted Chin-Up3 x 3-5
D2) Twisting Med Ball Slam3 x 2-3/side

Day 2

A1) Overcoming Split Squat ISO Pins3 x 6 sec/side
B1) Landmine Jerk3 x 2-3/side
B2) Med Ball Plyo Step Punch Throw3 x 2-3/side2-4 kg
C1) Partial Split Squat Pins3 x 3-5/sideHeavy
C2) Continuous Hurdle Hop3 x 6-10
D1) Chest Supported ISO Plate “Bend”3 x 6 sec
D2) Pendlay Row3 x 4-6
E1) Landmine Rotation3 x 5/side
E2) Grip Variation


1. McClain, R., Wassermen, J., Mayfield, C., Berry, A. C., Grenier, G., & Suminski, R. R. (2014). Injury profile of mixed martial arts competitors. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine24(6), 497-501.

2. UFCPI “Cross Sectional Performance Analysis And Projection Of The UFC Athlete.

Written by James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with high-level teams and athletes. I review the latest research every month for Science for Sport and use my combined knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.

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