Strongman Training For MMA: Benefits & Workouts

September 15, 2021

Strongman training with athletes has been implemented for many years. As MMA has become professional, MMA athletes and martial artists alike take advantage of the Strongman movements. Are they everything they are cracked up to be? Should you be using Strongman exercise in your MMA training? Everything and more will be answered in this article below!

Benefits Of Strongman Training For MMA

One benefit of Strongman training is the "rugged strength" it develops. Being able to pick up and move odd-shaped implements builds strength in muscles you may not even know you had! This "rugged strength" translates very well to manipulating another human being when grappling.

Being barbell strong through traditional lifting is great. But being able to carry awkward objects will give you that extra edge in the clinch. Strongman training can also be used for conditioning. If you need some variety as your technical training load is high, you can perform Strongman exercises to supplement your conditioning.

Pushing or pulling a car for 50 m has similar cardiovascular demands as a 17-minute weight training circuit [1]. Yet it only takes one minute.

Additionally, you don’t get the same muscle damage so your training doesn’t suffer the next day.

As most Strongman exercises are concentric only (e.g. sled drag) you don’t get the same muscle damage as traditional lifting. Specifically, the sled drag doesn’t increase the marker of muscle damage known as creatine kinase and has vertical jump recover to baseline levels at 3 hours [2].

This makes Strongman-style training a great modality of strength and conditioning that can be used within your MMA training.

Does Strongman Have Better Carryover To Fighting?

Does Strongman Have Better Carryover To Fighting

For something to have better carryover, it must meet the requirements of transfer. This can be quantified through Verkhoshanksy’s Dynamic Correspondence [3]. Essentially, an exercise needs to meet all of these 5 criteria for maximum transfer to the competition exercise.

  • The muscle groups involved in the exercise – must be the same as the competition exercise.
  • The amplitude/direction of the movement – range of motion and direction of movement should be the same as the competition exercise.
  • The accentuated region of force production – shares similar regions with the competition exercise where the greatest forces are produced within the range of motion.
  • The magnitude of force effort and time of its application – the amount of force and the time to produce it is similar to the competition exercise.
  • The regime of muscular contraction – the exercise replicates the same muscular contraction as the competition exercise.

Heavy sandbag or Zercher carries would pretty well tick all of these criteria when it comes to grappling in the clinch. Other Strongman exercises like log clean and press or farmers walks don’t match these criteria and therefore, wouldn’t transfer to the same degree.

Traditional strength training ticks none of these boxes when it comes to grappling or even striking. Therefore, some Strongman exercises can carry over better to some MMA techniques.

Best Strongman Exercises For MMA

These are my go-to Strongman exercises that provide the best benefits to the sport of MMA.

Sandbag Bearhug Carries

If you want a devastating clinch and double unders game, this is your exercise. When you get very strong in this exercise, nobody is breaking your grip and you are finishing that takedown. Do this one heavy. I like to vary my grip on each set. For example, I may use the gable grip on one set and a seatbelt grip on another set.

This way, I can develop strength regardless of the grip I may need to use when training or competing. Walk anywhere from 20 m to 100 m depending on your goal for the exercise. Anywhere from 1-3 sets is more than enough when carrying the sandbag bearhug style.

The sandbag I recommend is the IronMind Tough As Nails sandbag. I’ve owned one and they can be loaded heavier than you’ll ever need.

Zercher Carries

I would place the Zercher carry on par with the bearhug carry. I love both of these exercises and use them regularly. This will help improve the endurance of your biceps, shoulders, and grip so you can finish any choke or takedown.

You can use any implement for this. Barbells tend to be harsh on the elbows so where elbow sleeves. Fat bars and sandbags make better alternatives to the barbell. Walk anywhere from 20 m to 100 m depending on your goal for the exercise. Anywhere from 1-3 sets is more than enough.

Farmers Walk

While the Farmers Walk isn’t an exercise that transfers well according to the criteria of Dynamic Correspondence, it makes a great general preparation exercise for the grip and whole-body strength.

If you can remain tight and stable while walking with heavy weight, you are likely going to be hard to move around in the clinch. That has been my experience. Walk for distances of 10-40 m for 1-3 sets.

Axle Deadlift

The axle is essentially another word for a fat bar. And I love using fat bars. If you don’t have one, use Fat Gripz which I absolutely love. You can read my full Fat Gripz review which will detail everything from hand size to how to use them.

The fat bar challenges your hands and grip like no other barbell. The best thing about the fat bar is that it is like having to grip an opponent’s wrist while wearing MMA gloves. MMA gloves, because of the palm area, increase the thickness when you are gripping.

If you’re able to pick up heavy axle deadlifts, you’ll be able to secure any back take. My favorite way to train the axle deadlift is to work up to a heavy single, then perform a back-off set of 10 reps with 70% of that single.

Strongman Workout For Conditioning

As mentioned, pushing or pulling a heavy car can give you the same cardiovascular response as a 17-minute weight training circuit in 1/17th of the time. So here are some Strongman conditioning circuits that can be used for some variety.

Strongman Conditioning Circuit

A1) Forward Sled Drag x 40-50 m

A2) Sandbag Bearhug Carry x 40-50 m

A3) Rest 2-3 minutes

Repeat 3-5 times

Strongman Conditioning Circuit 2

A1) Farmers Walk x 40-50 m

A2) Zercher Carry x 40-50 m

A3) Rest 2-3 minutes

Repeat 3-5 times

References

1. Woulfe, C., Harris, N., Keogh, J., & Wood, M. (2014). The physiology of strongman training. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 36(6), 84-95.

2. West, D. J., Cunningham, D. J., Finn, C. V., Scott, P. M., Crewther, B. T., Cook, C. J., & Kilduff, L. P. (2014). The metabolic, hormonal, biochemical, and neuromuscular function responses to a backward sled drag training session. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(1), 265-272.

3. Verkhoshanksy, Y. (2011). Special Strength Training: Manual For Coaches. Verkhoshanksy.com

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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