MMA Training: Strength and Conditioning Guide – Garage Strength

MMA Training: Strength and Conditioning Guide

MMA Training: Strength and Conditioning Guide

MMA fighters are ANIMALS! In order to become a beast in the cage, you need to train to be faster, stronger, and outlast your opponent.

This is a sport of mental resilience and physical perfection in order to compete at the highest level. The work you do in the gym is going to directly affect the performance on the competition mat.

Using weights and resistance as part of your mixed martial arts training is important, but vastly different from any other sport. The goal of strength training for mma athletes is not to maximize your absolute strength. The goal is to dial in the speed and power of your strikes while still maintaining the muscular endurance of your grip and core for grappling.

This article will help you understand how you need to strength train for MMA, the anatomical systems you should focus on, and give you an example of a strength workout for MMA.


What is Mixed Martial Arts?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is the style of combat sports in which various martial arts are mixed together to include grappling, striking, and kicking. Some of the most common styles of martial arts to be used in MMA are judo, karate, jiu-jitsu, muay thai, and boxing.

There are so many different styles of martial arts from all over the world, but the ones I listed above are just a few that are most commonly used and popular to pick up.

MMA is one of the hardest sports on the planet…and I mean that literally. ESPN ranked the top 60 hardest sports to do and martial arts came in 6th. Boxing was ranked 1st and wrestling was ranked the 5th hardest sport.

Being an MMA fighter, you need to have an incredible amount of endurance, power, speed, and technical coordination. It is also an incredibly demanding sport on the body regarding injuries. With MMA mixing in so many forms of combat, any injury is possible in training and in competition, so strength training is essential for reducing that risk of injury by keeping the bones healthy and building good muscle.

Different Forms of Martial Arts

There were a few different forms of martial arts mentioned earlier in the article that make up the different skills in MMA. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones and what specific skills they can bring to the table.

Note: Strength training programs for all the following combat sports can be found in the Peak Strength app

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

BJJ is commonly referred to as a “modern martial art with ancient roots”. It is a combination of Japanese jujutsu and judo that was introduced to South America in the early 1900s.

It is a grappling-focused martial art that relies less on striking or kicks and more on leverages and timing to achieve a non-violent submission. This means using a combination of chokes and “joint-manipulations” to subdue an opponent.

Grip strength is extremely important in BJJ due the tactic of maintaining control of an opponent by holding their uniform, also known as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gi.  

BJJ requires extremely strong mental fortitude and mental focus to anticipate an opponent's moves and counter them to put yourself into an advantage position. From a physical standpoint, it requires a lot of explosive and dynamic movements through pushing, pulling, and core strength.


Karate is another Japanese martial art that requires technical mastery with several sub-styles based on culture and region of practice.

Unlike BJJ, karate incorporates more strikes and kicks in fluid motions to create combinations based on offensive and defensive positions. One of the main pillars of karate is that it is not meant to be used to attack first, but meant to be used as a defensive option to protect oneself. There are offensive aspects, but requires discipline and understanding of an opponent’s style.

With the emphasis being on elbow, hand, knee, and foot strikes, there is a lot of fast twitch speed that needs to be developed from a training standpoint. It also requires a large amount of core and plyometric work because of the balance required for more advanced moves in the art form.

Muay Thai

Stemming from Thailand, muay thai is another martial art form that has been developed over centuries of practice. Similar to karate, muay thai is another strike-focused martial art involving the hands, elbows, knees, and feet. For this reason, it is known as the “Art of 8 Limbs” by those that practice it.

Essentially, muay thai is a form of boxing that originated in Thailand. The goal of muay thai is to subdue an opponent from the standing position using various strikes from the legs and arms.

The strength training for muay thai will be similar to that of karate, but may include more explosive training as the strikes are meant to produce a very large amount of force. Muay thai does not include grappling, so this martial art forces athletes to specialize in mastering powerful strikes. 


Boxing may very well be the oldest form of martial arts. It is the most basic form of hand-to-hand combat. It is the use of only striking with the fists to defeat your opponent. Elbows, kicks, and grappling are not allowed. Only strikes that come from the hands are acceptable in the martial art.

If you remember, boxing was ranked the single hardest sport on ESPN’s list of the top 60 hardest sports. The reason for that being you need to be in INCREDIBLY good shape to be a high level competitor.

Even as just an amateur or someone that uses it to burn calories, it is a great workout because of the fast-paced nature of the sport.

Boxing requires immense levels of core strength, power, endurance, balance, and reactive agility to dodge strikes from your opponent. Boxing has also produced some of the greatest and most successful combat athletes ever such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, and Floyd Mayweather.


Judo is probably the closest specific martial art to MMA. Judo is another Japanese martial art that uses a combination of striking, thrusts, and different styles of grappling to beat opponents.

It combines a lot of aspects from other martial arts to give a more wholesome experience in combat. Similar to BJJ, judo also allows for the use of various choke points, holds, and positions to control an aggressor.

Along with boxing and karate, judo is one of the few combat sports that is included in the Olympics. The competition for being a judo fighter is very high and there are multiple levels of competition available for the sport.

Strength training for judo is extremely different compared to any of the other martial arts due to the variety of movements in the sport. That’s why many high-level judo athletes can easily transition into MMA and have a successful competitive career.

Strength Training as a MMA Fighter

Being a MMA fighter, there are a lot of different types of MMA training that you will need to do - likewise for any other athlete. You’ll need to train endurance to go through rounds of competition and sometimes more than one competition in a single day. You will need strength training to build up that power and muscular endurance for striking and grappling. Then finally, you will need to engage in sparring and actual combat training to practice competing against a live opponent. 

Conditioning and Endurance

When athletes think about conditioning, their head immediately turns to cardio exercises. Which is true, a lot of conditioning and endurance work will have to come from different forms of cardio.

The truth for MMA fighters is that they have to engage and incorporate all forms of conditioning into their training. This includes examples such as HIIT, zone 2 cardio, long slow distance (LSD) cardio, and sprint interval training.

There are so many strategies to improve conditioning such as circuits, AMRAPs, distance limits, and time-based training. You can also do very high rep sets for different exercises such as lunges, jumping rope, pull ups, sit ups.

It is important for coaches to put together a comprehensive training program that includes conditioning almost every day, especially during the training camp period before a major championship or tournament. The goal of a training camp and the long term program is to peak athletes so that they are at their strongest, fastest, and in the best cardiovascular shape. Similar to the way that Peak Strength uses block programming to peak athletes for a specific date or time range.

Strength Training

Speed is good in MMA, but you need to find the balance between speed and power. The power of your strikes comes from the combination of speed and force production recruited from your muscles.

Strength training is a HUGE part for any sport, and just as much for MMA training. In order to perform dynamic takedowns and have the power to physically manipulate your opponent, you will need to train dynamic lifts…enter olympic lifts.

Recruiting power through the legs, core, back, and arms are key aspects of training with technical coordination lifts like power snatches, cleans, jerks, and presses.

Strength training also plays a big role in the muscular endurance for athletes so that they muscles are not fatiguing and still able to produce power over rounds and rounds of all out combat. 

Sparring and Combat

Finally, probably the most important part of MMA training is the real world experience. The sparring and physical combat training with an actual live opponent.

Athletes just learning mixed martial arts should start with dummies and an instructor, but as you make the jump to being a competitive athlete, it is a necessity to practice how you're going to compete.

Sparring, especially close to a competition, can be very taxing on the body so it is important to take the proper safety and recovery measures to minimize the risk of injury. Wear the right safety gear such as gloves, shin pads, padded headgear, and potentially torso pads.

If you are practicing grappling, some of the gear may hinder your ability to perform, so make sure to communicate with your coach on how to equip for each training session.

Sample MMA Strength Training Workout

Here is an example strength workout for an MMA fighter that is 4 weeks out from a major fight / tournament, pulled directly from Peak Strength:

The Bottom Line

Like any sport, strength training is going to enhance your ability on the mat, cage, or however you compete in MMA. Although you will still need to train the technical style and combat forms for MMA, the coordination and strength developed in the gym is going to help you grow and maintain your physical base.

MMA training with weights and plyos will be spaced out differently based on the different stages of training. If you are 2+ months out from a major competition, you should be in the gym 3-5 days a week to build your strength, power, and physical base.

If you are within 8 or less weeks away from a major competition, you should do 2-3 gym training sessions a week MAX. So you can work on polishing the muscle systems that you will be using in MMA fights. At that point, you should be working to maximize your speed and power production, while still incorporating conditioning.

If you want more out of your MMA strength program, try Peak Strength’s personalized MMA programs for free at or through the Apple IOS/Google Play stores. PEACE! 

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Yo, It's Dane

Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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