Mixed Martial Arts Training – Conditioning Workouts

mixed martial arts training conditioning workouts thumb

Sport Specific Training

Everything you do in training should be centred around improving your performance in a fight. You have to analyse what you are doing and ask yourself if it is useful to you as a mixed martial artist.

Let’s look at a real fight situation. In modern MMA, rounds are usually of 5 minutes in length and there are three rounds in a non title bouts, and five in title bouts. You have a minute’s rest in between each round. Is your training geared to this?

For example, what carry over has 30 minutes on a treadmill got to a fight situation? It bears no resemblance to what actually occurs in a fight. So why do it? Some might answer that it helps them with their overall fitness levels. I agree that it does. But fitness must be sport specific.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. Years ago I was a keener middle distance runner. I used to train nearly every day. I had the chance of doing a sponsored swim for charity. Considering myself a fit person, and able to maintain a fairly high level of physical activity i.e. running for at least an hour, I decided I would not need a lot of practice in the pool prior to the event. How wrong I was. I was exhausted after a couple of laps in the pool.

mma conditioning specific training

It is surprising just how specific fitness is. Now obviously there is a big difference between running and swimming. But isn’t there also a big difference between running on a treadmill and a fight? Of course there is. In fact there is as much difference between those two activities as there is between running and swimming.

Even between different forms of running there are huge differences. You just have to look at a sprinter and compare that physique with the physique of a marathon runner. The training for the two types of running events is very different, as is the actual competition.

mma conditioning physique differences

So as we see, even between sports that involve the same basic physical activity there are huge differences. These principles need to be understood and applied. When thinking about mixed martial arts training, conditiong workouts need to mirror what occurs in competition.


Let us start with a look at breaking down training into pockets of time that apply to MMA. We know that the rounds last for 5 minutes. We get a minute’s rest in between each one. We also know that there will be either three or five rounds.

But that is not the whole picture. Depending on the way you fight and the way that the fight actually goes there are more intense and less intense periods of activity within each round.

The problem with trying to formulate a training programme based on timing, is that fights are pretty unpredictable. So what is the solution?

Well it isn’t running on a treadmill for 30 minutes! Is it running on a treadmill for intervals of 5 minutes with a minute’s rest in between? No – not at all. Remember how specific fitness is? If you intend on running away from your opponent, go ahead and use the treadmill! But if it is your intention is to beat your opponent into the ground then why not train in a way that enables you to do that?

mma conditioning kicks

If you are going to apply the principle of timing to your workouts, then make sure what you are doing in the form of different exercises has carry over to competition. There are some obvious ones such as sparring and heavy bag work. In mixed martial arts training, conditioning workouts can be designed with the principle of specificity in mind. We will get to the specific exercises in a moment.

But getting back to timing, should all our training be done in blocks of 5 minutes? With a minute’s rest in between? For 3 to five rounds? Yes and no. Let me explain.

In a real fight you do not have the option of a complete rest during the round. Yes I know you can control things to a certain extent. But you can’t sit down and take a serious breather until the bell goes.

So you are exerting yourself for 5 minutes straight. But within that 5 minutes there are highs and lows. Different levels of energy exertion are required at different points in the round. The problem is you don’t know when these will occur. But you can control how much energy to exert during certain portions of the round. There are going to be certain times in the round when you go all out at maximum energy output levels. But you won’t be able to sustain that for a full 5 minutes, no more than Usain Bolt could sustain the 100 metre pace for 5 minutes.

Obviously the fitter you are the longer you can sustain a higher level of energy output. And the less time you will need to recover to get back to that level within the round.

In mixed martial arts training, conditiong workouts can take on theis ebb and flow of work output.

A defining a structure

Now I’m not saying that everything you do in your mixed martial arts training programme should be in blocks of 5 minute rounds..

Some things just don’t work out that way. For instance if you had to gain weight, I would suggest you just go ahead and do that through weight training and diet. The type of training I’m talking about here specifically is preparing yourself for what goes on in a fight.

mixed martial arts conditioning disciplines

Professional MMA fighters are busy people. Some train for 8 hours a day. That is split across several disciplines.

  • Technique training in various fighting styles.
  • Strength training.
  • Mobility work.
  • Sparring.
  • Conditioning.

Whether you are a professional fighter, or an ambitious amateur, the same principles apply.

Learning new technique does not necessarily exhaust you. Often it’s more a case of mental learning than physical exertion. You just have to know certain techniques and that’s all there is to it.

Strength training also needs to be as fight specific as possible. This can be achieved by mimicking movement patterns that happen in real fights and translating that to the way you work with weights and other training equipment. But the purpose of strength training is to make you stronger, period.  This is best done through the principle of progressive overload over many months. The way that this slots in with conditioning workouts, will be covered below.

In mixed martial arts training, conditioning workouts can cover a lot of ground. All of your conditioning, fitness, cardiovascular work, call it what you want, has got to be nailed down so that is specific to fighting.

So stop chasing your tail on the treadmill. It has very little carryover to what you do in the ring. Get off the exercise bike. Leave the rowing machine alone. And don’t go near the cross trainer.

mma conditioning the wrong way

How to organize Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Workouts

Let’s have a look at some things you can do to organize a really good conditioning program with great carry over to competition. Let’s base it on movement patterns that occur in a fight and try and get something organized:

  • We will break things down into rounds of 5 minutes.
  • There will be different levels of exertion within each block of 5 minutes.
  • And everything you do will be sport specific.

I’ll give you an example of a conditioning workout with these principles applied:

Round one

  1. Punch combinations on the heavy bag 30 seconds
  2. Jump rope medium pace 30 seconds
  3. Punch Ups with dumbbells off the floor 30 seconds
  4. Kicking combinations on the heavy bag 30 seconds
  5. Jump rope medium pace 30 seconds
  6. Repeat and rest 1 minute

Round two

  1. Jump rope fast pace 20 seconds
  2. Ground and pound to heavy bag on floor 10 seconds
  3. Knees to heavy bag on the floor 20 seconds
  4. Ground and pound to heavy bag on floor 10 seconds
  5. Repeat 4 times and rest 1 minute

Round three

  1. Heavy medicine ball slams to floor 30 seconds
  2. Low kicks to the heavy bag 30 seconds
  3. Jump rope with double unders 15 seconds
  4. Jump rope medium pace 15 seconds
  5. Frenzied punching attack on heavy bag 15 seconds
  6. Bob and weave very fast pace 15 seconds
  7. Low kicks to the heavy bag 30 seconds
  8. Repeat

Infinite Diversity.

This should help you understand that in mixed martial arts training, conditioning workouts can be designed to put you thourgh a similar level of work output that you might experience in competition. The example above is a three round conditioning drill. It simulates the ebb and flow of activity in a fight.

  • You can be as creative as you like with these sort of workouts.
  • You can vary them in an infinite number of ways.
  • Slot in fight specific exercises wherever you want.

You can even make it a call out drill where one training partner calls out the activity, and how long it’s going to last. Or a coach can call out drills with a class. That really gives it the element of surprise. You never know what’s going to happen next in a fight. Sometimes you don’t have the choice to pace yourself. Call out conditioning training is probably the hardest form of conditioning work that I’ve ever done. It’s hard mentally too.

Don’t underestimate how difficult these drills can be. The point of them is to exert yourself in those periods of the workouts that require full exertion – and to recover, but still keep the pace going, during the lulls.

Exercises to Use

mma conditioning training equipmentThere are all kinds of exercises you can use with these type of
conditioning workouts. Some good ones are:

  • Skipping or jump rope work
  • Medicine ball drills
  • Heavy bag work
  • Double ended bag drills
  • Light to medium weight dumbbell work
  • Calisthenics such as chins and pull ups
  • Push variations
  • Training partner body weight exercises
  • Tyre flips
  • sledge hammer drills
  • Unilateral weight movements
  • Static holds for time
  • Heavy bag slams to the floor
  • Take down burpees
  • Sandbag drills etc..

The list is endless and only limited by your imagination. This is the great thing about mixed martial arts training: conditioning workouts can be fun and diverse! The key thing is to try to organize your training into these sort of segments, and push yourself hard. I would strongly advise switching all of your cardiovascular, treadmill, exercise bike, running work, and the like, to this type of training.

For starters:

  • It has greater carry over to mixed martial arts competition.
  • As far as your fitness goals are concerned, there is nothing better.
  • It will burn a much more body fat than steady state cardio work.
  • It is a lot more interesting than spending hours on stationery exercise equipment.
  • It can be done averse to the anywhere, using all types of implements.
  • It can be done alone, with a training partner, in a group setting.
  • It can also be done on any budget. So if you can’t get to the gym then you can organize your training in this way and save yourself some money.
  • It can be fitted in with the rest of your training programme.

Obviously if you choose certain exercises that place a greater strain on certain body parts , then you need to factor this in. For example, say you had a heavy weight training session the day before. Then you wouldn’t want to over train yourself by implementing a lot of dumbbell punching work. But there are definite things you could do to increase your recovery rates such as skipping, shadow boxing – anything that gets the blood flowing into the muscles that you trained the day before.

The other good thing about this type of training, is that you may end up using exercises you haven’t tried before. For instance, if you’ve never worked with a sledgehammer, you are really going to feel it the next day in your abdominal muscles and forearms.

If you are new to MMA training, this is also for you. This will give you a good foundation of functional strength and conditioning.

If you have been training for some time it is also for you. Maybe you are spreading yourself too thinly across all the different aspects of mixed martial arts training.  Conditioning workouts like the one above, will save you time. If you take my advice and cut out all the treadmill, exercise bike, and other fitness club type training and replaced it with this form of conditioning work, you’ll not only save yourself a lot of time wasted on ineffective exercises, but get fitter much quicker in the process.

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