MMA Workout To Build Strength and Endurance

MMA cage fighters throwingMMA is fast becoming the most popular competition martial art. As it takes the best parts from several styles, i.e. kicking, punching, grappling, throwing and submission wrestling, it is the closest to a true fight that can be had while still ensuring that there are safety rules in place to prevent serious injury. Many people are critical of MMA, claiming it to be too violent, however there is less risk of serious injury in MMA than in professional boxing.

UFC sees the top cage fighters from around the world meeting in the ultimate fighting contest. UFC is a no-holds barred competition which pulls in fighters from a wide range of martial arts styles. Kick-boxing and jujitsu wrestling techniques are generally favored. Brazilian Jujitsu shot to fame due to its success in the MMA arena.


MMA (mixed martial arts) are without the most demanding physically of any martial arts competition. And for that, fighters need to be extremely well conditioned and skilled. The actual martial training will depend on the styles that each fighter specializes in, so some will spend longer working on boxing, others kicking, others grappling. All are needed, but how much time is spent on each system is up to the fighter. Knowing your opponent is vital. If you are a boxer and meet a grappler in the ring, you have to know what to expect. MMA training needs to combine all areas of fitness training. Most martial arts schools will provide this tuition, however students will need also to compliment this training with more intensive drills to ensure that they are physically fit for fighting.

So, how do you condition yourself to be the ultimate warrior? What are the best MMA workout tips? Obviously the most important thing is to join a club that specializes in MMA so that you can learn all the required skills.

To be good at MMA, you do not need to master each style of fighting, but you need to know how to defend against each style. With MMA it is really important to study your opponent before a fight to know their techniques, strengths and weaknesses.

MMA Requires a Balanced Approach to Training

If you are fighting in MMA contests you need to have a balanced approach to your training. You cannot rely on speed or strength alone, as once you are on the ground speed becomes useless, and you can be the strongest fighter but lose while your opponent dances around you, landing kicks and punches while you try to get close enough to take him to the ground.

Have a MMA Pre-Fight Training Program

Just like any other athletic event or competition, it is vital to follow a structure training program to ensure that you are working to your goals as much as possible. For this you need a good MMA instructor who has experience training fighters. As a general rule of thumb, you should be following a specific training program in the 8 weeks up to your fighting event.

During this time you must work on all areas of fighting – speed, strength, endurance, techniques, grappling, kicking, punching, submission wrestling. You also need to spend this time ensuring that you get to your correct fighting weight, so you may need to start a cutting diet high in protein and low in carbs to reduce fat, or you may need to bulk up more, build more muscle, to ensure that you are at the top of your weight category.

MMA Strength Training Workouts

To sculpt yourself into the ultimate warrior you need to focus on functional strength training, with emphasis on legs and back, plus plenty of upper body too. So, pretty much all over strength, which is best achieved with compound weight training. A typical training routine should include the following:

A push / pull split routine can work well for MMA strength training to ensure that you do not suffer from over training. You also need to work on your core, and work on bodyweight circuit training drills (which should be standard in any martial arts gym) to ensure you have flexibility, agility and strength in turning, twisting and maneuvering yourself into attacks and out of trouble.

You need the ensure that you are lifting to maximize the gains you require. By this we mean that if you are looking to build pure strength, go heavy and lift in the 5 reps per set range. If you are already strong, but lacking in endurance, then lift in the 10-12 reps per set range. Remember, a balanced approach is best. You could have the best V02 levels in the ring, but if you are not strong enough, you will likely lose!

Free Weight Circuit Training

MMA requires functional athletic muscle. Bulking up is not the aim of the game, its creating muscles that are fast, strong and durable. A typical free weight circuit training routine should include:

  • Barbell Bent-over rows
  • Barbell Upright rows
  • Barbell Military Presses
  • Barbell Lunges
  • Barbell Squats
  • Barbell Behind Neck presses
  • Barbell Deadlifts

Perform 5 reps of each exercise with the same bar in succession. Do not go too heavy, you need to build endurance. Then rest for a couple of minutes and repeat the circuit.

Bodyweight Circuit Training

  • Bodyweight Squats
  • Squat thrusts
  • Press ups
  • Burpees
  • Star jumps
  • Crunches
  • Leg raises
  • Skipping
  • Step ups
  • Dips
  • Box Jumps
  • Medicine ball throws
  • Skipping

Ideally set up a room with equipment to allow you to easily cycle through these exercises. Ideally use a solid gym bench for the step ups and box jumps. Put on some music to motivate and base your circuit on either reps or time. Reps is easier if you do not have a large clock with second hand on the wall!

Running (Endurance and Interval Training)

Never underestimate the importance of running for fitness. No matter how much time you spend in the gym doing the circuits, or doing ring work, pad work, sparring drills etc. you will still benefit from running training. Build up stamina and add sprints into your run to create an interval training routine to build up the VO2 levels (i.e. your aerobic capacity).

Core Stability Workout

In addition to the above strength training workout, working the core is vital too. Here is a specific core stability workout.

Heavy Bag Workouts

For punching power and endurance the heavy bag is the answer, punish that bag!

Dan Henderson MMA / UFC Fitness Tips

Dan Henderson is the Olympic Wrestler turned MMA professional winning titles in both the 183 and 205 pound weight categories, in 2005 and 2007. He holds more MMA titles than any other fighter with a collection of international belts to his credit. He represented the USA in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games in Greco Roman wrestling.

Dan Henderson is back in training to fight Renato Sobral, a Brazilian MMA on December 4th 2010. He is now 40 years old but still ranked 7th best MMA fighter by Sherdog.com. Of 33 fights he has won 25 and lost 8.

Dan Henderson is 6 foot 1 tall and weighs around 185 pounds. He is generally at the lower limit of his weight category, Light Heavy Weight (185-205 pounds).

Dan Henderson’s Resting Tips

Dan Henderson says that getting good rest is as important as training hard in the gym. If you do not get enough rest you become worthless in practice. It is very important to give your body a break for a while so that you can get back into training at full intensity.

Fighting at 205 Pounds

Dan Henderson says that he likes fighting at 205 pounds. He says he feels big on the inside, meaning his heart is big and he feels strong. He no longer enjoys having to cut down to 185 pounds.

Getting Back In Fighting Shape After a Long Rest

Dan admits that getting back in shape after a long break can be tough. A lot of younger fighters do not appreciate how much harder it gets as we get older.

Dan’s Fight Preparation – Watching Fights

Dan Henderson watches 4 or 5 of his opponents recent fights to learn his strengths and weaknesses, but does not spend too much time watching fights. Most time is spent on sparring, fight training and cardio work.

Fight Training Routines

Dan Henderson does not let on too much about his training methods running up to fights, but there is a lot of emphasis on functional fight training. Sparring, grappling, working on his core wrestling skills as well as his weaker areas.

“We are training to fight so we fight to train”

Dan Henderson says that it if often the little things that make a difference in training, He has a lot of experience in wrestling and MMA and learning to work through injury and pain is important.

Fight training is certainly hard, sparring partners do not hold back on punches and ground fighting is kept to maximum intensity.

“The biggest thing that makes you tired is fight training.” Dan Henderson

Dan Henderson’s Fitness and Strength Training

Building functional strength is vital for MMA, especially as he is now fighting in the 205 pound category. He cannot afford for any of that extra weight to be carried as fat – fast and powerful athletic muscle wins fights, not fat.


For fitness Dan mostly cycles, he does not run. He performs plyometrics too, such as box jumps.

In the ring he does pad work in rounds of 3 or 5 minutes to mimic the time in the ring, and so also learns to work at the maximum intensity without punching himself out.

Weight Training is performed with many reps and a lower weight to build on muscular endurance. He also does circuit training with resistance machines to further build on his endurance.

Dave Batista

Batista is a five-time world heavyweight prof wrestler champion. He has won the World Heavyweight Championship 4 times and the WWE Championship once. Batista has also won the World Tag Team Championship 3 times (twice with Ric Flair and once with John Cena) and the WWE Tag Team Championship once (with Rey Mysterio). He is currently out of action, due to injury. Born in 1969, he is now over 40, and fast approaching the end of his career. So, what made him so great?

Dave Batista Martial Arts Workout

Batista knife fighting and kick-boxing with trainer Marrese Crump.

Anderson Silva

Anderson Silva is regarded by many is the ultimate MMA fighter. The Brazilian stands at 6 foot 2, and is known as The Spider. He main styles are Muay Thai, Boxing and of course Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Silva had a brief professional boxing career in 1998 with 2 fights. In 2002 Silva started fighting in the Pride Fighting Championships, where he got off to a good start knocking out former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton.

In 2006 Silva signed up with UFC on a multi-fight contract. In his first big fight he knocked out Chris Leben after just 49 seconds with a knee strike. UFC fans quickly petitioned for a bout with the UFC Middleweight Champion, Rich Franklin. They fought at UFC 64 on October 14, 2006, and Silva defeated Franklin by Technical knock out (using strikes) at 2:59 in the first round. He became UFC Middleweight Champion.

Anderson Silva Demonstrates His Bag Workouts

Other MMA Training Tips

To give you an edge, you should look for other functional strength training techniques, such as medicine ball throws and kettlebell training. Both of these help to build co-ordination, timing and grip strength in additional to core strength, so will give you an edge over your opponent.

Of course, classic boxing training that focuses on plyometrics and also boxing core conditioning exercises are also essential, as well as circuit training drills. Take a look at military training workouts to help mix up your program and avoid getting stuck in a training rut.

More like this in the Fitness section

  7 comments for “MMA Workout To Build Strength and Endurance

  1. jason
    November 26, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    i use alot of these techniques in my workouts caveman training is a must for me now check my blog to see some insane videos

  2. MotleyHealth
    April 18, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Hmm, not exactly professional behaviour.

  3. Rob W.
    April 23, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Good afternoon,

    I have recently started working out with the goal of not only losing weight and becoming lean but also to increase overall strength .

    I was recently speaking with someone and they were giving me some advise with regards to my regimen. I told them that I usually start my workout with a 1 mile run on the tread mill before moving to weights. They encouraged me to only warm up on the treadmill for only 5 minutes and he explaining that by going to weights 1st, our body uses all the nutrients that is stored in our muscles and then once that is depleted they will go after fat for fuel instead of muscle. So with that being said, my cardio should be done at the end of a workout. Is there any truth to this?

    Also, what are the benefits of incorporating Burpees (Squat Thrusts) into my workout. I saw a youtube video with this guy who was incredible ripped and he encouraged burpees (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRmUxTC0GbM)

    Sorry for all the questions:-)

    Kindest regards,

    Rob W.

  4. MotleyHealth
    April 23, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Hi Rob, if you really want to build size then ideally you should do no cardio with the weight training. We did explain it somewhere here….

    Basically muscles use glycogen for fuel. Glycogen is sourced from carbohydrate. If you do a lot of cardio before you lift, your muscles will be partially depleted (not fully after a 1 mile jog though). However, doing cardio after weight training is not recommended either. Weight training will also deplete the muscles of glycogen, so after training you need to ensure that your sugar levels are topped up, otherwise your body will break down fats and proteins (as you were advised).

    The best solution is to do your weight training and cardio at separate times. Consider one workout for fat burning and the other for muscle building. Many bodybuilders do their cardio in the morning (sometimes on an empty stomach) and then have breakfast, a snack, then lunch, and then do their weight training. But then this is what the pros do, they have more time than the rest of us!

    You will still get good results by doing it all at once. A 5 minute light cardio workout will not drain you of all your sugar, it will help warm up the muscles first.

    The thing about any advice is that it is often talking about the optimum way of doing things. Athletes and pro-bodybuilders, and very serious amateurs, may want to do it the optimum way, but this does take a lot more time.

    Just remember, rest and nutrition.

  5. Rob W.
    April 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Motley,

    Please forgive me but I’m not understanding something, you mentioned that after weight lifting “Weight training will also deplete the muscles of glycogen, so after training you need to ensure that your sugar levels are topped up, otherwise your body will break down fats and proteins”, is this not what I want, for my body to break down fat?

    Also, you mentioned that many bodybuilders start there morning off with cardio on an empty stomach. What does that accomplish?

    I apologize for asking a barrage of questions, but I was never taught the science behind weight lifting and I really need to know this things and I noticed that you are very knowledgeable so I want to take advantage of this.

    Kindest regards,

    Rob W.

  6. MotleyHealth
    April 25, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Rob, yes, you do want your body to breakdown fat, but unfortunately the body will also breakdown some protein (muscle) too. This is why endurance athletes take sugar drinks after training – to ensure that they do not suffer from muscle wastage. So some carbs are needed. Many protein supplements / shakes have carbs in them too, so nothing to worry about.

    If you are trying to build muscle and also reduce fat, then by exercising in the morning before eating you increase the chances of burning fat as you will deplete the sugar reserves more if there is nothing to replenish them.

    It is like have a fat loss and muscle growth cycle within one day – morning for losing fat, afternoon / evening for building muscle.

  7. Wayne
    September 26, 2012 at 3:50 am

    Hey Motley Health,
    Sports drinks (or sugar drinks as you call them) are best taken during workouts because of how the glycolysis pathways work. This will stop your body using your muscles as fuel. But at the same time, consuming sugars will inhibit fat burning because Glucose is the body’s #1 preferred source of energy. Fat is 2nd. Take care. :)

    – Wayne

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