5 Moves MMA Athletes Should Be Doing

I really enjoy developing programs and circuits for my clients and athletes. Over the years, I’ve incorporated every tool you can imagine – dumbbells, barbells, tires, sleds, prowler, TRX, Ultimate Sandbags, Kamagon Ball, Home Depot hardware section creations, and many more.

The more experience and knowledge I acquire, the more I am starting to conform to the “less is more” theory. While I love experimenting and trying knew methods and tools, when it comes to the movements specifically; there are some essential exercises that I will always incorporate into my fighter programs. The variations will change up a bit depending on where we are at in the program, but you will always find them in there.

This is not an exclusive list. I took some liberties with the article and made my choices broad terms. I did pick one of my favorite exercises for each movement I selected though.

Here are my current ‘top 5’.

1. Hip Dominant

My choice: Kettlebell Swing

For lower body training, it is crucial to include hip dominant strength work. The hips are one of the most important areas of the body to train. I love training hip extension with sandbag cleans, tire flips, barbell deadlifts, and kettlebell swings. I realize these exercises will focus on a different fitness component; deadlifts for strength, cleans for power, and bell swings for power endurance. For this reason, I include them all into a full program. Since “power endurance” is critical for MMA, I really like the swing for this category.

2.  Upper Body Push

My choice: Pushups With Sit-Through

I love bodyweight exercises and pushups have been a staple bodyweight exercise for years. When done properly, pushups force you to really engage the entire body. This variation below will add an additional challenge to the shoulder joint, your obliques, and your hip mobility. Keep the entire body “stiff” and engaged throughout the movement to protect your lower back and shoulders.

3. Upper Body Pull

My choice: TRX Rows

When it comes to upper body strength training, I love pulling movements. There is too much focus on the pushing movements and the anterior chain of the body. This is true for every population, from our “desk jockeys” to our professional athletes. We need to incorporate more pulling exercises to help with posture, grip, and backside strength. Some of my favorite tools include dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, heavy ropes, and the TRX. TRX rows are great because there is a quick learning curve for first timers and there are plenty of variations for all levels. I like to have my athletes perform their rows from directly underneath the anchor point with their hips extended to incorporate the lower body as well.

4. Torso Rotations

My choice: Superband Torso Rotations

While I am not a huge proponent of mimicking the exact movements of your sport in strength training, especially with heavy loads, I do see the obvious value in working those same muscle groups to have them strong, powerful, and more injury resistant. Torso rotation exercises have great carry over to the sport of MMA. I’ve used tubing, slosh pipes, Kamagon Balls, medicine balls, and superbands for these movements. I like using the superbands because you can really encourage the hip movement with proper band placement. I want the movement to involve the whole body, from feet to fingertips. To do this, I have the superband coming across the ASIS, which will almost force the lower body recruitment for proper technique.

5. Sprint Work

My choice: Hill sprints

These definitely fall into the “love/hate relationship” category. They don’t take very long to complete but they should still push you to your physical and mental limit. Treadmill, stairs, track, beach, resisted, hills…there is an endless list and some are more effective than others; especially from a biomechanical standpoint. I prefer hill sprints, especially on a softer surface like grass if possible. MMA athletes endure enough pounding throughout the week from all the sparring and joint locks. If we can incorporate conditioning sessions that are “joint friendly”, their body will thank us.

Final Thoughts

If you look at these five movements, we really get an entire body workout; a couple with an upper body focus, a couple with a lower body focus, and they will all increase the heart rate, which is the most important muscle we have. This could have easily been a “Top 20” list as there are so many effective movements out there. I feel this list includes exercises that will give you the most “bang for your buck”. If you want to get stronger, more powerful, and have more “gas in the tank”, integrate these variations into your strength and conditioning program today.

About Doug
Doug currently works at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE). He is also the strength coach for Alliance MMA in Chula Vista, CA. He earned a B.S. in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State University and completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU. Certifications and specialties include the ACE Personal Trainer Certification, NSCA-CSCS Certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, Spinning certification, FMS training, and CPR/AED instructor status. He has appeared in multiple fitness videos, manuals and magazines; produced his own 2-DVD Set on strength & conditioning for combat athletes, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program, and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.

For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.

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Shove it! Top Pushing Moves

By Doug Balzarini

Over the years I’ve made clear my preference to posterior chain/pulling movements over pushing exercises. I feel that, for the majority of the population, the benefits of backside exercises far outweigh their anterior chain counterpart. Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t like pushing exercises. In fact, pressing and pushing are staple movements in all my programs. They are essential for a well balanced routine.

Whether you are a professional MMA athlete or an “everyday population” client, make sure you include effective, functional pushing exercises into your workouts. The list could go on for pages with all the variations and various tools that one could use…I’m going to share four of my favorites.

1. Chest Press

The chest press is the “go to” exercise for developing the pecs, anterior deltoids, and triceps muscles. If you want a well-rounded routine, you should include some form of a chest pressing movement into your weekly program. In the video below, you will see the ‘Dumbbell Floor Press’. Compared to the traditional bench press, you will lose some leg drive with this variation; however, I feel it’s a bit safer for the shoulder joint and still extremely effective for developing strength and power in those upper body pushing muscles. Exercise in video below: Dumbbell Floor Press

2. Pushup

I love bodyweight exercises and pushups have been a staple bodyweight exercise for years and years. Search on YouTube and you can find hundreds of pushup variations out there…some I question the reasoning behind and some I love. When done properly, pushups force you to really engage the entire body, testing you from feet to fingertips. This variation below will add an additional challenge to the shoulder joint, your obliques, and your hip mobility. Keep the entire body “stiff” and engaged throughout the movement to protect your lower back and shoulders. Exercise in video below: Pushup with Toe Taps

3. Get-Up Variations

Kettlebells and sandbags are my tools of choice when talking about the get-up. This exercise is a great full body exercise in terms of both strength and mobility, especially for the glutes and hips. I included it in with these “pushing” exercises simply due to the fact that we are pushing our bodies away from the ground and working the anterior chain a great deal. It is essentially a static press exercise for the shoulder.

My two get-ups of choice:

Sandbag ½ Get-Up  

This is the closest “crunch exercise” you will see in my consistent routines. As long as you lead with movement with your chest and roll onto your elbow and post up onto your hand, you will limit the spinal flexion that occurs during the movement. Check it out in the video below.

Full Kettlebell Get-Up

I love this version for shoulder-health reasons. When performed correctly, you must keep your shoulder “packed”, which will ensure the scapula is stable on the thoracic spine and the surrounding muscles are fully engaged. It helps keep the shoulder strong and safe. Be sure to include Get-Ups to ensure you are getting a true core workout.

Exercise in video below: Sandbag ½ Get-Ups

4. The Prowler

The prowler is the best tool for developing both pushing power/acceleration and metabolic conditioning at the same time. The Prowler, and all its variations, is a lock to always make my list for best equipment on the market today. The exercise below is the most standard movement you can do with the Prowler. Simply load up the weights, grab the handles, get in a proper forward lean position, and get pushing. I like to incorporate the Prowler into a circuit, as a stand along exercise, or as a finisher at the end of a workout (see “finisher” article here). Be careful not to get the “Prowler Flu”!

Exercise in video below: Prowler Pushes

To see these exercises in more detail, as well as 100’s of other movements, click here.

“Everyday Population”

Proper pulling/posterior chain movements are a must if you fall into the “9-to-5 client” category. As long as your program is sensible, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t include a couple pushing exercises into your weekly routine. Incorporate with proper flexibility exercises for the chest, hips, and ankles (another article in itself) and you are on your way to reaching your goals.

“MMA Athlete”

We want to build both the strength and endurance in your front side. “Long strong” is a favorite term of mine in the industry. It refers to your ability to stay strong in the later rounds of a fight; to have the will and endurance to fight on…a lot of that is mental preparation and a lot of that is proper strength training. Incorporate these movements into your routine and you are more likely to stay “long strong” and have your arm raised in victory after the bell rings.

Make sure you incorporate pushing exercises into your weekly routine to ensure you are maintaining balance in your program.

About Doug
Doug currently works at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE). He is also the strength coach for the Alliance Fight Team in Chula Vista, CA. A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State University. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, a Spinning certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, FMS training, and received his CPR/AED instructor status. He has also appeared in 8 fitness videos, written numerous fitness articles, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.

Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the Continuing Education Coordinator where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers.

For more information please visit www.todddurkin.com, www.fq10.com, and www.dbstrength.

Midsection Madness for MMA

By Doug Balzarini, Personal Trainer, Fitness Quest 10

I love telling my client or athlete that we are going to hit the “core” hard and then walk them over to the pull-up bar for pulls or the trap bar for sets of deadlifts. I cringe every time I hear someone say that it’s time to blast the core and lay on the floor and begin crunching away for 50 reps. The definition of one’s core has gotten lost in translation over the years and we need to better understand what it really is.

I like to refer to the core as – any muscles and structures that support and stabilize the pelvis, spine, and shoulders. I’d have to refer back to my old A&P text books to confirm it but I’m fairly certain this involves more than just our rectus abdominis. Because of this definition; exercises such as squats, deadlifts, tire flips, pushups and pull-ups are all considered excellent “core” movements in my book. Lying down and pulling on the back of your head to facilitate cervical and thoracic flexion is not my idea of healthy “core” work.

Most of the everyday Joe’s and Jane’s of the world are in a seated position 8+ hours a day. Their hip flexors, pecs, and anterior shoulder muscles are tight, and their gluteals are inactive. Their scapulae are stuck in protraction so why would we have them come in to our facility and sit them or lay them down?! We are providing our clients a disservice and, in the long run, doing them more harm than good. I like to refer back to one of my favorite exercise-related questions, “Why?” Why are we performing a particular exercise? You should be able to defend or explain every exercise you do with every client or athlete you train.

Transfer Station

I like to refer to the core as the “transfer station” for the body. I’m sure I heard that term from someone smarter than I am and I apologize for not giving them credit. It is a term that makes a lot of sense to me. Our movements come from the ground up so when we are curling, pushing, or pressing something with our upper body, we generate our strength from the bottom and transfer it up to the moving parts. One great example of this is throwing a punch. We begin to generate that power from the ground all the way up to our fist. There are loads of studies out there to support this; two examples include: 1) Dyson, Smith, Martin, Fenn. (2007). Muscular Recruitment During Punches Delivered At Maximal Force & Speed. XXV ISBS Symposium 2007, Brazil, 591-594. 2) Valentino, B., Esposito, L.C., Fabrozzo, A. (1990). Electromyographic activity of a muscular group in movements specific to boxing. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 30, 160-2.

To Move Or Not To Move

While we train most muscles to move and accelerate, we should train our core musculature to decelerate, control, and transfer movements. They work to prevent motion and provide the solid foundation needed for safe, effective movement.

Midsection Moves For MMA

Your core/trunk/torso (call it what you want) is especially important for the sport of MMA. Having mobile hips and a strong, stable, and efficient core will lead to better footwork, stronger takedowns and takedown defense, and increased power in all of your striking. Now, I’ve made it no secret that I’m not an advocate of crunching movements; especially with the everyday population. That being said, MMA athletes are a different breed. If we are being sport-specific and training them functionally for their craft, then one could make a case that we should be performing various crunching movements. It’s a great conversation piece for us “exercise nerds” out there and one that I’m still on the fence with. I do have a few of crunch variations that I do with my combat athletes from time to time; however, for this particular article; I am choosing to keep it a “crunch-free” zone.

My Current Top 8
I say “current” because I’m always trying new movements and changing the list up.

1. Seal Walks

This is a great “anti-rotation” movement because our goal is to minimize the rotation of the pelvis as we move. Keep your abdominals braced and be sure to not lock out your elbows as you move. This is also great for the shoulder stabilizers and muscles of the shins and quads. Like I mention in the clip, there are a variety of tools you can use to perform this movement including; Valslides, Sandbells, and plates.

2. Valslide Hip Circles

This is a variation of the popular abdominal knee tuck that we commonly do with the Valslides or TRX. The primary difference is the abduction component of the hips. This is great for opening up the groins and an important movement for combat athletes who want to improve their flexibility for their ground game.

3. Stability Ball “Stir The Pots”

This is a great progression from the traditional plank. By adding an unstable tool, such as the stability ball, we easily increase the intensity. Also, by elevating the feet and by incorporating small movements such as circles and spelling the alphabet, we can really challenge the core muscles on both the front-side and back-side of the body. Be sure to watch the lumbar spine on this exercise as our goal is to maintain a neutral spine throughout.

4. TRX Body-Saw with Knees

From the plank position with your feet in the cradles, initiate the movement from your torso and shoulders by pushing your body back (think heels toward the back wall). As you come forward drive one knee towards the same side elbow. Repeat this “sawing” movement and alternate knee strikes for desired reps.

5. TRX Hi Plank w/Stops & Perturbations

These are two variations I like that both begin in the pushup, or hi plank, position. For the perturbations, have a training partner push your feet in various directions while you try to resist. For the stops, you will perform pendulum swings and your partner will cue you to stop moving at random times. The challenge is to hold that position for a 5 second count before swing again.

6. Sandbag Get-ups

The traditional get up, which I also love, is typically performed with a kettlebell and an extended arm. Two reasons I choose to show the sandbag version are 1) it’s slightly easier to teach and 2) I like having the heavy sandbag laying across the chest to challenge breathing patterns. Begin on your back with the sandbag over one shoulder and the same side knee bent with foot flat. Leading with your chest, roll to the opposite elbow and continue to shift your weight up to the hand. From this position, drive through your hand and opposite heel to extend your hips. You will then sweep you leg underneath your body and come to your knee. Next, you want to line up your body; think of being “tall” and having length through the spine. From this split squat or lunge position, stand up tall and come to your feet. To return to the starting position, simply reverse the steps in a controlled manner.

7. Standing Tornado Ball Figure 8’s

This movement is great for developing rotational power through the thoracic spine. Try to minimize the movement of the hips and really focus on keeping your abdominals braced and your shoulders rotating. Standing in an athletic position, start swinging the ball in front of your body and begin “drawing” an eight with the ball. Maintain this rotational pattern for desired reps or time.

8. Hanging Wipers

This is one of my favorite midsection movements. Like I mentioned in the clip, perform this in a controlled manner and don’t feel you need to go too far from side to side. Your lumbar spine will thank you in the morning. You need a certain amount of core control and grip strength to get into this exercise. Once you are you hanging from the bar, swing your legs up so you are inverted with your ankles, knees, and hips are in a straight line, perpendicular to the ground. From here, let the legs fall from side to side controlling the speed and movement from your obliques, erectors, and abs. Shoot for 20-30 reps.

Please give these a try and let me know what you think. I encourage feedback and would love to try any crunch free abdominal exercises that you have had success with.

About Doug
Doug currently works at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE). A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State College. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, a TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, FMS training, Spinning certification, and received his CPR/AED instructor status. He has also appeared in 8 fitness videos, written numerous fitness articles, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.

Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the Continuing Education Coordinator where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers.

For more information please visit www.todddurkin.com, www.fq10.com, and http://twitter.com/dbstrength.

Want to use the article above? As long as you include the bio blurb at the bottom, you are welcome to use the article in your own publication.

Strength & Conditioning for Combat Athletes

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is here to stay. Increased TV time, Pay-per-view success, major partnerships and sponsorships in place; this MMA “fad” isn’t going away. We are beginning to see the popularity of this sport effect the fitness industry as well. From the professional fighter to the casual fight fan, more and more clients are coming in asking for MMA-type workouts.

This growing trend led me to begin my own “path” of researching and experiencing the sport. Whenever a trainer or coach asks me about how they can get more involved in a particular sport or new trend, I always tell them to get as much education as possible…so I took my own advice. I bought a number of books and DVDs, I looked into workshops and certifications, I contacted coaches and colleagues with MMA coaching experience, and I even began taking various classes and instruction in the sport. I wanted to experience what the athlete’s body (and mind) goes through in training and preparing for a fight (or tournaments in my case). I grew up participating in team sports, so this unique sport was a big change for me as it requires a different mind-set when training and preparing.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned…

MMA COMBAT ATHLETES
Similar to other professional athletes, these individuals have tremendous drive and focus. Their training schedule is intense and for the 8-12 weeks before their fight, that is all they concentrate on. Injuries are very common in the sport so a key with these athletes is to find the proper balance between their training and adequate rest (recovery). There are so many different skills and backgrounds in the sport that it is important to be well-versed in many disciplines. Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, etc. are all common styles used in a typical match. Many of the athletes today come from one background or another. Many were collegiate wrestlers and don’t have a lot of “stand up” experience. Conversely, a number of athletes have a Muay Thai or kickboxing background and are not comfortable on the ground. Because of all these variables, an athlete’s training program may include days with up to three sessions per day! An example may include conditioning work at 7:00am, wrestling/ground work at 11:00am, and Muay Thai/pad work at 7:00pm.

With these intense programs, it is vital to get adequate rest and, if necessary; massage, physical therapy, and/or other forms of bodywork (i.e. Active Release Techniques) work to aid in recovery. While three sessions per day may seem like a lot, if they are efficient and well-planned, then they may be necessary. Two-a-days are more common during an 8-12 week camp or program, and I would include one day with just one session and one day of complete rest.

With regards to strength and conditioning, we like to incorporate 2-3 sessions per week during the program. A lot of programs I’ve seen out there just include intense, all out “metabolic circuits”, however; if our athletes want to the best, they must be strong, and they must incorporate resistance training into their programming as well. Metabolic circuits alone are not enough. We must continue to build that foundational strength that is necessary to get to the next level. We do not want to work on developing our endurance and conditioning if our strength base is not adequate.

Our typical training sessions include the following phases:
1. MOBILITY/MOVEMENT PREP
2. DYNAMIC WARM-UP/FOOTWORK
3. POWER AND PLYO PHASE
4. RESISTANCE TRAINING PHASE or METABOLIC CIRCUITS
5. FLEXIBLITY/RECOVERY

A crucial point to remember – We don’t “isolate muscles”. We train movements, not muscles.
Maximum strength training is a great way to “lay that foundation” early on in a periodized program. As we get closer to the fight or tournament, we will then start to transition from max strength work into more “functional” or “combat specific” strength training. It is vital to develop an undulated periodization program. Anyone can put together a challenging “workout”. We want to have our sound program for the full 8-12 weeks determined prior to day 1. Since this is a sport of weight classes, relative body strength and endurance is paramount. Obviously, technique is an important piece, however; if you have superior strength and power endurance, then you are going to have that competitive edge.

EVERYDAY POPULATION (Training MMA Style)
Since these individuals do not have the same schedule as professional fighters, we definitely modify things when putting a session together. They may have a marketing meeting at 8:00am on Tuesday instead of a 90 minute grappling session. When putting these MMA-type workouts together, we must keep this important point in mind. They can be challenging, inspiring and fun…as long as we keep in mind that safety is first and foremost in our approach.

Regardless of level and background, we include the same phases that we use with our professional athletes (see 5 phases listed above). The movements and intensity level will vary from our professionals, however; we use this same system because it is an effective way to prepare and strengthen the body and reduce the risk of injury.

A resistance training session may look like this:

1. Foam rolling, glute activation, thoracic spine mobility work (10 minutes)
2. Jumping jack series, high knees, carioca’s, lunge with reach work (5 minutes)
3. Med ball work against a wall (5 minutes)
4. Vertical push, vertical pull, quad dominant
Horizontal push, horizontal pull, hip dominant (30-35 minutes)
5. Assisted stretching (10 minutes)

A metabolic circuit training session may look like this:
1. Foam rolling, glute activation, thoracic spine mobility work (10 minutes)
2. Jumping jack series, high knees, cariocas, lunge with reach work (5 minutes)
3. Med ball work against a wall (5 minutes)
4. Tire flips, sledgehammer work, heavy ropes, sled drags (30-35 minutes)
5. Assisted stretching (10 minutes)

The purpose of this article was to give you a brief look inside growing trend of strength and conditioning for the MMA athlete. I hope you finish with a little insight into this rapidly growing sport. As I continue to research and experience, I will be sure to pass more information along. Meanwhile, if you are looking to train like an MMA fighter, bring your focus, intensity, and passion to every rep, set, and session and get in the best shape of your life.


About Doug

Doug, a
Massachusetts native, earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from WestfieldState College. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, a Spinning certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, FMS training, and received his CPR/AED instructor status. Currently, he is completing the MMA Conditioning Association program and preparing for his next Jiu-Jitsu tournament.
For more information on TDE or FQ10, please visit www.todddurkin.com or www.fq10.com.