How To Train Like An MMA Athlete

By Jim Waterhouse

Whether your goal is fat loss, muscle gain, power, strength, improving fitness, flexibility or all of the above - there is one type of training that suits every aspect of health and fitness…

Enter…(dramatic drum roll)…the MMA Athlete!

Mixed martial art fighters who star in competitions such as the UFC are regarded as some of the fittest people on the planet.

With a complete fitness profile comes a high intensity training regime that demands 100% from the athlete, enabling them to build muscle and and develop strength and power, whilst maintaining flexibility and stability through the joints, mastering hand-eye coordination and agility, maximising their V02 Max potential and keeping their body fat down to a minimum.

If this sounds like something that would be ideal for you - read on!

MMA and the wider branch-off of UFC is a sport like no other. Competitors are pitted against each other in the cage to fight until knockout, submission or an overall winner can be decided upon by points and judges' decision.

These matches take fighters from any style of combat system, ranging from the traditional striking forms of Kickboxing, Karate and Boxing, to the more close-range martial art of Muay Thai, into the grappling and takedown specialists of Judo, Jujitsu, and Greco-Roman Wrestling, and finally into the ground fighting arts of Catch Wrestling and Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ).

While most MMA athletes do tend to have a stand-out preference in their style, all competitors must master the five main areas of fighting if they ever want to have a chance of succeeding: striking, clinch work, takedowns, submissions, and finally ground and pound.

Now, I’m not suggesting you don a pair of lycra trunks and dive into the nearest cage, but just take a moment to consider how each combat style has a corresponding area of fitness that must be developed to perfect that skill:


This obviously requires a lot of power but is also dependant on hand-eye coordination, speed, and flexibility.

Clinch Work

A combination of upper body strength and balance.

Takedowns and Throws

These require impeccable timing, core strength and the ability to control and manipulate your centre of gravity.

Ground Work and Submissions

Mainly a strength game but grappling is also reliant upon muscular endurance, isometric holds, and joint stability.

“Ground and Pound”

This needs a bit of everything; power for the big heavy strikes, with balance and strength to maintain the dominant ground position.

The Matches

These range in length from 15-30 minutes with a pace consistently above the 80% mark, made up of single bursts of power, 2-20 second periods of strike combos or clinch work, and non-stop movement and defence, meaning that all three energy systems are required.

What Does It All Mean?

All of this means these super-athletes have to train insanely hard to stand any chance of winning and, with matches taking place at intervals throughout the year, there is no ‘on’ or ‘off season’.

They have to train as efficiently as possible to maximise the outcomes of each session, keeping the working intensity as near to 100% as possible for enhancing V02 Max, endurance and recovery rates.

It also means that these elite athletes have training regimes that are more similar to the average person than you might expect, as opposed to most team sport competitors who have to move through a ‘bulking’ phase, into strength, power, weight cutting, and endurance for 11 months of the year, all for one month’s worth of competition at the end.

The training styles used by MMA fighters usually involve full body exercises that work through multiple planes of direction, a complete range of movement, to the very limit of their strength or power generation.

You will often see them doing typical ‘functional’ exercises (similar to those used regularly at Primal) including kettlebells, olympic lifting, plyometrics, battle ropes, tyre and sledgehammer work, sandbags, weighted carry/sprints, and of course pad-work.

What all these exercises have in common is that they are compound movements with minimal muscle isolation, and can be used to develop power whilst also allowing the athlete to increase their cardio endurance.

If you have ever seen an MMA athlete in action, you will no doubt have noticed that they are clearly in shape, and normally shredded to the max!

It might surprise you then, to learn that their nutrition is not geared towards traditional ‘fat loss’ such as carb cycling, fast days or calorie counting. It's focussed instead on fast recovery rates and the ability to maintain 100% effort during training so that their performance is at its optimum level. This, in turn, is what keeps their body fat percentage so low, and skeletal muscle mass so high.  

What’s the End Result?

  1. A lean athlete (high muscle and low body fat)

  2. Can work through their full range of motion

  3. High strength to bodyweight ratio

  4. Able to generate maximal power

  5. Super fit

  6. High Vo2 max

  7. Fast recovery rate

  8. Able to co-ordinate and control fast movements

  9. Good balance

  10. Good stability throughout their joints

Sound good? Why not book a free consultation with one of our expert coaches to discuss how Primal can train you like an MMA Athlete.

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