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Strength Training For The Busy MMA Fighter!

Training to excel at mixed martial arts can be a grueling endeavor that takes a great deal of time. Learn the best exercises for MMA athletes and which ones are wrong to do!

Training to excel at mixed martial arts can be a grueling endeavor that takes a great deal of time. Many of the MMA athletes that I work with often complain that they do not have time to lift weights and the ones that do have time, often focus on the wrong exercises such as: bench presses and biceps curls. Since time is a factor for combat athletes, I think that a good chunk of time spent on weight training should be spent on explosive exercises such as: dumbbell snatches, swings and clean and jerks. In addition to building functional strength that will transfer to the ring, these exercises work just about all of the major muscle groups. Moreover, they teach you how to use your body as one unit and build a strong mind-body connection.

Exercises such as barbell power-cleans and snatches are also great. However, they require much more time to master and they are not forgiving to beginners. You really need an excellent Olympic training coach to get you on the right. Since most MMA athletes probably do not have the time or desire to focus on exercises with a lengthy learning curve, dumbbell explosive training is the ideal plan to take advantage of.

Dumbbells will give you all of the benefits of barbell explosive training without the wear and tear. Okay, enough of the pitch, let's get into the exercises:

One Arm Dumbbell Swings

Take a fairly light dumbbell and swing it between your legs, quickly reverse the motion and snap through with your hips swinging the dumbbell to chest height. Once you get the hang of it, increase the weight and do ten repetitions with each hand. Make sure you grip the dumbbell as tight as possible and get into a breathing pattern that is comfortable for you.

Some people prefer to breathe out as they swing the dumbbell to chest height and then breathe in as the dumbbell swings down between the legs. Others prefer the reverse. Try both and stick with the one that feels most comfortable. Swings are an incredible and effective way to build the rapid hip movement that is used often in kicks and takedowns.

One Arm Dumbbell Snatches

Dumbbell snatches are similar to dumbbell swings. However, instead of swinging the dumbbell out, pull it straight up as if you are starting a lawn mower and send it overhead in one motion. Like swings, make sure to snap through with your hips. Also, regarding breathing, breathe in as you snatch the dumbbell off of the floor and breathe out as you take the dumbbell back to the floor. Try doing 10-15 repetitions with each arm and you will feel like you just did several sprints.

Two Dumbbell Clean And Jerks

Start by cleaning two dumbbells to your shoulders. From there, squat down a few inches and quickly reverse the motion sending the dumbbells straight up as if you are doing a military press. As the weights go up, jump off of the floor and when you land on the floor, squat down a few inches again. At this point the dumbbells should be locked out overhead. Lower the dumbbells to your shoulders, then to the floor and repeat.

This is an incredible exercise for building shoulder endurance that will transfer to the ring. It will also increase speed and coordination. If you only have time to do one exercise, this is the one to do. It works just about every muscle in the body. If you want to lose weight fast, try doing 20 repetitions three times a week and reduce your caloric intake. Alternatively, if you want to gain weight, do the same thing and increase the calories.

Now if you still have some time left over to do a few other exercises. Try doing the "Turkish get-up" for an unbelievable core workout. Lie down on the floor and hold one dumbbell straight up as if you just did a bench press. Turn to the opposite side and use your free arm to help you get into the squat position. From there, stand up and then reverse the movement. Do about 3-to-5 repetitions and then switch arms. Make sure to keep your arm locked at all times. Failure to do so might result in an unexpected knockout. Make sure to start with light dumbbell and work your way up gradually.

Sample Program


    3x10 - One arm dumbbell swings
    3x8-12 - Two dumbbell clean and jerks
    3x5 - Turkish get-ups - View
    Take one-minute breaks between each set and each exercise.

Click Here For A Printable Log Of Monday!


    5x5 - Clean and jerks
    3x10-15 - One arm dumbbell snatches
    3x5 - Janda Sit-ups - View

Click Here For A Printable Log Of Thursday!

If you have more time, you can do this program 3-to-4 times a week. Just work it into your routine as time permits. In the beginning, you will find the program challenging. However, you will adapt and will have real strength that will transfer to your combat sport. If you want to make the program more challenging, try using kettlebells instead of dumbbells.

Kettlebells are iron balls with handles that range in weights from 36-to-88 pounds. They will make all of the above exercises much more difficult and are also great fun to use. For more information on kettlebells, go to

Give this program a shot for five weeks and let me know how it works out for you.

About The Author

Mike Mahler is a strength coach and a certified kettlebell instructor based in Santa Monica, California. Mike has been a strength athlete for over ten years and designs strength training programs for athletes, law enforcement, and fire fighters. Mike is available for phone consultations and personal training in the Los Angeles/Washington DC area. For more information, visit Mike's site at or email Mike at