Mixed martial arts can be a tricky sport to strength train for. You use various energy systems, which can be very easy to overtrain. Unfortunately, many do not weight train and miss out on all the benefits. There have been plenty of matches that I have seen in MMA and especially Jiu-Jitsu, where you can see the stronger athlete dominating the match. If the skill set is roughly the same, I put my money on the stronger athlete every time. 

Having been training for Muay Thai for the past two years and dabbling in some MMA (to be clear, I have never fought in the cage or ring), I've been able to grasp an understanding for how to train for the sport. Throughout my career, weight training has always been the sport itself, and I use MMA as conditioning and mobility—it's also really cool to be able to do a roundhouse kick to someone's face if you want to. 

Strength Training as a Supplement

For the mixed martial artist, it's the opposite. Weight training is just a supplement, and it needs to be balanced. I know competitors that are training five days a week, with many weight training and grappling on the same day. With my program, you'll be training three days a week. If you can only train two times a week, then omit Day 2. 

RECENT: The Best Lower Body Warm-up Ever!

The progression is very simple for each block. You will make small jumps each week in weight of only five to ten pounds. For exercises like the broad jump, you will focus on covering more distance. 

We will be using contrast training for many of the compound exercises, such as the bench press paired with med ball chest throws—one is a strength movement, and one is for power. Much like in a match or fight, you will need to use both back and forth.    

Like any strength program, recovery needs to be a top priority. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are more likely to overtrain which will result in an injury. 

You need to get adequate protein, as well as plenty of good carbs to fuel this kind of training. 

8-Week Strength Training Program for the MMA Athlete

Weeks 1-4

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

  • 1a Deadlift 3x5
  • 1b Split Jumps 3x3 each - This is a jumping lunge, switch feet in air
  • 2a Log One Motions 3x5 or Barbell Clean and Press
  • 2b Overhead Med Ball Throw 3x5
  • 3a Fat Grip Inverted Row 3x10
  • 3b DB shrugs 3x10 - Hold top 2 sec, use straps
  • 4a Landmine Rotations 3x12
  • 4b Med Ball Rotational Throw 3x3e
  • 5 Wrist Roller 3xmax

Weeks 5-8

Day 1

  • 1a Pause SSB Squats 3x6 - I prefer chains added here, 2-sec pause at bottom
  • 1b Lateral Jumps/Bounds 3x6 (3 each side)
  • 2a Bench Press 4x4
  • 2b Explosive Push-up  4x4 - These can be done clapping or preferably up to an object a few inches off the ground
  • 3 One-Arm Dumbbell Row 4x8e
  • 4 Suitcase Farmers Walk 3x50ft each
  • 5a KB Swing 3x15
  • 5b 4-Way Neck Machine 3 x 10e or Neck Harness 3x20

Day 2

  • 1 Sandbag Over Shoulder or Stone to Shoulder 3x6 (3 each side)
  • 2a Dumbbell RDL 3x10
  • 2b Cable Face Pull 3x15
  • 3 Fat Grip Pull-ups 4x10
  • 4 Prone Superman 3x20
  • 5a Fat Grip Barbell Curl 3x10
  • 5b Fat Grip Rope Pressdowns 3x15

Day 3

  • 1a Deadlift 4x4
  • 1b Box jumps 4x4
  • 2a Log One Motions 3x7 or Barbell Clean and Press
  • 2b Double Kettlebell Snatch 3x10
  • 3a Meadows Row 4x8
  • 3b DB Shrugs 4x10 - Hold top 2 sec, use straps
  • 4a Landmine Rotations 3x15
  • 4b Medball Rotational Throw 3x3e
  • 5 Wrist Roller 3xmax

Matt Mills is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, earning both his bachelor's and master's degrees in Strength and Conditioning. He is also certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist. As a strength athlete, he is an accomplished powerlifter with a best deadlift of 800 pounds. He is a middleweight pro strongman with best competition lifts of a 360-pound log press, 900-pound pound Hummer tire deadlift, and a 410-pound Farmers Walk. Matt is the owner of Lightning Fitness, located in South Windsor, Connecticut. He has worked with over a thousand athletes, helping them reach their fitness and nutrition goals.