Explosive Hip Development for MMA

If you're a fighter and want to dominate your competition, what do you need? Strength? Conditioning? Speed? Just be a big, crazy badass? Well, pretty much every physical and mental quality has to be developed, but one thing surely lays the foundation. It`s the thing in the middle of your body.

“Nooo, not a another core article!”

No, no. It isn't about the core. The core is surely important, but if you lack hip strength and bring that quality up to par and above, get ready to dominate.

Why hip development is so important in MMA

We aren't going the rehabilitation way here talking about the importance of hip stability and mobility for optimal performance. That stuff is very important and something I hope you're already working on in every training session.

When that is done, you need to get after the development of hip strength and explosiveness because more or less every skill in MMA depends on it. What on this list doesn't depend on strong and explosive hips?

  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Takedowns
  • Clinching
  • Grappling

Take away the strength in the middle of the body and you take away your optimal level of performance in all of the skills listed. That's a fact. Any of the skills above depend on what's going on in the hips. If they're tight, you aren't going to perform smooth or have as powerful kicks as you could. If they aren't stable, well...let's just say that you have a big problem. And if you're just weak, you might not be a very big problem either.

So how do you develop the most powerful hips? Are you going to follow a powerlifter's training regime? Yes, you could, but there are a bunch of qualities that are going to get compromised if you do so—at least if you're going to stay on that path.

In other words, you can't train as a powerlifter if you're a fighter. At least that isn't a very wise thing to do. You can definitely use the same methods though, but you have to be careful. Getting stronger might lead you into the temptation of getting very strong, and while that is good in and of itself, you're now very close to getting injured and how are you going to fight that way? If you want to win, that isn't the way to go. You have to fight two important obstacles.

Obstacle # 1

The first obstacle is to develop maximum hip strength and explosiveness without too much risk. Going after huge numbers in the squat variations will mean a lot of risk for a lot of fighters, especially those with suboptimal lifting structures. The squat movement should definitely be developed, but I would rather have the deadlift improved because it provides less of an injury risk. Also, take a look at the techniques in MMA and you will find that most of them rely on hip action, not knee action. I consider this a strong argument for the priority of the standing hip dominant movements.

The king of hip development

Say hello to the deadlift. Conventional or sumo, I don't care. Do what matches your structure and what feels best for your body. You can replace the deadlift with other movements, but I really believe in getting a decent number in the lift before you do so. At that point, you can go into maintenance mode and switch to other exercises, getting back to the bigger lifts every now and then.

You can't have optimal hip explosiveness without high (not extreme) absolute strength, so the deadlift will be your key developer of the standing hip movement.

The big “isolator”

To “isolate” the hip movement, you might say that rack pulls are the best way to go. Hell no! In my opinion, you can load that bar so much with this lift that the injury risk is way too high. Still, you should really “isolate” the hip movement to develop the necessary hip strength. There are several valid options here, but I really believe in the glute bridge. No, not the sissy body weight activation exercise but the big badass with a lot of weight plates on the bar.

This exercise can really work the area that the deadlift can't. Here you can really focus on max strength development of the hip movement without much of an injury risk. It isn't very often that you have a 660-pound guy on top of you, but if you can manage that with a barbell, a lighter dude will be a piece of cake.

The transformer

Now that you've worked on the strength component, it's time to transform this into explosiveness. You could definitely do things like depth jumps here, but I'm a big fan of moves that closely resemble what happens in the skills you're trying to develop. For most MMA techniques, your foot or feet stay on the floor. Therefore, I'm a big fan of the swing.

The swing is an awesome exercise that you can use to develop explosive hips. Of course, you can't use extreme weights, but that isn't really the purpose either. You can compare this to the dynamic effort method. The nice thing about this exercise is that you don't need the chains or bands. That being said, doing the kettlebell swing with a band is just plain awesome. PS: You don’t need kettlebells to perform this movement. One- and two- handed swings can be done just as fine with dumbbells.

Obstacle # 2

The second obstacle for many fighters is the weight class issue. While many of us just train to get big badasses, fighters have to drop the “big” part. That's part of why fighters need to have their own training regime and not just blindly follow a powerlifting template.

The solution is to keep the volume low. Tada! What a surprise! No, but that's really how simple it can and should be. Basically what you need as a fighter on this area is:

  • Max strength standing hip development: Low volume, moderate to high intensity deadlifts
  • Isolated hip movement: Low volume, high intensity glute bridges
  • Explosive hip movement: Moderate volume, moderate intensity swings

A low volume with moderate to high intensity is the key to getting strong hips without any unwanted weight gain. This will certainly boost your relative strength, which again leads to greater performance.

Sample hip training phase

This sample obviously doesn't take other training aspects into consideration and is just an example of how you can program the mentioned exercises for its purpose. Warm ups and other aspects aren't included.
Week 1

  • Deadlift, 3 sets of 3 reps with 87.5% of 1RM
  • Glute bridge, work up to 6RM
  • Swings, 3 sets of 10 reps

Week 2

  • Deadlift, 3 sets of 2 reps with 90% of 1RM
  • Glute bridge, work up to 3RM
  • Swings, 3 sets of 12 reps

Week 3

  • Deadlift, 4 sets of 1 reps with 92.5% of 1RM
  • Glute Bridge, work up to 5RM
  • Swings, 4 sets of 8 reps

Week 4

  • Deadlift, 3 sets of 1 reps with 95% of 1RM
  • Glute bridge, work up to 2RM
  • Swings, 3 sets of 10 reps

In the deadlift, use multiple warm-up sets with 1–3 reps per set. In the swing, stay with the weight that allows the most explosive movement possible.

Hips don't lie

While other aspects of hip training like mobility, stability, and rotation are of great importance, creating a big and explosive engine will be the foundation for you MMA fighters who want to dominate your competition. Powerful hips might be the single factor that helps you stay up in the end. Strong and explosive hips don’t lie…