Is Gymnastics Training Good for MMA Athletes?

By Sabina Skala

Georges St Pierre – by far one of the best conditioned athletes in the sport has once said:

Nobody can reproduce the movement of gymnastic guys, but gymnastic guys can reproduce the movement of everyone. They’re the most athletic athlete(s) in the world. And I’m doing gymnastics also to keep my body healthy (and) to change my routine, and I love gymnastics, as well.

Gymnastics TrainingSt Pierre’s approach to s&c was quite unorthodox, following his coach’s advice GSP has incorporated gymnastics into his s&c regimen with undoubtedly great results. However before you decide that gymnastics is absolutely essential to produce another GSP like specimen, and result in a great power and strength that will transfer into the cage, you need to take a couple of things into consideration.

GSP was already a very well-conditioned athlete when he started gymnastics, he was strong, his joints were stable and the body was working well as a unit. Gymnastics training (especially the ballistic part of it) is highly technical, can be unforgiving for the joints, and also can result in a career ending injury. The question is then – is it worth to spend the time learning how to do back tumble, round offs, summer saults, etc and potentially risk a bad injury on the way? Or can that time be spend in a more productive manner – practicing the techniques on the mat, or getting stronger in the gym?

I personally think that the latter on is a way better option for any Combat athlete, however there are elements of gymnastics and calisthenics training that can be very useful for improving the strength and teaching the tension.

Gymnastics training can actually be a great tool to help to understand how to use the body efficiently and powerfully, engage it from the tips of your toes through the mid-section to the top of your head. It should not replace the s&c work in the weight room but certain elements of gymnastics supplement it very well, resulting in great progress, strength, power and stability wise.

They can help to create an incredible athlete, who explodes through every technique and makes his opponents look slow in comparison. Due to his/her athleticism they can bind the attacks together and deliver them at great speed. I like elements of gymnastics for core training purposes (and by core I don’t only mean mid-section, but head to toe) and also fort them to understand the concept of TENSION and how it helps explosive movements. Here are a few examples of the exercises inspired by calisthenics and gymnastics, which I use with fighters.

Gymnastics for MMA

1. Front lever

Front lever Gymnastics

2. Band assisted front lever – excellent core work, teaches tension through the whole body. Make sure the elbows remain straight, palms of your hands facing away from you, toes pointed. Maintain tension through the whole body, imagine you are trying to pull the rings down so they touch your thighs. Hold for 20 sec, repeat required number of sets. To make the exercise more challenging change the band to a thinner one or try to hold without the aid of the band.

Gymnastics for MMA

3. Cable column pull down – not exactly the front lever, you may think, looking at this exercise, however if you look closer the position of the body mimics the one of the front lever. We use fairly heavy weight and few repetitions. Usually its 5 sets of 5-6 reps. Make sure the elbows remain straight, pull the bar down using your lats and your stomach, make sure you finish with a crunch type movement and hold the bar by your hips for 1-2 seconds before starting another repetition.

Maintain the tension through the whole body.

Cable column pull down Gymnastics

4. Dish position – lift the shoulders and the feet off the floor, make sure your lower back stays in contact with the floor at all times, point your toes and maintain tension through the whole body.

Hold for required amount of time or rock your body up and down, still keeping the lower back in contact with the floor and maintaining the dish shape.

Dish position Gymnastics

5. L- Sit

L-sit  Gymnastics Training

Hold the L-sit for a required amount of time.

Gymnastics Training for L-sit

6. L-sit chin ups or pull ups – complete for a set number of reps, if you can complete 10 easily add load.

Make sure to maintain the L-sit shape through the entire movement

L-sit chin ups Gymnastics Training

7. L-Sit Kicks

From the L-sit position move your legs forward (controlled not rapid movement) hold for 2 or more seconds in each position, repeat 5-6 reps. If it gets easy, ditch the kettlebells and move to the floor.

L-Sit Kicks Gymnastics Training

8. Dragon Flag (aka Rocky’s)

Excellent core drill, works the body from head to toe, teaches tension.

Dragon Flag  Gymnastics Training

mid-way and in the bottom position Gymnastics

The regression looks like below:

Gymnastics For Dragon Flag

Training towards the dragon flag can be challenging as well, use different resistance bands and TUT (time under tension hold for 3 or more seconds mid-way and in the bottom position) to build up to body weight DF.

9. Drop Push Up

Pretty safe, though advance exercise. Controlled impact (low repetitions) is great for bone density and bone health. Drop push ups also require tension though the whole body.

Go for sets of 3-5 reps max.

Drop Push Up Gymnastics

The few exercises above are just a drop in a pond, there are plenty more gymnastics moves that you can adapt and use successfully in s&c sessions, pick what is useful, what teaches TENSION through the whole body, ignore highly technical gymnastics moves that can easily result in injury.

As a former competitive athlete Sabina believes that each is truly responsible for the performance potential and that we all are capable of limitless possibilities when we put our mind and hard work to it. Contact info: [email protected] or via contact form