MMA Fighter vs. Bodybuilder Split: Tailoring Workouts for Ultimate Fitness Goals

I've always been fascinated by the diversity of training methods and fitness goals. Two popular approaches that often capture the spotlight are MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) training and the classic bodybuilder split routine. Each of these training plans is unique and tailored to specific fitness objectives. In this comprehensive guide, I'll break down the key differences between these two approaches, helping you understand which one aligns better with your fitness goals.

MMA Fighter's Training Plan

Targeted Fitness Goals

  1. Functional Strength: MMA fighters need strength that is not just for show but functional for combat. This type of strength is about being agile, explosive, and able to control an opponent.

  2. Endurance: MMA fights can be grueling, with rounds lasting several minutes. Building endurance is essential to maintain peak performance throughout the match.

  3. Cardiovascular Fitness: Fighters need to keep their heart rate up while exerting energy in bursts during a match. Cardiovascular fitness is vital for rapid recovery between rounds.

  4. Agility and Flexibility: MMA fighters require a wide range of motion, quick footwork, and the ability to move in various directions with precision.

Key Training Methods

  1. Functional Exercises: MMA training emphasizes functional movements, such as compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, and cleans) and bodyweight exercises (burpees, push-ups, and pull-ups). These exercises build functional strength and overall athleticism.

  2. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): To replicate the intense bursts of energy required in a fight, HIIT workouts are incorporated to improve cardiovascular fitness and enhance endurance.

  3. Grappling and Sparring: MMA fighters regularly engage in sparring sessions to practice their techniques and adapt to real combat situations. These sessions help improve agility and flexibility.

  4. Sport-Specific Drills: Fighters work on techniques, striking, and ground control. Training focuses on skill development, including takedowns, submissions, and striking combinations.


  1. Lean Protein: To support muscle repair and growth, a diet rich in lean protein sources like chicken, turkey, fish, and lean cuts of beef is essential.

  2. Carbohydrates: Fighters need carbohydrates for energy. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide complex carbohydrates to sustain energy levels during training and fights.

  3. Hydration: Staying hydrated is crucial. Dehydration can severely impact performance, so fighters must monitor their fluid intake.

  4. Supplements: Some fighters use supplements like creatine, beta-alanine, vitamin D, fish oils and electrolytes to aid recovery and maintain optimal performance.

Bodybuilder Split Routine

Targeted Fitness Goals

  1. Muscle Hypertrophy: Bodybuilders aim to increase muscle size and definition. Their workouts focus on isolating specific muscle groups and promoting muscle growth.

  2. Symmetry and Aesthetics: Bodybuilders strive for a balanced and aesthetically pleasing physique, paying close attention to muscle proportions and definition.

  3. Strength: While strength is important for bodybuilders, it is not the primary focus. They aim to lift heavy weights to stimulate muscle growth rather than functional strength.

Key Training Methods

  1. Split Training: Bodybuilders typically split their workouts by muscle groups, dedicating specific days to chest, back, legs, arms, and shoulders. This allows for targeted muscle isolation.

  2. Isolation Exercises: Exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, leg curls, and calf raises target specific muscle groups, helping to achieve muscle hypertrophy.

  3. High Volume: Bodybuilders perform multiple sets and repetitions with moderate to heavy weights to induce muscle fatigue and stimulate growth.

  4. Rest and Recovery: Adequate rest is crucial for muscle recovery and growth. Bodybuilders often follow a structured rest schedule to allow muscles to repair.


  1. High Protein: Bodybuilders consume a high-protein diet to support muscle growth. Protein sources include lean meats, fish, dairy, and protein supplements like whey.

  2. Caloric Surplus: To gain muscle mass, bodybuilders often maintain a caloric surplus, consuming more calories than they burn.

  3. Micronutrients: A balanced intake of vitamins and minerals is essential to support overall health and muscle recovery.

  4. Supplements: Bodybuilders may use supplements like creatine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and protein powder to enhance muscle growth and recovery.

Comparing the Two Approaches

Now that we've delved into the specifics of MMA training and the bodybuilder split routine, let's compare the two approaches in various aspects.

Training Frequency and Volume

  • MMA Fighter: Training frequency is high, often six days a week. However, the volume of each session may vary, with a mix of intense and skill-based workouts.

  • Bodybuilder: Bodybuilders typically train specific muscle groups on a rotation, allowing for adequate recovery between sessions. Training frequency is usually five to six days a week, with high volume.

Exercise Selection

  • MMA Fighter: Exercises are chosen for their functional benefits in combat situations, emphasizing compound movements, agility, and explosive power.

  • Bodybuilder: Exercises are selected to isolate and target individual muscle groups, with the goal of hypertrophy and aesthetics.

Cardiovascular Fitness

  • MMA Fighter: Cardiovascular fitness is a primary focus, with regular HIIT sessions and sport-specific drills to improve endurance.

  • Bodybuilder: Cardiovascular conditioning is important but takes a back seat to strength and hypertrophy training.


  • MMA Fighter: Requires a well-rounded diet that supports energy production, endurance, and muscle recovery.

  • Bodybuilder: Focuses on a diet tailored to muscle growth and recovery, often with a caloric surplus.

Rest and Recovery

  • MMA Fighter: Prioritizes active recovery methods like stretching and light workouts to maintain flexibility and mobility.

  • Bodybuilder: Emphasizes passive recovery to allow muscles to heal and grow, often incorporating rest days into their routine.

Which Approach Is Right for You?

Choosing between an MMA fighter's training plan and a bodybuilder split routine ultimately depends on your fitness goals and personal preferences. Here's a breakdown to help you decide:

Choose MMA Training If:

  • You desire functional strength and athleticism.
  • Endurance and cardiovascular fitness are your top priorities.
  • You're interested in learning combat techniques.
  • You prefer a dynamic, varied training routine.

Choose Bodybuilding If:

  • You aim to build significant muscle mass and definition.
  • Symmetry and aesthetics are your primary goals.
  • You enjoy focusing on individual muscle groups.
  • You're willing to commit to a high-volume training regimen.


As an exercise physiologist and fitness enthusiast, I can't stress enough how important it is to tailor your training plan to your specific goals. MMA training and the bodybuilder split routine are both effective approaches, but they cater to different fitness objectives. Whether you're looking to become a formidable fighter or sculpt a chiseled physique, understanding the nuances of each training plan will help you make the right choice.

Remember, consistency and dedication are key to success in either path. Whichever route you choose, stay committed, stay active, and stay healthy.

Disclaimer: Always consult with a fitness professional or healthcare provider before starting any new exercise or nutrition plan, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions or are new to physical training.


Weekly Tips for Physical Dominance!

Yes, I Want to be More Athletic!