MMA Weight Training – What Can We Learn From the Past and Improve on Moving Forward?

FREE Report: "Strength 101" for Fighters and Grapplers!

by Corey Beasley

I stumbled across this video a few weeks ago.  It showcases vintage boxing workouts from Russia, circa 1981

Notice that these guys were crawling, rolling, jumping, throwing and climbing. They use a variety of sandbags, medicine balls, barbells and bodyweight exercises to get in shape for their upcoming bouts.

Much more than just lifting weights...

Athletics requires more than just big muscles.

Core lifts, like the squat, bench and deadlift are great, but combat athletes need more.  Back in the day, people climbed ropes, did calisthenics, ran, swam, lifted odd objects and more.  While advancements in technology have allowed us to streamline our systems, I think that a lot of wisdom from the past has been lost.

My goal for this article is to discuss some of the pillars of our program and share a few of the resources that we have used to develop our athlete's programs.

Here are some of the main areas of focus, when we start developing programs for our athletes:


Your ability to get in and out of tight situations can mean the difference between winning and losing.  Developing good mobility throughout your body will help you perform better, avoid injury and extend the life of your career.

7 Mobility Drills for Fighters and Grapplers - Greg shared this video with us and it is a simple, yet powerful mobility series that you can use before workouts, training and on off days to stay healthy and move more efficiently.

Hip Mobility Solutions - This post contains an great interview with Eric and discusses his NEW Hip Mobility Solutions program.  Perfect for jiujitsu, wrestlers, fighters, etc.

Encyclopedia of Joint Mobility - These Joint Mobility Drills are designed to strengthen, protect and improve your joint health from head to toe through range of motion. A must have for any athlete looking to gain the upper hand against injuries and body wear and tear.


Speed, Agility and quickness are also a game changer.  Ever heard people say "Speed kills"?  Well, it's true.  Lighting fast footwork, explosive takedowns, and quick hands help you in every aspect of the game.  Lifting weights can help you develop the necessary strength to become powerful, but its also essential to sprint, jump, hop, leap, throw, bound and train your body to move fast!

Explosive Speed Training Guide - Plyometrics, speed drills, sprint mechanics and more.  We use this stuff every week to help our athletes move fast, jump higher and to become more athletic.

Complete Speed Training – Do You Want To Give Your Athletes The Speed, Agility, Explosiveness and Quickness They Need to Win? This program gives you a systematic way to build more speed.


Get Strong - Fighters and grapplers need to be strong in a variety of positions.  You must be strong on your feet, fighting for positions, scrambling, fighting for underhooks, moving your opponent, keeping them from moving you, from your back, on your knees and from the top position.  In order to address all of these areas, its important to use a variety of tools and drills.

MMA Weight TrainingYou can squat, lunge, push, pull, bend, jump, crawl, climb, throw in a variety of ways, using a variety of tools.

  • Barbells? Love em.
  • Bodyweight?  Absolutely
  • Kettlebells?  Yes
  • Sandbags?  Yup
  • Bulgarian Bags?... awesome!
  • Battling ropes? Killer!
  • Sleds?  of course!
  • Strongman? Yes, please!

Guys, there are a million ways to get strong.  The important thing is to find the best exercise, tool or  drill that helps you get the results you are looking for.  A great coach can guide you through this process.

Here are some of our favorite STRENGTH programs:

Animal Flow Workout - Learning to use and control your own body is important.  This program offers a unique and effective way to train basic movement patterns, solidfy your joints and develop a strong, mobile, coordinated system.  The perfect place to start, plus lots of valuable info that you can use during warm ups and workouts at your gym.

Kettlebell Training for BJJ - Kettlebell training is a hot topic these days and Jason is one of the best.  His walks you thru kettlebell basics as well as sport specific movements that will help you on the mat and in the cage.  Amazing info for staying healthy, getting strong and develop sprt specifc endurance, so you can perform for a long time.

Ultimate Athleticism – It’s about changing the paradigm and using a new philosophy of strength and athleticism to guide us over the long term. The Ultimate Goal is to do LESS, but be able to do MORE. This is exactly what helped me put this program together. The desire to be good at everything.


Get in Shape - No one should lose a fight because they aren't in shape.  We use three basic types of conditioning to get our guys prepared competition.

  1. 2min+, Low intensity, long duration.
  2. 20sec-1min, this is most popular these days.
  3. 10sec or less.  Explosive work.

Although plyometrics and grinding, death circuits seem to be the popular form of torture these days, building a strong aerobic base is essential for strong cardio.  Once a strong base is built, then your body will be better equipped to handle more intense forms of exercise, like intervals, plyos, etc.

At our gym in Costa Mesa, CA., we cycle our athletes thru a variety of different intensities throughout the week.  If the athlete sparred that morning, our evening workout may be more restorative and low intensity.  If they see us in the morning and plan on doing light drills or mits later, we may plan a more intense workout.

Bottom line, its not a good idea to go hard everyday.  Learning to vary workouts, in coordination with the rest of your training, is essential, if you want to stay healthy and have a long career.  Training too hard and too often almost always leads to burn out, inconsistency or injury.  All of which, will hurt you career.

Here are a couple great training systems:

Eric's Ultimate MMA Strength program is packed full of exercises, workout, strategies and programs that he's used with fighters and grapplers around the globe.  This is a killer system.

Scott's TACFIT Warrior program is one of the most comprehensive systems we have ever seen.  His world travels and international competition has allowed him to develop a killer system for fighters and grapplers that not only prepares you for competition, but also teaches you about human movement and staying strong for life.  Incredible.

A Typical Workout

Our workouts are constantly evolving and changing depending on who we are working with, when they need to compete, injuries and more.  That being said, most of the time, we follow the following template when designing our workouts.  These workouts are designed to address many of the areas discussed above and get the most bang for our buck, during the few hours we have with our athletes.

  1. SMR/Prehab - Athletes show up early, roll out, do trigger point work and perform simple exercises to fix weak links, poor posture, and other ailments.  This helps them prepare for the upcoming workout and fix asymetries or weak links in their body.
  2. Warm up - We usually start with a variety of mobility drills for the foot, ankle, hips and upper back, then progress into dynamic movement drills, crawling, locomotion, etc.
  3. SAQ - Speed drills, jumping, plyometrics, med ball throws and other explosive drills to ignite the stimulate the nervous system.
  4. Strength - Squat, lunge, push, pull, bend, twist.  This is where we use resistance to build strength in a variety of ways.  The movements and tools use depend on the ability level, goals and time frame that we have to work with.
  5. Conditioning - Sprinting, battling ropes, sleds, and other conditioning drills are typically (not always) used at the end of each session.  Some days are low intensity, some are high, but we usually end every session by breathing hard.
  6. Cool down, drink a recovery shake, eat, sleep and focus on recovery.

This is not the only way to train, but it is one way that has worked well for us.  We try to keep our athletes in shape and prepared all of the time.  That way, they are ready if a last minute phone call or opportunity arises.

Building a strong, durable, tough fighter or grappler takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work.  By using the principles discussed above, you will avoid a lot of the common mistakes that I see athletes and coaches making.  Train smart, train hard, stay consistent and always work to improve every aspect of your training.

PS...Remember, that MMA fighters have to practice many other skills during the week, so stimulate the system...don't annihilate it.  Just like anything, how much exercise you perform is a vital piece of the puzzle.  Use the appropriate dosages, so you can perform the next day.  Sore, tired and smoked are not always good signs of progress.

staff coreyGot questions?  Leave us a comment below.

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Corey Beasley is a strength coach and founder of Fight Camp Conditioning.  He has helped several world champions and elite fighters improve their game, streamline their training and increase their athleticism, so they can compete at the highest levels.

The secret to mastery in any field is to forever be a student. -Martin Palmer

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