Body Building Workout Program For an MMA Fighter?

Question: I’m an aspiring MMA fighter. I currently train jiu-jitsu and kickboxing for a total of three to four times a week. My question is in regards to weight lifting/cardio. I want to make sure my training is appropriate for my goals. Here’s a break down of what I’m currently doing. Does this look good?

Day 1:
1 hour of cardio before I train (chest and triceps:)
Flat bench dumbbell press 3 x 14-20
Incline dumbbell press 3 x 14-20
Decline press 3 x 14-20
Cable fly 3 x 14-20(Dips 3 x 14-20
Cable pushdown 3 x 14-20
One arm pronated pushdown 3 x 14-20

Day 2:
1 hr of cardio 2 hours before I train
Shoulders and abdominals
(Smith Military Press 4/5 x 10-12
Lateral raise 4/5 x 10-12(Front raise 4/5 x 10-12
Shrug 4/5 x 10-12

Day 3:
Same cardio as day 1
Back and biceps
(Lat Pull down 4/5 8-12
Seated Row 4 x 8-12
Cable row upper 4 x 8-12
Back Extension 4 x 12-20
Preacher curl 4 x 6-10
Dumbbell curl 4 x 4-8
Seated curl 4 x 8-10
Cable curl 4 x 8-12

Day 4:
1 hr cardio

Day 5:
Same Chest routine as Monday

Day 6:
45-degree leg press 4 x 8-12
Leg extension 4 x 8-12(Leg curl 4 x 8-12)
Calf raises 4 x 8-15

Answer: This is a typical body building style program and it’s not of much use for an aspiring MMA fighter, any grappling sport, or any other sport for that matter. Here are some problems with your current program:

1) You’re training too often. You don’t get stronger while lifting weights but rather from the recovery process that should take place. Based on your program, you only rest one day and for all I know you’re still doing jiu-jitsu or kickboxing on that day since you didn’t specify what days you do those on.

2) You’re doing too many sets per muscle group. On day 1 alone there’s 12 sets just for chest. This is way too much. You should focus on the minimum amount required to elicit the desired training adaptation. Any more than that and you’re just cutting into your energy reserves that could be used for recovery.

3) Several of the exercises chosen are poor choices (leg extension, smith machine press, front raise, cable flyes, etc.) or redundant. For instance, all your elbow flexor exercises (bicep exercises) are with a supinated grip and again, you don’t need 16 sets to get the job done.

4) The strength qualities needed for MMA or any grappling sport are: Relative strength, explosive strength, and strength endurance. (Functional hypertrophy could also be included unless your body fat is very low and you’re already within your weight class.) The majority of your repetition ranges are for strength/endurance. There’s no work done for the other two strength qualities.

5) You’re performing straight sets when you should be super setting antagonistic muscle groups. This will allow you to get more work done in a shorter given unit of time and will assure that your body is balanced on both sides of joints so you’re structurally sound.

An example of straight sets is doing a set of a barbell bench press, resting, and then doing another set of barbell bench presses. An example of super setting antagonistic muscle groups would be doing a set of the barbell bench press, resting the desired amount of time based on your goals, and then doing a set of seated cable rows.

6) The cardio workouts you’re doing are way too long and close to your weight training workouts. Stop doing cardio before lifting weights and don’t do any steady state, traditional aerobic based cardio. You should be getting plenty of effective conditioning while training in your sport. If you’re not, you should time your rest intervals between rounds and make sure that they’re progressive. If you can’t do this, have your coach do it for you.

Since there’s no off season for your sport and you’re training in it three to four times a week, you need to be concerned with time so you don’t over train, therefore, you should select exercises that give you the most return on your investment. I would also only weight train two to three times a week. I can’t promise that you still can’t over train since I don’t have enough information form you (namely diet) but there’s certainly less of a chance than what you’re currently doing.

Here are some better exercise choices. Select only one exercise from each group:

Pressing Exercises:
Incline dumbbell press, palms facing each other
Parallel-bar dips (Close grip barbell bench press, shoulder width grip
Barbell or dumbbell floor press(Standing barbell press

Upper-Body Pulling Exercises:
Parallel grip chin-ups
Supinated shoulder-width chin-ups(Wide grip pronated grip chin-ups)
Incline dumbbell rows (One-arm dumbbell row)
Rope face pulls (Parallel grip seated rows)

Leg Exercises, Hip and Knee Dominant:
Back squats (Front squats)
Dead lifts, clean-grip, sumo, or snatch-grip
Romanian dead lifts
Power cleans
Split squats
Lunges, decelerative or accelerative

Assistance/Remedial Exercises:
Elbow flexor family (bicep)
(Elbow extension family (tricep)
(External rotator family
(Calves family(
Abdominal family

So here’s a three-day sample routine that shouldn’t take more than an hour. (Listed are exercise, sets x reps, tempo, and rest interval):

Day 1
(A. Power Cleans: 4 x 3-5 x 11X0 x 240 second rest
B1. Standing barbell press: 4 x 3-5 x 20X0 x 120 second rest
B2. Parallel grip chin-up: 4 x 3-5 x 3010 x 120 second rest
C1. Lying decline dumbbell tricep extension: 3 x 6-8 x 3010 x 90 second rest
C2. Seated zottman curls: 3 x 6-8 x 3010 x 90 second rest

Day 2
(A. Clean-grip dead lift: 3 x 6-8 x 2110 x 180 second rest
B1. Dumbbell floor press: 3 x 6-8 x 31X0 x 90 second rest
B2. One-arm dumbbell row: 3x 6-8 x 3110 x 90 second rest
C1. Incline bench powell raise: 3 x 10-12 x 60 second rest
C2. Incline garhammer raise: 3 x 10-12 x 3020 x 60 second rest

Day 3
(A. Telemark squat: 3 x 12-15 x 2010 x 75 second rest
B1. Parallel dip: 3 x AMRAP (as many reps as possible) w/body weight x 2010 x 60 second rest
B2. Pronated grip seated cable rows: 3 x 12-15 x 2011 x 60 second rest
C1. Seated dumbbell external rotation, arm on knee: 3 x 10-12 x 3010 x 60 second rest(C2.) Seated calf raise: 3 x 15-20 x 2210 x 60 second rest

Take one day off between workouts.

Once every four to six workouts you should change all loading parameters: sets, reps, tempo, rest interval, and exercise selection.

Keep in mind that this is only a sample program and there are many other great exercises you could do that will help you, also, in order for a weight lifting program to be more specific for you, I would have to do a structural balance assessment on you and get more detailed information.