With mixed martial arts fighting being arguably one of the most popular sports in the world right now, and definitely one of the fastest-growing, there is still very little available on strength training programs for the MMA athlete. With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks I will be putting up a couple of different articles directed specifically at that group. This article will primarily focus on what I believe to be the most important variable for both stand-up and ground fighting – core training.
For core work in general, I have found most conventional ab training exercises to be rather useless – things like situps, crunches and bicycle twists done for absurdly high reps does little to develop strength and at best will develop the slow-twitch, endurance muscle fibers in the abs and core, as opposed to the more powerful fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Instead, I prefer to see a mix of both compound (multi-joint) traditional strength movements that can be done with a heavy load (such as squats and deadlifts) that include a significant core component, and direct work done with heavy weight for low- to moderate-rep ranges. To get the best of both, I suggest using movements based around The Grappler.
The Grappler is a device invented by Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio. Louie is arguably the greatest coach in powerlifting history, but he has also worked extensively with both fighters and track & field athletes and produced great results. One of his methods is using the Grappler, which is essentially an anchor point for two barbells so that they can be held one in each hand to mimic various barbell and dumbbell movements while increasing the workload coming from the trunk.
Below are a few of my favorite Grappler exercises. If you don’t have access to a Grappler or something like it, you can get the same effect by wedging two barbells into the frame of a power rack or in the corner of a wall. Just add a moderately heavy dumbbell or plate over the end to anchor the bar down and you’ll do just fine.
Odds are pretty good you’ve seen somebody doing this exercise or something similar already – it’s by far the most popular movement using the leveraged barbell concept. My favorite way to do it is to use two barbells, as it incorporates the rotational work of a regular landmine with an extra gripping requirement, since you have to hold onto the sleeve of the bars with each hand throughout.
#2: Standing Flyes
This is pretty similar to the landmine, but with the resistance moving in the opposite direction. It also adds in some upper chest and anterior deltoid work, which can aid in punching power.
#3: Standing Military Presses
Again, you may have seen this one before with one barbell, but I like the 2-barbell version both from a time-efficiency standpoint and from a difficulty standpoint – I think the two-bar version is significantly harder than the 1-arm because you can’t twist and turn to cheat the weight up. You can do it both arms at a time, or alternating, and can do strict presses or push presses.
#4: Bent-Over Rows
This is kind of like a T-bar row with a better range of motion. You can do it as shown in the video, or face the other way and grab the bar sleeve to add some extra gripping work.
#5: Floor Presses
Even though these can be a pain in the ass to get into without a partner, I like these as an alternative to regular barbell or dumbbell floor presses because the bars tend to get pretty unpredictable with their movement and therefore has some good carryover to being on the bottom of a guard or mount position.
Try out a few of these different movements and figure out which ones work the best for you. Keep the reps in the low-to-moderate range (as low 3 reps, all the way up to 12) and keep the technique clean.