3 Deadlift Variations for MMA Fighters

With the increase in popularity of the UFC inevitably comes a flood of information from various strength coaches, trainers and other fitness professionals about “sport-specific” training for mixed martial arts competition. While there are a handful of trainers who advocate a variety of circus-like “functional” lifts, including everything from swinging chains around while standing on a stability ball (yes, this is actually a thing people do) to performing strength exercises in combat gear and altitude masks (again, yes, people do this for real), most intelligent coaches and trainers have taken basic staples of strength and tweaked them to meet the needs of a different sport.

While there will be some disagreement, it’s commonly accepted that one of the best exercises to increase MMA potential is the deadlift. There is not a fighter on the planet who can’t benefit from a stronger posterior chain (low back, glutes, and hamstrings), a better grip, and more power in the entire body. And for a lot of the offseason, the standard deadlift gets the job done. But there are a few variations that can be incorporated into your fight preparation that work either as a main lift or as an accessory lift.

The Single-Leg Deadlift

For sheer glute recruitment, the single-leg deadlift is probably the best exercise out there. It also works well for people who tend to dominate conventional deadlifts with their lower back – since you’re still using all of your lumbar muscles but only half of your glutes and hamstrings, your lower back isn’t moving enough weight to get fatigued easily.

The Zercher Deadlift

The bar position and the wide stance mimics a double-leg takedown. If you can move 300-400lbs for a few reps here you’ll have a lot less trouble taking down an angry 200-lb man who’s trying to beat you in the head.

Band-Resisted Deadlift

I like these because they force you to be fast. You’re less likely to use maximum weights, but with a healthy amount of band tension on the bar, your grip, upper back and traps will get a ton of overload because the band is going to try to yank the bar back to the floor at lockout.

There are a couple of setup options here. The first is with a single JumpStretch or EliteFTS band (light and average bands work the best for this, use more than one if necessary):

The second option is to use a couple of EliteFTS short bands, which are a little easier to set up correctly. The mini, monster mini, and light bands are the best options here, and make sure to choke the bands over the smooth part of the bar, as the knurling can tear up the bands over time:

Guest Blog: The First Month – Stick Your Butt Out!!!

Zach has been kind enough to allow me to write a monthly blog on the website. If you haven’t had a chance to meet me yet, I joined AST the day after Valentine’s Day – February 15th, 2012. There is no real significance to this date besides me wanting to come in as soon as possible (which happened to be Valentine’s Day eve), but Zach asking me to reschedule to the following day – smart man. So who am I, why are you reading this, and what the hell does the title of this article mean? Keep reading…

I had always been the “chubby” one the family. I have two older brothers, who surprisingly got the great family genes and yours truly was left with the not-so-great genes. After ballooning to 230lbs (at a very average height of 5’6) in 2006, I decided enough was enough. Like most people, I joined a franchised gym wanting to become the greatest hunk of muscle in the Chicagoland area. Not surprisingly, the weight started to come off…and slowly but surely I was obsessed with the gym. I got to my leanest point at 165lbs in the summer of 2007. I didn’t have a flat stomach or chiseled abs and it took me almost a year and a half, but I did it…by myself…without guidance…possibly the worst way I could get in “shape”. You see, I was working out like a mad man – 6 days a week (sometimes twice a day), 1 hour at the gym lifting weights, lots of cardio outside the gym, no real regimented diet…and most importantly I was obsessed with the weight scale. I had a big chest, big arms (the “glamour muscles”), and a big smile thinking that I am going to keep up with this schedule the rest of my life… I was wrong.

Now let’s fast forward to November 2011: Back to 206lbs, a few years older, and disheartened that the only way to get back to 165lbs was by following the same ridiculous aforementioned schedule. How does one get motivated to do so? Well, I tried…again…for three months…and it wasn’t working this time around.

A lucky Google search landed me at the AST website, and very quickly I made my first appointment. I had my reservations, but Zach told me I didn’t have to do cardio to get back in shape – SOLD! Then he showed me a before and after picture of a client – DOUBLE SOLD! Before signing up, I made the following comment to Zach: “Just like your client, I want to be to on the wall too”; and he very calmly responded: “If you want it, we will get you there, but compliance is key.”

So now it’s been a little over the month of coming to AST – five weeks to be exact (but we can discount the first week of assessments), and what have we accomplished so far? My body fat has dropped 4.1%, I’ve lost about 11.6lbs while keeping my lean mass fairly stable (meaning the weight loss has pretty much been all fat), I’ve notched my belt once, and the burning desire to be in the best shape possible has come back. This time though, the difference is that I am doing things the “right” way. Things I’ve learnt the last few weeks:

Eating the Right Way

I’m no expert on this matter, but I stick with the basics Zach tells me and it’s actually not that hard. Sure, temptations are all around, but at the end of the day it’s “mind over matter”. Put down the pizza, and pick up a chicken breast (and avocadoes)! Write EVERYTHING in your food journal, and carry it everywhere (I even have a pen affixed to my journal so I don’t have any excuses). Enjoy your cheat meal.

Stretching/Warming Up

I try to come to sessions about 30-40 minutes ahead of time. I don’t like being rushed in life (I come straight from work), so this gives me ample time to stretch and warm up properly. Plus, it also helps me get in the zone before the “Sergio Hell” about to follow. Is it weird to warm up for 40 minutes for a 30 minute workout? Sure. Do I care? Nope.

How to PROPERLY Do a Squat

Sergio yelled at me the first few sessions: “Stick your butt out!” and I quietly thought to myself: “What the hell does this guy mean?? I don’t understand the words that are coming out of his mouth!!” Well, every time I heard that comment, I went home and practiced sticking my butt out in front of the mirror…and I’m proud to publicly share this information. My squats have become better (again, not an expert yet), and I’ve definitely noticed myself going deeper every time the coaches make me do a squat. The point I’m trying to make is that if you don’t understand something, just ask. I tend to ask a lot of questions and Zach, Sergio, Christine and Julie always have a detailed answer.


A mistake from a previous life.

Sure, it requires focus and mental strength (I’ve found myself watching Sergio’s “Alpha Male” video, as well as some other favorites of mine, over and over again), but the real credit goes to the staff: they are experts in their field. Listen to them, follow their guidance and the results will be in your next bio-sig.

See you at the workout station!