mma fighter doing shoulder weight lifiting

Do MMA Fighters Lift Weights?

Lifting weights is often associated with getting bigger muscles, however, MMA fighters also need to regulate their weight to fight at a specific weight class. It’s possible to train for fighting without lifting weights, but here’s a summary of whether MMA fighters lift weights.

As a general rule, MMA fighters lift weights. Virtually all MMA fighters have video footage of their training routines, and always include some type of weight training. This is often balanced with movements specific exercises and bodyweight movements such as pull-ups.

Below, I will explain how much weight training UFC fighters do by comparing the training routines of some of the most well-known fighters. That way you can get an idea of how much weight training a typical MMA fighter does.

How Much Weight Training MMA Fighters Do

MMA involves 4 main martial arts that require specific skills. But, having a strong overall body, and cardio for endurance is extremely helpful for sustaining the length of a fighter. I was curious how much weight training MMA fighters do so looked at the training routines of a bunch of different MMA fighters, and here’s what I found.

On average, about 25% of an MMA fighter’s workout involves weight training. The most common are deadlift type movements for the legs, shoulder presses with weights, a barbell push press, and ring curl sit-ups for the abs using a weight plate.

On top of this, many MMA fighters include plank-type exercises, medicine ball exercises such as medicine ball slams, press-ups, pulls up/muscle-ups, and air squats. The training routine of MMA fighters is varied from day to day so that one muscle group doesn’t get overworked. It also varies the type of stress put on each muscle group and the body overall.

Here’s a table that shows a general training routine for some of the most well known MMA fighters:

Connor McGregorFrancis NgannouDustin PoirierJon Jones
Pull ups/muscle upsClap push upsLandmine push pressHang clean
Push upsDecline push upsRack pull (modified deadlift)Barbell push press
Dumbbell shoulder pressDipsZercher good morningLying leg curl
Air squatsNarrow push upsPush pressDumbbell snatch
Barbell push pressBurpeesCurls to shoulder pressClean and jerk
Hand stand push upsWalking dumbbell deadlifts
Ring twists

As you can see they do a mix of bodyweight exercises and weights. Francis Ngannou is a bit unique as based on the many videos he has put out of his training it appears he does mostly bodyweight exercises, and virtually no weight training. 

But, it is fair to say that doing press-ups is virtually identical to say a chest press or barbell press. And therefore, is a one-for-one substitute for using weights. Whereas, other UFC fighters like Dustin Poirier use very heavy weights. Here’s a video of Dustin Porier where it shows him doing leg exercises using very heavy weights, as well as, a mix of other cardio type exercises:

It’s important to note that most professional MMA fighters train very hard up until a few weeks out from the right. And then they spend their time maintaining their body but not pushing their body too hard. This allows them to be incredibly fresh.

Many top UFC coaches such as Eugene Bareman at City Kickboxing, who trains Israel Adesanya has stated that the idea to get a fighter to ‘peak’. This is where they train up until a point where they have their maximum, strength and cardio right when the fight happens. This process is generally a well-honed strict plan of a balance of weights, drills, and cardio that has been refined over time.

A lot of science such as testing things like VO2 max and force output are measured to gauge how a fighter is doing as they train. This is done at the UFC performance institutes, as well as, many private gyms/training facilities. For example, here’s a video of a guy going through Connor McGregor’s workout, where they measure his athletic output as he does it.

But, there are a lot of factors that can stop an MMA fighter from being at their absolute best before a fight. Such as getting a flu, and injuring a part of their body such as their knee, or hand.

If an MMA fighter has an injury or illness often times they will still fight, even though they know they won’t be in their absolute best physical shape. Other times, they will call the fight off completely, and a backup fighter will be called up to ask if they want to fight. 

This is the reason that the events on a UFC card can change from time to time or the main title fight will be replaced with the first that was going to be before it.

Do MMA Fighters Use Dumbbells

Dumbells are a more convenient way to do weight lifting because with a few sets of dumbbells you can do a whole-body workout without the need for a big, heavy, and costly machine. But, machines also have the advantage of being a lot safer than dumbbells. However, do MMA fighters use dumbbells as part of their training routine?

Generally, MMA fighters use dumbbells. But, they have a varied workout routine that involves MMA-specific bodyweight exercises, general bodyweight exercises, pad work, and grappling drills. Dumbbells are used to strengthen the muscles to make an MMA fighter stronger overall.

A common dumbbell exercise used by MMA fighters is a shoulder press, and well as ring curls. They also use barbells to do leg exercises, bicep curls, and chest press-type movements.

They also commonly do ring curls. As you may know, ring curls are where you hold a weight plate on your chest and do sit-ups. At the top of the sit-up, you turn either side to work the sides of the abs and the lower back muscles. 

A ring curl could technically be done with dumbbells but a weight plate is easier to hold and is more similar to the pushing-off movement an MMA fighter would use when they get taken to the ground.

Is Lifting Weights Good for Fighting

After lifting weights the body is exhausted and needs to recover. During this time the muscles can be sore, and a person’s overall strength is diminished for a few days. And being light and fast are also very advantageous so here’s a rundown of whether lifting weights are good for fighting.

In general, lifting weights is good for fighting. Lifting weights stimulates the muscles in a way that makes them stronger. Being stronger than your opponent in a fight is advantageous for increasing the power of your strikes, and for escaping and attacking in grappling situations.

But, in general, MMA fighters do not lift heavy weights or do any hard training a few weeks out from the fight. The main emphasis leading up to a fight is to maintain the strength and cardio performance they have built during a training camp. This is because lifting heavy weights taxes the body too much and a fighter will be too weak or exhausted on fight day.

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