There’s more to being a successful martial artist than just knowing the right moves or techniques.
What most people don’t realize is that the men and women who step into the cage to compete possess serious physical strength and stamina, which can only be obtained through regular training.
Fitness is a huge part of MMA, and no matter where your specialties are or how far you want to take your skill, you’ll need to be physically fit to compete.
Not only is it a necessity for serious competitions, but it’s a must-have to even train in martial arts, so it can’t be overlooked by anyone who wants to get into MMA.
What level of fitness is required to do MMA?
To get into mixed martial arts, it’s ideal to have a good foundation of physical strength and overall fitness to enable you to train, compete, and last multiple rounds against an opponent.
This fitness needs to be kept up with regular practice, as you would any other skill, and is something completely different from the training you’ll do for MMA.
When you’re ready to get serious about mixed martial arts, the best place to start is by getting realistic about your fitness levels. This guide will show you exactly what’s needed to train in MMA, what the true meaning of fitness entails, and what you have to do each day to achieve it.
How to Define Fitness
The term fitness is a lot broader than most people realize, and it isn’t just about how long you can run without getting puffed out or whether you can lift more than someone else.
Being fit is about being in tune with your body and giving it what it needs so that it can perform at its best, and there are three main areas to consider.
Being fit isn’t just about working out, but fueling your body with the right foods to perform.
For an MMA athlete and someone in the training stages, you’ll need a very specific diet to keep in peak physical condition. Most martial arts practicing at a competitive level have a nutritionist or dietician to help them in this area.
Staying fit enough to compete in MMA or train requires more than just a 30 minute walk around the block each day. Strength and conditioning, cardiovascular exercise, and training in your chosen martial art forms will all form part of how you get your weekly fitness.
Just as important as working out and exercising is knowing when your body needs rest. All athletes understand the importance of rest in the training process and you won’t be fit enough to compete or train without giving your body time to recover and repair.
Maintaining Fitness Levels
A good athlete and martial artist should not only be working to improve their skills but maintain a certain level of fitness at all times.
When you’re not actively training for an upcoming event or working on learning a new technique, there are things to do that will ensure you stay in peak physical condition.
You should focus on both strength and cardiovascular workouts when maintaining fitness levels, so while it might not be as intense as the program you had when you were increasing these levels, it’s still a part of your regular routine.
Aim to work out your muscle groups at least every 72 hours, with at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each day.
Maintaining fitness isn’t just something for professional athletes though, as everyday people also need to do things to keep their levels up.
What’s important is that your fitness never drops below what’s required of you to get through your daily life and keep you on track with your goals, whether that’s a 30-minute run each day or spending hours at a training center learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The Difference Between Exercise and Training
Exercise can be used to describe any form of physical activity that is done for a benefit in the present.
You might be trying to burn calories, clear your mind, build muscles, or product a tangible change, but are overall improving your general health and wellbeing without any real goal in place.
Training is the use of exercise and physical activity to try and achieve a specific goal. The workout is planned to gradually improve skill levels, like martial arts techniques, speed, or strength.
With professional athletes, training is usually done to allow them to compete at a certain event or prepare for an upcoming competition, and it’s done as part of their regular exercise routine.
Both of these options are good for your fitness, but the time spent on each should be carefully considered depending on your goals.
Someone who is trying to maintain fitness and skills won’t need as rigorous of a plan as a professional MMA fighter preparing for a contest, so it can differ completely from person to person.
The Importance of Nutrition
When we talk about physical fitness, it’s easy to get lost in the things that keep our bodies active and strong.
While it’s important to exercise every day and train for specific goals, what we eat and the things we put into our body is half the battle and an often-overlooked part of being fit.
The best way to look at the foods you eat is to view them as medicine; with the right foods, we can treat ailments, reduce our risk of becoming sick in the future, and lower our chance of developing serious conditions and illnesses.
Being fit means having a healthy and balanced diet, but this won’t always look the same for everyone.
When it comes to mixed martial arts specifically, the diet of someone in the middle of a training regime will be quite strict. This allows them to fuel their body to take on the challenging training they’re undergoing and keep them in peak physical condition.
With the right foods, they can be primed and in the best shape at the very moment it’s needed of them, with all of these phases to be carefully considered.
Before a big workout or training session, an MMA fighter will eat similarly to how they would on fight night so they have enough energy to last up to 90 minutes.
Lots of protein, carbs to give them fuel to burn, and fresh fruits and vegetables are key. Nitrate rich liquids like fresh fruit juices are also ideal up to 90 minutes before a workout.
The recovery process can be made easier and faster with the right foods, and for a serious martial artist, this includes protein and anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables.
Any food taken to aid the body in its recovery should be ingested within 30 minutes of a workout.
MMA fighters remain in a catabolic state and also needs to be reaching their fitness goals, so it’s a thin line between putting on too much muscle and making the weigh-in for their contest so they’re not disqualified.
The help of a dietitian or nutritionist can be useful here in determining how many calories they need to eat.
In the days leading up to a competition, a fighter will have to eat foods that give them the most strength and endurance so they can stay for as many rounds as needed in the ring.
Depending on the type of martial arts used, this diet could look different for each fighter, but a high protein diet is ideal and a lot of carbs to fuel them for the main event.
A serious athlete who isn’t in training for anything specific will usually eat a diet that’s high in protein and with lots of fresh vegetables but be a little laxer on the rules.
Dinners might consist of things like lean chicken breast, salmon, and beans, with some red meat hamburgers or a steak once or twice a week.
Why the Mind Matters
Your physical wellbeing relies heavily on the health of your mind as well, and this is something that professional athletes and fitness fanatics have known for centuries.
Without a healthy mind, you won’t be able to perform at your best, and for someone who trains and competes in MMA, taking care of this with these methods is just as important as the physical side of things.
- Ensure you’re getting enough sleep at night to help your mind reset itself for the next day and be prepared for training. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults are recommended to get between seven and nine to hours each night, and without adequate rest, you’ll experience a range of mental side effects.
- Practice some form of meditation, like mindfulness meditation, to help you calm your thoughts and control anxiety. This type of meditation will also allow you to focus on the task at hand, rather than allowing troubling thoughts to get the better of you, so it can be fundamental for exercise and training.
- Set yourself some goals about fitness, training, and exercise, and realistic time frames to achieve them. Have these written down somewhere you can see, to help you stay motivated, and make adjustments as you need.
- Consider speaking to a trained mental health professional if you plan on entering a serious training schedule, or believe things are holding you back that you could get help with.
Knowing When to Rest
For a serious athlete, like an MMA fighter, the body needs rest periods to allow it to repair and strengthen itself, and also for the individual to recover from their grueling training.
During the recovery period, your body will adapt to the stress it’s been enduring through intense training sessions and workouts, replenish its energy stores, and repair the body tissue.
Short term recovery is what happens just hours after the exercise and could include switching to low-intensity exercise following a serious workout.
Long-term recovery is a set phase that’s part of an athlete’s training program and they can last for weeks, with a mixture of low-intensity exercise and minimal workouts.
The most important form of recovery for a high-level athlete is sleep, and the same can be said even for a beginner just starting their MMA workouts.
As we sleep, our bodies work to repair themselves, we reduce stress hormones, repair tissues, and improve our aerobic endurance, so it’s essential no matter what level you’re training at.
Essential Workout Gear for Every Physical Condition
To achieve fitness in any physical condition, there are some essential pieces of equipment you can invest in.
Whether you have a gym at home or are looking at joining your local training center, this gear is a great way to build fitness, and continue to challenge yourself as your abilities increase.
- Jump rope: The ultimate cardio workout and one many professional athletes favor is a jump rope, and they’re affordable enough to suit any budget.
- Boxing bag: Whether you choose a reflex bag, ground bag, or heavy bag, you’ll want something that allows you to practice the precision, force, and speed of your strikes.
- MMA gloves: A quality pair of gloves is ideal, whether you’re sparring with a partner or practicing on the bag. These gloves are used in many forms of MMA so having a reliable pair is a good start.
- Grappling/throwing dummy: With a grappling dummy to practice on, you won’t need a training partner. These dummies can let you perform all kinds of throws, grapples, and strikes in a realistic way, and give you more of an MMA specific training tool.
- Attire: MMA suitable clothing can make a huge difference in your performance. There are some key items you’ll want to invest in when working out, including MMA shorts and a specific outfit for your chosen martial arts, like a gi if you’re learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Long Term Gains in a Safe Way
The goal for any athlete or person trying to get fit, no matter their rank, is to make slow and steady gains.
By rushing the process and trying to build your strength and stamina too quickly, you’ll only end up suffering negative consequences, like an injury that prevents you from doing any exercise for months on end.
If you want to get fit enough to progress your skills in MMA, give yourself a few months to build up your general fitness before you start any mixed martial arts training.
With the solid foundation of a good physical condition, you’ll find this part of the training process a lot easier, and have better endurance to enable you to give it your all.
It can take years of practice and a serious training schedule before any fighter tries their hand in serious competition, and MMA is not a sport that you can rush into.
Being physically fit is the best advantage you can give yourself, not just for this type of training, but for leading a healthy life overall.
Staying physically fit is just one part of being proficient in MMA, and it should be focused on just as intently as the training for your chosen martial arts.
If you’ve been thinking about getting into MMA and want to know the basics before you begin, we’ve answered some common questions that newcomers have about the popular combat sport.
What is Conditioning Training?
Strength and conditioning training is about preparing your body for a workout, and for MMA fighters this means preparing yourself for the physical toll that a contest can take.
Conditioning might involve a mixture of strength training, cardio, and mixed martial arts training so that you’re equipped for anything.
Is HIIT Good for MMA Training?
High-intensity interval training can allow a fighter to improve their endurance which would be helpful during a cage match when they have long rounds against their opponent.
HIIT burns more fat which gives room for the muscle to increase, and it takes less time to get results than some other workout styles.
Do MMA Fighters Lift Weights?
There is no set workout routine that every MMA athlete follows but rather one made specifically for their physique and fighting style.
Weight lifting is a good way to build muscle, but it may be smarter for a martial artist to perform bodyweight exercises instead, as they can work on their cardio at the same time.