Training like an MMA fighter could be the best fitness approach for anyone, whether you intend to ever step into a ring or not.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters are ripped. They don’t just look good. They are the epitome of functional fitness, i.e fitness which can be used. They don’t have big bulging bodybuilder type muscles, but they have muscles which are extremely strong and which can be used in functional movements. Looking around our gym at Impact, many of us marvel at the impressive physiques on the fighters, especially considering many of them the mid to late thirties.
When it comes to fitness and conditioning, MMA fighters are on a whole new level. Dr Carlson Colker, a renown sports physician who has advised and trained superstar and elite athletes like Shaquille O’Neal and Andre Agassi, Olympic athletes and MMA fighters, told Sports Illustrated:
“”If you’re going to measure every parameter [endurance, flexibility, coordination, strength], without a doubt, MMA fighters are the most accomplished athletes out there…It’s not even close.”
The idea that fitness is central to fighting was openly preached by the father of modern MMA, the great Bruce Lee. Just like modern MMA fighters, Lee trained in various forms of martial arts ranging from Judo, boxing, wrestling and Wing Chun and eventually rejected the idea that training in just one style would be sufficient to be a complete fighter. Bruce Lee was revolutionary in his focus on physical conditioning. Bruce Lee said that physical conditioning is a must for all martial artists.
Essentially, MMA is several different sports rolled into one. The physical demands required for ground fighting are very different from those of takedowns and also very different from those of punching or kicking. In MMA, you need to push and pull, you need to have explosive movements and you also need isometric strength, you have a lot of twisting motions, hip movements, movements which are both under resistance and fast movements without resistance. Like Dr Colker says, every parameter of physical conditioning is required.
Training in MMA therefore puts you through all these motions. MMA fighters end up having supremely functional strength and conditioning.
At Impact MMA, we often see seasoned athletes like triathletes, rugby players, competitive soccer players and even some physical trainers try MMA training and discover that there are big gaping areas in their spectrum of fitness attributes which are lacking. Most of these sportsmen tend to be strong in a few areas, but weak in others. MMA tests and develops the whole lot.
The style of training in our gym involves a wide array of exercises. You have a range of body weight exercises, and exercises with equipment such as weights, kettlebells, battling ropes, tornado balls, medicine balls, various punching bags etc. The format of training could be described as a variant of high intensity interval training, with intense bouts of training interspersed with brief breaks. Impact MMA’s head MMA coach Bruce Loh says that a typical 90 minute session might involve about 45 minutes of pure physical conditioning with the rest of the time focusing on fighting technique and strategies.
We often see impressive examples of fat loss. “Fat” loss and not “weight” loss. The intense style of training promotes the loss of fat and the retention and growth of muscle. The loss of fat is counterbalanced by the maintenance or growth in lean mass and so the weight loss, if any, may not be dramatic if the individual is not carrying ample excess fat to start with. What is dramatic is the change in body shapes. As the fat melts away from the sprawls, tabatas, pad work, grappling drills etc, one sees a lean, toned physique emerge. For individuals carrying ample excess fat, we do see quite dramatic weight and fat loss. We have individuals, like Glenn Ang, 22, who have dropped in excess of 30kg over a 6 month period, while at the same time increasing their functional strength. We’ve seen scrawny underweight individuals pile on slabs of muscle to become athletic machines and competitive MMA fighters.
MMA is often described as “no holds barred” or “anything goes”. That’s what happens in the cage in a fight. You, and your body, must be prepared for all sorts of positions and situations, and you must be able to execute moves while under constant pressure and attack. Resistive forces come from all directions and you need to react and counteract these forces at a high intensity. Whether you ever intend to step into a cage to fight or not, train along side these ultimate warriors, and you too will end up having the most complete and functional physical conditioning ever while having a whole lot of fun!