The training regimen for professional MMA fighters is intense and needs to cover a lot of skills that are needed to excel in MMA fights. Not only do professional MMA fighters have to build their skills, but they also have to train their bodies for a fight and manage rest and recovery. So how often do they train to meet these needs?
Professional MMA fighters train about five or six days a week, usually once or twice a day. Training involves a mix of high-intensity and low-intensity training that allows fighters to maximize their skill acquisition while building maintaining and building physical attributes throughout the week.
Let’s talk more about training to be a professional fighter and what you can expect during the training process.
What Types of Training Do Professional MMA Fighters Do?
Professional MMA fighters primarily train for skill acquisition for their chosen combat sport alongside building their cardiovascular capacity, flexibility, mobility, explosiveness, and strength. Professional fighters emphasize skill development through drilling and sparring before other training.
Professional fighters need to balance many different types of training to maximize their performance. Building up physical attributes and managing systemic fatigue while broadening and sharpening fighting skills can be a difficult balance.
Let’s break down the types of training that professional fighters need to balance.
Sparring & Skill Acquisition
While the above training methods are important, nothing will prepare a fighter to step into the ring quite like sparring within the ruleset. For MMA fighters, since there are so many possible situations that a fighter can be in when they step into the octagon these situations can be broken down and trained within an MMA ruleset.
So an MMA fighter can work drills from standing, on the ground, against the cage, etc. They can focus on specific striking skills and situations and work on escaping inferior positions and maintaining dominant positions. For a professional MMA fighter, there are a lot of skills that need to be acquired so skill acquisition is a dominant part of any good fighter’s overall training routine.
Taking these drills into positional sparring is the next step and allows further skill acquisition in areas that fighters might need to focus. Eventually, close to full-contact sparring will occur with training partners and will allow them to apply their skills to a full MMA ruleset. This form of training gets the least amount of time since it has the highest fatigue cost and lowers the amount of skill acquisition that can happen throughout the week.
Cardio training is a very popular training method for professional fighters and other athletes that most of us can understand. Fighters use it to help them keep higher quality movements in fights for long periods of time. When professional fighters do cardio exercises, it’s different from just going for a run or hiking.
Professional fighters usually train by working HIIT training, ranging from doing sprints to interval training for grappling skills or simple stationary biking. This builds useful cardiovascular capacity for a fight situation. Jogging and other similar steady-state exercises are also helpful, but not as directly impactful as the exercises that build the ability to recover from explosive efforts.
Building up the ability to maintain constant cardiovascular output alongside bursts of effort with short recovery periods is essential for a professional MMA fighter since it mirrors the overall physical needs of an MMA fight situation.
Flexibility and Mobility
While flexibility isn’t usually the main goal for professional fighters, it’s important to have enough flexibility and mobility to smoothly execute techniques in a fight.
Generally speaking, MMA fighters require at least some flexibility for fighters to be successful since it reduces injury risk and in this way maximizes training capacity over time. Flexibility is an attribute that can also allow fighters to better resist submission attempts from their opponents in a fight situation.
More important to a fighter is building up mobility since it has a huge impact on the ability of a fighter to effectively move between positions and execute techniques more smoothly. Some positional advantages and disadvantages can be more adequately addressed by a more mobile fighter.
MMA fighters will incorporate passive stretches that are more common knowledge after their workout like the classic static stretches done in any typical sport, but these are not usually given high priority compared to a mobility-building routine.
Most fighters prioritize building up mobility through executing dynamic stretches and fighting movements as a consistent part of their warm-up routines. These movements are programmed to provide an increased range of motion and mobility through movements that are relevant to fighting. One of the most prominent high-value areas to increase mobility are the hips.
Check out the video below to see an example of a hip mobility routine that an MMA fighter might regularly program into their training.
Explosiveness and Strength
Strength training for professional MMA fighters can be challenging to program. Ideally, an MMA fighter will have a lot of explosive strength and enough isometric strength to dominate and finish their opponents through control positions and submissions.
This means that bodybuilding-style training that most people are familiar with is not actually appropriate for an MMA fighter. MMA fighters need to program their strength training to include an emphasis on maximal power and explosiveness that can be repeated many times. Exercises like explosive banded broad jumps become way more functional than high repetitions of slow-twitch muscle-building exercises that can maximize muscle mass.
While strength training will help a fighter build muscle, having additional muscle has a cost. Due to the fact that MMA fighters compete within weight classes, it is imperative to ensure that the muscle that is put on is of high value and contributes efficiently to creating maximal power output for muscle weight. This tends to make fighters leaner than bodybuilders and traditional strength athletes.
Another factor that an MMA fighter has to factor in is time and fatigue efficiency since there are so many other more important factors like skill development.
Check out this video below for an example of what a full-body MMA workout would look like to maximize strength and power endurance.
How Does MMA Training Differ From Other Athletes?
All athletes need to build skills alongside their physical capacity, but MMA fighters have to balance building a broader range of skillsets while creating efficient and powerful bodies. Combining sparring and fighting movements into strength and conditioning is common for MMA athletes.
Professional fighters go through a lot of physical training alongside intensive skill-building training to get ready for a fight. It’s sometimes a bit easier for people to understand other forms of athletics in which they might have participated, but MMA is not incredibly different and just targets a different set of skills. Let’s go into some details about how their training differs from other professional athletes.
Drilling and Sparring
For most normal athletes, they may work on drills and compete within a ruleset (which is the equivalent of sparring within their sport), but in MMA and other combat sports, there is a heavier fatigue cost and a higher likelihood of taking damage due to the nature of the sports being combat-oriented which necessitates making your opponent incapacitated or forcing them to submit.
Sparring are drilling are integral activities for combat sports athletes everywhere, naturally including MMA fighters. Sparring is usually done at a lower intensity to build skills without wearing out the fighter or putting unnecessary damage on them.
Drilling is the practice of repeating a move over and over to commit it to muscle memory. Building this muscle memory allows fighters to execute important techniques and movements even under stress and exhaustion. Being able to
A Demanding Schedule
The training schedule of an MMA fighter is one of the most physically demanding and sets them apart from other athletes in many ways. I already talked a bit about different aspects of MMA training, but you may be left wondering how fighters fit that much training into their schedule. So, let’s break down what an MMA fighter’s training may look like each week.
First, it’s important to know that most fighters train twice a day. So, this isn’t the same as going to the gym five days a week. MMA often requires morning and evening training to cover all aspects of training within a week so they can still have time off from training. This is especially true during fight camps in which athletes are preparing for a fight and creating skills and game plans for a specific fight.
Depending on the fighter’s fight readiness philosophy or their coach’s preference they may emphasize fight camps versus high volume training year-round. I train in an MMA facility and most of the higher-level fighters train 4 to 6 times a week and ramp up their training schedule and intensity when preparing for fights.
Finding the right balance of training for professional MMA fighters can be difficult, but the principles involved really tailor the training to be intense in some parts of the week and less intense in others. This allows a fighter to keep fit and healthy while doing the maximal work for skill acquisition.
To be most effective, a fighter should balance high-intensity workouts like sparring, strength work, and high-intensity cardio, against lower intensity workouts that emphasize mobility and skill acquisition.
There are also a great many types of skills-based training that are necessary and can fall under different categories. For example, a pro-MMA fighter will need to build cage wrestling skills, takedown skills, striking skills, ground striking skills, and ground grappling skills.
This results in a high variety of skills that need to be built. In order to build a complete MMA fighter, these skills get drilled in volume throughout their total training time.
Why Is Recovery Time Important for Professional MMA Fighters?
Managing recovery is important for professional MMA fighters in order to get more total work volume and skill-building and also because of the theory of supercompensation. Any athlete who structures their training alongside appropriate recovery time will become better than their previous baseline.
At first glance, it might seem like training at high intensity every day is optimal for fighters and other athletes, however, part of building up skills and physical capacity is creating an environment where sufficient recovery time allows an athlete to build back their capacity to work even better than before.
So, let’s talk about the theory of super-compensation. Giving the body time to recover from training allows the body to prepare itself for the next training session. So, not only will your body feel rested and healthy and be less likely to get injured, but the body will also use this time preparing for the next fight.
When your body has time to prepare itself for training, you can expect it to have more energy overall. This energy is vital for getting through the tough training MMA fighters face. Interestingly, your body becomes stronger during the supercompensation or recovery process. This allows your baseline performance to increase.
When fighters are going through fight camps they manipulate supercompensation to ensure that they are at their most rested and capable right before they have their scheduled fight. This is a useful tool to be used by ramping up intensity up over the course of the fight camp until a week out from the fight, then bringing down systemic fatigue to feel your best and perform on fight night.
When your baseline performance increases, you’ll notice you’re able to handle even more when it comes to training. Maybe you can sprint longer distances or lift more than normal. You may also notice that you’re faster than before or that other physical attributes have improved.
Not Waiting Too Long To Train Again
As important as rest and recovery time is for any athlete, it’s important not to take it too far. Supercompensation can help overall performance, but creating a long rest period can drop overall work capacity and make relevant fighting skills get rusty.
Keeping a consistent training schedule is vital for top MMA fighters. Resting for recovery has diminishing returns beyond about a week. MMA fighters also have to balance skill acquisition which can happen more frequently with lower intensity drills and sparring against the benefits of manipulating supercompensation.
Not all professional MMA fighters have the same training routines but all of the best train quite frequently since there are so many skills to acquire alongside keeping their bodies in good enough shape to perform in the octagon. Most of them do training camps in order to get supercompensation benefits and create an ideal fight situation on fight night.
For more check out How Many Times a Week Should You Train Martial Arts?