Top Five Exercises for MMA Performance

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In the sport of MMA, there are many systems that are working as one. In any given round, the fighter has to be efficient in all aspects of these systems. A fighter must acquire strength, speed, power, and aerobic capacity to be able to handle oneself in a fight. In order to do so, certain exercises must be practiced throughout a training camp. As a strength and conditioning coach for such fighters as “King Mo” Lawal, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Tecia Torres, Daniel Straus, and many more, I have developed my top five exercises for MMA performance.

Before I go into my top five exercises, let me first talk about what’s important for a fighter’s physical preparation. In any fight there are key components that must be addressed in camp before fight night. Without question you must have a solid base of technique and skill. This comes from drilling and sparring (or sports-specific practice). This is something that your skill coaches must teach you before ever thinking about stepping into the cage. Technique will always be your main focus when it comes to your fight camp training.

Top Five Exercises for MMA Performance

With that being said, as a strength and conditioning coach, my job is to get the fighter physically prepared to win the fight. What that means is making sure they have the strength to overpower the opponent, and the conditioning to outwork the opponent. Performance can suffer, and technique could falter if the fighter is not physically prepared to fight. As a physical preparation specialist, we are the last line of defense for a fighter’s readiness. This is why having a solid set of exercises, and proper programming, is key to a successful training camp. These five exercises can be put in at any stage of training camp, or in the “off-season” for maintenance. These are my top five exercises in no particular order.

Zercher Squat

These are all very effective tools to use to enhance performance in a fighters game. Zercher Squats are the most grappler friendly style of squatting you could do. This will develop great lower-body strength, along with hip force development, and upper body stability. To perform this lift, take a standard Olympic weightlifting bar, or cambered bar, place it in the crooks of your elbows with fists up. Then take a standard squat stance, squat down to parallel, then drive up with force through the mid-line of your foot. End the repetition by locking your glutes, and hips, like you’re stopping a takedown. I usually have my fighters perform anywhere from three to five sets for about two to five repetitions.

Box Jumps

Box jumps are the end all-be-all of explosive power development. This can be performed in a reactive sequence, or for a one rep max. Utilizing your core and lower body to propel onto the box creates great explosiveness, and can aid in footwork reaction time. A box jump can be utilized in many different ways, but to not confuse anyone I will go over the standard jump for overall performance. Stand inside shoulder width, a foot or two away from the box, ease hands upward like you’re reaching for the sky. Then abruptly shoot your hands downward as you perform a slight hip hinge. At that point, spring up onto the box, landing as light as you can. Stand straight up on the box to finish the sequence, then step down off the box.

Medicine Ball Throws

Medicine ball throws are very important part of a fighter’s overall power output. Most people believe medicine ball throwing is only an upper body movement this is wrong. The med ball throw is a full body explosive power exercise and can create a higher degree in striking power. To perform the med ball throw simply stand with feet inside shoulder width, and the ball at chest level. At the start of the movement give a small hip hinge dropping your chest down to about flurry five degrees. Once that is done, shoot your arms out pressing the ball forward while you spring your body forward into a broad jump. Finish the movement by landing in a squared up position and keeping the core engaged. This can be performed in a reactive sequence or five sets of five reps.


Deadlift by far is the strength exercise no athlete should go without. This can be performed in many different ways, but I will just go over the conventional style. Start off by placing your feet inside shoulder width, with the toes underneath the bar, depending on flexibility. Grab the bar with an over under hand grip, and with a neutral spine, brace the core and press through the floor. Remember to pull the slack out of the bar by engaging the latissimus dorsi muscles. Once the bar passes the knees, drive hips to the bar standing erect. This will develop a strong posterior chain great for takedowns and takedown defense. Perform sets of three to five with reps ranging from one to six.

Sled Pull/Push

Sled pulling or pushing can be utilized for many different aspects. This helps aid in overall strength, explosive power, speed, and aerobic work. If you have access to a sled or a prowler, hook a rope or blast strap to it and proceed to pull the weight. You can go long distance for aerobic and rehab work, or general fitness. You can also go short distance sprints for explosive power and speed. For strength training, load weight to a maximum and pull to failure. If you do not have access to a sled or prowler, use a tire with sand bags. This is a killer as well.

These five exercises cover all basis’, and can take your physical preparation to the next level. Be efficient in the programming approach, and properly place these exercises to maximize performance. This is not to be done in a random sequence or thrown together for the sake of a workout. Remember you are training for a specific purpose, so you must be calculated. Try these in your program and keep punishing the competition.

Phil Daru

  • – MMA Strength & Conditioning Specialist
  • – American Top Team Physical Preparation Coach
  • – Sports Medicine, Exercise Science Degrees
  • – FMS Certified Member
  • – ACE Certified Instructor
  • – Former Professional MMA Fighter
  • – Former Devision 1 Football Player

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Phil Daru is a former Division 1 football player for Alabama State University, where he recieves undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and later a Sports Medicine degree from Keiser University. After college Phil began a career as a professional MMA fighter with American Top Team for 8 years, where he also began training athletes and fighters while pursuing a career as a fighter. Now 28 years old Phil has competed in Strongman, bodybuilding, and now an active competitive Powerlifter. Daru has worked with and continue to work with a number of top fighters such as King Mo Lawal, Tecia Torres, Amanda Nunes, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Daniel Strouse, Cole Miller, and many more. Daru is a dedicated and strong minded individual with determination to help others and to help educate and inform others on become stronger!

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