Strongman Training for Combat Athletes

One of the fastest growing sports of the last 20 years has been Mixed Martial Arts. These highly specialized athletes are some of the strongest and most well conditioned people on the planet. While nearly all of them do some sort of weight training, I propose that some time should be spent doing strongman style training. In doing so they will receive greater benefits than other forms of traditional weight training.

What separates Strongman from other styles of lifting?

Powerlifting and weightlifting share a common goal: to lift the greatest amount of weight, for one repetition, at an exact movement. You become very good at those lifts and your strength in your entire body will increase. The major problem is while you become very good at the specific movement, you may not be as strong as you think doing other activities. While it’s great to have an awesome jerk and massive deadlift, the fighter wants to just be bone strong without weakness in their game.

Strongman, on the other hand, contains dozens of movements and positions of the body. The lifter must also not just raise their limit strength (a one rep max), but have muscular endurance for high rep events and anaerobic capacity for drags and carries. The demands of a properly programmed strongman workout also help to get you in and out of the gym quickly. Remember, fighters should spend the bulk of their time training to fight,and  everything else is just to support their actual sport. Additionally I believe it can increase your mind’s tolerance for pain better than any other form of lifting.

What are the best movements?

The toolbox of strongman exercises is deep, and varied and almost all of them will make you stronger in every way possible. There are a few though, that would be must haves for the serious MMA athlete. (Prior to beginning strongman movements, please contact a local experienced coach to go over form and technique.)

Axle Bar Deadlift and Cleans

The thick grip of the axle is a superior hand strengthening tool. The bar also has no flex making each lift harder and challenging your balance. Working this movement for eight to ten reps will also send your heart rate to the max. It is also a great tool as most gym owners will let you leave an axle at their gym, as it only takes up the space of a traditional bar. If you want to make the movements even harder you can set collars to stop the plates from rotating, making catching the clean more difficult and forcing you to maintain your footing.

Tire Flips

Make sure you have a clean and dry tire that is on the lighter side. I would recommend 250 pounds for women and 600 pounds for most men because you are doing this movement to build endurance and power not limit strength. Do this for maximum flips in a minute to greatly increase your anaerobic capacity and build endurance in the posterior chain. This is great movement for fighters who get involved in a lot of cliches and shoot takedowns.

Stones or Sandbags

It is no secret that all strongman love the stone and fighters should love them too. They are the oldest test of strength and the most primal. With more than one way to train them, you can have just a few stones (or bags) to get a variety of workouts.

  • Stone loading can be done for singles to increase full body power to its maximum or for reps to build muscle, increase endurance, and improve conditioning.
  • Stone carries will increase your endurance to the max and turn your posterior chain into a human crane.
  • Small stones can be thrown for distance to help increase power and leg drive.
  • Get creative with them. Strongman Jimmy Norton was doing these awesome strength building and body hardening modified Turkish Get-ups in the gym last week.

If you are a MMA fighter and you have only been doing traditional lifts, it is really time to step up your game. Take these tips to your local strongman gym and really get working. Your competition won’t be thanking me.

Featured image: @pudzianofficial on Instagram

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

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Weight training is in the blood of BarBend contributor Mike Gill. Learning how to lift as part of his conditioning for Jr. High School wrestling fueled a passion that has lasted now for 35 years. He has a background in all weight disciplines and has competed in Bodybuilding, Powerlifting and Weightlifting eventually finding his niche and turning professional in the sport of Strongman. Retired from competition, he now focuses on coaching and applying events from the most versatile weight discipline to other sports. His vast knowledge of Strongman has been highlighted in his work as a color commentator for live broadcasts of the Arnold World Championships, National Amateur Championships, World’s Strongest Man Over 40 and World’s Strongest Woman.Not limiting himself to just working with weights, Mike has used his decades of discipline to work as a life coach and speaker. Additionally he can often be seen in New York City as a stand up comic.He can be reached for coaching at Michaelgill100 [at] gmail.com, @prostrongman on Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and on Facebook.