MMA Training and “So What?” Strength

by Kilo on April 14, 2011


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Guest post by Spencer Throssell

Don’t get me wrong, I have been lifting weights for over 15 years, and I do love it. I won’t bore you with a bunch of numbers, but I weigh 185 pounds, and can lift well over my body weight in just about any lift from just about any position. In the last few years, I have gotten more into body-weight workouts (i.e. 100+ pull-up workouts, sometimes with a weight vest for added kick, hand-stand push-ups, muscle-ups, etc.) and heavier Olympic lifts. I feel good. I look good. But recently I have been asking myself “so what?”

So why the change of heart? Well, it’s probably no coincidence that I have also recently started training in mixed martial arts. Like serious training. Two or three hours a day. Hard. And I’ve got the bruises to prove it.

You’ve probably already read articles about how traditional weight-lifting has limited practical value. Take the bench press, for example. You can go to the gym every day, throw a couple of plates on, and pump it until you are blue in the face. Up and down. And your numbers will increase. And you will see improvements. And your muscles will even get bigger. And you will get really good at lifting a bar with weights on it. Along the exact same trajectory. Up and down.

But jump in on a Brazilian jiu-jitsu grappling session, and you will immediately see the limitations of all your hard work. You may be able to bench press more than any guy on the mat, and if one of those guys lays himself directly across your chest, and holds perfectly still, you will be in good shape. But I’m telling you right now, that’s not going to happen.

To anyone that has never checked out an MMA class, I would highly recommend it. It is a great workout: strength, grip, and cardio. You will be lifting weight (usually, but not always, someone about your same size). But unlike the stationary bar you are used to, it is an aggressive, sweaty, shifting weight, with bad intentions, and you never know if you are going to have to pick it up for a take down, push it off your chest, pin it down, or attempt to stop it from choking you unconscious. You can get pumped and motivated to attempt a new PR on your deadlift, but when you’re relying on your strength to prevent some guy from breaking your arm, it takes on a whole new sense of urgency.

That’s probably what I like best about the strength component of an MMA workout: the diversity. And the constancy. You are constantly using your muscles, but it is constantly changing too (now you’re using your arms for an arm bar, now your legs for defense, now your back and core for a take down). And, surprisingly, it is a thinking experience, which I also like. Bench press, there is no thinking, you just lie down and lift. But MMA is like chess. But with punches. Which only adds to the excitement.

Really, traditional strength training is not a complete “so what?” I still lift weights on the side, and I think it helps. A lot of fighters just focus on the fighting, and that’s okay. These guys are in shape, make no mistake. But having the extra strength that comes from intense weight training during your “down time,” once you pick up the fighting skills and technique, and get some practice, you are a force to be reckoned with.

Let’s get it on!

About the author:

When he’s not trying to bench press men off of him before his arm snaps, Spencer Throssell reviews books and plays amateur philosopher over on Dunce Academy.

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