Are you wondering whether MMA (UFC) fighters lift weights?
In this article, we’ll look at whether MMA fighters lift weights, how often they do so and the factors affecting this, and what exercises MMA fighters perform and avoid.
Do MMA (UFC) Fighters Lift Weights?
Yes, MMA fighters lift weights. It’s an integral part of any successful fighter’s lifestyle and fight preparation, especially MMA fighters who make it to elite promotions like the UFC, Bellator, or One.
Why do MMA (UFC) fighters lift weights? (MMA weight training)
MMA and UFC fighters lift weights for five main reasons, which are:
1. Increased Strength
The first and most important reason MMA fighters lift weights is to gain strength.
Fighters need strength to deliver powerful strikes and mostly for wrestling as it requires the most and is also the most tiring aspect of MMA.
They need great strength to remain on their feet and avoid being taken down, and to lift an opponent from their feet to secure a takedown.
Strength is most evident in clinch exchanges, where each fighter is using their whole body strength to get to a dominant position or keep their opponent pinned against the octagon.
Also, as strength increases, energy efficiency also increases so it’s easier for a fighter to sustain energy throughout a fight, especially when grappling.
For example, if a 170 lb fighter is able to deadlift 300 lbs and they increase this to 400 lbs, they’re going to be a lot more energy efficient when it comes to double under-hooking and taking down an opponent. It’s going to be less taxing on their muscles and on their central nervous system.
2. Increased Muscle Mass
The second reason MMA fighters lift weights is to build muscle mass, which is a lot more useful to them in a fight than body fat. Increased muscle mass gives a fighter more size compared to a fighter who doesn’t lift weights and is much smaller and weaker.
Increased muscle mass also makes cutting body fat easier, as it results in an increased metabolism which means the body naturally burns more calories at rest (when sleeping).
Increased muscle mass also gives the body something to hold on to when in a calorie deficit, meaning the body will look to lose body fat rather than muscle as long as an athlete is continuing to use their muscle while in a calorie deficit.
This is essential for fighters looking to be big and strong while getting to the lowest weight class possible. Without lifting weights, it’s harder to go down in weight and a fighter will be left feeling weak and looking both skinny and fat as the body is losing muscle rather than fat.
3. Increased Connective Tissue & Bone Strength
Research shows strength training (lifting weights) increases connective tissue strength in the ligaments and tendons, as well as bone strength.
This is essential in preventing injury, which is the number one reason most UFC fighters are pulled from fights and unable to fight consistently.
4. Increased Speed and Explosiveness
MMA fighters lift weights to increase speed and explosiveness as they’re critical in a fight. Speed is essential for everything but especially for sharp striking and movement, while explosiveness is essential for grappling, scrambling, and striking.
5. Increased Muscle Endurance
One of the worst things to happen to an MMA fighter during a fight is to have lactic acid build up in a muscle, as it burns and weakens performance.
Therefore, MMA fighters also lift weights to increase muscle endurance so they can last the full 15 minutes or 25 minutes of a fight without having their muscles tire or burn out.
They do this by training muscles with a lot of repetitions, say 15 to 20 or more, which also aids in getting their heart rate up and improving cardio and speed too.
How Often Do MMA (UFC) Fighters Lift Weights?
On average, an MMA fighter lifts weights 2 to 3 times per week but it depends on the individual and their goals.
The reason the average amount of weight sessions for MMA fighters is 2 to 3 times per week is that most professional fighters have been lifting weights since 16 years old and are already at their genetic potential in terms of muscle mass and strength.
Lifting weights 2 to 3 times per week is therefore to maintain strength and size, rather than getting any bigger or stronger. Fighters wanting to get bigger and stronger are usually looking to go up a weight class, with the most relevant example being Jon Jones who’s going from light heavyweight to heavyweight.
Where Jones was lifting weights 2 to 3 times per week during his dominance of the light heavyweight division, he’s upped his weightlifting sessions to between 4 and 6 for the past 2 years.
While Jones is an experienced fighter, most often it’s young fighters who are weightlifting 4 to 6 times per week, as they need to fill out their frame with muscle as they mature and settle into their ideal weight class.
On the other hand, MMA fighters who’ve been weightlifting for years and have great muscle maturity may only lift weights 1 or 2 times per week, and sometimes never. They may prefer to spend time working on their skills or cardio and find it easy to maintain muscle and strength this way.
Furthermore, the amount of weightlifting sessions per week is also determined by how often a fighter competes.
Fighters looking to fight more often, between 4 to 6 times per year, often weightlift 2 to 3 times per week. They’re mostly looking to maintain strength and size while focusing on rest and recovery in order to avoid injury, as well as enhancing their skillset and cardio.
When fighting 4 to 6 times a year, MMA fighters have a stable weight as they don’t have the time between fights to consistently lift weights in order to add muscle mass. They’re also cutting weight before each fight, again limiting the number of weightlifting sessions per week to 2 or 3.
Fighters that fight less often, between 2 to 3 times per year, also weightlift an average amount of 2 to 3 times per week.
Fighters fighting less than average, either 1 or 2 times per year, and sometimes not at all, lift weights 4 to 6 times per week. They’re mostly looking to increase strength and some will want to add muscle mass as they have more time in between fights and spend less time performing taxing weight cuts.
Strength and Conditioning for MMA: What Type of Weightlifting Do MMA Fighters Perform and When?
The type of weightlifting MMA fighters perform and when depends on the goals and current situation of each individual fighter.
Heavy Lifting Up Until 4 to 6 Weeks Out From a Fight
Fight camps are usually 3 months before a fight, so the first 4 to 6 weeks are when heavy weightlifting is done. It’s simply a continuation of the heavy weightlifting they’ve been doing outside of training camp.
Heavy weightlifting stops in the final 4 to 6 weeks as it’s taxing on muscles, the central nervous system, and joints, and MMA fighters don’t want to carry soreness into a fight. Being fully rested and avoiding injury before a fight is especially important for MMA fighters.
Also, the majority of MMA fighters don’t want to enter a fight with a heavy feeling from big muscles. They want to be quick, athletic, mobile, and explosive, rather than heavy and slow.
They also don’t want to be carrying an unnecessary amount of glycogen into a fight. Heavy lifting means specific amounts of glycogen are stored in the muscle, with the primary function being to lift heavier weights next time.
MMA fighters want their glycogen to be stored with the function to perform optimally when fighting, which mostly relies on a fighter’s cardio (aerobic) and the capacity of their anaerobic systems.
Heavy and larger muscles also require more oxygen which is why you often see heavily muscled fighters tiring before a smaller opponent.
Furthermore, 4 weeks out from a fight, fighters focus on getting as close as possible to their weight class limit. Getting there is achieved through a water flush (weight cut) performed in the final week before a fight.
During this time and the month leading up to it, fighters lift less heavy weights because they’re already low on calories and need their energy for more important aspects of a fight such as technique, cardio, and conditioning.
Fighters are therefore lifting weights in the final 4 weeks to maintain their overall strength and focus on more important areas of their game.
While all of the above is applicable to all MMA fighters, fighters of different body types and builds may differ slightly in timing and the type of weightlifting.
More Muscular and Powerful MMA Fighters (Mesomorph/Endomorph)
More muscular and powerful fighters only lift heavy weights once or twice a week for the first 4 weeks of training camp. For the remaining 8 weeks, weightlifting will focus on speed and explosive strength as it’s more fight specific and these fighters already have impressive overall strength and size.
Thinner and More Flexible Fighters (Ectomorph/Mesomorph)
Smaller and more flexible fighters continue heavy lifting for the first 6 weeks and potentially up to 8 weeks of training camp. They’ll also be weightlifting 3 or 4 times per week as they focus on relative and overall strength before moving on to speed and explosive strength.
This is because these fighters need to focus more on all aspects of strength training as they are weaker there and stronger in terms of speed and agility.
Strength and Conditioning MMA Exercises
The type of MMA weight training exercises fighters perform again comes down to the individual fighter.
Strength Exercises Performed Up Until 4 to 6 Weeks Out
The exercises the majority of MMA fighters use for foundational strength and power endurance training up until 4 to 6 weeks are:
- Squats (back, box, front, split)
- Deadlifts (traditional, sumo, split leg, box)
- Cleans and Snatches
- Dumbbell Presses
- Pull-ups, Chin-ups, Dumbbell/Barbell Rows
Much of this heavy weightlifting is performed in the explosive Olympic style. Much of MMA fighting involves holding something intensely followed by an explosive movement. Therefore, much of the weightlifting should be isometric hold, explosion, and recovery.
Strength Exercises Performed 4 to 6 Weeks Out
For the final 4 to 6 weeks before a fight, MMA fighters significantly reduce the use of heavy weights to once a week and some completely remove it.
They move their focus from foundational to specific strength, meaning exercises that transfer into their fighting skills and into the cage. The majority of these exercises use light weights.
They’ll also fill in the gaps and any weak points they may have, so they’re more well-rounded, strong, and fully functional. The general intensity and volume they perform with weights and exercises start to taper off in the last 2 to 4 weeks as they look to get their body fully healed, rested, and recovered before a fight.
Some fighters may choose to do a few exercises of heavy sets in the week or two before a fight to keep the central nervous system strong and ensure no loss of strength, but many choose not to as loss of strength doesn’t happen so fast.
The most common exercises used by MMA fighters 4 to 6 weeks out from a fight are:
- Box jumps, hurdle hops, med ball throws, and other explosive bodyweight exercises
- Shadowboxing, bag work, and mitts to focus on technique, footwork, and movement
- Light or touch sparring
- Isolated weight-lifting movements to focus on full function, recovery, weak areas, and full movement efficiency
- Grip strength with dead hangs, gripper machine, stress ball
- Neck strength with a neck harness
- Enhance range of motion and mobility exercises/routines
- Banded exercises – knee extension, elbow extension
While these are some of the most common weightlifting exercises and ways of training before a fight, all MMA fighters are flexible with their training and may differ based on their goals and what their coaches think is best for them – it’s not possible to put every fighter into the same box.
They all have various strengths and weaknesses and they have to adapt and potentially change things around if weak areas, signs of overtraining, fatigue, or injuries interfere with their current training.
The Bottom Line
So, ‘do MMA fighters lift weights?’
Yes, MMA fighters lift weights, on average 2 to 3 times per week. However, the number of weightlifting sessions per week can vary depending on the individual’s position and aspirations for the year.
Factors such as the number of fights per year, whether a fighter moves weight class, and injuries, all affect how often an MMA fighter lifts weights.
Regardless of how often they weightlift, all MMA fighters lift weights for increased strength and size, as well as increased connective tissue and bone strength for injury prevention.