Welcome to the first installment of the Hammer Down training program for Mixed Martial Art (MMA) fighters. MMA events such as UFC, Pride, and K-1 are quickly rising to mainstream status, so it's not surprising that many people have become interested in learning how a MMA fighter trains. Specifically, what fitness qualities must be developed to help them transform into more effective fighters?

To address this question, I've written a three-part MMA fitness program. My intent isn't to show how others have trained; my intent is to unveil the methods I've found most effective for MMA fighters. So I've created three different training systems to develop strength, endurance, and mobility that coalesce into the Hammer Downprogram.

For simplicity's sake, I'm using these three fitness terms very loosely:

Strength

Most strength qualities fall under three primary types:

  1. Static strength (isometric contractions)
  2. Dynamic strength (concentric contractions)
  3. Yielding strength (eccentric contractions)

Strength training exercises for MMA fighters should develop all of these types of strength, but some are more important than others. Unlike a sport such as powerlifting where maximal strength is king, MMA fighters must develop a vast number of strength qualities.

One of the most important strength qualities for an MMA fighter is explosive endurance strength. This is the ability to repetitively execute explosive efforts. (Think of Vitor Belfort's early round punching when he shows up in top shape.)

Endurance

MMA fighters must be able to perform at a high intensity for a prolonged period of time. Most MMA competitions are organized with durations that range from 15 minutes (UFC non-championship fights) to 20 minutes (Pride fights) to 25 minutes (UFC championship fights). So the 15-25 minute endurance range must be developed to the highest level. Of course, some fights end in significantly less time, but you must train to perform at a high level for the entire fight.

Jogging for 60 minutes won't help since it's challenging aerobic metabolism (the long duration energy system). In fact, long-duration cardio will hurt your efforts since you'll likely lose maximal strength and muscle mass while causing a muscle fiber type shift away from high-force power toward low-force endurance. Therefore, the intermediate energy system, anaerobic glycolysis, must be developed to build endurance strength (more on this in the next installment).

Mobility

This is the fitness quality I'll use most loosely. What I'm referring to by mobility is, of course, the ability to move freely. You're going to enhance mobility by developing dynamic, static passive, and static active flexibility (again, more on this in the last installment).

Does Any of This Matter?

Before I delve any deeper, let me mention three important caveats that you should understand before undertaking this program.

  1. This program alone will not turn you into a great fighter. I'm as serious as a strike to the throat when I say that. Nothing can help you more than actual fighting in the ring, dojo, or parking lot (for you nature lovers). I don't care if you develop every quality I prescribe to the highest level, if you step into the ring or octagon without having spent years perfecting various fighting techniques, you'll get your ass handed to you on a plate with a side of fava beans.
  2. The Hammer Downsystem isn't for beginners! If you're new to resistance training, don't start with this program. This program is intended for intermediate to advanced level trainees and MMA fighters who need to develop fitness qualities specific to their sport. And it's intended for fighting coaches (boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, etc.) who need a better understanding of the fitness qualities that will help their athletes excel.
  3. Keeping with point #2, this program is not how every MMA fighter should train! An elite fighter such as Biotest's Georges St. Pierre (or any other fighter at his level) requires hands-on instruction. That's not to say that this series won't help a UFC, Pride, or K-1 fighter, but to say that this is exactly how I'd train GSP, Chuck Liddell, Fedor, or any other elite fighter is absolutely ludicrous!

Blame the Internet

Of the three fitness articles that make up the Hammer Down program, this article on strength training isn't the most important. I don't care if a guy can deadlift a double-wide trailer, he's going to get beat nine times out of ten if he doesn't have any endurance or mobility (with all other factors being equal). But there's already so much bullshit flying around regarding my strength recommendations for MMA fighters that I've been forced to release this article first.

Now it's time to get to the first installment of the three-part Hammer Down program: Strength!

The 4 Elements

Four qualities should be possessed by MMA fighters: extraordinary strength, endurance, mobility, and fighting skills. I can help you with the first three qualities, but the fourth one is in your hands. If you develop each quality to an elite level, you'll become the crème de la crème of MMA fighters.

Extreme sports clothing companies, powerful supplement companies, and busty, materialistic women – hell, they'll all be swooning all over you! (Unless you've got a glass jaw. If you've got a glass jaw, you better find another sport, or possess the best damn chin defense in the business.)

The Other Type of PC

There's an adage that says, "A strong man is strong on the back of his body." This is very relevant and true for MMA fighters.

You must develop super-strong muscles that run from the base of your skull down to your Achilles tendons. Some of the most important muscles in this range are your hip extensors and back extensors. These muscles, along with a handful of others, collectively form the posterior chain (PC).

Why is the PC important for MMA fighters? Because the PC assists explosive movements involved in locomotion. If you've ever seen a guy shoot forward to drive his shoulder into his opponent's abdomen for a takedown, that's the PC at work. Furthermore, a strong PC will help you lift and throw a fighter, and it'll help you resist being pulled down to the ground.

There are many effective exercises that improve the strength of your PC. Good mornings, back extensions, reverse hypers – they all help. But one exercise remains at the top of my list for PC development for MMA fighters: the deadlift. Why the deadlift? Because it forces you to train your entire PC while holding a load in front of you. That's important!

By holding the load in front of you, the carryover to fighting is much greater compared to having the load across your upper back. After all, fighting is about controlling the guy in front of you.

The majority of the time your opponent will be in front of you, you'll have your hands on him, and he'll be trying to resist you. The fact that the deadlift strengthens your PC, your grip, and your shoulder girdle, makes it one of best exercises to build fighting-specific muscle groups.

I think the deadlift is so important for MMA fighters that I could write out an entire novice MMA fitness program in one sentence:

Deadlift heavy, jump rope and sprint often, and perform push-ups and mobility drills every day.

That sentence alone covers much of what I consider an effective MMA fitness program. The deadlift is also important because it builds very strong traps. MMA fighters must possess huge levels of strength in their traps and, maybe even more important, their necks. Obviously, the deadlift isn't the best neck builder, but I'll outline an excellent neck strengthening exercise in the program.

Not Just PC

But here's the beauty and challenge of strength training for MMA fighters: even if you develop world-class strength in your PC, it isn't enough. You must also be strong on the front of your body, too.

Hell, you've gotta be strong everywhere! And that's why I'm passionate about writing MMA fitness programs and working with MMA fighters – you should be damn strong, damn-near everywhere. If you're not strong, you better have incredible fighting skills. And if you're very strong with incredible skills, well, that's when you'll achieve grandeur.

I recently had a discussion with a powerlifting coach regarding MMA-specific strength. He agreed that the fighters should have a strong posterior chain. And then he said, "But they sure as hell wouldn't need to do biceps work." I asked why not. He replied, "Because strong biceps aren't going to help a fighter."

Ha! Are you kidding me? Anyone who's been caught in the initial stages of a jiu-jitsu arm bar can appreciate the importance of strong biceps. My point is to iterate that virtually every major muscle group should be strong – very strong. Given the plethora of compromising positions that a MMA fighter will find himself in, he'll be thankful he didn't limit his strength training to just deadlifts.

Speed Rules

In MMA fights, being strong isn't enough, you must also be fast. Strength without speed is useless.

If your opponent can strike you quicker than you can strike him, he's going to beat you. Does that mean that every fighter should perform speed work? Probably. But maximal strength training alone with large loads will make you faster if your maximal strength is very low. What's very low? I define "very low" as anything less than a 1.5x bodyweight deadlift and squat, and anything less than a 1.25x bodyweight bench press.

So if you weigh 170 pounds and your max efforts for the three powerlifts (deadlift, squat, and bench press) are less than 255 for the deadlift and squat, and 213 for the bench press, maximal strength training alone will make you faster. But once maximal strength is up to par (and that's based solely on the individual), specific explosive strength work must be performed.

MMA fighters must be explosive, so they must have plenty of explosive strength. Explosive strength is defined as the ability to produce maximum force in minimal time. Since a MMA fighter only has a miniscule amount of time to develop maximal force (punches, kicks, etc.), explosive strength training must be an integral part of a MMA strength program.

To explain the importance of explosive strength in fighting, let me use a very basic example (this isn't perfect but it makes my point). Let's say there are two fighters, X and Y. Fighter X has a 1RM for the one-arm dumbbell bench press of 100 pounds; fighter Y has a 1RM for the same movement of 150. On the surface, it seems that fighter Y would be a more powerful puncher because his 1RM is 50% higher than fighter X. But is that true?

Now let's say that I had both fighters perform a one-arm dumbbell bench press as fast as possible with 80 pounds. Fighter X pushed up the dumbbell in 0.3 seconds, and fighter Y pushed it up in 0.5. So even though Fighter X has a significantly smaller 1RM, his ability to produce maximal force is faster than fighter Y. This measurement of force production when time is a limiting factor is known as the "rate of force development (RFD)." RFD is a direct measure of explosive strength.

So now you're probably confused. I've been harping about the importance of maximal strength, but I just explained that it isn't as important as the RFD measure of explosive strength. The answer goes back to whether or not your maximal strength levels are up to par, and how you perform maximal strength work.

You see, explosive strength consists of three components: maximal strength, starting strength, and acceleration strength. So if you improve any of those three strength qualities, your explosive strength will increase. That's why you should perform maximal strength work.

However, if you're advanced, lifting only huge loads won't help your explosive strength because your RFD will slow to the point where you'll need significantly more time to develop maximal force than is allowed during a punch or kick. And this is where speed work becomes extremely important.

You must get stronger by lifting large loads, but you must keep your RFD as high as possible by lifting light loads as fast as possible. Furthermore, you should try to lift the heavy loads as fast as possible to keep your RFD as short as possible.

Sure, a large load won't move quickly, but your effort to move the load should be as fast as possible. Now you know why I'm often on my soapbox about the importance of lifting fast, regardless of the load (except for beginners and rehabilitation).

Finally, maximal strength is a component of endurance strength. So if you increase your maximal strength, you'll be able to develop more explosive endurance strength. This statement alone will probably cause many heated Internet feuds. Indeed, it's a fact that super-strong guys often have little endurance strength, and endurance guys often have little maximal strength. The problem is caused by a poorly designed periodization plan.

Linear periodization separates these two qualities so that when you build up maximal strength, you lose endurance strength (and vice versa). But it doesn't need to be that way. If you intelligently combine the two strength qualities into each microcycle, you'll be able to improve both. Sure, research has shown that combining the two can result in slower development of each, but I think I've found a way around that dilemma with my choice and timing of parameters.

To establish my point about the influence that maximal strength has on endurance strength, let me use two identical twins. Both twins performed nothing but maximal strength work. They both started training at the same time, and they both followed similar parameters. But the first twin didn't push himself and he often missed workouts. The second twin was determined, diligent, and consistent.

So let's say the first twin built up his 1RM bench press to 315 pounds. The second twin built up his 1RM bench press to 405. If each twin performed a bench press rep max test with 225, the second twin would be able to perform significantly more reps than the first did. In other words, the second twin would have more endurance strength with the submaximal load because his maximal strength was greater.

Don't misinterpret this as meaning that specific endurance work isn't necessary – it absolutely is (I'll discuss the endurance parameters at length in my next installment). But with all other factors being equal, the guy who has the greater maximal strength will be able to perform more reps with a submaximal load.

Back to Maximal Strength

The three powerlifts are a good measuring tool because most people know how to deadlift, squat, and bench press with sufficient form. But the list doesn't end there. I recommend that you also test the push press, chin-up, and power clean. So, you should test your maximal strength for the following lifts:

Deadlift
Squat (to parallel)
Bench Press
Push Press
Chin-up
Power Clean

How do I test these lifts? Do I have my MMA clients perform a one-repetition maximum (1RM)? Nope. I calculate their 1RM based on their 3RM performance. I consider their 3RM performance to be 90% of their 1RM.

So if a guy pulls a max 230 pound deadlift for 3 reps, I'll estimate his 1RM to be 255. Whether or not his 3RM is exactly 90% of his 1RM is a moot point. My experience has shown the conversion to be sufficient for MMA athletes. I simply don't think the benefits of performing a 1RM outweigh the risks for MMA athletes.

Your first task is to test your 3RM for the six aforementioned exercises. I don't recommend testing all six in one day. Typically, I break up the 3RM test into two sessions that are at least 48 hours apart. Here's how I break it down (keep the exercises in the prescribed order):

3RM Test, Workout 1

Deadlift
Bench Press
Chin-up

3RM Test, Workout 2 (48 hours or more later)

Push Press
Power Clean
Squat

Here's how you should test your 3RM lifts:

3RM Test Workout Parameters

Set 1: Perform 3 reps with a load you could lift 10 times fresh (~75% of your 1RM)
Rest 60 seconds
Set 2: Perform 3 reps with a load you could lift 8 times fresh (~78% of your 1RM)
Rest 90 seconds
Set 3: Perform 3 reps with a load you could lift 5 times fresh (~85% of your 1RM)
Rest 120 seconds
Set 4: Perform 3 reps with 3-4% more load than set 3.

After set 4, if you feel like you can lift more, add 2% more load. Continue with this sequence with 180 second rest periods until you find a load where you can perform 3 perfect reps without compromising your form. That's your 3RM. Rest 5 minutes, and move to the next test exercise with the same sequence.

All efforts should be performed raw. You can't wear a weightlifting belt, squat suit, bench shirt, or wrist wraps into a fight, so don't bring them to the gym.

Time to Step Back

In the past, I've tested MMA athletes with these six core exercises to develop a better understanding of their maximal strength capabilities. The system works well, but it's not exactly how I do it now.

My current system is simply too extensive and individualized to explain in one article. These days, I must watch a fighter grapple in the gym to determine what needs to be tested and improved. Obviously, I can't explain all of those nuances here.

Second, I don't believe that an exercise such as the bench press is hugely important for MMA fighters. But I'm recommending it here because most people know how to perform it, and improving a lackluster bench press can enhance punching power.

So what's the point of the six recommended exercises? The point is to give you six basic exercises that can be tested every few months to monitor your progress. These six exercises won't be the only exercises in this program, but they provide a good, basic testing tool to monitor your total body strength increases.

Moving Forward

MMA fighters must develop high levels of relative strength. This is defined as your absolute strength (maximal strength) in relation to your body weight:

Relative Strength = Absolute Strength/Body Weight

Before the implementation of weight classes, relative strength didn't matter in MMA competition. But now, relative strength does matter because fighters are competing against competitors with similar body weights. That's why I speak of maximal lifts in terms of body weight – not just a blind recommendation of a 300 pound bench press, 400 pound squat, and 500 pound deadlift.

How strong should you be for MMA? Stronger than you are now. The effort toward constantly improving your strength is more important than any "ideal" number I could prescribe. Sure, I could tell you what levels of relative strength I prefer, but in the end it only leads to frustration and Internet feuds. So even though I've hinted at relative strength ratios for elite fighters in the past, I'm not going to recommend them here. The only thing that's important is that your entire body is getting stronger, each and every month.

But if I had the proverbial "gun to the head," I'd say that a raw deadlift of at least 2.0x body weight is important. For fighters who possess a physical structure that's conducive to deadlifting – leverage advantages from their skeletal structure, muscle insertion points, etc., the number could be closer to 2.5x body weight. (Why do I feel like this is the only paragraph that's going to be referenced on other MMA sites?)

Strength Workout Design

With MMA fighters, I've found that the more exercises they perform in a microcycle, the better. That's because they're constantly forced into so many different positions that 4, 6, or 8 exercises per weekly plan won't meet all their strength needs.

You won't see 10 x 3 or 8 x 3 in this program because it simply takes too long to finish each exercise. Such parameters limit the total number of exercises that can be performed in a workout. MMA fighters are extremely limited by the amount of time they can spend resistance training because they must also spend numerous hours each week perfecting their fighting techniques.

Second, you won't see hardly any single joint exercises. MMA fighters must build total body strength as quickly as possible. Therefore, this program revolves around traditional compound lifts, Olympic lift variations, and hybrid lifts. Each workout is a total-body session.

The most effective maximal strength building method I've ever used is the supramaximal hold (SMH). This consists of holding a load near lockout that's greater than your 1RM, or performing partial reps with a SMH, or any other type of maximal voluntary contraction. Supramaximal holds immediately cause an increase in maximal strength. This is due to nervous system and muscle contractile enhancements known as post-activation potentiation.

Close Grip Barbell Bench Press Supramaximal Hold Close Grip Barbell Bench Press Supramaximal Hold

Close Grip Barbell Bench Press Supramaximal Hold

This is how you should prepare for a SMH. Due to the limited number of strength sessions per microcycle in this program, I'm only recommending SMHs for the squat and bench press. The deadlift is a slight variation that uses 2-3 very short reps to provide the same effect. In the case of any of the three exercises, here's how you should prepare for the SMH.

Set 1:Perform 3 full reps with 75-80% of your 1RM
Rest 60 seconds
Set 2: Perform 1 rep with 85% of your 1RM
Rest 60 seconds
Set 3: Hold the load 2-3 inches short of lock-out for 5 seconds with 90% of your 1RM
Rest 90 seconds
Set 4: Hold the load 2-3 inches short of lock-out for 5 seconds with 95% of your 1RM
Rest 90 seconds and start with the first prescribed hold.

The strength portion of the Hammer Down program consists of two total body workouts each week. Why only two from the frequency guy? Because my current T-Nation frequency guidelines are intended for hypertrophy. This is a strength-specific program for MMA fighters.

Furthermore, the next installment on endurance training will outline another resistance training circuit that should be dropped into the middle of each microcycle. For now, what you should do is start performing this program to get your body accustomed to the new demand.

Fighters' joints take a serious beating. This is especially true for those who practice styles that revolve around submission holds. When I first started training jiu-jitsu, my joints were always aching and sore, so I limited my strength workouts to twice per week. When I started working with fighters, I found this frequency to be ideal for the strength building workouts.

Again, this strength program is only one part of the entire three-part program. The next two installments will build on this plan. So in the end, you'll be developing strength, endurance, and mobility.

Now, let's get to the program!

Hammer Down: Strength

Workout 1

Explosive Strength Work

Note: You should use a load that approximately equals your 12-14RM for the following explosive strength exercise. But the load isn't as important as the speed of movement (it must be lightning fast). If your speed significantly slows by the last set, the load is too heavy. These exercises shouldn't be fatiguing; they should be invigorating. Also, if the load is too heavy it'll impair your maximal strength for the remainder of the session.

Jump Shrug
Sets: 8
Reps: 3
Load: 12-14RM
Rest: 45s (45 seconds) between each set

Jump Shrug Jump Shrug

Description: From the hang position, extend your torso back and continue by shrugging up and going up on your toes (you can elevate off the floor if it doesn't compromise your form). These 3 reps should be performed as fast as possible.

Maximal Strength Work

Supramaximal Hold: Back Squat
Sets: 1
Load: 120% of your 1RM
Hold: 6s
Rest: 60s

Note: Hold the load isometrically 2-3 inches short of lockout. Use a slightly wider than shoulder width stance.

Half Squat (squat to parallel)
Sets: 1
Load: 90% of your 1RM
Reps: As many as possible without compromising form.
Rest: 180s before the next exercise

Supramaximal Hold: BB (Barbell) Decline Bench Press
Sets: 1
Load: 120% of your 1RM
Hold: 6s
Rest: 60s

Note: Hold the load isometrically 2-3 inches short of lockout. Use a shoulder width grip. Perform on a 10-15 degree decline. You can prop up the front end of a traditional flat bench with a few 45 pound plates if a decline isn't available.

BB Decline Bench Press (full ROM)
Sets: 1
Load: 90% of your 1RM
Reps: As many as possible without compromising form.
Rest: 180s before the next exercise.

A1 Drop Snatch (aka Press Under)
Sets: 3
Reps: 3
Load: 3RM
Rest: 90s

Description: Use a slightly wider than shoulder width stance with your feet slightly angled out. Rest a barbell across your upper back with a wide (snatch) grip. Drop down into a full squat while simultaneously pressing the barbell overhead. Stand up with your arms extended overhead. Lower the load and repeat.

A2 Chin-up
Sets: 3
Reps: 3
Load: 3RM
Rest: 90s

Note: The above A1/A2 sequence should go like this: A1, rest 90s, A2, rest 90s, A1, rest 90s, A2, etc. Your 3RM will likely decrease by the third set. This is true for all 3 x 3 pairings.

B1 Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
Sets: 3
Reps: 3
Load: 3RM
Rest: 60s

Description: While standing on your left leg (for example) with a dumbbell in each hand, push your hips back and let your left knee slightly bend. Keep your lower back tight (don't let it round forward). Lower until the dumbbells are at mid-shin level. Lift and repeat.

B2 1 Arm Dumbbell Row
Sets: 3
Reps: 3
Load: 3RM
Rest: 60s

Note: In the above B1/B2 sequence, don't rest between the single leg or single arm exercises. Perform 3 reps with your weakest side, then perform 3 reps for other side, then rest for 75s before moving on.

C1 Hand Walk (aka Inch Worm)
Sets: 3
Reps: 5
Load: Body weight (use an Xvest if body weight is too light)
Rest: 75s

Hand Walk Hand Walk

Description: Walk your hands out as far as your strength allows. Hold for 2s before walking your hands back.

C2 Power Clean
Sets: 3
Reps: 5
Load: 5RM
Rest: 75s

Reverse Wrist Curls
Sets: 3
Reps: 5
Load: 5RM
Rest: 90s between sets

Description: Rest the front of your forearms on a flat bench. Let your hands hang off the edge of the bench. Hold a barbell, EZ-curl bar, or dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing down. Pull your knuckles up toward the ceiling as high as possible. Let your hands drop down as far as possible with each rep. Don't let your forearms lift off the bench.

Standing Isometric Neck Flexion
Sets: 3
Duration: 30s
Rest: 60s

Standing Isometric Neck Flexion

Description: You'll need a Jump Stretch band for this drill. Start out with the lightest resistance band (mini). Attach the band to a fixed object that's 6-8 inches lower than the height of your forehead (from the standing position). Loop the other end of the band around the front of your forehead so it looks like you're wearing a rubber headband when viewed from the front (my clients wrap a small towel around the section of band that's against their forehead, or you could wear a cotton stretch headband to protect your skin).

Walk forward (the band is attached behind you) to develop tension in the band (at this point, the band is trying to pull your head backward). Lean forward slightly to maintain your position with one leg in front of the other, as if you were going to take off in a sprint. Continue moving forward until you achieve a maintainable level of tension against your forehead. Hold your head and entire body super tight while the band tension tries to pull your head and body backward (your head and body should remain rigid). Maintain this position for 30s. Rest and repeat.

Note: This is an outstanding neck exercise that not only strengthens your anterior neck muscles (that's important for minimizing abrupt head extension when punched to the front of your head), but it also strengthens your core muscles. I picked up this drill from the excellent and inspirational documentary on Rickson Gracie titled Choke.

Workout 2 (4 days after workout #1)

Explosive Strength Work

Jumping Box Squat
Sets: 5
Reps: 3
Load: Body weight
Rest: 45s between sets

Jumping Box Squat

Description: Straddle a flat bench or stand in front of a box. In either case, when you sit down, your hips should be just below the height of your knees. Use a wider than shoulder width stance. From the standing position, clasp your hands behind your head. Sit back and down until you're resting on the box/bench. At this point your knee joint should be 90 degrees. While focusing on your hips/lower back, jump up and forward as hard and fast as possible. Your feet should elevate off the ground. Don't pull your head forward with your arms – focus on your hips! If you can't abstain from pulling your head forward, cross your arms at your chest.

Explosive Clap Push-ups
Sets: 5
Reps: 3
Load: 12-14RM
Rest: 45s between sets

Description: Assume a traditional push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width (no wider). Push-up as hard and fast as possible. Clap your hands together as you elevate off the floor (no, this isn't a parlor trick, it can help improve hand speed).

Maximal Strength Work

Supramaximal Partial Reps: Sumo Deadlift
Sets: 1
Reps: 2-3
Load: 120% of your 1RM
Rest: 60s

Description: Use a power rack with the pins set so you can only lower the load 4-6 inches. Use a sumo (wide) stance with your grip inside your legs (don't use a mixed grip). Perform 2-3 quick reps with this short range of motion. If absolutely necessary, you can use wrist straps for this exercise (but this exercise only).

Sumo Deadlift
Sets: 1
Reps: One short of failure.
Load: 90% of 1RM
Rest: 180s before the next exercise.

Note: This is a full ROM (range of motion) Sumo Deadlift.

A1 Single Leg Full Squat (a.k.a. Pistols)
Sets: 3
Reps: 3
Load: 3RM (hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you if your body weight is too light)
Rest: 75s

Single Leg Full Squat

Description: Stand on your weakest leg first. Hold your other leg slightly out in front of you (soft lockout) so your heel isn't touching the ground. While keeping your torso as vertical as possible, push your hips back slightly and squat down. You can allow your heel to lift up as you approach rock bottom.

Stand and repeat for all 3 reps. Go immediately to the other leg and do the same. Rest 75s and move to A2. (If you have balance problems with this exercise, you can stand next to the corner of a power rack and hold it to assist your stability. But you must wean yourself off the support within a few weeks.)

A2 Push Press
Sets: 3
Reps: 3
Load: 3RM
Rest: 75s

Description: This is performed like a traditional standing barbell military press, but with the assistance of leg drive. Squat down a few inches before pressing to let your legs assist the overhead pressing movement.

B1 Dips
Sets: 3
Reps: 5
Load: 5RM
Rest: 75s

B2 Side Deadlifts (a.k.a. Suitcase Deadlift)
Sets: 3
Reps: 3
Load: 3RM
Rest: 75s

Side Deadlifts Side Deadlifts

Description: Squat down next to a bar that's at your side. Grip it in the middle for balance and keep your torso as rigid as possible while lifting and lowering. Let the bar briefly rest on the ground between reps to give your grip a break.

Accessory Strength Work

C1 External Rotation
Sets: 2
Reps: 12
Load: 12RM
Rest: 45s (don't rest between arms, start with your weakest side first)

External Rotation External Rotation

Note: Use a dumbbell, cable, band, or whatever you fancy for the external rotation. In fact, it's best to alternate between them all.

C2 Reverse Wrist Curls
Sets: 2
Reps: 12
Load: 12RM

Note: Perform with the same technique as workout #1. Feel free to alternate between dumbbells and barbells.

Standing Isometric Neck Flexion
Sets: 3
Duration: 30s
Rest: 60s between sets

Microcycle Structure

This program should be structured in your weekly plan (microcyle) so there are four full days of rest between each workout. An example is Monday and Friday, or Tuesday and Saturday. This is because the next installment will include another endurance-focused weight-training circuit that will fit between these two workouts. So, in the end, you'll be weight-training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or something similar.

Most of my clients favor performing these strength sessions in the first half of the day (AM hours). Then, they perform grappling, boxing, etc. in the afternoon, followed by endurance work at night. That's certainly not what you're required to do, but I'm giving you insight on the structure that many MMA fighters follow.

Progression

  • Supramaximal Holds: Increase the load 2-4% with each subsequent workout.
  • Explosive Work: Only increase the load if your speed doesn't slow.
  • Maximal Strength Work: Increase the load with each subsequent workout, even if it's a very small amount. As soon as you can perform all the recommended parameters without approaching failure, increase the load to the next available amount. If the load increase forces you to perform one less rep with every set, that's fine. Stay with that load until you can perform the recommended parameters without approaching failure.
  • Standing Isometric Neck Drill: It's very tough for me to prescribe a progression for this drill. Ideally, you should slowly build up the duration of the hold by 5 seconds each workout. Once you work up to around 2 minutes, it's probably time to move to the next (stronger) band. But some fighters would do well to hold this position for longer than 2 minutes instead of increasing the tension. Use your best judgment and do what best suits your needs.

With regard to the loading guidelines, if I prescribe 5 reps with a 5RM, it means that you should be able to perform 5 perfect reps before drastically compromising your form or reaching failure. It doesn't mean you should go to failure on every set. I want you to work hard and strain, but I don't want you to get to the point where you can no longer move the load.

Nutrition

Dr. John Berardi has written an outstanding book on nutrition for grapplers that's aptly titled Grappler's Guide to Sports Nutrition. I highly recommend that you pick it up. Also, Dr. Lonnie Lowery has many excellent eating plans on this site. You can't go wrong with either guy.

Supplements

  • Flameout™ 6 capsules every day (yes, that's six, not four). This is mandatory. Your joints will thank you.
  • Plazma™ One serving before your workout and one serving during your workout. Your recovery rate will skyrocket and your gains will accelerate.
  • Mag-10® One serving after training to further boost recovery.
  • Spike® Tablets There's no better performance booster than Spike®. Take 1-2 capsules before your workouts.

Conclusion

I can't iterate this point enough: this isn't the entire Hammer Down program. Obviously, there's no direct endurance and mobility work outlined here. Those issues will be addressed in the next two installments.

This strength program constitutes one-third of what I'm outlining for your entire MMA program. Start with this program, get accustomed to it, then you'll need to incorporate the endurance and mobility work that will arrive in the near future on T-Nation.

No training article of mine has taken longer to write than this one. I sincerely hope you find it useful and effective!