If you’re looking to get a lean, muscular physique and a shredded core, you could do a lot worse than training exactly like an MMA fighter. How do I know? I was an international martial arts champ as a teenager, and now I train with the Gold Team Fighters USA, a tough bunch of MMA pros. Here are five moves I use with those guys. Do ’em a few times per week, coupled with a diet high in protein and low in calories, and before long you’ll start to resemble Jon Bones Jones. Though we wouldn’t recommend challenging him to a fight…
Workout note: do all five MMA moves in succession, performing as many reps as you can in 30-, 60- or 90-second blasts, depending on your training level. Do a total of three sets, resting 30 seconds between each.
The pull-up is an amazing way to strengthen your upper back, trapezius muscles, shoulders and abs. If you really want to train like an MMA fighter, you have to be able to perform many, many pull-ups. (Quick review: pull-ups involve your palms facing away from your body. Chin-ups, which are easier, involve your palms facing toward your body.) If you have trouble doing even one—with good form, meaning smooth and under control, not relying on momentum—don’t worry. They’re hard. Build up your back muscles with bent-over rows and lat pulldowns. Then move on to assisted pull-ups, chin-ups and finally the real deal.
2. Superman Ups
In MMA, you need a strong core and lower body to be able to slam your opponent into the ground. (Good example of a guy with phenomenal core strength: Rampage Jackson.) Superman Ups will develop this strength. Start by laying flat on your stomach. Lift your head, both arms and both legs off the ground, so that you’re “flying” like Superman. Hold for 30, 60 or 90 seconds, exhaling out at the top and making sure to squeeze your glutes, hamstrings and lower-lumbar region. Referring to every girl at the gym as “Lois”? Optional.
3. Elbows In
Start in a standard push-up position. Lift your right hand off the ground and tap your right elbow and right forearm on the floor, where your right hand was. Retract back up and place your right hand back on the floor. Keep repeating for 15, 30 or 45 seconds, then switch to your left hand/elbow. This is useful for MMA because sometimes you need to elbow a guy rather than punch him (because, say, he’s covering his face, and a punch would slide off). This movement perfectly mimics the elbow-your-opponent-in-the-face scenario.
4. Twist Outs
Form a bridge, where your hands and feet are on the floor and your navel is pointing toward the ceiling. Lift your right hand off the floor, point your right arm toward the ceiling and twist your body to the left. Then, in one explosive move, drive your left hand off the ground while twisting your body to the right and placing your right hand back on the floor. Continue twisting back and forth for 30, 60 or 90 seconds. This is going to develop incredible strength in your core, which is vital for MMA success—and success in most sports, actually.
5. Bear Crawls
Simply put, get on your hands and feet and start crawling around like a bear as fast as you can. When you reach the end of your workout space, do a U-turn and go back the other way. This is a great general conditioning drill. It’s also a practical move for MMA, because it replicates the motion of pawing your way out of a hold and trying to get your hips away from an opponent, really training you to get across the Octagon as fast as possible. And even if you’re not stepping into an Octagon anytime soon, it’ll still strengthen the crap out of your hips and legs.
Jay Cardiello is Made Man’s fitness and nutrition expert. As a top certified strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer and sports nutritionist, Cardiello has worked with Hollywood A-Listers, Fortune 500 CEOs and NFL stars. His accelerated body transformation program, JCore, is available here, and his new book, Cardio Core 4×4, is available here. Got a question for Jay? Leave a note in the comments section below and he’ll do his best to address it in a future column.