Best Finishing Exercises for MMA Conditioning
Best Finishing Exercises for MMA Conditioning
Add these exercises to your workout routine to increase cardiovascular endurance and cut fat.
If you’ve ever done a metabolic circuit designed for combat athletes, you’ve experienced hardcore. You’ve pushed yourself to your limit, probably done a combination of tire flips, prowler pushes, and ground & pound drills, and maybe even dropped to your knees while reaching for the nearest bucket!
Yes there are many variations out there, but the majority consist of 3-5 round (sets) circuits, lasting up to 5 minutes, including a variety of compound movements designed to improve your strength, power, endurance, coordination, and overall physical and mental toughness. Oh, and did I mention they boost your metabolism and help you cut fat as well? Right, because there’s that too.
Most are completely exhausted after one of these training sessions, thinking, “There couldn’t be more to the day’s workout left…right?” Wrong! Depending on where we are in our training camp, we like to occasionally implement “finishers” at the end of workouts.
What are “finishers?” They’re a final push at the end of your routine before your cool down. It’s one last circuit or exercise to push you to your absolute limit. It’s where you empty the tank.
Why finishers? Here are a few reasons:
1. Mental Challenge
The “mental game” is such a large component to mixed martial arts, why not “train it” during our conditioning sessions? We have a “session board” where I write the day’s training session, and sometimes I purposely exclude the finisher. Upon completing our last exercise, I’ll throw it up there and tell my athletes we aren’t quite done yet. Yes, I’m frequently threatened with chokes, takedowns, and high knees, but my goal is never to get thrown in an arm-bar; it’s to prepare them for the unexpected.
2. Metabolic Push
While strength training and circuit training sessions improve metabolic conditioning, these workout finishers drive lactate threshold levels to new heights, and push anaerobic conditioning like nothing else. We don’t use these every session, but instead incorporate them strategically throughout camp to avoid burn out and overtraining.
No MMA match is exactly the same, and while I’m a firm believer in a well planned program, I do find it necessary to change things up occasionally. Sure we execute our staple movements every week; plyometrics, deadlifts, vertical and horizontal pulls, pushups, etc., but also add in Superband sprint work at the end of a session now and then to get to that next level of conditioning.
To say combat athletes are competitive is an understatement. Any time we add a “punishment” for the least amount of reps or the slowest time, the stakes are increased and so is the focus and intensity. An example might be the loser of the “card challenge” has to perform 25 burpees; something simple but tough after a challenging workout. Make it a competition and watch the energy and effort soar.
That’s the why, and here’s the how: The five most hated finishers I use the most...
1. Treadmill Sprint Work
These are quick 10-20 second all out sprints. We use the dynamic mode feature with our Woodway treadmills. If Woodway’s aren’t available, traditional treadmills will work as well. Simply hop on and don’t touch any of the buttons. Grab the handles, get in a slight forward lean, and begin to accelerate as fast and as hard as possible. I’m not sure treadmill manufacturers would approve, but these are great for developing powerful leg drive. We traditionally perform 10-20 second sprints with 60-75 seconds rest. Complete 8-10 total sets and you’ll be begging for the Pedialyte.
2. Superband Series
I love Superbands for their versatility. For finisher exercises, I like to partner up and do a series of different movements. Some of these include: sprints, shots, bear crawls, jumping variations, knee drives, and lateral work, just to name a few. Mix them in as you see fit.
3. Sand Sprints
Sand sprint work has been used for decades by many athletes. Being in San Diego allows us to leverage this great resource, for running and exercising on an unstable surface provides a number of benefits, including:
- Increased strength development in your lower shank - calves, feet, and ankles
- Increased coordination and balance
- Burn more calories than you would on a flat surface
4. “Carry” Variations
Controlling your opponent requires a powerful, strong grip and these “carrying” variations help achieve this. Not to mention these exercises are great for developing strength in your forearms, upper back, and core. Some tools I like to use include: heavy dumbbells, kettlebells, farmer bars, heavy med balls, heavy bags, dummies and even training partners.
Some people laugh at the thought of partner exercises, but try holding Phil Davis in a bear hug and walking for 40 yards and you won’t be laughing long. These last few tools (med balls, heavy bags, and dummies) are great for challenging your breathing patterns as well.
5. Card Challenge
I typically incorporate this with other finishers as it is more for hand-eye coordination and concentration than anything else. I love to do these at the end of the routine when the guys are fatigued. It requires mental focus and concentration which is vital for the MMA athlete. I simply line the guys up and throw a playing card up in the air to each guy. They all get 3 cards and whoever has the high score moves on to the next round. We keep going until there is one man standing.
Look, if your workout alone is enough for you, so be it. But if you really want to push yourself mentally and physically, add one of these finishers to your training routine and step up to the challenge. You’ll boost your metabolism, cut fat, and take your conditioning to a whole new level.
To properly recover after performing these finishers 1R would recommend the following supplements:
- Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1 Recovery - The carbs and protein will help you recover and build lean muscle faster after your toughest workouts
- Cytosport L-Glutamine - Needed for immune system support, energy production, and the building and protection of the lean muscle mass when stress is increased on the body
- Optimum Nutrition BCAA 5000 Powder – Adding this product to your pre or post-workout routine will help build lean muscle mass, increase protein synthesis, and improve energy levels
About the Author
Doug Balzarini is the founder of DB Strength, a company that provides personal training, sports performance coaching, nutritional services, and fitness/wellness education. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for the Alliance MMA Fight Team in San Diego, CA. Previously, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises. A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management for Westfield State University. Since moving to San Diego, he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, and obtained multiple certifications/trainings including the NSCA - CSCS certification, ACE - Personal Trainer certification, MMA - Conditioning Coach certification, and TRX Instructor Training. He has appeared in dozens of fitness videos, written numerous fitness-related articles, has competed in multiple grappling tournaments, and produced his own 2-DVD set titled, “Strength & Conditioning for the Combat Athlete”. Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the ‘Continuing Education Coordinator’ where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers. For more information please visit www.DBstrength.com.
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