MMA Training: How to Work Out Like a Mixed Martial Arts Fighter

MMA Training: How to Work Out Like a Mixed Martial Arts Fighter

It’s hard to overlook mixed martial arts these days. Killer knockouts go instantly viral. Twitter wars between rivals make headline news. There’s a fight club, it seems, on every corner.

But even if the sight of fighters mixing it up in the cage leaves you cold, there’s no denying that those men and women are seriously fit: powerful, athletic, muscular, and virtually fat-free. And compared to the usual strength-and-cardio grind, MMA training — punching, kicking, learning to move and defend — looks like a hell of a lot of fun. To wit, it helps form the foundation of Rough Around The Edges, an intense, results-driven training program led by a team of professional stuntwomen.

Interested in diving into MMA training? Here’s a little of what it’s all about, courtesy of boxing trainer and Openfit Fitness Director Elanit Friedman.


The Basics of MMA Training

Most people training for basic fitness are after two simple things: looking good and feeling good. If you do an MMA workout, however, the goal is different: You’re learning a sport — new techniques, new strategies, new ways of moving and balancing — in order to become a more effective fighter. That requires two points of focus:

Technical mastery

To the untrained eye, mixed martial arts looks like a chaotic flail of arms and legs. In fact, every move you see is the culmination of years of painstaking practice.

“Learning punches, elbows, knees, kicks, footwork, and defense are just a few components of MMA training,” says Friedman. Like scales on a piano, or simple steps in ballet, they’re the fundamentals of mixed martial arts. And since MMA is a mashup of many arts, each one worthy of years of study, the opportunity to improve your technical skills is almost limitless.

Physical fitness

Every novice fighter says the same thing after their first round in the ring: That was the longest three minutes of my life. “It takes a lot of conditioning and endurance to move around for that long, throwing kicks and punches,” says Friedman.

Along with learning basic moves, then, you also need to develop a high level of fitness. “Cardio training, core, flexibility, and balance training are all very important.”


Benefits of MMA Training

Sound like a lot of work? It can be — but the rewards are many. Here are a few of the perks you’re likely to pick up along the way.

mma training rough around the edges amy johnston

More muscle, less fat

Hitting a bag, working the pads with a trainer, kicking an air shield, and sparring with a partner can be just as challenging to your muscles, aerobic endurance, and anaerobic capacity as more traditional forms of training. Want to glimpse what’s possible? Google photos of MMA pros Melvin GuillardVitor BelfortRonda Rousey and Michelle Waterson; their impressive physiques are testament to the muscle-building, fat-incinerating power of MMA training.


You don’t build a lot of skill plodding on a treadmill while staring at CNN. In MMA, getting better — nailing your spinning back hook kick, rocking the heavy bag with a stronger right cross — is a daily occurrence. “That’s why 85-year-old men still do it,” says kickboxer Kendra Smith, owner of Forge Studio in Los Angeles. “There are so many ways to learn and evolve.”


The experience of learning to fight is perspective-altering, says Smith: “There’s a version of a warrior in all of us,” she says. “It’s part of who we are.” Getting in touch with it — by learning to punch and kick with authority and face an opponent without fear — can be incredibly empowering, she adds. “People walk taller, stand straighter, speak with more clarity and directness.”


It seems counterintuitive, says Smith — but learning to fight can yield a profound sense of peace. “When you hit the bag or work the mitts, there’s no room for any mental noise or distraction.” An hour of punching and kicking with full force, she says, can resemble an hour of meditation, after which many practitioners experience exceeding focus.


9 No-Gym MMA Moves You Can Do at Home

Want to get a solo taste of MMA training? Try these moves.


jab punch mma training rough around the edges corinne degroot

• Assume a fighting stance: With your feet shoulder-width apart, step your left foot back slightly, weight evenly distributed on your feet. Your hands should be up around your face for protection, with your elbows in.

• Rotating your hips slightly to the left, and keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, extend your front arm forward, clenching your fist and turning your palm down as you straighten your arm.

• Retract your fist along the same path, returning to fighting stance.

Training tips:

– Punch toward the face of an imaginary opponent your own height.

– Retract your fist as fast — or faster — than you extend it.

– Don’t hyperextend your elbow — keep it slightly bent at the moment of impact.

Muscles worked: shoulders, pectorals, triceps, lats



• From the same stance, pivot on your back foot and rotate your back hip forward as you throw a straight punch with your back arm to your opponent’s face, finishing with your palm facing down.

• Retract the punch along the same path, returning to fighting stance.

Training tips:

– Keep your elbows in throughout the movement.

– Make sure you’re pivoting on the back foot and turning your hips toward your imaginary opponent. Power comes from your hips.

Muscles worked: shoulders, pectorals, core, triceps, lats



• From your fighting stance, pivot on the ball of your front foot as you bring your lead hand in front of your face, with your elbow up and bent 90 degrees. Keep a tight fist, with your palm facing down.

• Left hook is similar — just rotate on your back foot.

Training tip:

– Keep your non-punching hand up near your face as you throw the hook.

Muscles worked: shoulders, pectorals, core, triceps, lats



uppercut mma training rough around the edges michelle jubilee

• From your fighting stance, throw a short, tight upward punch with your front hand, keeping your elbow in, as if striking an opponent under the chin.

Training tip:

– Keep your left elbow tight and close to you — your target is under your imaginary opponent’s chin.

Muscles worked: shoulders, pectorals, triceps, lats


Side elbow

• Start in your fighting stance with your hands and fingers unclenched.

• As with hook punches, rotate your hips and throw the strikes across your body as if sliding your arm along a shelf.

Training tip: Hip rotation is greater with elbows than with hooks. Envision striking through your target.

Muscles worked: shoulders, pectorals, abdominals, lats, glutes


Rear knee

• From your fighting stance, reach forward and upward with both hands, as if grabbing the back of an opponent’s neck.

• Shift your weight onto your front foot, and lean backward as you pull your hands down and drive your back knee upward. Imagine striking your opponent in the chest or face with your knee.

• Retract your knee, and return your back foot to the floor.

Muscles worked: core, lats, hips, glutes


Snap kick

• From your fighting stance, maintaining a slight bend in your knees, shift your weight onto your front foot and pull your back knee up to your chest, while simultaneously flexing your toes toward your shin. This is known as “chambering.”

• Push your hips toward your target while quickly extending (or “snapping”) your kicking leg, striking your target with the ball of your foot.

• Retract your leg back to the chambered position, then return it to the floor.

Training tip: Think of your thigh as the handle of a whip, your lower leg as the whip itself.

Muscles worked: quadriceps, core, glutes, calves


Side kick

side kick rough around the edges caitlin dechelle

• From a fighting stance, rotate the toes of your front foot outward slightly, shift your weight onto that front foot, draw your back knee up to the chambered position, toes flexed toward your shin, heel pointing toward your target.

• Keeping your knee high, rotate your hips so that your butt is toward your opponent, and the toes of your supporting foot point directly away from your target.

• Quickly extend your lifted leg directly toward your target while simultaneously leaning left, and strike with the outer edge (or blade) of your foot.

• Return to the chambered position, and lower your kicking foot to the ground.

Muscles worked: quadriceps, core, glutes


Push kick

• From your fighting stance, shift your weight onto your front foot and thrust your hips forward as you drive your back knee up and your foot forward, as if kicking down a door.

• Return to the chambered position, and lower your back foot to the ground.

Muscles worked: quadriceps, core, glutes, calves