UFC fighters need strength and power, but they also need endurance and cardio fitness to get them through three rounds. Middleweight fighter Michael Bisping shares the workouts that give him the edge in the ring, and the body to go with it.
From gruelling upper- and lower-body power sessions to punishing cardio workouts, these training sessions will get you looking and feeling fighting fit.
Taking part in mixed martial arts demands a different type of cardio than you’d get from following a marathon training plan – you need the ability to work at high intensity in short bursts. Bisping reveals the moves that mean he never runs out of breath in the middle of a bout.
Bisping says: "We use these to finish off a training session – intense sprinting is better than distance running for the sort of cardio you need in the Octagon."
- Pick a distance so you'll be able to do the full set at a fast pace. Between 10m and 20m should work.
- Sprint to one end of the course, touch the ground and sprint back. That's one rep.
Sets 3 Reps 50
Bisping says: "Throwing Muay Thai knees is harder than you think. We use weights to get an arm workout in too."
- Raise two 5kg dumbbells above your head, then bring them down to your hips as you throw a knee.
- Throw the knee by pushing your hips forwards and up. Try to find a rhythm, bouncing as you throw alternate knees and resting as little as possible.
Lower-Body Power Workout
UFC fighters might look ripped up top, but the real power behind almost every MMA move – whether it’s a punch or a takedown – comes from the legs and core. Building up your quads and calves lets you generate extra force from the ground, but just doing endless squats won't get you the required strength.
Sets 3 Reps 10
Bisping says: "Lunges use a lot of the same muscles you'll use in a takedown. The kettlebells just make it harder."
- Take a large step forward with one foot, while looking forward and keeping your chest up.
- Brush your trailing knee gently against the mat, without extending your lead knee past your toes.
- Power back with your front leg and repeat with the other leg.
Explosive Romanian deadlift
Sets 3 Reps 8
Bisping says: "Instead of lifting really heavy, we try to be explosive with our lifts."
- Start with your head up, looking forward, your core braced and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lean forward from the hips and unlock your knees. Let the bar travel down your shins until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
- Explode upwards back to your original position.
Upper-Body Power Workout
You don't climb to the top ranks of mixed martial arts fighting, as Bisping has, just by sparring and shadowboxing: you need targeted exercises that build strength in the right places. And it's not just about the ability to punch an opponent’s lights out – that's important, but so is taking someone down from a clinch or resisting a fight-ending armlock.
Bisping says: "These give you the explosive strength you need to fire off a big punch."
- Start at the top of a press-up, then descend quickly until your chest is just above the floor and explode upwards.
- Clap at the top, and aim for as much height as possible.
Bisping says: "This simulates the movement of picking up an opponent for a big takedown. Use a bag well below your own bodyweight to start with, though – it’s dead weight."
- Pick a punchbag up off the floor, lifting with your knees and keeping your back straight. Spin the bag in front of you like a propeller, first one way then the other. Start with 180° spins. Move up to 360° if it’s too easy.
- Put the bag down between repetitions.
Core strength is one of the most underrated necessities for a UFC fighter. Whether you’re landing a devastating punch or nailing a submission, the real power to do it comes from your midsection. Having a strong core also helps co-ordination between the upper and lower body – and it will improve your ability to take a blow to the abdomen.
A simple move, the two-point box strengthens the stabilising muscles around your spine, giving you a stronger, more stable core.
- Start on all fours.
- Touch one elbow to the opposite knee.
- Then raise the arm and opposite leg to form a horizontal straight line.
- Hold the position for a two-count before repeating.
Dip side plank
Bisping says: “This trains your stabilisers and it'll help with twisting movements as well as keeping you injury-free during big lifts.”
- Hold your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Unlike a normal plank, where you simply hold the position, dip your hip so that it just touches the floor.
Strength Endurance Workout
Plenty of UFC stars boast impressive bench press and squat numbers, but a huge one-rep max doesn't help much in a sport where you're operating at full power for five minutes straight. Here, middleweight Michael Bisping lifts the lid on moves that'll prepare you for sustained feats of endurance - as well as giving your metabolism a boost that'll leave you burning fat all day.
Ground'n'Pound to tuck jump
Bisping says: “This mimics what it's like to go from the ground to working hard standing up. It'll punish you.”
- Sit on a bag as if you're 'mounted' on an opponent, and throw as many strikes as you can in 20 seconds. Mix up straight punches, hooks and elbows.
- Get up and do 10 knees-to-chest tuck jumps.
Bisping says: "Being able to lift huge weights is useless when you're going into a 15-minute fight. This'll get you breathing hard and work your muscles."
Sets 5 Reps 24
- Perform eight bent-over rows with a barbell loaded with around 70% of your one-rep max.
- Without resting, do eight upright rows…
- …then eight overhead presses. Rest for a minute before the next set.
Explosive Power Workout
UFC fighters need explosive movement, super-quick reactions and to be able to direct all their force spontaneously in one direction. Middleweight Michael Bisping trains using plyometrics – jumping moves that teach the muscles to contract forcefully without getting injured. Even if you're never going to step inside the Octagon, they'll make you more resistant to injury and better at almost any sport.
Bisping says: "We do these as part of our warm-up. They'll get you ready to start kicking things."
- Start on the balls of your feet.
- Bend your knees until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Jump as far forward as you can without losing your balance. Land on the balls of your feet again.
Sets 3 Reps 10
Bisping says: "This is a slightly more advanced move that really gets your hips working. Make sure you do it on a soft floor."
- Start in the same position as the bunny hop.
- Drop forwards onto your knees, then drive forwards with your hips and jump forward.
- Land on the balls of your feet and repeat.
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From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.