The demands of mixed martial arts are grueling and the demands placed on the core probably trump all other sports. With the research now available from people like Stuart McGill we clearly know that flexion (crunching and sit-ups) based training for the core is not a wise choice. Not only is repetitive flexion dangerous, it is also lousy for performance enhancement.
I will sometimes run into the argument that because flexion happens so much in MMA we should train it in our programs. I couldn’t disagree more. These athletes are going through so many cycles of flexion during their “skill training” that it is absurd to intentionally program or train lumbar flexion for the core.
A larger demand in MMA is the ability to maintain a tight core and stable spine. During a fight, an MMA athlete is resisting flexion, extension and rotational forces at the core area. Here are some examples:
Striking – As the athlete stikes, the core must stay rigid and prevent excessive movement in order for forces to travel from the ground, up through the hips/core come out the extremities. If the core is not stable, power would be lost and the punch would be weak. This is called an energy leak.
Clinching – Imagine Anderson Silva getting a Muay Thai clinch around your neck. Do you think he is going to be nice? No, he is going to steer you around the octagon while trying to make you eat knees. Beyond solid defensive technique the thing that is going to save you is a strong and stable core…. One that can effectively RESIST movement.
Base – Maintaining a strong base is everything. This could be avoiding take downs or avoiding sweeps from the ground. Again, it’s “anti-movement.” The athlete with better base will feel like freight train on top of their opponent!
Now that you understand the demands, here are some great ways to train the core for MMA using the TRX Suspension Trainer:
Anterior Core Progression #1 (Planks)
- Maintain “pillar” type stability
- Do not allow excessive arching at the low back
- Perform a 30 sec hold. Once proficient progress to the next exercise rather than progressing in time
TRX Body Saw
- Same as above. Perform for reps or time
TRX Body Saw/Knee Tuck
- Perform the knee tuck without rounding the low back
TRX Walk Out
- Same as above. Imagine balancing a glass of water on the hips. This will create an anti-rotation effect for the core.
Anterior Core Progression #2 (Roll Outs)
TRX Kneeling Roll Out (Steep Angle)
- Begin with the anchor point behind you
- Do not allow any arching from the low back
TRX Kneeling Roll Out
- Begin with the anchor point in front of you
- Same as above
TRX Standing Roll Out
- Same as above from a standing position
Lateral Stability Variations
TRX Side Plank
- Maintain “pillar” type stability
- Perform 3x10 second holds each side
- When the hips come back to the floor slightly bend the knees so the spine stable
TRX Hip Drop
- Create a small angle
- Keep hips and chest facing the same direction
- Make the “hip drop” motion subtle and smaller than you think
TRX Anti-Rotation Press (Pallof Press)
- Create a small angle with a split stance
- Press the TRX straight forward from the chest
- Maintain a tall spine and avoid gravity from pulling you into rotation
Give these a shot, and I guarantee you will start being a monster on the mat!
Dewey Nielsen is a Performance Enhancement Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He is the co-founder/co-owner of Impact Performance Training (www.impact-pt.com) and the co-founder, owner and coach of Impact Jiu-jitsu (www.impactjj.com).