Cardio Routines for MMA Fighters

Mixed Martial Arts fighters must be willing to put in hard work to achieve peak physical fitness as well train in multiple combat disciplines. Very successful MMA fighters often begin their career utilizing one fighting style and through dedicated training will expand their fighting repertoire. Many MMA fighters were former collegiate wrestlers who spent years training in only wrestling. These athletes now crosstrain in boxing and other martial arts to compete at the highest level of MMA competition. Although it is very important to be a well-rounded fighter, if cardiovascular endurance is lacking, the fighter won’t go very far in mixed martial mrts. Even the best fighter will be outclassed if they run out of steam during the fight. Striking, takedowns, and even blocking become almost impossible if the athlete can’t get oxygen into the lungs. A successful MMA cardio routine should be easy to follow, but at the same time should challenge the athlete. There are three key programs that a serious MMA athlete should follow to get into fighting shape.


High-Intensity Interval Training:

High-intensity interval training (HITT) should be the bread and butter for an MMA fighter’s cardio routine. This type of training involves bursts of high-intensity work followed by short periods of low activity. During the fight, the MMA fighter will have times of high-intensity activity followed up by times of rest. This type of cardio routine is so important because it naturally follows the rhythm of a fight. During the fight, the fighter may throw a series of rapid punches during a combination and shortly thereafter be involved in a clinch.

There are a variety of ways to apply interval training. One example is to have the fighter warm up for five minutes with a light jog on the treadmill. After the warm up, the fighter should sprint for one minute and jog during the one minute cool down phase. This activity should be repeated six to eight times. This type of training will greatly assist the MMA fighter’s cardio by allowing them to increase their VO2 max. The maximal oxygen update (VO2 max) is the widely accepted measurement of cardiovascular fitness. This measurement reveals how much oxygen the athlete can transport to the lungs during exercise or activity. Incorporate interval training at least three times a week into the fighter’s schedule.



The important training routine will boost the MMA fighter’s cardio, and at the same time increase overall performance and power. A competitive MMA fighter has to be able to employ explosive strength during a takedown and just about any given situation during the fight. Plyometrics should be sports specific and typically include full body movements.

An example of plyometrics could be performing a jump squat while carrying weight or jumping from the ground onto a box repeatedly.

Another popular plyometric training routine for MMA fighters is to grab a partner and play catch with a medicine ball. Throw the ball from the shoulder to simulate a punch. These explosive movements will increase the heart rate, and at the same time activate muscle fibers that will assist the athlete during the fight.



Sparring is basically fighting in a controlled environment. This type of training allows the fighter an opportunity to practice fighting techniques, and at the same time increase cardiovascular endurance. To increase cardio, the MMA fighter must spar for longer duration than scheduled during the actual bout. If the fight is scheduled for two or three rounds, consistently spar five to eight rounds. It is important to increase the duration of sparring during pre-fight training, while at the same time maintaining a high level of intensity. A high level of intensity during training will help the fighter mentally prepare for fight day nerves. Mental muscle memory plays an important role during the fight. The fighter must know how to block out all distractions on fight day. The level of intensity that was present during training will often be revealed on the day of the fight.


Three Ingredients for Success:

The old adage of “fights are won and lost in the gym” should not be ignored by any aspiring MMA fighter. The harder you work in the gym through cardiovascular training, the longer you will be able to fight. Never depend on the fight ending early. Be prepared to go the distance. Through the proper application of these three cardio routines, the fighter will have a strong foundation that will be a strong asset in even the toughest fight.