Good news if you hate the treadmill: There’s a weight loss alternative that works just as well as (if not better than) your trusty cardio torture device, and much more impressively: MMA training.
That’s where this workout comes in. We asked Chris Ulbricht, instructor and owner at Garden State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Middletown, New Jersey, to design a kickass martial arts-inspired workout that will help you practice fundamental MMA moves as you shred away fat.
“When it comes to weight loss, any time you can keep you heart rate up and burn more calories than you take in—and you should be eating enough to get your necessary nutrients—then you can start to burn fat,” Ulbricht says.
But this workout isn’t just for burning up those calories. “These practical moves are great when you can't make it to the gym and want to get a MMA-type workout in,” especially because it’s equipment-free, Ulbricht says. “The workout can also familiarize your body with some of the body mechanics of various martial arts movements if you’re considering trying MMA or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at some point in the future, or simply as a warm up before studying martial arts under the supervision of a trained instructor.”
Plus, it’s fun. “Martial arts helps distract you from the fatigue because you’re busy thinking about how each exercise applies to your sport and your skill,” he says.
And it sure as hell beats the hampster wheel.
“Your goal should be to make the workout as difficult as possible in terms of explosiveness and speed, while still maintaining proper form,” says Ulbricht. “I always tell my students that if their technique breaks down, that means it's time to slow it down.”
A) 10-min warmup cardio. In the last two minutes of the run, do the following exercises:
- Arms open to arms closed (1 min)
- Arm circles (1 min)
B) Dynamic stretching:
- Reach-through hip stretch: Bend over at the hips and place your arms through your legs, making sure to pivot at the hips and not at the lower back. Reach through your legs, hold briefly, then extend your hips and open your arms wide as you straighten and stand up.
- Bootstrappers (1 min): Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a light kettlebell. Get into a squat position, holding the kettlebell as you would in a goblet squat. Then, making sure to pivot at the hips, straighten your legs, bend over, and straighten your arms through your legs.
- Lateral lunges (1 min)
Workout: MMA Moves Circuit
Perform each exercise as part of a circuit. Do each exercise for 50 seconds as fast as you can, while making sure you maintain perfect form, and then rest for 10 seconds. (If your form starts to break down, slow down—form is more important than speed.) Some important notes:
- Make sure to alternate sides on all exercises. At the end of each circuit, rest 2–3 minutes as necessary.
- Practice each exercise before the workout, so you can focus on moving quickly between exercises in the circuit.
- Feel free to switch up the order of the exercises in the circuit, Ulbricht says.
- Beginners should do three rounds of the circuit. Intermediate/advanced MMA athletes should do four to five rounds.
Here, Ulbricht demonstrates the moves at Garden State Jiu-Jitsu.
1. Technical Stand Up
How to do it: From a sitting position, with one arm planted on the ground behind you, curl the same-side leg of the planted arm so the outer portion of your knee is on the mat. Keep your other leg bent with your foot on the ground and knee pointed towards the ceiling. Use your hand planted behind you and your foot on the ground (opposite side from your planted hand) to lift your hips off the ground and swivel your bent leg underneath you. Plant the foot of the bent leg to go to a standing position.
Why it’s important for MMA: “The technical stand up is used as a component of many of the movements of various Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques like sweeps and takedowns. In addition, it has a very important self-defense application because it allows you to most effectively get back up to your feet while blocking an attack.”
2. Alligator Walk
How to do it: Start in a pushup position with one leg bent and one leg straight. Drop the hip on your straight leg and stay on your toes. Position the foot of your bent leg so your foot is flat with your toes facing away from your body. Push off the leg that is bent to move yourself forward and switch your legs as you step the formerly straight leg up and into the hip-abducted position.
Why it’s important for MMA: “This is an excellent drill for core strength and hip mobility, which are classic attributes of MMA and Jiu-Jitsu fighters. Being able to make one’s hips ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ is key to success on the mats.”
3. Roll-Up to Shin
How to do it: Start in a seated position and roll onto your back keeping your core tight. Use your legs to create momentum to bring yourself back forward. As you are coming back up tuck one of you heels in towards your butt. DO NOT flex your toes. The goal is to roll up onto the top of your foot. Plant the foot of the other leg in front of you and extend yourself forward to feel a stretch in your hips. Allow yourself to fall backwards so that you can switch sides and repeat.
Why it’s important for MMA: “This is a great drill to work on how we come up to the top after a ‘sweep,’ which is any time we use the ‘guard,’ a defensive position used to fight off your back, to go from the bottom (on our back) to the top position in a fight or match. This exercise has the added benefit of being great for increasing hip flexibility.”
How to do it: Start on your back and use your feet to put the weight on your shoulders and lift your hips off the mat. Hold this position. Then take one of your arms and reach all the way across your body to touch the mat over your opposite shoulder. Use your legs to drive and push your arm even farther past your opposite shoulder.
Why it’s important for MMA: “This is a great exercise that mimics the movements that we do to escape bad positions in BJJ and MMA.”
5. Shoot and Sprawl
How to do it: Start in a standing position. with both legs bent and one foot in front of the other. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, with hips, head, and shoulders all facing in the same direction. Take a small step forward with your front leg to create an angle to give you balance, and then drop your front knee to the mat. Keep your back knee off the mat as you initially bring your front knee down. Hips, head, and shoulder should all still be facing forward. After your knee drops step your back leg forward and then come back up to a standing position. You can either repeat this to do another “shot” or add in a defensive movement called a “sprawl” in between shots.
Why it’s important for MMA: “A sprawl is basically a burpee, except you want your hips to touch the floor—ideally with one side twisted lower than the other.”
6. Compass Drill
How to do it: This is called a compass drill because you should end exactly 180 degrees from where you started. Start on your hands and knees and bring one arm across your body while your other hand stays planted. Tuck your head and allow your legs to lift on the mat and move in a semi circle in the direction that you are facing. You should be up on your upper back and neck.
Why it’s important for MMA: “This drill is used to develop the skills for ‘Granby Rolls,’ a defense technique used in wrestling, as well as going inverted, which is a movement used in many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques.”
7. Roll Up to Feet and Jump
How to do it: Start sitting and roll onto your back. Use your legs to generate momentum to roll forward while keeping your core tight. As you roll forward, bring your feet flat to the mat and immediately extend your legs to either stand up or go straight into a jump.
Why it’s important for MMA: “This is a great exercise to get a feel for balance and momentum and to build strength in your legs. Furthermore, the feeling of rolling your back on the mat is almost like a foam roller, which is soothing the spine.”
8. Stand Up In Guard
How to do it: Start on your knees and step up, one leg at a time, while keeping your back and head straight. Come all the way up to your feet and then step your knees back down one at a time to return to the starting position. You can also twist to one side and push to add the motion that mimics breaking the closed guard open.
Why it’s important for MMA: “This is great for developing leg strength and balance. It can also be done while holding a kettlebell.”
9. Rest 2–3 minutes
Cooldown: Static stretching. Ulbricht recommends focusing on your hips and shoulders to maximize flexibility and reduce soreness.