Do fighters lift weights? [Explained]

Building muscles and strengthening training seems to be obvious for fighting skills. Weightlifting is one of the main exercises that come to mind when talking about muscles and strengthening. But do fighters lift weights in reality?

If yes, why are MMA fighters so skinny? Many of them.

Skinny MMA fighter

When you see the MMA fighter physique of some of the best pro fighters you wonder, what is their secret? Because we are talking here not about marathon race runners, we are talking about combat sports athletes on a pro level.

skinny mma fighter
Fighter body. From left to right: Chase Hooper, Sean O’Malley, Tony Ferguson, Charles Oliveira; Google image captions

Why MMA fighters are skinny?

First of all, if MMA was only about size and muscles we wouldn’t see there Chase Hooper, Sean O’Malley, or Georges St-Pierre (GSP) as the top fighters.

So, what is the point?

The point is that strength is not just about muscle mass, but endurance, speed, and flexibility. Big muscles mean more energy consumption – oxygen and blood, which should be delivered to muscles.

And the loss of even the smallest amount of power during a fight can be worth a victory in the match.

Do pro fighters lift weights?

Fighters either lift weights or they don’t. Lifting weights is not obligatory in the training routine of any martial artists and MMA fighters. Even more, some coaches of pro fighters may decide not to utilize weightlifting or a very balanced program.

Remember, pro fighters have to keep their weight, and lifting weights gains muscles that equal more weight.

Weightlifting is about being in shape, but for fighters is more important to be in fight shape.

Do MMA fighters lift weights?

Let’s just find out what the fighters say.

For instance, Georges St-Pierre in his earlier fighting career used to train weights and specifically Olympic lifting, as his coach – Firas Zahabi – explained in one of the interviews.

But later, St-Pierre moved from weightlifting. “My main training as a fighter is fighting. I can’t let my strength and conditioning compromise my main training. It’s been many years since I’ve lifted a weight. I do gymnastic stuff with parallel bars and rings and on the pommel horse,” said he in an interview for Muscle & Fitness.

the way of the fight

The Way of The Fight, Georges St Pierre

A very insightful book by GSP about “a fighter’s journey, highlighting the lessons that propelled his rise from bullying victim to internationally celebrated athlete and champion”.

In the next videos, you can see how powerful strength training can be without weights.

Calisthenics vs weights: Georges St-Pierre gymnastic training routine

How do MMA fighters train?

Kevin Lee – a professional MMA fighter from Eagle FC and former UFC competitor. Let’s join his full mobility and strength workout.

Are weights good for fighters?

Weights are good fighters but in a specific fighters workout routine. Heavy lifting is not a popular training option for combat athletes. Low weights with high reps – maybe.

Fighters need strength not weight. If there is a way to gain strength and power without lifting weights, for sure athletes will do that.

A bodybuilder training program is not suitable for fighters because the final goal is different.

But at the same time, there is the MMA heavyweight division where fighters’ appearance is saying “These guys are lifting weights”. For instance, UFC fighter William Knight can bench press 495 lbs (225 kg).

Does lifting weights increase punching power?

Obviously, if asking do fighters lift weights or not, one should determine first why this question appears.

Maybe because of a supposition that MMA fighters need more power if they want to punch harder.

If this is the case, let’s find out if lifting weights increase punching power.

In general, high punching power capability is an inborn ability or simply physical giftedness. But the punching power can be improved to some level by training. Nevertheless, one should understand, that most likely it will not be possible to achieve the result of the Klitschko brothers or Mike Tyson.

Strength and speed

Another thing not to forget is, that effective punching power is not only about strength but also speed skills.

Lifting weights gives muscle strength that will allow punching harder. But important is also to have speed strength which indicates explosive or reactive strength bringing the punching power to another level.

How to balance weight lifting and martial arts?

It’s unnecessary to oppose martial arts vs weight lifting because martial arts and weightlifting as strengthening training are going parallel.

In our article about strength training for BJJ we have considered some aspects of building strength for jiu jitsu and the importance of balancing the cross-training to have enough recovery time. Check it out to find more information.

Also keep in mind, if you do cross-training – BJJ, strengthening, or weights – balance them to have enough recovery after one and before other training.

strength training for jiu jitsu
Balancing BJJ and weight training; screenshot from Renaissance Periodization YouTube channel

What body fat are fighters?

On average, a male fighter – boxer, MMA fighter, etc. – has a body fat range of 10-12%. Female athletes have a higher index – about 15-25%. A lower than minimal normal index should be considered as harmful.

Remember that not all fighters are lean, but most of them are.

Bonus: Books

Yes, books.

No matter what happens, books will be always a source of knowledge. Even if it is about sports and martial arts.

In conclusion to our subject of weightlifting for fighters, we want to share the books by Matt Furey. He is a martial artist and fitness trainer with decades of experience.

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