This is a guest post from Derek Manuel. If you’d like to be considered for a guest post please contact me here

With the sport of mixed martial arts becoming more and more popular every day, there naturally follows the sprout of many different MMA strength and conditioning workouts.

Though this can be a good thing, one important aspect that fighters and combat athletes have to be aware of is the same thing happening in this industry as what eventually happened in the bodybuilding industry: saturation of workouts, exercises, equipment, arm chair experts, and so on.

Do you want a timeless form of conditioning that never fails and will keep you from falling victim to analysis paralysis in your next conditioning workout?

Well then sparring is your answer.

Bruce Lee said it best when he stated, “The best way to condition for an event is repetition of the actual performance of the event.”

In other words, a great way to train yourself from sucking wind in a fight is to, surprise surprise, fight over and over and over!

Since sparring is the closest thing to the real event of fighting, it only makes sense that the conditioning you get from sparring transfers over so well (genius I know, it took me several degrees, certifications, and science experiments to figure this out).

Another side benefit you get in your conditioning when sparring is training your body to deal with the adrenalin dump you get when engaging in combat.

Quite often MMA fighters don’t take into consideration the toll anxiety and nervousness take on the body that can heavily affect your conditioning when entering a fight for the first time.
(Editor’s note: I can certainly attest to this point. Just the other day I found myself holding my breath when my coach put pressure on me by continually backing me up against the ropes. This caused me to fatigue in a hurry.)

If you look at the way runners train, their main form of conditioning is getting their ass outside and running. There are many different supplemental exercises runners do, but that’s what they are meant for, just to SUPPLEMENT the runner’s main form of conditioning.

Now, I’m not suggesting you get in the ring or cage with an opponent wearing nothing but MMA gloves, a mouth piece, and a cup and go all out delivering and taking knees and elbows to the head for several rounds 5 days a week.

This is unrealistic and, as you may discover, unsafe. Unfortunately the word “scrimmage” doesn’t exactly have the same meaning in MMA as it does in baseball, basketball, or even football where they still where a lot of padding in actual games.

So how can you take advantage of the great conditioning you get from sparring without having to hire a doctor on standby to stitch you up after every practice?

Sparring Drills

There are several ranges and exchanges that can happen in an MMA fight. By isolating these scenarios into separate sparring drills and doing them in rounds just like you would do other conditioning exercises, you not only refine your technique tremendously but you can get a hell of a workout as well.

You can vary your training depending on which energy system you want to really focus on, such as 1 minute at 100% pace, 3 minutes at 75% pace, 5 minutes at a controlled pace, etc.

Doing them “battery” style, where one person remains constant in the drill and a line of others take their turn switching off for a timed period is one of the best ways to develop MMA specific conditioning.

Depending on what type of conditioning you really want to develop will depend on how you do these drills.

The point is to do them in rounds and enough where it becomes a killer conditioning workout.

For best results, mix up the time in the rounds and intensity.

Here are a few examples of some sparring drills you can utilize to get a great MMA conditioning workout.

Keep in mind these are to be done will all the padding necessary (cup, mouth piece, head gear, gloves, shin guards, etc). Just don’t be an idiot. There, that’s my disclaimer.

1. Striking vs Takedown Sparring Drill

One person has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the other has MMA gloves. The person with the boxing gloves is only allowed to strike.

Their goal is to land as many strikes as possible and avoid getting taken down.

The other person is only allowed to clinch and go for takedowns. Their goal is to defend the strikes and take the other person down.

2. Standing vs Grappling Drill

One person is standing with boxing gloves, the other is on their back with MMA gloves. The person standing’s goal is to either pass the guard, or ground and pound without getting submitted, swept, or letting the other person stand up. The person on their back’s goal is to stand up, sweep or submit their opponent while avoiding strikes.

3. Cage Drill

One person is up against a padded wall or cage with the goal of avoiding getting taken down. The other person’s goal is to keep their opponent against the wall and take him/her down.

Focus on Conditioning

As stated above, you want to do these drills with the goal of not just developing skill in these scenarios but to really work your conditioning. It’s not about knocking out your sparring partner or landing hard strikes, it’s about going 70% on your strikes and attacks and focusing on moving, moving, and moving.

By always including some kind of sparring as your MMA conditioning along with other supplemental exercises, workouts, and drills, you’ll prepare yourself both physically and mentally so that you body isn’t “shocked” with anything it hasn’t trained for when you get in the ring or cage.

About the author:
Derek has been involved in MMA and physical fitness for over 13 years. When he is not training he is learning and experimenting with the most efficient and effective ways to develop optimal levels of strength and conditioning for MMA.

To see Derek’s reviews of the top MMA strength and conditioning workouts on the web, visit

And for more of his MMA tips check out his MMA Strength and Conditioning Blog
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