MMA is arguably the most physically demanding sport there is. Every little bit of power is crucial, fighters are always looking for different workouts to give them that explosive edge. The problem is sometimes they resort to exercises that put them at risk of injury and provide little reward. Spine health is crucial to a fighters success as well as maintaining the integrity of the shoulder joint. Unfortunately the rotator cuff is also the joint most often put at risk and it’s one of the most important joints that fighters (particularly strikers) need to keep healthy. this is a list of the top 5 exercises that fighters should either alter or avoid completely if they want to prolong their careers.
5. Body Building style bench
Benching is one of those lifts that just feels good. Planting your feet on the ground and flaring those elbows to put up as much weight as possible sure makes you feel like a real man, after all “if the bars not bending you’re pretending”. The problem is that you’re putting additional strain on the rotator cuffs and targeting muscles in your lower pecs that are meant to make body builders look better, they don’t make fighters hit any harder. Not to mention benching like that almost killed USC running back Stafon Johnson after he dropped the bar on his throat and split his trachea so bad that surgeons couldn’t believe he was alive.
Alter this lift by tucking the elbows into the body and bringing the bar down just below the nipples. This takes strain off of the rotator cuffs and engages the triceps which are a more functional muscle group. It’s also important to lift weight you can control and always have a spotter.
Dips are actually a pretty good lift but the problem is they are almost always performed poorly, when the elbows flare out and the body is vertical it wreaks havoc on the rotator cuff.
Replace this lift with a modified push up. Put your hands directly under your shoulders and keep your elbows tucked in tight to your sides. This targets those same areas and is easier to perform without compromising form and risking your shoulder health.
3. 45 Degree Leg Press
The leg press is a classic lift, the problem is that it forces the spine into a curvature that compresses it and puts the vertebrae at risk. It can lead to deteriorating health of the spine over time or even an acute herniated disk. It also disengages your core and stabilizers making the increased strength worthless outside of that specific lift.
replace this lift with weighted lunges. Isolating the legs will improve stabilizer strength which means more functional strength and that is huge for fighters stuffing taking downs and in many other movements crucial to MMA. You can also take a Bosu ball (It’s like a regular workout ball but cut in half with a platform on the flat side) place it with the ball side down and do squats on top of it with a 25lb-35lb plate held out horizontally in front of you.
2. Behind the Neck Pulldowns
This lift is so old and outdated that I would expect anyone who still does it to have ridden a dinosaur to the gym. Yet from time to time I still see people doing this. The pain in your shoulder should tell you what I’m telling you now, you are absolutely causing irreparable damage to your rotator cuff, one career ending rep at a time.
Alter this lift by pulling down in front of your chest. It’s a minor alteration but it makes a world of difference.
1. Upright Row
Rotating your shoulders inward and then lifting them is a terrible movement that strains the rotator cuff and can eventually cause an impingement. The worst part is it’s not even necessary, if you are benching and dead lifting you’ve got that area covered.
Replace with nothing, seriously just do your dead lifts and power lifter style bench and you’ll be all set in that department.
In MMA there are fighters who have over come ACL tears, concussions, broken hands, even fighters with missing limbs but if you destroy your shoulders that’s usually game over. The gleno-humeral joint (shoulder) and spine are the articulations most at risk of injury in the weight room. Respect the weight and focus on form and you’ll get to train harder for longer.