Bodybuilding is often associated with athletes and movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenneger or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and overly developed muscular mass. Meanwhile, when you look at MMA fighters such as Khabib Nurgamedov or Daniel Cormier, their physical appearance is far from that of bodybuilders, particularly without the muscle definition and over-the-top mass you’re likely used to seeing.
Yet, MMA fighters like Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero, or Brock Lesnar, to name a few, have this built physique, so it begs the question: “Can you bodybuild and do MMA?“
The answer is yes, but you won’t necessarily be working exactly like a bodybuilder and striking the perfect balance between building your muscles and practicing MMA to attain the best possible results. Keep reading to find out how you can start bodybuilding and develop your MMA skills at the same time.
Can You Bodybuild And Do MMA?
When you practice MMA, you develop your strength, but you won’t develop body mass, and you won’t get the same muscular definition as you would by working out. You will develop some muscles and get in shape, but it won’t be as visible as a bodybuilder.
That’s because bodybuilders’ training is designed to break the muscular fibers and reconstruct them to make them bigger. A big part of this process is nutrition since the best way to get bigger muscle is to manage your calorie income with a slight excess to help the body build more muscles.
Most MMA fighters that you see also incorporate an active strength and conditioning routine into their training schedule; it’s easier said than done. One of the biggest challenges that you’ll face, when trying to bodybuild and do MMA together, is the diet.
When you train in MMA, you must consume a lot of carbohydrates to get the necessary energy for your training. Meanwhile, working out and building body mass requires high consumption of proteins and a reduction of carbs.
What Routine Should I Follow?
Depending on your objectives, you need to strike a balance between your martial arts and your gym sessions. If you want a perfect balance between the two, you’ll need to alternate your training as follows:
It’s an example of how you can split your time between the two equally;, if you’re looking to build muscle, you’ll need to prioritize working out. In this case, you can train like this:
|MMA + Gym (lower body training)
|Gym (upper body training)
|Gym (upper body training)
|Gym (lower body training)
This is a logical choice for fighters who need to build strength and get thicker. You can also choose to have more martial arts in your routine if you don’t need to build your body as much. Here’s a weekly routine with more emphasis on MMA training:
|MMA + Gym (upper body training)
|Gym (full body)
|Gym (lower body training)
These are just examples, and depending on your capacity, you can add or remove training sessions, but always keep at least a day off to allow your body to repair itself.
Upper Body Training
To effectively build muscle mass, you need to lift weights with a mechanical movement and repeat it with increased weight to engage the targeted muscle. Usually, such training will target two muscles or a muscle group.
Each major muscle works in conjunction with a smaller muscle. For instance, if you work your pectoral muscles, you’ll also engage your triceps to lift the weight. For each upper body session of the week, you can apply a different routine. When weight training, bodybuilders usually alternate between back training and pec training with variations on the exercises when they want to reach different muscles.
Here are training routines to get you started. Please note that you can adapt this program as you get more experience.
- Warm-Up: 10 min of cardio.
- Incline Bench Press w/ Dumbbells: This exercise is a great starting point, and you can start light for a few series to warm up. After that, you can do three series with six to eight reps and 1″ 30 of rest in between each series. Try to lift heavier for each new series. Your arms should go above your head and stop when your arms are parallel to the floor; also, breathe on the effort. — 3×6-8 – 1″ 30 rest.
- Bench Press w/ Bar: This is the same exercise with a bar instead of dumbbells and a flat bench. For this exercise, you need to bring the bar down to your chest and push it. However, stop before locking the elbows to keep maximum muscle tension. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Decline Bench Press w/ Bar: For this exercise, you’ll lift lighter because it mobilizes a part of your pectoral muscles you don’t often engage, so don’t be ashamed if you lift less. As always, go for slow reps and keep muscular tension throughout. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Dips + Triceps Pulldown: To effectively engage your triceps, you can go for a superset. Superset combines two exercises, so you’ll start with the first one and do the second one immediately after. The rest only happens after completing a series for each exercise. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Skull Crusher: For this exercise, you can use dumbbells, but it’s recommended to start with a small bar. Lie back on a bench and hold a bar above your chest, then slowly bring the bar to your forehead by folding your elbows. — 3×10 – 1″ 30.
- Warm-Up: 10 minutes — rower.
- Superset Pull-up + Horizontal Row: Similar to the chest, you need to perform the movement slowly and maintain muscle tension. If you can’t do the required number of pull-ups, use an assisted machine to help you complete it. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Deadlift: Deadlift is technical, and we recommend you ask someone to teach you this movement, as you can hurt yourself if you do it wrong. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Lat Pulldown + Prone Bench Butterfly: For the lat pulldown, you should bring the bar to your chest while keeping your back straight. However, if you want to spice things up, you can also add an additional series where you bring the bar to your neck. The prone bench butterfly will require you to look for the maximum amplitude to get the best out of it. Lay on your stomach on an inclined bench and lift your dumbbells up by using your back until your biceps are parallel to the floor. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Dumbbell Bicep Curl: There are several ways to do a bicep curl. You can keep your forearms along your body for a hammer curl and work on the forearm more or have your forearms facing in front of you for an upper bicep effort. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Arm Curl: The arm curl will help you destroy the remaining bicep fibers you have left. It’s the perfect exercise to end your training. Always aim for the widest extension to maximize the exercise’s efficiency — 3×8 – 1″ 30.
Lower Body Training
Leg training is usually more intense than upper body sessions. You’ll develop more weight, but you can have a hard time moving fast when you start. If you don’t work your shoulders during your back training, you can add shoulder exercises during your leg day.
- Warm-Up: 10 minutes – Treadmill
- Squats: This is the number one exercise to develop your legs; it will engage your quadriceps. When going down, bring your knees to a 90° angle and keep your back straight. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Walking Lunge: This exercise will mobilize your back leg muscles from the glute to the calves. You can walk or stay static depending on the space available to you. Take a dumbbell in each hand and keep your arms straight along your body. — 3×8-10 per leg – 1″ 30.
- Leg Press: This is a great exercise to bulk your quads. The machine is easy to understand, but if you’re new, ask a coach to show you the correct way to use it. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Leg Curls: For leg curls, we recommend using a machine where you can raise each leg one after the other to avoid creating an asymmetry. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Leg Extension: The same advice applies for leg extension; one leg after the other is better to ensure you lift the same with both legs. — 3×8-10 – 1″ 30.
- Calf Raise: Calf raising is an easy movement, and you simply have to stand on the tip of your toes and lift yourself. Machines can assist you, but you can also do it standing on a ledge or on a fitness stepper with dumbbells in your hands. — 3×12 – 1″ 30.
General Workout tips
The exercises we’ve presented to you will work to begin your training; however, you can add or remove exercises as long as you keep in mind those general principles that apply to mass gain:
- Exhale during the effort.
- Respect your resting time.
- Lift slowly to maximize the effect of the rep.
- Try to lift heavier with every new series.
- Work the major muscle first and the secondaries afterward.
- Drink water during your rest.
- Don’t sit during your workout.
- Always finish your series, even if this means finishing with lighter weights (you’ll do better next time).
- Keep your movements wide.
- Don’t do too many reps.
- Focus on doing the movement correctly before lifting heavy.
- Always warm up on the first exercise with light weights.
- Consider complements once you can do every exercise correctly and the first results show.
- You can do abs after each workout to strengthen your core.
How To Find The Right Balance Between Bodybuilding And MMA?
When you’re just starting out with a workout that combines both bodybuilding and MMA, finding the correct balance between the two is definitely a challenging task. You’ll need to assess your strengths and your weaknesses to determine if you want to prioritize building your muscles, which can be good if you’re naturally skinny or focus more on MMA training. MMA training greatly increases your cardio and burns fat. You also need to practice regularly to improve as a fighter and master the different techniques.
However, the two are not mutually exclusive. You can gain strength with MMA even if your physic becomes leaner. On the other hand, working out includes hundreds of exercises you can use depending on your objective, and you don’t have to build muscle with it. You can also do crossfit to get more cardio and improve your muscle definition by burning fat.
Moreover, training by looking for maximum amplitude in your movement and developing major muscle groups can only increase your strength and muscle endurance. It’s also a way to reinforce your whole body to avoid weaknesses because when you train in MMA, your body will specialize.
This means some muscles will be more developed than others, and your body will rely more on those muscles to compensate. It’s best to avoid it and to keep the most balanced physique possible.
The most important aspect to consider while working out is the importance of nutrition. Bodybuilders watch their nutrition with extreme caution. If you want to build muscle mass, you need to consume more calories than you spend every day but not take too many calories to avoid stocking fat.
As a martial artist, can you bodybuild and do MMA? Absolutely! Some of the top fighters like Brock Lesnar are prime examples of this, and he has an impressive physical appearance. However, it requires a lot of discipline to ensure both training types don’t cancel each other out. Moreover, your diet will change a lot if you start working out with strict calorie incomes to build your muscle mass effectively.
Also, for your first workout sessions, we recommend consulting a coach to show you the exercises and maybe discuss your objectives depending on your body and MMA experience. For more tips on MMA and muscle development, don’t hesitate to check us out regularly.