How Gymnastics Exercises Make MMA Fighters More Superior


As we all genuinely know by now, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the hardest combat sport to compete in! What typically makes it so grueling is not the intense competition, but rather the nature of the sport itself!

If you take a couple of minutes of your time and check our article on “10 most effective MMA techniques”, you’ll instantly recognize what it takes to be a professional MMA fighter. 

Mixed martial arts training programs are typically built around four main combat techniques: Boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Wrestling. That said, MMA demands a tremendous amount of strength and energy.

During the mainstream beginnings of the sport, fighters and coaches were focusing on traditional methods of training and on each of the four aspects separately. Shortly after, especially during the 2000s, MMA experts have spotted that this hardcore approach has many holes, especially in terms of body punishment, overtraining and wasting of energy.

The fundamental questions about the effectiveness of the training, consistency of the fighters and their recovery quickly started popping up.  

That’s why it’s not a surprise that innovative methods, training systems and the benefits of the sports which don’t have anything with the fighting instantly began to emerge.

One of the leading advocates of gymnastic training in MMA and a directly responsible man for this specific type of evolution is the former UFC Welterweight and Middleweight champion, the great George St. Pierre.

“Gymnasts are the best athletes in the world, they can do movements that nobody else can do”

George St-Pierre on Gymnastic

During his interviews, GSP has been often pointing out the benefits of gymnastics and how it can improve the movement, core strength, coordination, flexibility, and overall conditioning.

Considering that GSP has always been in phenomenal shape and his unique style of fighting a mystery for many years now, it’s hard to argue against this. Asked to give his opinion on gymnastics in MMA, GSP’s head coach Faris Zahabi perfectly stated the following: 

“If you take 10 athletes from 10 different sports and you make each athlete plays everyone else his sport, on average the guy who is going to do the best in all the sports is the gymnast”

GSP Trainer Firas Zahabi

Intrigued by the effectives of gymnastics in modern day MMA, we’ve decided to do research for you on the How Gymnastics Can Help MMA Fighters and the results have surprised most of us! 

Helps Develop Strength And Power

Watching the Olympics and observing gymnasts doing wild flips and swings while showing the superhuman balance at the same time may force you to think that jumping around the gym is their primary aspect of training.

However, what lies down in the core of their abilities is sheer strength and power. Considering gymnasts traditionally get involved with the sport at a young age, it’s always fascinating to perceive the number of push-ups and sit-ups they can do.

Traditionally, gymnastics exercise programs are not assembled around weight training, especially at the beginnings. Later on, advanced moves require strong triceps and shoulder muscles which could be enhanced through weight lifting. On the other hand, if you are not careful, this could lead up to hypertrophy (exaggerated growth of the muscles) which negatively affects the overall performance.

However, by focusing on the bodyweight exercises and improving the upper body and lower body core strengths, the gymnasts are obtaining identical results as weight lifters! Furthermore, compared to the other athletes, gymnasts enjoy greater balance, coordination and overall awareness!

Significantly improving the core strength could provide you with the great advantage in MMA fight. Most importantly:

  • The sheer strength and proper balance help you to stuff the takedowns, outmuscle your opponent in the clinch (especially against the cage) and with a bit of technique, score a takedown on your own. 
  • Behind the core strength and power naturally comes stability and explosiveness. MMA fighters who regularly train gymnastics are capable of throwing more powerful kicks and improve the overall striking accuracy and speed.

Improves Flexibility

The effectiveness of being flexible was first introduced into the MMA world through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the master himself, Rickson Gracie!

Today, almost every grappler traditionally relies on flexibility which enables them to make fast transitions on the mat, scramble more efficiently and even escaping dangerous submission attempts. 

Improving flexibility naturally requires proper knowledge of your body and which areas of your game are seeking the enhancements. As said by the decorated gymnast Shannon Miller:

“You have to take into account the specifics of each individual. For example, I had to work extra hard on my splits and my back flexibility, but a different gymnast might be naturally more flexible in those areas. You have to work on the parts that need improvements.”

Olympic Gold Medal Winner Gymnast Shannon Miller

There are many “stretching systems” out there but instead of taking the unknown approach, it’s very important to do everything right from the start and stay consistent. Most MMA fighters are enjoying the benefits of stretching through Yoga which not only makes their body flexible but a more clear mind as well.

Progressively increasing flexibility doesn’t just affect the performance in a fight! Improving the limbs, ligaments, and muscles could prevent many potential injuries from happening. A stronger body has a higher resistance and can handle the unconventional movements better.

UFC Lightweight contender Tony Ferguson is the best example of the benefits of flexibility in modern MMA. Being flexible allows him to continuously flow with the movement and attack from unorthodox angles during the stand-up exchanges.

Furthermore, you’ll never see him being passive on the mat as he is always making fast transitions and attacking with submissions from all sorts of positions. Take a couple of minutes of your time to check his routine training video, and get a closer look at the level of flexibility that he possesses.

Another important benefit of being flexible is that your body will be less likely to be injured. Due to the complex nature of the sport, MMA fighters are prone to many injuries. Various injuries can occur during training or during fights due to their inability to be flexible.

Gymnastic exercises which involves stretching and muscle resistance keeps the fighter’s body healthy and less injury-prone because they will be more flexible.

Improves Balance 

Although for different reasons, MMA fighters need equal balance abilities just like gymnasts. Whether it’s a clinching in the center or against the cage, defending the takedowns, grappling and scrambling, they all require a perfect balance! 

Regularly training in gymnastics will give fighters better stability, stance, self-awareness and better control over your body when off-balance. Furthermore, balance and agility are closely connected. This typically means the fighters could generate a greater force in the kicks and punches, and do more advanced moves on the feet.

Mental Toughness

Being mentally tough is just as important as being physically tough in MMA fights where you need to be able to overcome pre-fight anxiety or anxiety during a fight. Gymnastics training can make fighters mentally tougher and reduce this type of anxiety.

Research conducted by Allison McDavitt titled ‘Psychological Aspects of Gymnastics as Perceived by Athletic Trainers’ published in 2016 stated that gymnastics enables athletes “to overcome fear and regain determination after injury or setbacks

This study further explains that gymnastics training makes athletes better deal with under pressure. By training in gymnastics, fighters can improve their mental toughness that fighters need in fights.

Improves Endurance And Conditioning

Great conditioning and endurance are the bread and butter of every MMA fighter. That said, during training camps, fighters are heavily focusing on the brutal exercises which will perceive them throwing up and collapsing from exhaustion.

Like MMA and wrestling, gymnastic exercises naturally requires an insane amount of conditioning and endurance which they are building up through the intense aerobic training

Improves Stronger Grip And Squeeze 

The significance of a strong grip and squeeze is well-known among the MMA fighters traditionally coming from the wrestling, Judo or Jiu-Jitsu backgrounds. You can possess all sorts of flashy techniques, but the lack of grip or strong squeeze may cost you performing critical maneuvers. 

Watching the gymnast perform, you may spot they are heavily relying on the grabbing strength.

Just take a look at some of their basics exercises such hanging on the bar, the ring workout or L-sits. Keeping the body in these positions looks beautiful but it also asks for a tremendous amount of strength and grip.

Enhances Explosiveness 

In gymnastics, explosiveness results in incredible air spins and flips. On the other hand, explosiveness in MMA signifies only one thing: Destruction

Many successful fighters like Yoel Romero and Jose Aldo have made their careers out of the sudden, explosive attacks. The unique ability to close the distance at lightning speed and catch your opponent off guard generally results in a devastating knockout.

Gymnastics provides us with an explanation for these spectacular moves and why they could be executed by just a couple of fighters. 

Apart from the core strength and proper balance, being involved in gymnastics also produces a beneficial impact on the burst in muscles. Plus, gymnasts are masters of quick weight shifting and distribution. If we combine these benefits with the elite striking, the result could be similar to the one between Yoel Romero and Chris Weidman at UFC 2015.

Improves Bone Health 

Considering that the MMA is based around vicious kicks, wrestling slams, twisting arms, and legs during the grappling exchanges the simple muscle strength is not enough. 

Traditionally, fighters are using a lot of supplements to improve the bone strength. However, by regularly participating in gymnastics, this will come naturally! 

A research conducted on the bone density proved that the gymnastics improve bone density. By committing to gymnastics, fighters can strengthen the bones and typically prevent many possible fractures and injuries from happening in the future.

Clay E

Clay E is a MMA/Muay Thai practitioner who was a collegiate wrestler at James Madison University.

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