MMA Training: How to Improve Your Core Development

Before we start with the MMA training nitty gritty we need to know what the “core” actually is. It was first defined by Bob Gajda (1966 Mr. America) and Dr. Richard Dominquez in their book,Total Body Training; they wrote:

“The first essential concept in total body training is that of the 'core', which is our term for the muscles of the center of the body.

These muscles stabilize the body while we are in a correct, antigravity position or are using our arms and legs to throw or kick. They maintain our structure while we do vigorous exercises... These are the muscles that control the head, neck, ribs, spine, and pelvis.

The core of the human body is those muscles that keep the trunk and neck in a tube-like form... When your core is firm and rigid, you can do the activities it's intended to do. If the rigidity is enhanced, then you can maximize your athletic performance”.

So what does that statement actually mean? Basically, if you cut off your arms and legs – you have your “core”. It’s 360 degrees around your body (anterior/posterior chain) and includes the muscles: TVA, erector spinae, glutes and internal/external oblique’s among others. You need to make all these muscles strong in order to have good core stability, strength and power etc.

The function of the core is wide ranging and by training to have a strong core it means we will be able to:

• Provide protection to the spine, pelvis, ribs and neck.

• Provide stability and structure for the torso.

• Provide posture.

• Establish an inner ‘weight belt’ through bracing (ability to ‘set’ the inner core through breath, increasing strength and power potential).

• Prevent movement and resist unpredictable change in position during competition.

• Absorb, decelerate and transfer ground-reaction forces across the kinetic chain and out through the extremities. (Defranco and Smith 2012)

Now, I’ve had clients think that by displaying “six-pack” abs it demonstrates that they are more advanced when it comes to core training, but a lot of these clients can’t demonstrate the foundation properly without breaking down, and all those abs show in the end is that you have a low body fat percentage.

How do we train the core?

First of all, you need a solid foundation and the knowledge that like anything with the body you need to work hard to earn the right to progress to the next stage. The core is essentially 3D, and you need to develop those inner muscles as well as those that people look for in the mirror.

The foundation can be developed via:

• Learning neutral posture.

• Breathing techniques.

• Isometric holds (static postures) held for time i.e. planks, side planks, iso back holds, iso bridge holds, pallof press iso holds.

The goals of these exercises are to: improve core stability, improve strength endurance in these positions, practice breathing techniques, reinforce and learn neutral posture and learn/develop ‘bracing’.

After this you can progress to adding movement to those fixed postures (dynamic stability) i.e. sets and reps of exercises like: back extensions, glute bridges, pallof presses, Swiss ball roll outs, single arm KB farmer walks.The goals of these exercises are to continue improving core stability and strength and learning to engage the core dynamically when the body is in motion, reinforcing its stability.

Next is to progress to strength training and more compound based exercises to develop the core (integrated core strength) i.e. squats, deadlifts, push/pull variations, barbell hip thrusts, MB throw variations etc.

How would this fit into your MMA training workout?

• Warm Up – As you are warming up you can add in the foundation core work we touched on – breathing, posture and isometric core work to help switch on and develop the core and reinforce postural awareness and bracing skills.

• The Workout – During the main work - compound movements will help to develop the core and after the main work is done more core specific exercises can be introduced (the reason is we don’t want to pre-fatigue the core for the heavy compound lifts).

• Post Workout / Active Recovery / Athlete Homework – During the cool down, all of the foundation core work can be re-introduced, this can also be used during active recovery days and as ‘homework’ for the athlete mentioned in my previous article not to train too often without proper recovery.

A little pre-hab circuit I did with @alexvolkanovski
Firing up the posterior chain and core with the following exercises:
. . . .
1️⃣ Banded Good Mornings
2️⃣ Banded X Walks
3️⃣ RKC Planks
4️⃣ Reverse Planks
. . . .

Foundation core workouts to add to your programs after your compound work is done may include:


Plank Hold 30 sec - 1 min x 2-4 sets
Pallof press hold 30 sec - 1min(per side) x 2-4 sets
Superman hold 30 sec - 1 min x 2-4sets

Foundation/intermediate work:

RKC Planks 15-30 second holds x 3-4 sets
Kneeling pallof press 10-12 reps per side x 3-4 sets
Banded Hip Thrust 10-12 reps x 3-4 sets

Foundation/Advanced Work:

Ab Roll out 6-8 reps x 3-4 sets
TRX/Swiss ball Leg curl to Hip Extension 10-12 reps x 3-4 sets
TRX/Swiss ball pike ups 6-8 reps x 3-4 sets

Core Work for Combat Sports

Workout 1:

TRX Mountain Climbers 15-20 reps(per side) x 3-4 sets
Band resisted back extensions 10-12 reps x 3-4 sets
Landmine rotations 10-12 reps(per side) x 3-4 sets

Workout 2:

MB Slam to Overhead Throw 4-8 reps x 3-4 sets
Renegade Rows(w/push up optional) 6-8 reps(per side) x 3-4 sets

Workout 3:

MB Rotational Pass 4-8 per side x 3- 4 sets
Superman Walkouts 6-10 reps x 3-4 sets

Workout 4:

Single arm KB suitcase Carry 25m per side x 3-4 sets
KB Swings 6-10 reps x 3-4 sets
  • These are just a handful of sample workouts I have added into some of my clients’ programs depending on their goals, needs and how advanced they are. Remember when adding your own core work into your routine that the core is 3D and it’s the same as anything you do in strength & conditioning you need to take your time and progress slowly. Also, if you smash the basics and keep reinforcing them you will go a long way to building a bulletproof core!


Andrew Wood – S&C Coach - Vis Vires Athletics
Coaching Athletes Worldwide
Instagram: @woody_visvires


References – Publications:Hardcore - Defranco and Smith 2012 &Total Body Training - Gajda and Dr.Dominquez - 1982

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