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Medicine Balls for MMA

How to Use Medicine Balls for MMA Training

Written by
October 12, 2014
Updated April 13, 2018

There are a multitude of unconventional training implements and methodologies that are utilized in the physical (and by all means, slightly mental) conditioning of a MMA athlete. Steel Clubs, Steel Maces, Sandbags, Kettlebells, Battle Ropes, and SteelBells…just to name a few.

Each of these tools, given enough insightful program design and creativity, can provide great complimentary physiological benefits to a fighter as well as the ability to safely train some of the movements and attributes that can carry directly over into MMA.

As many benefits as these tools provide access to, it would seem that the number of fight specific drills and movements available through each individual tool tends to be limited. The closeness in which they resemble the actual movements performed throughout a fight are lacking.

Sure, things like Kettlebell Swings and striking a tire with a Steel Mace will provide gains in explosive endurance and general physical preparedness, but these moves are limited in how much they can truly contribute to a fighter’s preparation. A MMA fighter does not perform those movements over and over again during a fight.

Many of the drills available through most tools are performed from a fixed, bi-lateral stance and ignore the complex movements and nuances involved in the frequently changing base needed for MMA training.

The more a training drill can mimic the physical demands and subtle nuances found in a fight, the more fight specific benefits a fighter can get out of it.

Getting to explore and develop this wide range of fight specific movements and attributes on a regular basis without the risk of a knee or a fist flying at you can serve as an excellent means of thoroughly learning and conditioning said movements.

Enter the Medicine Ball

How to Use Medicine Balls for MMA Training

So, what implement can successfully and closely develop the complex movements and body positions repeatedly encountered in a fight? I am happy you asked. My personal answer, though there are many, is Medicine Balls. The unique shape of the Medicine Ball requires one to squeeze in on the side of the object, requiring massive recruitment of micro stabilizers throughout the trunk and core to constantly fire off, keeping the medicine ball’s structure in line. This will allow access to the complex movements directly experienced in a fight. The same concept can be utilized for hip recruitment through these movements by pinching the Medicine Ball between the knees, ankles, or thighs.

A Medicine Ball can be held near the face to mimic the hand position of having one’s guard up and maintain this relative position while having to carry the Medicine Ball throughout training. Any fighter can tell you the benefits of being able to “program” the hands up position and develop the body awareness to realize when they aren’t in place.

This also plays a part in training the ability to get up from and down to the floor in various ways, either without the assistance of hands or with the use of an unstable and burdensome object. This ability is very helpful for getting up without receiving unnecessary punishment after getting knocked on one’s ass.

Durability of the Medicine Ball

How to Use Medicine Balls for MMA Training

The durability of the Medicine Ball also contributes to a number of MMA applicable benefits. This “mini heavy bag” of sorts allows one to beat on the ball to train complex explosive and rotational movement patterns that are the basis of things like throwing a punch, landing a solid knee to one’s mid-section, or even quickly pulling the hips down in order to deliver powerful hammer fists. It is very akin to mimicking an entire fight with the opponent being your own shadow and the Medicine Ball.

As mentioned earlier, the lack of an opponent that presents a threat, allows for one to safely and mindfully spend more time exploring and conditioning these movements. This plays a huge benefit in finding where there may be imbalances in a particular movement or area of the body that is hindering the overall quality of movement.

The Shape of the Medicine Ball

How to Use Medicine Balls for MMA Training

The shape of the Medicine Ball also makes for an excellent unstable platform that one can perform positional drills and movements on top of a surface that closely mimics the constantly shifting movement patterns of an unwilling opponent beneath you.

Having to develop familiarity with one’s center of balance and enhancing awareness of where to apply pressure in a top position is crucial in making an opponent’s life miserable while they are on the ground beneath you. Just developing a solid knee ride to apply to the sternum of an opponent on his or her back can help sap the life out of them with minimal effort on your behalf.

Now, inversely, the Medicine Ball can be used to be on top of a person while performing drills on the ground. This more closely simulates having to deal with an opponent being in a dominant position on top of you, while having your hands unavailable to for normal use.

Being able to comfortably find one’s way around underneath an opponent, and possibly, back up to a more beneficial position is another invaluable asset to have in MMA. No matter how good one is on their back, having the option to maneuver and get up out of numerous compromising positions is necessary in having a complete fight game.

MMA Application with the Medicine Ball

How to Use Medicine Balls for MMA Training

Having access to most any movement one may encounter in a fight, all while using one implement, can allow for very customizable programming. Let’s say that a fighter would really like or need to develop the ability to more effectively turn the hips for a punch, throw a high volume of strikes, and be able to change levels as many times as possible in order to stuff or pull of a takedown.

Then, the athlete will be able to train for throwing a high volume of quality strikes and changing levels by first picking a couple or few movements that will do just that, like a wall cross mixed with a squat after. Once the drills are picked, the drills are then thoroughly learned and explored before being combined into a metabolic conditioning routine.

We have barely scratched the surface on the benefits associated with the implementation of thoughtful Medicine Ball conditioning. There are so many more ways this tool can be used, from aiding in mobility and decompression, to working on aim, hand eye coordination, and response time. The diversity of the Medicine Ball makes it, one tool that can be effectively used for nearly any sport.

Jim is the resident combative conditioning expert at Wolf Fitness Systems. As a Mixed Martial Art athlete and grappling coach Jim has a great understanding of the practical application to many of the movements he teaches. As a result of his background in combative athletics and his passion for medicine ball training he has developed a conditioning system that integrates the two called Medicine Ball Athletic Conditioning (MBAC). This conditioning system is great not only for fighters but also anyone who would like to train like one!
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