One of the best examples of relative strength, absolute strength to body weight ratio, in mixed martial arts was the late Bruce Lee. It was said that he was pound for pound one of the strongest martial artists of his time, weighing between 130 – 140 pounds but doing feats of strength that most people that weigh 200+ pounds couldn’t do. So how did he develop this phenomenal strength while still maintaining his desired body weight?
Bruce first began his MMA strength training by building his strength using the most basic compound exercises. Exercises like squats, bench presses, deadlifts, rows, pull-ups, shoulder presses, curls, etc.
As he increased his strength with those exercises, he would continue to build strength in similar exercises, just switching his routine enough so that he wouldn’t get stagnate and hit any plateaus or “sticking points” too early on.
It is important to realize here that Bruce, and many other athletes for that matter, spent his first couple years just building strength in this manner: with the most basic compound exercises. Out of all the types of strength one can develop, absolute strength, strength endurance, muscle endurance, power, power endurance, etc, absolute strength takes the longest to develop. Although absolute strength alone is only so effective for a mixed martial artist, it serves as the foundation for ALL other forms of strength.
Back to Bruce. After spending a good amount of time developing his basic absolute strength, he would then engage in some form of circuit training (today more often known as complexes in the MMA strength training world) to build his strength endurance and lose any unwanted fat he may have gained during his basic strength building phase.
As he became more and more experienced with strength training, Bruce then began incorporating a type of exercise that is still to this day not very known publicly, and surprisingly still not taught in the MMA world even though it develops some of the most functional strength a mixed martial artist can have: isometric training.
Isometrics is a type of strength training in which you either push or pull against an immovable object, or hold a static position against a resisting weight. Does this sound like a familiar type of strength utilized in MMA? Often times MMA fighters will be using isometric strength to either fight for or against a submission.
Isometrics are significantly better than dynamic exercises at increasing maximal strength at a single joint angle, though they won’t develop strength in a full range of motion such as the more widely known eccentric and concentric exercises.
Isometric training is a great way to develop maximum levels of strength in various angles without increasing muscle mass. By incorporating isometric exercises in your MMA strength training program, you will not only develop more relative strength, but you will develop more functional strength since MMA fighters often times must push, pull, or resist against opponents who are pushing or pulling against you as well.
These positions happen a lot more often, especially for grapplers, then the standard eccentric/concentric movement where you are pushing or pulling an opponent through a full range of motion.