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Posts from the ‘MMA Fighting’ Category


Is your core MMA ready?

Think your core is MMA-ready? Give trainer Doug Balzarini’s 8 MMA midsection exercises a try to find out.

The “core”, “trunk”, “torso”, “belly”, “stomach”, “abs”, “6-pack”… The terminology alone confuses me. It would seem, somewhere along the way, the definition of one’s core has gotten lost in translation. I cringe every time I hear someone say it’s, “time to blast the core,” only to then lay on the floor and begin crunching away for 5 minutes to get that good burn. Which is to say, we need to better understand what the core really is, and how best to train it.

One term for the core I actually do like is the “transfer station” for the body. EMG studies show that muscle activation begins from the ground up, so when we are curl, push, or press something with our upper body, we generate our movement from the bottom and transfer it up to the moving parts. One great example of this is when we throw a punch, as we begin to generate that power from the ground all the way up to our fist. A couple studies that support this include; 1) Dyson, Smith, Martin, Fenn. (2007). Muscular Recruitment During Punches Delivered At Maximal Force & Speed. XXV ISBS Symposium 2007, Brazil, 591-594. 2) Valentino, B., Esposito, L.C., Fabrozzo, A. (1990). Electromyographic activity of a muscular group in movements specific to boxing. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 30, 160-2.

Frankly, to me, the core is – any muscles and structures that support and stabilize the pelvis, spine, and shoulders. It’s everything but our limbs some people like to say. I’d have to refer back to my A&P textbooks to confirm it, but I’m fairly certain then that this involves more than just our rectus abdominis. It’s this definition that makes exercises like squats, deadlifts, tire flips, pushups and pull-ups all excellent “core” movements in my book. It’s also this definition that makes lying down and pulling on the back of your head to facilitate cervical and thoracic flexion not my idea of healthy “core” work.

Most of us sit for 8+ hours a day. Our hip flexors, pecs, and anterior shoulder muscles are tight, and our gluteals inactive. If our scapulae are stuck in protraction, why then would we have them come in to our facility and sit them, or lay them, down?! We’re, in the long run, doing more harm than good. I like to refer back to one of my favorite exercise-related questions, “Why?” Why are we performing a particular exercise? You should be able to defend, or explain, every exercise you do.

To Move or Not To Move
While we train most muscles to move and accelerate, we should train our core musculature to decelerate, control, and transfer movements. They work to prevent motion and provide the solid foundation needed for safe, effective movement.

Midsection Moves for MMA
Your core is especially important in MMA. Having mobile hips and a strong, stable, and efficient core leads to better footwork, stronger takedowns and takedown defense, and increased power in all of your striking. Now, while I’ve made it no secret that I’m not an advocate of crunching movements, MMA athletes are a different breed. If we are being sport-specific and training them functionally for their craft, one could then make a case that we should be performing various crunching movements. For this particular article, however, I’ll keep it a “crunch-free” zone.

My Current Top 8 – I say “current” because I’m always trying new movements and changing the list up.

1. Seal Walks
This is a great “anti-rotation” movement because our goal is to minimize the rotation of the pelvis as we move. Keep your abdominals braced and be sure to not lock out your elbows as you move.


2. Valslide Hip Circles
This is a variation of the popular abdominal knee tuck that we commonly do with the Valslides or TRX. The primary difference is the abduction and adduction component of the hips. This is great for opening up the groins and an important movement for combat athletes who want to improve their flexibility for their ground game.


3. Stability Ball “Stir The Pots”
This is a great progression from the traditional plank. By adding an unstable tool, such as the stability ball, we easily increase the intensity.


4. TRX Body-Saw with Knees
From the plank position with your feet in the cradles, initiate the movement from your torso and shoulders by pushing your body back (think heels toward the back wall). As you come forward drive one knee towards the same side elbow.


5. TRX Hi Plank w/Stops & Perturbations
These are two variations I like that both begin in the pushup, or hi plank, position. For the perturbations, have a training partner push your feet in various directions while you try to resist. For the stops, you will perform pendulum swings and your partner will cue you to stop moving at random times.


6. Sandbag Get-ups
The traditional get up, which I also love, is typically performed with a kettlebell and an extended arm. Two reasons I choose to show the sandbag version are 1) it’s slightly easier to teach and 2) I like having the heavy sandbag laying across the chest to challenge breathing patterns.


7. Standing Tornado Ball Figure 8’s
This movement is great for developing rotational power through the thoracic spine. Try to minimize the movement of the hips and really focus on keeping your abdominals braced and your shoulders rotating.


8. Hanging Wipers
This is one of my favorite midsection movements. Like I mentioned in the clip, perform this in a controlled manner and don’t feel you need to go too far from side to side. Once you are you hanging from the bar, swing your legs up so you are inverted with your ankles, knees, and hips are in a straight line, perpendicular to the ground. From here, let the legs fall from side to side controlling the speed and movement from your obliques, erectors, and abs.

Please give these a try and let me know what you think. I encourage feedback and would love to try any crunch-free abdominal exercises that you’ve had success with.


Doug Balzarini • July 29, 2011
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About the Author

Doug currently works at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE). He is also the strength coach for Alliance MMA in Chula Vista, CA. He earned a B.S. in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State University and completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU. Certifications and specialties include the ACE Personal Trainer Certification, NSCA-CSCS Certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, Spinning certification, FMS training, and CPR/AED instructor status. He has appeared in multiple fitness videos, manuals and magazines; produced his own 2-DVD Set on strength & conditioning for combat athletes, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program, and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.


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MMA Strength Coach Doug Balzarini

A great strength coach and an even better friend Doug Balzarini is starting to make a name for himself in the performance side of MMA fighting,  Check out this video.

Marc Digesti USAW

Founder of PerformancEDU


training and training like an MMA fighter

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is here to stay. Increased TV time, Pay-per-view success, major partnerships and sponsorships in place; this MMA “fad” isn’t going away. We are beginning to see the popularity of this sport effect the fitness industry as well. From the professional fighter to the casual fight fan, more and more clients are coming in asking for MMA-type workouts.

Similar to other professional athletes, these individuals have tremendous drive and focus. Their training schedule is intense and for the 8-12 weeks before their fight, that is all they concentrate on. Injuries are very common in the sport so a key with these athletes is to find the proper balance between their training and adequate rest (recovery). There are so many different skills and backgrounds in the sport that it is important to be well-versed in many disciplines. Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, etc. are all common styles used in a typical match. Many of the athletes today come from one background or another. Many were collegiate wrestlers and don’t have a lot of “stand up” experience. Conversely, a number of athletes have a Muay Thai or kickboxing background and are not comfortable on the ground. Because of all these variables, an athlete’s training program may include days with up to three sessions per day! An example may include conditioning work at 7:00am, wrestling/ground work at 11:00am, and Muay Thai/pad work at 7:00pm.

With these intense programs, it is vital to get adequate rest and, if necessary; massage, physical therapy, and/or other forms of bodywork (i.e. Active Release Techniques) work to aid in recovery. While three sessions per day may seem like a lot, if they are efficient and well-planned, then they may be necessary. Two-a-days are more common during an 8-12 week camp or program, and I would include one day with just one session and one day of complete rest.

With regards to strength and conditioning, we like to incorporate 2-3 sessions per week during the program. A lot of programs I’ve seen out there just include intense, all out “metabolic circuits”, however; if our athletes want to the best, they must be strong, and they must incorporate resistance training into their programming as well. Metabolic circuits alone are not enough. We must continue to build that foundational strength that is necessary to get to the next level. We do not want to work on developing our endurance and conditioning if our strength base is not adequate.

Our typical training sessions include the following phases:





A crucial point to remember – We don’t “isolate muscles”. We train movements, not muscles.

Maximum strength training is a great way to “lay that foundation” early on in a periodized program. As we get closer to the fight or tournament, we will then start to transition from max strength work into more “functional” or “combat specific” strength training. It is vital to develop an undulated periodization program. Anyone can put together a challenging “workout”. We want to have our sound program for the full 8-12 weeks determined prior to day 1. Since this is a sport of weight classes, relative body strength and endurance is paramount. Obviously, technique is an important piece, however; if you have superior strength and power endurance, then you are going to have that competitive edge.
Since these individuals do not have the same schedule as professional fighters, we definitely modify things when putting a session together. They may have a marketing meeting at 8:00am on Tuesday instead of a 90 minute grappling session. When putting these MMA-type workouts together, we must keep this important point in mind. They can be challenging, inspiring and fun…as long as we keep in mind that safety is first and foremost in our approach.

Regardless of level and background, we include the same phases that we use with our professional athletes (see 5 phases listed above). The movements and intensity level will vary from our professionals, however; we use this same system because it is an effective way to prepare and strengthen the body and reduce the risk of injury.

A resistance training session may look like this:

1. Foam rolling, glute activation, thoracic spine mobility work (10 minutes)
2. Jumping jack series, high knees, carioca’s, lunge with reach work (5 minutes)
3. Med ball work against a wall (5 minutes)
4. Vertical push, vertical pull, quad dominant
Horizontal push, horizontal pull, hip dominant (30-35 minutes)
5. Assisted stretching (10 minutes)
A metabolic circuit training session may look like this:
1. Foam rolling, glute activation, thoracic spine mobility work (10 minutes)
2. Jumping jack series, high knees, cariocas, lunge with reach work (5 minutes)
3. Med ball work against a wall (5 minutes)
4. Tire flips, sledgehammer work, heavy ropes, sled drags (30-35 minutes)
5. Assisted stretching (10 minutes)

Doug Balzarini CSCS, ACE/Director of Operation at Todd Durkin Enterprises


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