Having a strong core is essential if you want to be successful in MMA. Training many of the martial arts commonly used in MMA like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and boxing helps to strengthen the core, but that shouldn’t be the end of your core training.
There are countless exercises that you can perform that will strengthen your core abdominal muscles. You will notice an improvement in your performances at the MMA gym as your core becomes stronger.
A strong core is an important attribute for any athlete. MMA and other martial arts tend to work the core more than most sports. A strong core improves your mobility, makes you stronger overall, and gives you more explosive power.
Ironically, many combat athletes tend to overlook working on their core or they only do the bare minimum like planks. Those who are serious about reaching a high level of fitness so they can improve their athleticism need to make core strengthening exercises a major part of their conditioning program.
What is the core?
Your core is a group of muscles that move, rotate, and stabilize your spine. The area deep inside the abdomen close to the spine is called the inner core. It consists of the transverse abdominis, multifidi, diaphragm, deep cervical flexors, and pelvic floor. These muscles are activated whenever you move or breathe as they protect your spine.
The outer core refers to the hip flexors, glutes complex, spinal erectors, anterior muscles (abs), and lats.
How the core affects the performance of MMA fighters
The core muscles typically work in tandem, stiffening to protect the spine and transferring forces from the lower half of the body to the upper half during movements. The core is the biggest factor when it comes to adding explosive power to your strikes.
The body naturally keeps explosive movements limited when you have a weak core as a way to protect the spine. That means an MMA fighter with a weak core is unlikely to have knockout power in their strikes. Their weak core will limit their mobility in the cage.
When your core is strong, you can execute techniques as they are intended to be executed, transferring forces from the strongest part of your body – the lower half – through your upper hand and your strikes. You’ve probably heard an MMA instructor telling a student to ‘put their hips’ into their strikes before. Observe any fighter that hits hard, and you’ll notice they have a strong core.
Your core also acts like a bridge that links the different parts of the body. The stronger your core is, the better the different parts of your body function as one integrated unit.
Having a strong core is also essential for grappling. Many motions used in BJJ require using your core muscles like the triangle choke, the L sweep, or the sprawling away from a takedown. Clinch positions also require using your core to stabilize yourself and control your opponent.
In other words, the stronger your core muscles are, the better you will perform in any facet of fighting.
Exercises that will strengthen your core
Ready for developed ab muscles you can be proud of and the functional strength that comes with that? Good core workouts force your body to work in an unstable position. Any movement that forces your body to adjust to an unstable surface or a weight imbalance helps to strengthen the core. Here are some simple exercises you can perform regularly to strengthen the many muscles that make up your core.
1) Swiss Ball Crunches
Here’s an easy exercise you can perform at home. The only equipment you need for this is an exercise ball.
- Start with your lower back right over the center of the ball
- Lie back with your hands behind your head the same way you do when performing crunches
- Crunch forward, using your ab muscles to pull your torso up
- Hold the position for a second before slowing going back to the starting position
- Repeat for about 15-20 reps
2) Hanging Leg Raise
This exercise only requires a bar that can support your bodyweight like a pull-up bar. Here are the motions:
- Hang from the bar with your legs straight down
- Bring your knees towards your chest
- Stop the motion when your legs are at waist level
- Hold the position for a second before slowly returning to the starting position
- Aim for 15-20 reps for starters
3) Lying Leg Raise
This exercise doesn’t require any equipment when you’re just starting. Here’s what it looks like:
- Lie on a side
- Bend the leg closer to the floor at a 90-degree angle while keeping your other leg straight
- Lift your top leg so that your toes are now at the same level as your shoulder. Hold the position for about four seconds
- Lower your top leg back to its original position
- Repeat for 15-20 reps and alternate legs
- Add weights into the mix when the exercise becomes too easy
4) Swiss Ball Back Extensions
Here’s what this exercise looks like:
- Start on a swiss ball face down with your abs right over the center of the ball
- Lower your body forward with your hands crossed over your chest
- Pull your torso back to the starting point using the erector muscles in your lower back
- Repeat 15-20 times
5) Dumbbell Side Bends
Here’s another simple exercise that targets the core. You will need a dumbbell for it. Here are the steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet barely apart
- Hold a dumbbell with one hand and place the other behind your head
- Bend your torso towards the side of the hand behind your head
- Perform 15-20 reps on one side, then start over with the dumbbell in your other hand