Excellent footwork goes a long way in mixed martial arts. It allows you to unleash strikes on your opponent without putting yourself in harm’s way. It also helps to defend against strikes and takedowns by making you a moving target.
Good footwork even gives you a solid base that allows you to throw strikes with optimal power.
Improving your footwork
Footwork is a trainable skill, so anyone can master it if you’re willing to put in the work. You don’t need any fancy equipment to get started either. A space you can move freely about and a pair of MMA gloves so you can train how you fight.
Mixed martial artists should wear their gloves as much as possible when training since it allows them to get used to the extra weight they add to their hands. You should wear your gloves when you grapple or perform MMA-oriented drills in general.
The importance of warming up
Striking martial arts put lots of stress on your ankles. You’re moving all over the place and throwing punches and kicks, sometimes keeping all your weight on only one foot. Footwork drills mimic the motions used during fights, so you always want to warm up before performing them. Frankly, you should be warming up before performing any form of exercise.
Here’s an easy way to warm up your ankles:
- Start by standing about a foot away from a wall, facing it.
- Place your right foot in front of you. It should be about six inches apart from the wall.
- While keeping your hips parallel to the wall, move your left leg backward. Its heel should be touching the floor. Keep your knees slightly bent while in this stance.
- Now, bend your right knee until it makes contact with the wall. The heel of your left leg should still be touching the floor. Move back a couple of inches if touching the wall with your right knee feels too easy.
- Repeat the exercises 25 times with each leg once you find the sweet spot where you can barely touch the wall with your front knee.
Now that we’ve explored a basic ankle warm-up exercise, let’s take a look at some advanced MMA footwork drills that will improve your effectiveness inside a cage:
1) The pivot shuffle
This drill helps to improve your ability to pivot as an offensive and defensive tool. It also improves your ability to check incoming kicks. The key to getting the most out of this drill is to stay light on your feet. You should be on the balls of your feet the entire time; the heel of your feet should not touch the ground when performing this exercise. Here’s what the drill looks like:
- Start in your fighting stance.
- Push off with your lead foot and simultaneously pivot your back leg 90 degrees outward.
- Switch stances and repeat the drill with your other leg.
- Perform the drill 50 times as fast as you can while maintaining proper form.
2) Directional quick shift
Like we mentioned earlier, one of the advantages of having excellent footwork is using it to set up strikes and evade them. The faster you can move out of the way after landing a strike, the harder it will be for your opponent to counter. The converse is also true; the faster you can evade an attack, the more likely you’ll be able to punish your opponent with a counter.
Here is a drill that allows you to practice how to avoid strikes and set them up with quick, fast movements:
- Start in an orthodox fighting stance with both hands up.
- Take three quick steps to your right, leading with your back foot with your left leg trailing behind.
- Now, pivot your back foot outwards, keeping it at a 45-degree angle.
- Swing your lead left outwards, so it’s parallel with your rear foot.
- Push off with your lead food, switching directions, so you end up perpendicular to your original movement line. Repeat 50 times and start over using a southpaw stance.
3) Dominant angles drill
Knowing how to establish dominant angles is everything when it comes to striking. You have a dominant angle during a striking exchange when you can easily avoid attacks while being able to land clean strikes of your own.
You should constantly look to establish dominant angles during striking exchanges. It’s a more favorable approach than taking an opponent head-on. Backing up doesn’t count either since it only creates space between you and your opponent. You are still open to their attacks if they can close the distance.
Lateral movements help to put you in advantageous positions since they allow you to evade while establishing a dominant angle. Think of it as a Matador trying to evade a bull.
Here’s a drill that will help to make establishing dominant angles come more naturally for you:
- Start in an orthodox fighting stance and take a step towards your partner with your lead leg. Plant it at a 45-degree angle to your rear leg.
- Now, pivot your rear foot outwards, moving out of your opponent’s line of attack. You should be in a good position to throw a few strikes at your partner when done properly.
- Throw any combination that flows naturally from this position.
- Return to the starting position and repeat the motion 25 times. Repeat the exercise using a southpaw stance.
4) Advanced movement drill
This drill teaches you to maintain a solid stance while throwing strikes during a fight. It’s a more challenging version of the fundamental striking footwork drill. Here’s what it looks like:
- Standing in an orthodox fighting stance, take a step forward with your lead foot while throwing a jab.
- Bring your rear foot forward so you are back in a stable stance.
- Step forward with your left foot while throwing a right cross. Remember to pivot your rear foot while throwing the cross. Bring your rear leg forward to a neutral stance.
- Repeat 25 times and switch sides.
5) Single-step advanced footwork drill
Here is a more challenging version of the advanced footwork drill. It’s also an effective combination you can use during fights to close the distance.
- Start in an orthodox fighting stance.
- Step forward with your left foot while throwing a jab.
- Bring your rear foot forward to return to a stable stance while simultaneously throwing a cross. Remember to pivot your rear foot while throwing the cross to transfer power from your lower body into the punch.
- Repeat 25 times and switch sides.
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