Rope Conditioning

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MMA Rope Conditioning

MMA Rope Conditioning

OK, so you’re a fighter and you need to ramp up your conditioning. What do you do? You’ve heard a lot about kettlebells, sandbags, and other training tools, but you haven’t really mastered them yet, so will it work?

As a fighter, you need to spend most of your time training for your actual event. That means sparring, technical mastery, and bag and pad work. This will definitely provide specific conditioning, but is it enough?

Let’s say that you’re sparring and suddenly both of you are going at 100 percent. Won’t that be excellent for your conditioning? Sure, but it can also get you injured. If that happens…well, you know.

Why ropes should be your primary conditioning choice

I love to play with kettlebells and sandbags and do calisthenics, but none of the tools has hit me as hard as the ropes. At first, I thought it looked easy, but my first shot at them nearly made my lungs collapse and my heart drop out my ass. It might have something to do with the fact that I went at them with 100 percent effort the first time. Anyway, it became an instant hit and since then…well, let’s just say it works.

Here are a few reasons why:

They’re easy to learn: The most popular training tools have certifications for playing with them. That doesn’t mean the certifications are necessary, but you should know that it’s mostly about the money. Soon it will probably be a certification for playing with ropes and rocks as well. The good thing about ropes is they’re easy to learn. You just pick up one or two ropes and move your hips and arms in different patterns. That’s all there is to it. More or less everyone can do it the first time they try and with a great conditioning effect. That isn’t a bad thing. “Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

There’s less risk of injury: Newbies playing with kettlebells will get hurt somewhere. It isn’t crazy hard to master the fundamentals, but it requires some time and body control. Of course, you can learn to master it (and many should), but what about the fighter who has an upcoming event and needs to ramp up the conditioning level with the lowest amount of injury risk? If this person isn’t competent with such training tools, they should stay in the toolbox.

The same thing goes for Strongman training, sandbags, and even calisthenics. It sounds crazy with the last one. Mastering your own body is a problem you say? Well, because many people have problems doing proper planks, exercises like push-ups will be compromised. Add higher speed and impact to that like with burpees, and your wrists, shoulders, and even lower back can go to hell.

The thing with ropes is that you control them. The ropes don’t control you or put a good amount of resistance on you. It’s kind of like sled work. When you push, the sled moves forward. When you stop, the sled stops. Moving weights in different directions requires control in a completely different way. Why not just learn to use the equipment and go at it? I have nothing against the tools mentioned, but if fighters can get the same or better effect with a lower risk of injury, that’s the way to go in my opinion.

They’re low impact: Low impact and low risk of injury? What is this kind of pussy training? Sounds like the training tools for incompetent athletes, right? Well, I don`t know about you, but with high training loads, the joints don’t need any more stress when doing conditioning work.

We all know the harder and more we train, the closer we get to the injury threshold. That isn’t to say that hard training shouldn’t be done, but it’s allowed to go the “low impact” route. The use of resistance during conditioning work will require a lot of focus as fatigue sets in. At some point, you will lose it, and the result is increased joint stress. Bad technique can occur and multiple repetitions with improper form aren’t any good. Common training methods like running and plyometrics can also push you close to injury.

Ropes are functional: The most functional training you can do as a fighter is to fight. Training with ropes can never be as specific as that, but standing upright while performing fundamental fight movements while the ropes are trying to pull you off balance is functional for fighters.

Get conditioned!

The good thing about ropes is you really don’t need to increase the size/resistance of the tool. When you want a harder workout, you just go at it harder. And no, there really isn’t any limit. You’ll understand.

You can go with a couple sizes, but just start with the biggest right away. You will quickly handle them with ease. If you want long duration conditioning workouts, go with the smaller versions.

Top exercises

There are several variations you can play with, but there isn’t any need to complicate things. I’ve chosen to present a few quality rope exercises that fit well into different conditioning regimes from easy to very hard. I’ll also share a workout demonstration and a few suggestions, but first let’s take a closer look at the exercises.

Double hip rotations: This exercise is excellent for all athletes, especially fighters who rely on hip rotation. Smooth, hard, and explosive kicks, punches, and takedowns require great hip/core strength and coordination. The double rotation demands and develops that. With two ropes, you simply rotate from side to side while you pivot your feet. You can perform this exercise explosively at different speeds or with more strength/drag focus. You will see both variations in the workout demonstration. And yes, you need to stay tight. “Brace the core” or whatever. That goes for all the following exercises as well.

Single hip rotations: The exercise is similar to the double rotations, but now you’re going unilateral. This exercise will mimic the striking action. You can play with different versions with a little creativity. While it’s certainly hard, it will provide less total stress than the double version. It creates more variety and, when going for drills with longer duration, you’re choosing wisely to change things up between bilateral and unilateral variations.



Hard slams: If you want a hard and demanding exercise that provides a lot of bang for your buck, go with the hard slams. You will use your whole body in most of the rope variations, but this is “the king.” Everything between the ankles and hands has to work hard and you will feel it. Your heart and lungs will burn. The purpose is to raise the ropes as high as possible. From the top position, slam them into the ground in a hard and explosive manner. Be sure to stay tight, as the rope movement will pull you forward.

Medium slams: These are similar to the hard slams, but the difference is you don’t go as high or as hard. Instead, you use a more smooth and controlled movement. Why not just stay with the hard version? Well, if you can do them for a long time, kudos to you. For the rest of us, we need a little variation in intensity. Don’t get me wrong. You still get a lot from this though.

In outs: This is an exercise that “isolates” the upper body, shoulders, and arms. Pull the bands to the outside and then smash them together. When using thick bands, it will be much more demanding to pull them apart. If you have shoulder issues, you might want to stay away from these. They are also great to use in a sequence between harder exercises to get some “recovery.” You will need that from time to time.

“Triceps blaster”: Triceps blasters? Really? Yeah, I primarily use these for active recovery. They can definitely be used as high rep work for a full blooded triceps pump, too. They’re actually not that easy, but compared to rotations and slams, which are your “squats and deadlifts,” these are “leg extensions.”

MMA rope conditioning workouts

For rope conditioning, I recommend Tabatas and minute drills. I’ll provide a couple sample workouts, but first let’s take a look at a workout demo. The ten-second pauses in the Tabata workout have been removed for convenience.

Tabata #1 (as demonstrated in the clip)

If you aren’t familiar with the Tabata, it’s eight rounds of 20-second intervals with ten seconds of rest between each interval.

  • Double hip rotations (explosive focus)
  • Single hip rotations (right)
  • Single hip rotations (left)
  • Medium slams
  • Double hip rotations (strength focus)
  • In outs
  • “Triceps blaster”
  • Hard slams

Tabata #2

  • Hard slams
  • In outs
  • Medium slams
  • “Triceps blaster”
  • Hard slams
  • Double hip rotations
  • Medium slams
  • Hard slams

Minute drill #1 (three minutes)

I first discovered minute drills from Ross Enamait. Here you basically work continuously for three to five minutes (as in a round of fighting). Thirty seconds per exercise before you switch works well, but you definitely mix this up as well. Don’t take any breaks between exercises.

  • 30 seconds moderate slams
  • 30 seconds “triceps blaster”
  • 30 seconds double hip rotations
  • 30 seconds in outs
  • 30 seconds medium slams
  • 30 seconds hard slams

Minute drill #2 (five minutes)

  • 30 seconds double hip rotations
  • 30 seconds in outs
  • 30 seconds medium slams
  • 30 seconds “triceps blaster”
  • 30 seconds single hip rotations (left)
  • 30 seconds single hip rotations (right)
  • 30 seconds in outs
  • 30 seconds double hip rotations
  • 30 seconds “triceps blaster”
  • 30 seconds hard slams

Workout recommendations for aerobic conditioning

If your sole focus is on the anaerobic energy system, how are you going to recover from bouts of high/extreme power output? Well, you won’t stand a chance unless you’ve succeeded a knockout. The development of the aerobic energy system has to be done and a great way to do this is by minute drill workouts. Two to five rounds of three- to five-minute drills are recommended. Use one to two minutes of rest between each round. You’ll work hard but definitely stay away from fatigue. If that happens, you don’t have any chance to complete the workout and you won’t develop the targeted system.

Workout recommendations for anaerobic conditioning

As a fighter, you have to be able to provide a lot of power during several periods of a fight without gassing. A well developed aerobic energy system makes sure you can maintain a good pace at a pretty high intensity level but only up to a certain point. When you go 100 percent in with combinations, your performance depends on your anaerobic energy system. To develop it, you need to do hard and intensive work. Because you can’t maintain such a high percentage of maximum intensity for a long time, you need to break it up. Interval training takes care of that.

You have several options here, but Tabatas are a great tool because of the short rest periods. You don’t have much time to rest during a fight, so it’s pretty specific. You should aim for close to max intensity during a Tabata workout. It all depends on your current conditioning level and your exercise selection. Poor conditioning and or/hard exercises means lower intensity. Still, you shouldn’t be “fresh” right after a round like this if you want to develop the anaerobic energy system. Two to three rounds with one to two minutes of rest will be enough. If you’re going hard, that’s pretty much all you can take. Quality over quantity.

Final words

Hopefully, you’ve been inspired to grab some ropes and get going with some conditioning work. Rope training is one of the premier tools you can use in your quest for victorious MMA conditioning. Go hard!


Submitted by DMorgan on Sun, 09/23/2012 - 5:32pm.

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