In today's blog, we're featuring the very best mobility and movement exercises for MMA, written by Robert from Way of Martial Arts. We know some of you dabble or are thinking about giving MMA a try, and we thought this would be helpful in your mobility endeavors.
MMA is one of the most useful combat systems to learn, either for self-defense purposes or for building a career in combat sports. However, understanding the best techniques and ideas from a couple of hand-picked martial arts to then create the ultimate fighting skillset isn’t easy and requires insane amounts of practice in every field of the sport.
Mobility is an often overlooked aspect of training, even in sports like martial arts, which rely on it so much. Mobility training is usually given enough attention only at near-professional levels, unfortunately. In this article, I will go through a list of some of the best mobility and movement exercises for training MMA so that you can become that much better in the cage!
Hip Flexor and Quad Stretch
The first exercise on today’s list will be the hip flexor and quad stretch, sometimes referred to as the couch stretch. The informal name of the movement gives us a hint about the type of environment the exercise is best performed in a home setting: next to a couch.
In this exercise, you need to take a cushion, pillow, a thicker exercise mat, or something similarly soft and place it close to a couch, wall, or similar object. Keeping one leg in a lunge position, you need to kneel onto the mat with the other knee and extend your foot backward, placing it against the couch or wall with the top of the foot making contact.
Though it may seem very unnatural and uncomfortable at first, this position is one of the key positions if you want to start extending your leg muscles and your hip mobility, which will result in higher kicks and better overall leg mobility.
With a straight back, from this position, you can do various exercises in multiple ways, but the optimal one for mobility improvement is the following:
When in this position (knee-down lunge with the rear leg on a wall or couch), squeeze your quads on your hind leg, thus driving your back leg into the wall or couch. Do this with a 60-75% intensity for optimal results. While doing this, you need to keep your back straight and your glutes flexed to maintain a good position.
After driving your leg into the wall or couch for about 5 seconds, push your hip forward to increase the flexion on the hip and the stretch on the hip flexor and quads. Then, squeeze and drive forward 2-3 times, and switch to your other leg to do the same. Three cycles of this exercise are enough to provide optimal results.
This exercise will help you achieve better hip mobility, which is one of the critical factors in determining your kicks’ height and the range of motion you can actually utilize in a ground grappling scenario.
Often, people don’t spend enough time training and stretching their hips, and developing mobility due to the common misconception that kick height and similar movements can be improved only with the typical leg stretching exercises.
Though they are important too, typical exercises for stretching out the hamstrings and quads can increase the range of motion ever so much, but after a point, hip mobility is the most common issue holding athletes back from achieving their full potential.
Adductor Hip Stretch
Another great exercise for improving side-to-side mobility on the feet, kick height, and also mobility of the feet and lower body in a grappling situation, as well as the range of effective motion, as in the range in which the legs can be used to exert substantial force.
The adductors are medium-sized muscles on the inside of our thighs, which connect the hips to the femur, and are one of the most important muscles in maintaining a solid standing position while kicking, stepping to the side, or stability with any lateral movement of the legs.
This exercise is meant to open up the hips and groin area, mostly focusing on stretching out the adductors, but all the smaller muscles around the lower-core and hip area.
This position starts in a kneeling position (both knees down) with the back upright. Then, as you bend forward for comfort, extend one of your legs to the side and sit back on the other leg. Now, you are basically sitting on a bent knee while having the other leg to the side, stretched out. In this position already, you should feel the inner muscles on your extended leg being worked.
After achieving this passive stretch position, the next step is to squeeze the adductor muscle for 5 seconds with relatively high intensity (without too much pain or discomfort, but as hard as possible), then let go and sit back a little bit more on your leg to stretch out the adductor even more.
Your hands will have to be on the floor to provide enough support for your body and to be able to focus on stretching the inside of your leg and the surrounding muscles.
Repeat the muscle contraction and then lowering into the sitting position a couple of times, until the discomfort is bearable (usually around 2-4 times), then change legs, and repeat the cycle 2-3 times for optimal results.
The great benefit of this mobility exercise is that it doesn’t only open up your hip and leg so you can kick and grapple better, but it also loosens the lower-back muscles and stretches out your spine, which in turn will decrease the chance of any type of injury and will increase ROM (range of motion even more.
Banded Shoulder Stretch
The next exercise will focus on increasing mobility and flexibility in the shoulders, thus enabling better punching power, better grappling, and a lower risk of injury. This is one of the simplest stretching and mobility exercises out there, so don’t miss it out of your routine!
Stand straight and upright, with your core and legs engaged for minimal compensation and unwanted movement. In your hands, placed at substantially wider than shoulder-width, grab an elastic band in front of you, stretching it out into a straight line.
In a slow and controlled manner, raise up your arms above your head and raise your shoulders and shoulder blades as much as you can to enable maximum stretching. Then, slowly move your arms backward and bring the elastic band down to your lower back, all while keeping your arms completely straight and while keeping the movement controlled.
The great thing about this exercise (like all others on this list), is that anyone can do it. You don’t even need an elastic band if you don’t happen to own one, you can use a towel, a piece of clothing, a rope, or even a solid broomstick or similar long, straight object.
Optimally, an elastic band would be used since it provides constant pressure, which helps with developing mobility. Still, even solid objects like a broomstick can be used to reap the benefits of the exercise, even if they are somewhat less comfortable or effective.
This exercise will straighten out your back, even out the range of motion between the shoulders, and make sure you can use the full reach of your arms to generate striking power.
Spine and Core Stretch
Another exercise focused on the upper body, but this time not on the shoulders and arms but on two of the most essential parts of our body: our core and spine. This exercise will significantly improve mobility in these areas, translating into better punches, better clinch and grappling mobility, and overall better functioning.
You start out by leaning against a wall, with the legs slightly bent and the back touching the wall all the way from your head to the bottom of the lumbar spine. The legs don’t need to flex and they don’t need to do any work, so the point isn’t to tire them out or keep them bent.
With all of your back against the wall, cross your arms on your chest and then tuck your chin in, as if you were holding a double-chin head position. Drive your chin as much as possible, this is one of the most important parts of this exercise as it provides extra stretch for the cervical spine.
From this position, gently and slowly but also tensely, start to roll your head forward onto your chest, as if you were doing crunches. Crunching your ab muscles, roll down away from the wall until the point where your lumbar spine is the only part touching the wall, and you are bent forward, crunched up as much as you can.
Contracting your obliques, turn to either side (left and right) 10-12 times without releasing the crunch position or the hips from the wall. This should be carried out without any leg compensation or movement in the hips. Keeping the full stretch to one side for a second or so, slowly start to move back towards the center position and then stretch the other side.
When done, in a slow and controlled fashion, roll your back up against the wall the same way you rolled off of it, ensuring that all of your spine is stretched out and then making contact with the wall almost vertebrae-by-vertebrae.
Repeat this whole exercise a couple of times to increase upper body and core mobility and also a great spine stretch. This will help you avoid injury and enable you to use a higher range of motion when loading up for strikes or when turning to deliver a grappling technique.