Is Powerlifting Good for MMA? 🏋️(Top 3 Benefits For Combat Athletes)

For a long time, the traditional wisdom seemed to dictate that the fighter with the most strength wins. It is possible for an MMA fighter to wonder whether he or she can get an advantage in the octagon by relying on powerlifting.

Powerlifting is good for MMA because it develops a fighter’s core strength and leads to more forceful strikes and better balance. However, it is important that fighters do not focus too much on powerlifting as the majority of one’s advantage lies in mobility and technique.

In this article, we answer is powerlifting good for MMA by discussing the pros and cons of powerlifting for MMA and the best practices to abide by when powerlifting for better MMA performance. You will also learn alternative recommendations for improving your MMA performance.

Powerlifting Pros and Cons

To make sure powerlifting fits your needs as an MMA fighter you need to fully understand the advantages and the drawbacks of this method of training.

Pros of Powerlifting

Below is a list of advantages of powerlifting in the context of MMA.

Develops Form

Powerlifting helps improve your form as the exercises emphasize form and rely on working all your muscles in their natural directions. Bodybuilding, on the other hand, relies on isolating muscles, and it is possible to use bad form and affect a single muscle adversely. With your whole body working towards lifting, the chance that a single muscle will take too much strain is significantly lowered.

Emphasizes Strength

A lot of bodybuilding exercises were developed to maximize the definition. For an MMA fighter, the aesthetic appeal is not as big of a priority, and to invest one’s time in exercises only to end up with a better-looking body with little strength difference would be a waste of time. With powerlifting, one’s core strength is in focus. This is useful in striking and in retaining one’s balance, especially when under attack.

Improves Grip Strength

Of course, with great core strength and significant upper body gains, one can expect to improve striking with powerlifting. But it turns out that even those whose primary method of winning bouts is grappling are better off with powerlifting as it trains one’s grip. If you can grip a large amount of weight and move it against gravity, you are automatically improving your ability to grab your opponents and hold them in certain positions.

Woman single handed snatch to highlight is powerlifting good for mma

Cons of Powerlifting

As with any exercise, there are drawbacks to consider. Below are some of the disadvantages of powerlifting for MMA.

Loss of Flexibility

If you train all your muscles to do only a handful of maneuvers and your ligaments are not conditioned to allow for movement in other directions, you will find yourself losing flexibility across time. You may find certain submission holds to be much more painful and may become more predictable in the octagon. To offset this disadvantage, make sure to include yoga in your exercise routine, especially if you train in BJJ.

Diminishing Returns

While maximizing your strength within your weight class is helpful, when you lift enough to build muscle and find yourself in a completely different weight class, you lose all the advantage you had because the fighters you will match up with are as strong if not stronger. That is why you should track your weight and your protein intake to make sure you are only maximizing your strength while staying within your weight class.

Wrong Standards

Powerlifters, you may have noticed, have a lot of fat and are generally very heavy individuals. That is because powerlifting competitions are not judged by the competitors’ own looks but by how much they can lift. This has caused two distinct standards to develop. The first of these is that your mobility does not matter. 

Of course, this goes counter to what works for MMA. The second standard is that as long as one is improving in three main lifts that get scored in competitions, one is progressing. In MMA, you may need to improve not just three lifts but a whole range of lifts known as assists to improve your striking strength and general balance.

In other words, if you rely on the powerlifting community’s standards, you will be working in ways counterproductive to your MMA success. You will need to set your own standards for lifting that serve your MMA success.

Best Practices for Powerlifting as an Mma Fighter

When you adopt powerlifting as a tool for improvement in your MMA training regimen, you have to realize that you are taking a path that actively decreases martial arts performance if done in a standard manner. Please follow these best practices to make sure your powerlifting serves your MMA and that you don’t sacrifice your MMA performance to your powerlifting regimen.

Start With the Lowest Weights

It is usually the norm in the powerlifting community to measure one’s progress in the weights one can lift. Therefore the standard goal-setting method is to pick a weight and try to maximize one’s single lift maximum. You should start with the lowest weight possible and be open to doing multiple reps. If you do not do this and only focus on one-rep maximums, you will condition your body to release too much energy too quickly and get exhausted right away.

Modify the Exercises for Mobility

Powerlifting presents a great opportunity to develop leg strength, and if one deviates his or her focus from the maximum lift, they can improve their mobility in the octagon. Many personal trainers help modify lifts to help you be more mobile. Make sure to incorporate these exercises into your regimen to improve your mobility.

Track Your Weight

The powerlifting community is notorious for not tracking weight as it rarely plays an adverse role in one’s lifting career. But in MMA, the strength you develop is only an advantage as long as you are within the same weight class. If you unintentionally make higher weight, you will end up facing off opponents who also have higher strength canceling out the competitive advantage you previously held. Make sure to track your weight and to eat accordingly.

Cool Down From Your Workout

One of the greatest feelings you can have as a powerlifter is to use all your energy on a single lift and feel that burning sensation all over your body. But to suddenly activate that many muscles under that much pressure may have consequences if you do not take care of your body. Use a flotation tank or a vibrating foam roller to help cool down your muscles after an intense session.

Alternatives to Help You Improve Strength in Mma

If you are a heavyweight fighter, the chances are that you will incorporate some deadlifts into your training regimen. But welterweights and featherweights might be more hesitant in adopting powerlifting into their training regimen. Below are some alternatives that will help you build strength as an MMA fighter.

Calisthenics That Work Your Core

When you adopt bodyweight training, you are not working with an unnatural amount of weight. You are mastering your own weight, and by getting your core involved, you are building your strike strength and balance simultaneously.

Free Weights for Your Upper Body

By doing bicep curls and working your shoulders, you will improve your strikes and takedowns in the octagon. With free weights, you can work smaller weights and avoid losing mobility to excessive one-way conditioning.

Pull-Ups for Your Back

If you are a striker, you want a stable shoulder and an arm that’s supported for longer periods. For this, the traditional pull-ups are very helpful as they work out your lats and your upper body.

Final Thoughts- Is Powerlifting Good for MMA?

Powerlifters do not look like the typical MMA fighter because the lifting community is oriented towards goals different from MMA. If you use powerlifting to build your core strength, make sure you do not get carried away and lose mobility and versatility in the process. Use powerlifting sparingly to enhance your MMA performance but understand that you will hit a point of diminishing returns pretty soon.