This article is evidence-based, verified by Blake Conner, Certified Strength, and Conditioning Specialist
In today’s world, there is one thing that is often sought out. Weight loss.
Weight loss can be desired for many reasons. Some want to get healthier and lose body fat, and there are also others doing it for sport. Some sports may have weight classes, which definitely will require some weight loss to compete in the desired class. MMA circuit training for weight loss is one of the most intense and effective ways to achieve that.
MMA and other combat sports put the focus on this. Typically, in the offseason, an athlete will work to get as good as they possibly can, and then weeks before the competition, they will cut weight by various means. Some may try to do water cuts or lose water weight by sweating. These methods are often very aggressive and can cause a lowering in performance.
MMA athletes can, however, go about using healthier methods to lose weight. They can use nutrition as a vehicle for success or manipulate their training to favor weight-loss.
Circuit training is one method for MMA athletes to lose weight. In the old days, it was thought that you needed to run A LOT to lose weight. Cardio is not the only method by which someone can burn calories. You can burn calories doing anything, it all comes down to energy expended.
You can read more about cardio for weight loss here
A popular training style is circuit training. This involves setting up multiple exercises (either weighted or bodyweight) and running through them in short rounds. This may look like 5 exercises, spending one minute doing them, resting for 30 seconds, and then moving to the next exercise. You go through this for 6 rounds and then you’re done.
This jacks the heart rate up. When the heart rate increases, the body has to work to get it back to baseline or homeostasis. This, in turn, burns calories and makes the bodywork harder. The body is also working harder to bring in more oxygen to supply the muscles. I’m sure you’ve noticed an increase in your breathing during any type of rigorous activity.
This is your body trying to catch up and provide the proper amount of oxygen for the activity. The increase in breathing, body processes, and movement all demand more calories be burned for fuel.
So how does circuit training vary from just normal physical activity? Well, for starters you are constantly lowering your heart rate, and then spiking it right back up. This throws the human body a curveball. This rising and falling of heart rate cause more energy needs, more calories burned and happens in a shorter period.
Yes, that’s right! Circuit training can get more done in half the time. This is one main reason this style of training is so popular. People are pressed for time in this modern age, so an activity that burns more calories in half the time only makes sense.
MMA and combat sports require a lot of training, so if circuit training can be used to spare time then great! This is why it is so advantageous for combat sports.
The Function of Weight Loss
I just want to briefly touch on this. Weight loss happens because of a caloric deficit. Without a deficit of some kind in the total calories consumed versus the total calories expended, there is no way weight loss can happen.
In a study done using multiple methods of exercise, people were able to effectively lose weight. However, the exercise was not the main thing that caused the weight loss. Although it did help, the more important thing was the caloric deficit over an extended time (Source).
Exercise alone is not enough to cause as much fat or weight loss.
Exercise can be used as a tool to burn more calories, getting one closer to that deficit goal.
Exercise such as circuit training is, however, good for the body as far as getting the blood pumping and keeping joints healthy.
Exercise, in general, has multiple benefits. It can be used as a vehicle for weight loss. However, it also has many psychological benefits as well. Most people with anger or aggression can use exercise to express themselves, whether it be circuit training or any other kind of exercise.
There are also strong benefits in self-confidence and mood as well. Many of the benefits all stem from each other because it all can be connected, regardless, it has been shown to help in this area (Source).
Changes in Body Composition
Now that we have discussed some of the basics of circuit training and weight loss, let’s discuss making changes in body composition. These changes are typically more than just weight loss. Body composition is more of an appearance.
This may come about from individuals losing body fat, thus making them look “leaner”. It could also be an individual gaining muscle mass and losing body fat at the same time. This would cause the individual to look “larger and leaner”. Body composition is something that is very sought out by people.
Circuit training, along with a solid nutrition plan, can do just this. One of the interesting aspects of circuit training is that it can decrease body fat while maintaining or even gaining muscle. Here is how.
When you go on long bouts of cardio activity to lose weight, you do burn MANY calories. However, you eventually run out of energy stores and begin to dig into other areas of the body for fuel. One of these stores may just be some of your muscles.
The body has this ability to make proteins and convert them into fuel. This puts the body into a catabolic state, meaning it begins to break itself down. You can observe many marathon runners and see that they are lean, but they don’t have large amounts of muscle.
With circuit training the duration isn’t long enough to dip into these energy stores, requiring a breakdown of muscle. The duration is long enough to maintain muscle mass while burning enough calories to lose body fat. It isn’t uncommon to see trainers advertising “20-minute fat burning workouts”, and this is because within 20 minutes you may be able to burn some body fat.
This is a very desired effect for MMA and combat sports, especially when cutting for competition. If they can maintain the muscle mass needed for a great performance and lose weight, then they are setting themselves up for success. They will also have the benefit of changing body composition. Often fighters are very muscular, but also very lean. This is often a by-product of effective circuit training (and of course good nutrition).
Circuit training can also be used for performance enhancement. It is a good time to practice certain skills. For combat sports, the workout can be designed to cover things a fighter may need. In sports utilizing punching bags for training, you could set up a workout to revolve around certain punching styles to hone skills, while also getting a good workout.
In a study done to observe the effectiveness of this style of training on muscle endurance, muscle strength, and aerobic fitness the results showed an improvement across the board. There were some gender differences in what improved, but overall circuit training did increase muscle performance (Source).
When looking at the MOST effective form of circuit training for body composition or performance, one sticks out.
High-intensity circuit training.
Other, slow forms of circuit training aren’t as intense. These are effective, but not the MOST effective. They could still be used as a means for losing weight and increasing calories burned, but again they are not the best.
High-intensity circuit training involves a mix of weights and endurance training. You may have multiple components within one workout. This combination has been shown to improve body composition, blood lactate (threshold), and strength (Source).
Besides, these are all qualities that an MMA or combat sports athlete seeks out. They all play an integral part of the sports. Therefore, high-intensity circuit training is going to be the best option for losing fat, keeping muscle, and getting stronger.
You can read about metabolic conditioning for MMA here (related article).
Effectiveness of Body Recomposition
Not every person is going to get the same results from this style of training.
Who is going to benefit more?
- Untrained individuals
- Overweight individuals
- Higher fat individuals
These groups of individuals can sometimes see MASSIVE improvements in body composition which may not happen in more trained individuals. Circuit training has been shown to increase some aerobic power.
However, these increases were seen more in individuals that had not been doing any sort of training program (Source). The stimulus was very new to them, which therefore causes a more rapid adaptation.
Example Workout Routines
Beginner Circuit Training Workout (18 mins in total)
- Perform each exercise for as many reps possible for a total of 1 minute and rest 30 seconds between exercises.
- Kettlebell Goblet Squat
- Jump Rope
- Bodyweight lunges
This workout is great for the general beginner just looking to change body composition, lose body fat, and gain muscle. Using this workout as an example you can build out many different workouts to fit your needs.
Beginner Combat Sport Workout (15 mins in total)
- Perform each exercise for 40 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of rest
- Freestyle boxing on a bag
- Explosive jumping squats
- Ski jumps
- Jump rope
- Alternating hooks on the bag
If you are looking to build a more MMA and combat sport-specific workout, this is more geared towards that. Most of these movements train some sport-specific qualities all the while providing the proper stimulus to maintain muscle and lose body fat.
Intermediate Circuit Training Workout (20 mins total)
- Every minute on the minute for 20 mins
- Perform 21 air squats, 15 sit-ups, and 9 burpees
This workout may use beginner movements, but the intensity is a little higher. The goal of this workout is to burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time.
Intermediate Circuit Training for MMA Athletes (25 mins total)As many rounds as possible of:
- 16 Barbell Back Rack Lunges
Intermediate Circuit Training for MMA Athletes (25 mins total)
As many rounds as possible of:
- 16 Barbell Back Rack Lunges
More complex movements are utilized for this workout. The goal is to get as many rounds of the given workout. The purpose of this is to push the envelope within the period. By using these movements, we are also working on performance by increasing lower body strength and power.
Putting It All Together
Circuit training can be utilized for many purposes. Weight loss, body composition change, and even sport’s performance are all qualities that it can help with. The added benefit is that it can all be done in a timely manner. For most this is a very high priority due to living busy lives. Getting the maximum effect for minimum time is a fair trade-off.
Circuit training can also be utilized for sports such as MMA. It creates the perfect conditions for an explosive combat sport. When athletes are looking to cut weight for a competition or lose some body fat (while maintaining muscle), circuit training is perfect. It can also fit timely into an expansive training session for any of these athletes.
(1). Francis P, E. A.
Francis P, e. (2019). Body composition changes in an endurance athlete using two different training strategies.
(2). Archer T, E. A.
Archer T, e. (2019). Cognitive Benefits of Exercise Intervention.
(3). Schmidt D, E. A.
Schmidt D, e. (2019). The effect of high-intensity circuit training on physical fitness.
(4). Paoli A, E. A.
Paoli A, e. (2019). Effects of three distinct protocols of fitness training on body composition, strength and blood lactate.
(5). Weston, M., Taylor, K. L., Batterham, A. M. and Hopkins, W. G.
Weston, M., Taylor, K., Batterham, A., & Hopkins, W. (2014). Effects of Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) on Fitness in Adults: A Meta-Analysis of Controlled and Non-Controlled Trials. Sports Medicine, 44(7), 1005-1017. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0180-z