How to build cardio for MMA and Boxing

Boxing and mixed martial arts are amongst the most demanding sports around. Not only do you need to be supremely fit to compete, but you also need to be tough and skilled too. It’s beyond the scope of this article to teach the techniques of these combat sports, but we can help you with the fitness side of MMA and boxing.

The hardest part of both boxing and MMA is that they are high-intensity sports that involve rounds. The rounds are a bit too long to be purely anaerobic, and the breaks between rounds are too short to allow for a full recovery. This combination makes both boxing and MMA hugely demanding. And, if the rounds weren’t hard enough to contend with, you also have to deal with someone trying to beat the living daylights out of you!

Use the following guidelines to create cardio-boosting boxing and MMA workouts.

Work in rounds

Plan your workouts around rounds or intervals. Steady-paced cardio can be useful for developing basic aerobic fitness, but for fighting, your workouts need to replicate the demands of a match. Boxing uses three-minute rounds interspersed with one-minute rest periods. In contrast, in MMA the rounds last five minutes with one-minute rests. Use a Gymboss interval timer to make regulating your work and rest periods a breeze.

Use compound exercises

Boxing and MMA are full-body activities. Throwing a punch might look like it’s all about the arms, but, in reality, it involves virtually every muscle in your body. The same is true of kicks and grappling.

Make sure you build your workouts around multi-joint or compound exercises to replicate the demands of these sports. Good examples include squats, thrusters, burpees, jump rope, punchbag work, kettlebell swings, and box jumps.

Not only do these exercises use a lot of muscles at the same time, but they also burn more calories and will increase your heart rate more than single-joint or isolation exercises like biceps curls and calf raises. This means they are good for fitness and fat loss.

Train with intensity

Boxing and MMA are both fast-paced, high-intensity activities. If you start to slow down or back off, your opponent may choose that time to finish you off. You need to be able to start each round strong and finish stronger.

To develop this ability, make sure you train with a high degree of intensity. If your workouts are less intense than the sport you are preparing for, you will be unprepared when you step into the ring. Like the Marines say, train hard, and fight easy!

Example workouts

Here are two workouts to try – one for boxing and one for MMA. Remember to set your Gymboss boxing timer to ensure your work to rest intervals are right for your training goal. Don’t use the timer on your phone. It could end up distracting you if it rings during your workout. Instead, use your Gymboss timer.

1) Boxing rounds

This workout involves three-minute rounds paired with one-minute recoveries. Using your Gymboss boxing timer, do each of the following exercises for 30 seconds, and then after the last exercise rest for 60-seconds before starting over. Move quickly from one exercise to the next – no dilly-dallying! Do five to eight rounds to total 20-32 minutes of exercise.

  1. Burpees
  2. Jump rope
  3. Shadowboxing
  4. Squat jumps
  5. Kettlebell swings (16-24kg)
  6. High knee sprints on the spot

2) MMA fight gone bad

Fight gone bad is a famous CrossFit workout. Each round adds up to five minute – one-minute of each of the prescribed exercises. You’ll need to do this workout in a gym, and you’ll need an interval timer too, but this workout is perfect for developing cardio fitness for MMA.

Do three rounds of the following exercises, trying to do as many reps as you can of each one. Move quickly from one exercise to the next – no sneaky rests between stations, please!

  1. Wall ball, 20-lbs ball, 10-foot target (14-lbs ball for women)
  2. Sumo deadlift high-pull, 75-lbs (55-lbs for women)
  3. Box jumps, 20” box
  4. Push-press, 75-lbs (55-lbs for women)
  5. Rowing machine  

If you are training for boxing or MMA, the most important piece of equipment in your workout arsenal is your Gymboss interval timer. Interval training is crucial for successful fight training. Whether you are an MMA fighter or a boxer or just want to be fit and lean like one, using the guidelines and workouts in this article will help get you there!


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