We see Combat Athletes at our clinic or the Ronin Training Center! Call us today 614-850-0500.

We at Active PT would like to help you enhance your ability to fight, compete, and decrease risk of injury. Combat athletes generally have strong large muscle groups due to the functional movements involved in MMA fighting, however small stabilizing muscle groups can get neglected leading to injury.

Muscles should be trained throughout their entire range of motion to prepare the athlete for unanticipated tasks and positions commonly seen in combat sports. Being able to effectively recruit your muscles in a vulnerable position will result in increased performance.

Below are a few examples of basic, but effective exercises you can use to enhance performance.

Neck and Upper Back

Thoracic Rotation

Thoracic Rotation – When you participate in disciplines requiring asymmetrical movement patterns based on hand or foot dominance, you can develop asymmetries in your spinal alignment. Use this exercise not only to assess which side is more restricted, but also to corrective restrictions and ensure a more balanced alignment.

Chin Tucks

Cervical Isometrics

Cervical Towel Stretch

Cervical Towel Stretch, Isometrics, and Chin Tucks – Our posture as a society has been steadily worsening with the transition of occupations to desk based work. This can result in forward head posture and a rounded upper back (thoracic kyphosis). This has significant repercussions as it can lead to neck pain, jaw pain, and headaches. These exercises are good strategies to maintain the mobility:stability relationship.

Thoracic Extension Wall Stretch

Thoracic Extension Wall Stretch – This is a simple exercise that can be done at home or work to address the other piece of poor posture: thoracic kyphosis. This is a mobility exercise to combat rounding of the upper back caused by poor posture associated with prolonged sitting and excessive screen time. Maintaining this ROM is important to avoid vulnerable positions in ground based disciplines.

Serratus Lift-Off


Serratus Lift-off – Weakness can be caused by the chronic lengthening of a muscle due to poor posture, positioning, or over strengthening of antagonist muscles. The serratus anterior is a common muscle affected by this as a predominance towards strengthening of the anterior chest can result in the weakness of shoulder blade muscles. These muscles are important in maintaining a balanced and stable shoulder as well as a more upright posture. This exercise also addresses strength with the arms away from the body which can be utilized when assuming a more defensive role for the combat athlete.

Scap Retraction with Bicep Curl

Scap Retraction with Bicep Curl – Like the serratus lift-off, this exercise addresses weak shoulder blade muscles. The idea behind this exercise is to address correct muscle firing patterns while performing upper extremity tasks. Without correct balance of shoulder blade and shoulder strength, individuals can compensate with excessive motion leading to impingement like symptoms. Athletes primarily utilizing their upper extremities are at risk for greater fatigue and injury when a correct balance is not achieved.

Turkish Get-Up

Turkish Get-up – If you are looking for a full body exercise focusing both on stability and mobility, this is the exercise for you. This exercise targets core and shoulder stability, while addressing hip mobility and strength. This exercise can be modified for athletes of all levels and does not take many repetitions to feel the effects. The goal of this exercise is to benefit those needing to utilize multiple muscle groups at once.

Pelvic Rocking with Child's Pose

Low Back and Hip

Pelvic Rocking with Child’s Pose – This basic stretch targets one’s ability to differentiate between low back and pelvic motions. Maintaining a healthy balance between these two motions is important when performing higher levels of dynamic exercise or tasks that require differentiating between the two.

Half Kneel Hip Flexor Stretch

½ Kneel Hip-flexor Stretch – It is hard-pressed to find a population of athletes who do not suffer from over-facilitated or ‘tight’ hip flexors. This is an easy, yet very important stretch needed to maintain good hip mobility to maximize performance in any sport.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift with/without Rotation

Single Leg RDL with/without Rotation – Maintaining symmetrical movement patterns is important to ensure an athlete maintains balanced mechanics while competing in an unbalanced discipline. This technique is used to correct asymmetries and train dynamic core strength to mimic functional movements used in training and competition. Disciplines involving up-right kicking would benefit from this exercise as athletes are expected to balance on one leg while needing to apply efficient force at their end ranges of motion.


Advanced progression – single leg RDL in kneeling: By eliminating activation of the hamstrings, this exercise primarily focuses on glute strength. Finding yourself in a quadruped position during competition can limit your strength by functionally eliminating one’s ability to use their hamstrings. This requires excessive use of the glute muscles to create power, which can be trained with this exercise.

Bridge on Ball with Hamstring Curl

Bridge on Ball with Hamstring Curl – While it is not advantageous to find yourself on your back in a vulnerable position, it is common place in several MMA disciplines. This exercise targets strengthening in a functional position to enhance one’s ability to use their opponent as leverage while going from a defensive position to an offensive one.

Power Bridge

Power Bridge – This is an advanced version of a fan favorite. While a normal bridge is a good way to achieve glute activation, altering this exercise into a more powerful movement is more functional and can be utilized during competition and training. Strengthening exercises should be trained functionally as quick and powerful movements are the cornerstone of combat disciplines.

Fire Hydrant Circle with Isometrics

Fire Hydrant Circle with Isometric – This exercise is used to assess the perfect balance between strength and mobility of the hip. Often, we focus on strengthening muscles while in their optimal position. However, muscles produce different amounts of force based on what position they are in. For the combat athlete, firing a muscle forcefully while in a vulnerable and weakened position is not only an advantage, but is frequently necessary. Use this strategy to determine your areas of weakness and strengthen accordingly.


Swiss Ball Pike/ Double Knees to Chest


Too often core training is done statically in a non-functional position. While in reality, we use our cores during dynamic activity in several positions. Static exercises are still effective in that they build strength but they should not be done in isolation. Based on your discipline, you should train your core appropriately and in familiar positions. Below are a combination of static and dynamic core exercises to be used together to optimize strength and functional movement.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift on an Incline


Single Leg RDL on incline – Similar to the single leg RDL described above, this exercise focuses primarily on glute strength. However, it also addresses ankle mobility through a dynamic stretch. The goal is to increase flexibility and range of motion and increase strength throughout that range of motion.

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