By Coach Kevin Kearns
Almost everyone who has watched the UFC and other fights will remark how well defined the upper bodies of the fighters are. The shoulder girdle (the muscles that comprise the shoulder completely) are a complex structure and require some clear thought when developing a training regime for these fighters. Since the shoulder is used over and over again for anything from throwing punches to sprawls, it should be given extra careful consideration when designing a training program. This program must also take into account the potential for rehab work at the same time.
Traditional methods for strengthening this area may not always, and, probably should not be applied to fighters who perform in this arena. Most fans would believe that these fighters’ shoulders were built using a “bodybuilding” approach instead of a functional strength approach. The use of dumbbells for pressing motions, abduction, adduction, and retraction are great for some settings, but, in my training experience, an out-of-the-box approach is especially effective for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters.
There is no question about it: Without a strong striking game, you are not going to last in the MMA arena. We have seen the tide of fights changed with one well placed strike. Whether it is an elbow or a punch, timing, strength, and endurance are major factors. To develop strong strikes, there are a variety of ways to accomplish this goal. At “Burn with Kearns,” we use a lot of “off-the-shelf” items to accomplish this. For an item to be considered “off-the-self,” it has to be affordable, adaptable, and functional.
One of my favorite items, which can be used easily by anyone, are small sledge hammers that weigh anywhere from two through six pounds. The amount of work one can do in multiple, dimensional angles is truly amazing and limitless. A person can develop grip strength and endurance in all the muscles also used for striking. For the MMA and grappling game, they are one of my “go to” tools for fight prep. When performing a sledgehammer workout, there will not be a muscle you do not feel in your entire striking mechanics.
Let’s address the other challenge: shoulder rehab. It is commonly known that in any sport, the more you train, the more likely you are to have potential for injuries. Especially, when there is a high degree of contact involved. I can think of no other sport, than the MMA, that the potential for injury is always there. Considering the ranges of motion and intensity at which many of our fighters at “Team Sityodtong” train, it is truly amazing that these fighters’ bodies don’t break down more often. When you think how many hours are put in on the mat between boxing, Muay Thai, grappling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and then conditioning, it’s no wonder people want to be as “Fit as Fighters.” These martial artists are truly some of the best-conditioned athletes in the world.
When UFC veteran Spencer Fisher came in for six-week of fight camp, he had a slight bicep tendon tear that had the potential to be problematic. Our job was to get him into the best shape possible over the next six weeks. His shoulder injury concerned me as we entered the phase of “gas in the tank,” which is conditioning that involves more sports specific training. Kru Dellagrotte trusted me to get him ready on the conditioning side while rehabbing his shoulder. We opted to go with the sledge hammers again to help rehab UFC vet Spencer Fisher’s shoulder.
Here are some of the sledge hammer exercises we used to rehab Fisher’s shoulder, and also increase his shoulder strength at the same time:
Side-to-side swings: Let the sledge hammers do the work as you swing them from side to side just at shoulder height.
Roof block: Hold one sledge hammer in front as you rotate the other one around your head.
Iron T’s: Stretch the sledge hammers behind your head and then straighten them out in a “T” fashion.
Ground and pound: Sit in a stance and imagine pummeling an opponent with the sledge hammer.
Try these four great sledge hammer exercises the next time you want to work those shoulders. This is a great way to start your power training with sledgehammers.
Sledgehammer Workout 1 contains 5 unique exercises: 1) Swing Squat, 2) Iron-T with Lunge, 3) Push-ups with Hammer Raises, 4) Head Circles with Stepping, and 5) Cut-up Cut-downs!
Sledgehammer Workout 2 contains 6 awesome exercises: 1) One-legged Hammer Squat, 2) One-legged Resistance Row, 3) Hammer Walkout, 4) Slide and Swing, 5) One-legged Hammer Rainbow, and 6) Horse Stance with Grip Drops!
Sledgehammer Workout 3 contains 4 dynamic exercises: 1) Jackknife Hammer Circles, 2) Iron-T Cross Body, 3) Hammer and the Nail, and 4) Jackknife Hammer Halo!