Mixed martial arts fighters are highly conditioned athletes who use whatever techniques they can to get in top shape before stepping into the cage. But you don't have to strap on the gloves or get hit to experience some of the benefits of MMA training. Conditioning techniques using a medicine ball are effective for building core strength and coordination. These drills can also make your body more resistant to impact.
The American College of Sports Medicine points to several benefits of medicine ball conditioning techniques, no matter what your personal fitness goals are. Medicine ball exercises build strength and tone muscles, but they also build explosive muscular power through quick, reflexive movements. If you want to tone your muscles, trim fat and gain speed at the same time, medicine balls represent an easy and cost-effective method of training.
Since you need to use core muscles to lift a medicine ball in the first place, every exercise you do with the ball is a core exercise. Still, fighters use several exercises to develop the core with medicine balls. Standing or seated trunk twists flex your abs and target your obliques, while adding the weight of a ball to traditional crunches increases the resistance and effect of the exercise on your abs. If you want a bigger challenge, try performing pushups balancing your hands on the ball, or simulate punching movements by throwing the ball with a straight-armed push at a wall.
MMA is an individual sport. A fighter is alone when he steps into the cage, but that doesn't mean fighters train alone. Partner drills are essential to getting the most out of medicine ball conditioning exercises. Kneel about 10 feet away from your training partner, facing her with a medicine ball held at chest level. Throw the ball and fall into a pushup, coming back up to catch the ball as your partner tosses it and falls into a pushup of her own. You can increase your speed and power through plyometric throws with a partner, performing pushups, crunches or squat thrusts between passes. For the ultimate conditioning exercise, tighten your core in a crunch position and let your partner hit your stomach with the ball with light to moderate force. Relax your crunch after 10 seconds or 10 touches.
Like any training equipment, medicine balls are only as safe as you make them. Using improper technique or exercising when you're exhausted will increase your chances of injury. Don't perform intense plyometric conditioning exercises until you're fit enough to do them confidently. If you struggle with medicine ball crunches, don't invite your partner to blast your stomach with the ball.
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.