MMA is still a young sport and part of that means that athletes are still trying to find the perfect workout plans to complement their goals. We’ve seen everything from bodybuilding techniques in the early days to, more recently, CrossFit.

However, this past year, many MMA fighters found powerlifting and seem to think it might be a good fit.

What Is Powerlifting?

When we talk about “powerlifting” we’re literally talking about just three lifts:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press

That’s not to say that powerlifters don’t do other exercises; it’s just that these are the only three they do in competition.

Powerlifting is also not to be confused with strong man competitions (e.g. people pulling 18-wheelers and lifting refrigerators) or Olympic lifting (clean and presses).

How Did Powerlifting Become Popular in MMA?

While it’s far from taken the world over, powerlifting has certainly found some devotees in MMA. Most notably, Jon Jones made headlines last year when he posted photos of a clearly redesigned physique and later boasted a 600-pound raw deadlift.

If it’s good enough for Bones, it’s good enough for the rest of us, right?

The Benefits of Powerlifting for MMA Artists

One thing that powerlifting does extremely well is increase your overall power. By definition, no other athletic endeavor is going to beat the practice of pushing the heaviest weight you possibly can in the most efficient movement you can muster.

Furthermore, it’s an outstanding way to build muscle. Many fighters love powerlifting because of its simple efficiency. Instead of spending hours in the gym just lifting lighter weights, they can make much better use of their time by simply lifting the heaviest weights their bodies will allow.

Why Powerlifting Can Be Bad for MMA Artists

It’s important to remember that you can’t do MMA and powerlifting without accepting that one will have to suffer in order for you to excel at the other.

Powerlifting has weight classes just like MMA, but you’ll notice that its practitioners have vastly different body types. That’s because their bodies are designed to do something vastly different than someone who needs theirs for MMA.

That doesn’t make them any less of an athlete. Powerlifters are some of the most dedicated athletes on the planet. It just means that if you try to chase greatness in that sport, you’re going to fall short of your MMA goals.

For example, in order to excel at the bench press, you’ll need to build up your entire body with as much muscle as possible. Also, the heavier you weigh, the better, because weight has a positive correlation with being able to bench more.

Now imagine taking that bulky upper body into the cage and trying to hold your fists up for more than 30 seconds. Consider how much oxygen you’d need to feed those huge muscles. Huge pecs can actually get in the way of throwing punches, too.

One other thing: powerlifting absolutely must be something you learn from a professional. Otherwise, the risk for injury is astounding. It would be terrible to miss your fight because you slipped a disc deadlifting when you were reaching for a completely unnecessary PR.

The Final Verdict

Using powerlifting techniques to achieve more strength throughout your entire body definitely has its merits and you should expect to see more and more coaches working these exercises in.

That being said, make sure you still get plenty of time in the cage as a way of analyzing if and when you’ve gone too far. If you notice your cardio, flexibility, stamina or “flow” are lacking, it could be because your heavy lifting is getting in the way.