The MMA-Inspired Full-Body Workout

by Carla Henderson

Most of you reading this are probably not planning to beat the heck out of anyone (or we hope not, anyway). You probably don’t head off to the gym every day to develop more power in your punches, or perfect your roundhouse kick, or fine-tune your “ground and pound” submission tactics.

So the idea of borrowing an all-around ass-kicking workout from a mixed martial artist or UFC champion and dropping it smack dab in the middle of your usual training week might sound a little, well, odd. But hear us out.

“Training like a fighter can shock your body out of a rut and stimulate your muscles in a new way that gets them responding again when you go back to your regular routines,” says Dustin Kirchofner, a Colorado-based strength and conditioning coach and owner of Modern Warfare Fitness. “It’s pretty intense and incorporates strength, power and endurance into one workout. You could do this just one time a week in addition to your normal program and it would definitely kick-start your metabolism and shock the system.”

Kirchofner knows firsthand about the benefits of training change-ups. The active-duty U.S. Army Special Forces first sergeant has worked with numerous bodybuilding competitors and MMA athletes over the years, including Kelvin Gastelum, Chance Farrar, Tyler Bialecki, Joe Ochoa, Jose Carbajal and three-time national boxing champion Victor Arriola. He’s also an amateur bodybuilding competitor, recently placing second in the 2019 and 2020 Masters USA Championships as a light heavyweight and heavyweight, respectively.

“The secret is in the change of pacing,” he explains. “If you’re used to doing the standard bodybuilding-style workouts, where you do six to 12 reps slowly and under control with a heavy weight, then rest a minute or two, then repeat, your body can adapt to that over time and stop responding to the stimulus.”

To counter that style, Kirchofner has set up a series of circuits using an array of equipment you’d typically find at a well-stocked gym — dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, battle ropes and a 12-inch platform. 

“Instead of counting reps, you’ll be doing exercises for a set amount of time,” he says. “The exercises are easy to master, with a mix of weighted and non-weighted movements. You may feel like you’re off-balance, not quite knowing what’s coming next, but that’s the idea — a fighter always has to be ready for the unknown, and this gets your body ready for anything. You’ll go back to your regular workouts feeling better conditioned to go longer and stronger.”

And hey, if one day you do have to level some creep on the street, you’ll be ready.

The Fighting Shape Full-Body Blast Workout

Start with the fighter’s warm-up, then perform each circuit listed below in full before moving on to the next circuit. Rest 60 to 75 seconds between circuits — enough time to catch your breath while also doing your setup for the coming round.

The Fighter’s Warm-Up

Before getting into the meat of the Fighting Shape workout, you’ll want to get your muscles ready and heart rate up — this warm-up will do just that. (“You might end up liking it enough that you’ll use it as a warm-up for your regular workouts, too,” Kirchofner adds.) Do the following circuit twice through, resting just 60 seconds in between rounds and not at all in between each movement:

Exercise Time (seconds) Jumping Jack/Push-Up/Mountain Climber 60 Medicine-Ball Rotation* 30 Push-Up 30 Medicine-Ball Chest Slam to Floor** 30 Rowing Machine 60 Medicine-Ball Rotation 30 Dumbbell Renegade Row 30 Sledgehammer Swing (side to side)*** 30

* Holding a medicine ball at your hips with your arms straight, move it in a half-moon to the right until the ball is over your head, then slam the ball to the floor. Pick it up and repeat going the other direction, continuing the alternating rotation and slam for 30 seconds.

** Assume a bent-over position and hold a medicine ball at your chest. Push out forcefully with both hands to drive the ball to the floor, catching it on the return bounce and reloading by bringing your elbows back.

*** For these, you’ll first swing the sledgehammer up and to the right and down to the left into the tire, and then up and to the left and down to the right. If your gym doesn’t have this equipment, you can do jump rope or jump squats instead.

The Workout

Circuit 1

Exercise Sets Time (seconds) Kettlebell Goblet Squat 1 60 Push-Up With Rotation 1 60 Two-Arm Bent-Over Kettlebell Row 1 60 Medicine-Ball Hand Walkover 1 60 Kettlebell Monkey Pound 1 60

Circuit 2

Exercise Sets Time (seconds) Battle-Rope Slam 1 60 Standing Dumbbell Biceps Curl 1 60 Overhead Rotational Medicine-Ball Slam 1 60 Standing Dual-Dumbbell Triceps Kickback 1 60 Battle-Rope Slam 1 60

Circuit 3

Exercise Sets Time (seconds) Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry 2 30 Kettlebell Renegade Row 1 60 Box Jump 1 60 Kettlebell Swing 1 60 Battle-Rope Slam 1 60

Exercise How-tos

Kettlebell Goblet Squat

Take a stable, wide stance just outside shoulder width and hold a kettlebell close to your chest with the handle just under your chin, grasping it with both hands, one on each side of the handle. From here, drop your hips and bend your knees to squat straight down until your elbows make contact with your knees and your thighs are past parallel to the floor. Drive back up through your heels to a standing position.

Push-Up With Rotation

Do a standard push-up, but at the top of each repetition, turn your body to one side, reaching upward to the ceiling with that arm outstretched. Switch which arm you reach with from rep to rep.

Two-Arm Bent-Over Kettlebell Row

Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, grasp a kettlebell in each hand with an overhand grip. Lean forward at your hips until your torso is roughly parallel with the floor. The weights should hang straight down in front of your shins. Without raising your upper body, pull the kettlebells up toward your abdomen, bringing your elbows high and above the level of your back. Hold the peak-contracted position for a brief count, then slowly lower along the same path.

Medicine-Ball Hand Walkover

Start in the “up” position of a push-up with a medicine ball next to your right arm, just outside of it on the floor. Pick up your right hand and place it on the ball, then lift your left hand from the floor and bring it over to the ball so that you’re now balancing your upper body on it. Next, place your right hand back on the floor on the opposite side of the ball, then your left hand. Continue “walking” with your hands back and forth onto and over the ball for one minute. 

Kettlebell Monkey Pound

Bend forward at the hips to about 45 degrees, holding a kettlebell in each hand. In piston-like fashion, lower one weight toward the floor while rowing the other weight up to your flank, then immediately do the opposite motion, continuing in that pattern for one minute.

Battle-Rope Slam

At a battle-rope station — which is a rope wrapped around a pole or other sturdy anchor point in the gym — get into an athletic “ready” stance, knees soft, hips low, core tight and arms extended while grasping one end of the rope in each hand with an overhand, thumbs forward grip. From here, begin by raising both arms up to shoulder level, then forcefully down. Develop a rhythm in the rope, bringing both arms up and down and building speed as you go.

Standing Dumbbell Biceps Curl

Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, arms extended. With your core tight, chest up and head straight, contract your biceps to curl the dumbbells toward your shoulders, keeping your elbows at your sides. Hold and squeeze at the top, then slowly return the dumbbells along the same path.

Overhead Rotational Medicine-Ball Slam

Standing upright, hold a medicine ball with both hands overhead and angled to the left, elbows extended but not locked out — the ball should be above and just to the left of the top of your head. From here, drive the ball forcefully downward and toward the right, bending at the hips as you propel the ball into the floor, letting go as your hands reach a point between your hips and knees. The ball should strike the floor outside your right leg. Pick it up and repeat, this time starting with the ball to the right in the top position and finishing with it hitting the floor just outside your left foot.

Standing Dual-Dumbbell Triceps Kickback

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend over until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Raise your upper arms parallel to your torso and keep them pressed into your sides. Holding your upper arms in place, simultaneously extend your elbows to lift your lower arms straight back to full extension. Don’t allow your elbows to drop as you return your lower arms to the start position.

Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry

Pick up a heavy dumbbell in each hand and, keeping your core tight, chest elevated, shoulders back and head up, walk forward for 30 seconds, turning if need be, depending on your space. If the gym floor is crowded, or lacks an open area, an unused cardio room is another option.

Kettlebell Renegade Row 

Place two kettlebells on the floor in front of you and get down into a four-point position, your lower body balanced on your toes behind you, legs splayed, and one hand holding each handle. From this position, alternately row one kettlebell up to your flank and lower it to the floor. One lift with each arm equals one rep.

Box Jump

Stand in front of a 12-inch-high platform or box. Assume a ready position, knees just outside shoulder width and soft, arms out, hands up and elbows bent. From here, lower your hips toward the floor into a full squat, then explode upward, extending your hips and knees as you bring your arms from a position behind you to in front of you, leaping off the floor and up onto the box. Land softly on both feet, keeping your knees bent to absorb the bounce. From here, step down to the starting position and repeat.

Kettlebell Swing

Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width, holding a kettlebell by its handle with both hands, letting it hang in front of your hips. Squat down by bending both knees and lower the kettlebell down between your legs, then swing it up and out in front of you as you straighten your legs and shift your hips forward to drive it up. At the top, your arms will be outstretched in front of you and the kettlebell will be about shoulder height. In one continuous motion, allow the kettlebell to come back down between your legs as you bend your knees and bring your hips back to position yourself for the next rep.