One of the WORST Exercises for MMA

Whenever I train people in the gym, I often cringe at what I see other people doing.

Bad form is everywhere and I can see people’s bodies getting destroyed as they’re supposedly working out.

Not only that, some of the exercises and routines I observe people doing are pure lunacy.

But one thing I can’t stand is when mixed martial artists are told to perform exercises that are completely useless or downright dangerous.

I mean, if you’re going to tell a fighter what to do, you’d better be damned sure that you know what you’re talking about, because this guy’s (or increasingly so, gal’s) health is at stake.

For the average Joe who hits the gym to get bigger biceps and impress the ladies, a little bad advice here and there won’t kill him.

But for the combat athlete who’s about to step into the cage against some brute who wants to tear his head off, poor training advice could mean the difference between winning a fight and being too gassed to keep your hands up and getting KO’d with an ugly cowboy punch.

Needless to say, I take my job seriously.

So in this article, I’m going to expose one of the absolute WORST exercises to do as a fighter.

And just because you see a UFC fighter doing an exercise on TV or in a YouTube vid doesn’t mean it’s gotten them to where they are…

A lot of times fighters would be better off not doing an exercise instead of ruining their bodies with some of the idiotic stuff I’ve seen.

Anyway, without further adieu, here’s one of the WORST exercises for MMA…

Drum roll please…

PuNChing WiTh BaNDs (hardcore)

punch with bands

This is a popular one and while on the surface it seems like it would be a good exercises, it’s not.

Here’s why…

When you throw a punch, you want your arm to be relaxed and more like a whip as opposed to being tight and pushing instead of punching.

You also want full extension of your arm and once you’ve achieved this, you want to pull your arm back as fast as possible to throw the next one or defend yourself.

But when you punch with bands, 3 things happen that will screwup your punching mechanics:

1) You need a tense arm to punch with the band, not a relaxed one

2) You tend to limit your range of motion punching with bands instead of using full extension

3) The band pulls your arm back instead of you pulling your arm back, so your body gets trained to not pull your arm back (bad for combo speed and bad for defence

This is what happens when ‘experts’ who have no foundation in how the body actually works or the actual mechanics of martial arts skills looks at MMA and tries to create a training program for it.

They basically get you to mimic the skills of the sport with added weights and resistance.

Your strength and conditioning program should train your muscles and nervous system to be stronger, faster and have better endurance, but it should not try to mimic the skills you perform and spend hundreds of hours mastering, because it will screwup the mechanics and timing, wasting all of your hard work.

If you want to be good at punching with your fists, train punching with your fists, don’t train punching with weights or bands in your fists (light dumbbells 1-1.5 lbs are an exception when used in certain situations, it’s like punching with a heavy boxing glove on).

The role of your strength and conditioning program is to develop your muscles and nervous system.

You then take your new, improved muscles and nervous system and train your punching so that you punch harder, faster and longer.

If the mechanics and timing of the exercise doesn’t screw with the technique, it’s A-OK, but in this example, the mechanics and timing are very different and will harm technique, so I recommend avoiding it. There are other ways to develop punching power, speed and endurance where you don’t need to use this exercise.

See, I’m not just a pretty face, am I? :)

So there’s one of the worst exercises you can do for MMA…

(Don’t worry, my Ultimate MMA Strength and Conditioning Program is purposely free of these foolish exercises)

But there are a lot more that I see all the time and I’m sure you see too.

Hit me up with what you think is one of the worst exercises are in the Comments section below and in my next article, I’ll take the worst of the worst and break them down biomechanisticologically-style.

Oh and be a good netizen and hit the ‘Like’ button on the way down for me. Thanks. :)

Leave a Reply

141 Comments on "One of the WORST Exercises for MMA"

Michael M
4 years 4 months ago

Tricep dips using a bench or chair. It is even worse when ones does them with a weight plate on their lap. This exercise is horrible for the rotary cuff (shoulder).

Interesting article. I never thought of it that way. Thanks for the post.

4 years 4 months ago

Yes these are absolutely murder on the shoulder joint.

4 years 3 months ago

!!!!! Okay , scary considering they are regularly shown in a magazine considered the Mecca of bodybuilding/fitness magazines. Cut that one out of the old routine eh?

4 years 4 months ago

So then the solution would be to add *another* set of bands, being pulled from *in front* of the puncher, so as to achieve equillibrium and thus, resistance in *both* forward and backward directions.
But that’s complicated, and looks lame like this dude’s picture.

By the way, my deliberating MMA fans,
The boxing legends of old trained shoulder-deep in a swimming pool for this purpose exactly.

Have fun re-discovering pugilistic training methods that have been around forever.

4 years 4 months ago

alright eric what do you think about this exercise for jumping and kicking power(note you use alot less weight then on a normal squat) first squat down as far as you can while keeping a straight back. second jump forward as far as you can. on your next rep jump backawrds instead of forwards. repeat. ive been using this to increase the effectiveness of my muay thai flying knee

Kru Dee
4 years 4 months ago

Yeah I agree I never teach this exercise to my students. My old boxing coach used to make me do this drill all the time and wondered why my punches were always slower than my opponents. I used to bench 525lbs and squat 800lbs and used to literally rip apart heavy bags with my kicks, reality is that the heavy bag didn’t move or hit back. When I went to Thailand I got my butt handed to me by a 150lbs former Muay Thai Champ and I was only 180lbs. My kicks were a lot slower than his and so were my punches, and not to mentioned I was gassed by the end of the 1st round. I got lost by a TKO in the 2nd round.

2 years later, I left the weights alone and stuck with good old fashion push-ups, sit-ups, single leg squats, and pull-ups. I fought at 190lbs (gain 10lbs) fought the same guy, he was at 1678lbs this time and I put him away in 4 rounds. Eric Wong is the man.

4 years 4 months ago

It’s an interesting stance you take Eric, especially when someone like JC Santanna uses them in his MMA training DVD. It’s part of the MMA circuits he shows. It’s not like he doesn’t have any experience with fighters, he’s got a number of high profile fighters training with him right now.

I was surprised to see this listed as a “horrible” exercise.

You mentioned that your muscles are not pulling themselves back, instead the band is during the press. Could not the same be said when you bench press with bands?

4 years 4 months ago

You guys all seems to be missing the point. What makes this exercise a bad one is that it messes up your punching technique. When you’re benching you’re training up your muscles – when you’re punching you’re practicing form and technique. By messing with the way you punch (because you’re not really going to wear a resistance band in the ring, are you?) You risk ruining your techniques. That’s the point – not that resistance band training is bad for working out in general. Just don’t apply it to your punches.

4 years 4 months ago

Patrick – you summed that up perfectly!

4 years 3 months ago

Sorry Eric, almost “perfectly” :) I do not want to argue that the punch with bands are good or bad exercise(but not the worst), we are all different in many views, also in how our body react to some conditioning exrxs. For example some champs could not live without “long slow boring cardio” and some “trainers” says it is BS.
You know that most high level fighters use complex programing in strength training, so no 2 strength training in the week are same. Technique is trained usualy 3-6 times weekly, for years, in or out of the season, it became part of fighter personality, instinct… So if someone use band punches once per week in the preparation period, in my subjective opinion it will not ruine the technique of any experienced fighter, especialy the one who is good in boxing techniques. Maybe it ruines beginner technique.
My +point goes to Maki – excuse me Patrick :)

4 years 4 months ago

It might have a negative impact on your technique if you drill this exercise all the time. If applied properly I see no reason why one could not use it in their arsenal of exercises for combative sports training.

You don’t bring a barbell in the cage or ring either. You use band punches to enhance a quality such as speed strength for your sport, just like you would use a barbell to build up your maximal strength in your legs for example.

4 years 4 months ago

No, you don’t bring a barbell in the cage, but you’re also not mimicking the fighting stance and punching motion with a bench press.

The quality of speed strength can be enhanced better with other exercises – band punching interferes with technique too much to make it justifiable when many other exercises could be used.

It’s the potential payoff vs. the risk that must be weighed and with all of the different points – the risk far outweighs the benefit in this case, especially considering the fact that other options are available.

John H. Davis Jr. CPT, CMMACC
4 years 4 months ago


Great point. I feel the same way. Hit your bag for three minutes for this one.

4 years 4 months ago

Would you agree that resistance bands build more “functional” strength than weights for MMA or self-defense purposes?

Franco Crincoli
4 years 4 months ago

AGREED!! Punching with bands is ridiculous. I refer back to the conjugated style of periodization for speed strength i.e. a Dynamic Effort day. You can put the bands on a bar, KB, around yourself for plyo pushups, but not for punching.

And great comment about the band around the hips – well said.

jeff mann
4 years 4 months ago

Usually there isn’t this much controversy about your advice, Eric! Seems like a lot of differing views on this one. Your advice has always been solid so far.

4 years 4 months ago

Controversy and differing opinions are a good thing and much appreciated. I like to be challenged. :)

strength training for wrestling
4 years 4 months ago

Great post Eric! I see this and punching with DBs too. I really like how you break the 3 cons to this exercise down. It really supports what you’re saying and also makes it nearly impossible for the morons who do this to argue lol!

4 years 4 months ago

Sorry guys I meant ‘ what you guys THINK of training kicking with ankle weights’

4 years 4 months ago

Also think that is a bad idea for the same reasons, and it also messes up your form when you take them off if you do not have core stability to begin with.

What I’ve done that really helps is increase my flexibility and slow motion kicking. If you can snap out a high kick quickly, you can snap out a leg kick even faster. The slow motion kicking trains the muscles used in the kick so that when you perform the kick at full speed those muscles know exactly how to activate from all of that practice.

4 years 4 months ago

Larry, I think thats also one of the worst things you can do. Probably for all of the reasons Eric mentioned above. But also because with certain kicks, that extra weight puts a lot of stress on those ligaments and tendons in your knees. One of my good friends and training partners snapped one of those ligaments clean (acl, mcl, you know one of those potential career enders) all because the extra weight threw off the way he landed his kick.

Even if you’re extremely careful, those weights can put a lot of stress on your joints over time. So, long story short, kicking with weights is also a BAD idea. You wanna make your kicks stronger, work the heavy bag, and do some squats and leg curls. Do some speed drills. Don’t kick with ankle weights.

4 years 4 months ago

I agree that ankle weights do more damage than good as your balance points are thrown off.

One of the things we do to work strength in our kicks is to start every kick out of a deer stance (or modified lunge) and keeping the front leg slightly bent as you make contact with the heavy bag. The idea is form and power, not speed.

4 years 4 months ago

Okay, while I’m not exactly an expert at all, one of my strong points is kicks, and I’ll tell you I’ve tried a lot to improve my kicks, including the ankle weights. DO NOT do it. It hurt like hell and I already have bad knees (I grew faster than my hamstrings, which caused almost irreparable damage to the cartilage). Instead, I decided that I should try approaching the training for each kick a little differently (since I realized that power comes from form, not pure strength).

For my thai kicks, I start with my kicking leg in front and slightly raised, my hips square facing forward, with 90-100% of my weight on the supporting leg. Then, I rotate my hips and whip the kicking leg out (not hitting anything) and try to stop it on my own a little past where the kick would land, and bring it back instead of spinning around like I missed. I repeat that until I feel better about my form, both on delivery AND on the retract. Then I let the kick spin me around while on the balls of my supporting foot, which helps my balance, follow-through power, and ability to rotate comfortably. After all that, I practice proper form with the kicking leg in the back. My power improved tremendously.

Also, squats, leg curls, and even doing the capoeira ginga helps me a lot too (the ginga trains rotational movement).

4 years 3 months ago

Another great exercise for developing kicks is to perform them in super slow motion. Break them down, bit by bit, while maintaining perfect form. For example, for a TKD roundhouse kick, you can break it down into 6 steps.

1. Raise your bent knee to at least waist high.
2. Rotate your hips until your core and standing leg have completely rotated (almost 180), and your kicking leg has rotated a full 90 degrees inward. Try and maintain a fairly erect posture without bending forward at the waist
3. Extend the kick and hold for 3-4 seconds. maintain posture. For more intensity try to raise the height of the kick
4. Retract or recoil the kick
5. Rotate back to a forward stance
6. Return your leg to a fighting stance.

Focusing on the form as Ka’ili said, will get you the most power in your technique. To further train power, perform exercises that actually strengthen those muscles involved. For example, Roundhouse kick uses quads, hips, glutes, and core when properly performed. Squats and Lunges are great for strengthening those muscles. Bands and ankle weights just throw off your balance completely, while putting extra strain on your joints in a way they were never meant to handle.

Returning to the punching discussion… anyone tried that “Perfect Pushup” thing that actually has you rotate your hands as you push?

4 years 4 months ago

Thanks for sharing your experience with ankle weights so no one else uses them, Ka’ili – and for your recommendations on how to build more powerful kicks!

Cool name btw!

4 years 3 months ago

No problem. Like I said, I’m not an expert, but having been born with weak legs inspired me to work on my kicks. And, of course, being raised on Bruce Lee movies! I’m glad to say that my knees are fine now, from physical-therapy stretching. My cartilage has actually healed (don’t ask how it happened). But yeah, those ankle weights didn’t help at all.

And thanks, my name’s Hawaiian.

4 years 4 months ago

I am in full agreement with Ka’ili’s technique. This increases balance, core strength, and over all thai kick mechanics. To add a note, practicing this for low, middle, and high thai kick will help aswell. One very similar exercise/drill that will produce great results is (only if you have a thai pad holder that is experienced!!!!!) with the same square possition and weight distribution, raise block (not pseudocheck style) a low-mid middle light kick thrown buy the holdler. Immediatly from the block and without returning the blocking led to the ground throw a middle to high kick to the thai pads. Return the kick to your original possition and repeat. Fluidity and sound mechamics are key. Eventually the kicker will never need to touch the kicking leg to the canvas. Your kick will absoultly increase in power. Remember always that good mechanics drilled will lead to speed and that is what produces consistent power. As stated, a good holder is a must!!!!

4 years 4 months ago

I m curious to know what you guys of training kicking ( middle, low and push front) with ankle weights?

4 years 4 months ago

We have to remember that teh bosu and resistance bands came from Physiotherapists (Physical Therapy) They are rehab tools used to encourage stabilisation in a joint. You have to think outside the box when using this equipment. MMA is about power, not bulk. Bosu is great for plyometrics, bands are great for eccentric training. In MMA you need to train in a way that relates to the movements used, thats where sparring came from. The training you do has to carry over to the activity in order to benefit so just replicate movements add in a weighted vest, power bags and as I mentioned, plyometric bodyweight exercises.

4 years 4 months ago

I tend to be in agreement with Joe,I think if you balance it with other punching related exercises i couldnt see problems,I wouldnt want to use bands and punch out to a static position and just hold it there,i could probably see where you were coming from,in a shadow boxing senario i couldnt see problems,I have one of those S3 shadow boxers from century products and feel its beneficial to my training.

It would be nice to see if there was any scientific evidence to support your theory.

By the way i enjoy your demostrations and use many of your exercises to train my boxers.

Keep up the good work.

4 years 4 months ago

I’ll look for the article that studied swimmers and their use of bands and how it increased their rate of injury – not sure if I’ll be able to find it but I’ll look.

To my knowledge there are no studies on boxers punching with bands, but I’ll take a peek.

4 years 4 months ago

I’m not sure I share the same opinion on full extension when it comes to punching. You should not be fully extending the arm when you strike as it can increase the tendency to hyperextend at the elbow. Knowing your range and working within it allows you to know how much you should be extending your arm out.

I use bands to punch, but it is on a limited basis. I use it for short spurts (5-8 seconds) to increase punching speed combined with another upper body explosive movement. I also make sure the resistance of the band is light.

It’s all about context.

4 years 4 months ago

That’s a good point Maki I think I should edit the article – there is proper full extension of a punch then full extension of the joint that you want to avoid…

What I’m talking is full extension of the punch that is often limited with band work.

4 years 4 months ago

I see some good in the band and some bad . There is value to building muscle through out the punch movement and of course punching without tension is correct. So use the band both with proper mechanics with good posture and head position so as not to cause muscle imbalances (not yet mentioned.) Then go free style relaxed with good punching posture which is not the same as good posture for building muscle balance.

4 years 4 months ago

You can definitely build muscle throughout the punch movement, but the main point I’m making here is that screwing with good punching mechanics is not a good idea!

Definitely do pressing movements, get stronger in those muscles – you need them for things other than punching, like grappling.

I’ll have write a followup article on this.

4 years 4 months ago

Worst exercises
1) at the Muay gym
people consistently Grunting while shadowing with dumbells moving as well as moving their arms and legs in all directions instead of focusing on form. This type rarely improve and genrally are nt competitors.

2) at the gym or sports center.
People mimicking movements of their sports in front of the mirror with or without dumbells. Like the previous type they are generally not competitors.

4 years 4 months ago

If the band is loose and or if you use the body to throw the punch you do not have to tense until the resistance activates training your body to stabilize with different stimuli, and ranges of activation. I am also confused at your opinion you need full extension in a punch to get power for it be effective? When you torque and generate power from the trunk and core you should be able to hit effectively from any distance. According to your philosophy a heavy bag is worthless, you cannot hit at full extension. There is also a difference between doing the exercise generically as in the picture and using it to cross train for stabilization. Try hand weights and bands together, play with the angles from different positions, attached to a solid object not held. I have trained competitive fighters, power lifters,and body builders for explosion, physique, and directional stabilization and they are all amazed. Think you are off base on this one?

4 years 4 months ago

Hey Joe thanks for the comments.

Even starting with a loose band, at the end the band is still pulling your arm back, otherwise why use the band in the first place?

With band punching we’re only focusing on straight punches, not curvilinear punches like hooks or uppercuts.

On the heavy bag you can still train full extension in that you punch through the bag, not at it. Maybe not every straight punch reaches full extension but your initial contact should.

When it comes to training for stabilization, there’s no need to mimic the punch, you can do a simple cable press with good scapular movement and focus on core stability – but why mess with punching mechanics if you don’t have to while training stabilization?

See the comment I left above to Peedy for my thoughts on different angles and punching mechanics.

4 years 4 months ago

very good observation and recommendation

4 years 4 months ago

Hey Eric, I just want to get your opinion on zen do Kai. I’ve never seen it before, but I’ve heard great things about it. I’m interested in joining a class and would like to eat your expertise on whether it’s similar to those MMA matches on UFC or if it’s really just karate. I hope I’m not disrespecting martial arts here, but I really want to learn something that’s similar to the MMA that I watch on television, instead of other styles.


4 years 3 months ago

There are two Zendokai’s. One in Australia with a long history and one out of Japan based on a good stand up tradition (Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin Karate) and grappling. It is not bad but just fairly new so the leaders lack the depth of experience of some other places.

But all that is not as relevant as the quality of the individual teacher’s ability to transmit wisdom. If you go and learn a lot and enjoy the environment and keep growing then great. There are good styles with bad teachers and vice versa.

So try them out for a month and see how it feels inside.

4 years 4 months ago

My step bro took a similar martial art, but it was lacking in some areas(specifically the ground). Whenever we would spar, I found that he could strike more accurately and much harder than anybody of the same size that I trained with at my MMA gym, but he crumbled whenever I took him down because he couldn’t figure out what to do from his back. And when he would try and take me down, I’d end up taking his back almost immediately.
Not saying to completely discard the idea, but just giving my experiences on traditional styles claiming to be mixed martial arts. Hopefully this helps :)

4 years 4 months ago

Clement – thanks for the question but unfortunately I have no experience or knowledge of zen do Kai.

But if you want the real experience, the best bet is to find a school that offers the following:

a) Striking (Kickboxing, Muay Thai are great)
b) Grappling (BJJ, Submission Wrestling)
c) Mixed Classes

That’s the real deal.

4 years 4 months ago

Thoroughly enjoy your insights! As a trainer I observe poor exercise mechanics on a regular basis. There are far too many instances to name. However, I’ve always been intrigued by cardio machine junkies who slowly read the newspaper or engage in phone conversations while “burning fat”!!!!!!!!

4 years 4 months ago

Great point about bands! I think they have there place but punching is not one of them!

4 years 4 months ago

People doing crunches to spot reduce.

“Arm day”

“Leg day” consisting of machine leg extensions, hamstring curls and calve raises….after a brutal 2 hour arm workout of course.

Cable crossovers.

Half reps Squats.

Half rep bench press….”cuz my shoulder hurts if I touch my chest.”

Pull-overs because Arnold did them.

Anything on a Bosu ball. I don’t remember the last time the ground moved.

60 minutes on the elliptical for “cardio”

Biceps curls in the squat rack.

Wrist curls to increase grip strength (In the squat rack obviously).

Sitting down to perform every exercise.

I’ll stop here.

4 years 4 months ago

I’m gonna experiment a bit longer with this one before I say I agree. In one respect (and with all due respect to you) you are saying not to listen to the experts who advocate these things, but the flip side to that is how ‘expert’ are you at using these?

There is definitely a WRONG way to use these, in accord with what you say. But if there is a wrong way there may also be a right way. If the user is aware of what you say, so uses the cables in a way that offers SOME resistance, but not so much that they cause technical breakdown, then I can see that the added resistance could work well. Also, if they are used as part of an overall training program that does drill punching technique correctly, they could be very useful.

I have only just started using them and one benefit I DO find they help with is balance. The cable resistance forces you to center and load your weight in each punch on the correct leg which means you engage the core well. Too many punchers get the weight wrong, which is hard to correct without the guidance of a very good and experienced coach. These cables let you FEEL the balance well.

It may not be as obvious to an experienced puncher as their weight and balance may already be good, but for the new student it could be invaluable.

The jury is still out.

4 years 3 months ago

“so uses the cables in a way that offers SOME resistance, but not so much that they cause technical breakdown, then I can see that the added resistance could work well. Also, if they are used as part of an overall training program that does drill punching technique correctly, they could be very useful.”

Good point.

4 years 4 months ago

Touche – point well taken on the ‘experts’ front! However I am referring to guys who have very limited knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, physiology etc basically the exercise sciences… Because these types of exercises are the result of the lack of scientific training or higher level of study.

Anyway, I’ve used them in the past with poor results (listening to fighters) and one point I can see that I failed to mention in the article is the increased risk of injury…

It’s related to point #3 – the bands pull your arm back, you don’t have to… This shuts off the muscles that are responsible for this (external rotators of the shoulder, posterior delt, scap retractors, lats to some extent), and when you go to throw punches regularly, if the motor pattern is trained this way, you’ll basically throw your humerus (upper arm bone) out of the socket, causing a shoulder strain…

This happens as well because of the mode that people use these – high reps, timed sets, meant to ‘burn’ the shoulders… This is taking bad form of an exercise and multiplying it by 20 in terms of imprint on the nervous system and motor patterning.

There is no way to train punching with a band that doesn’t screw with your form, because the band cannot pull straight back (because your shoulder is in the way) so it has to be place slightly above and/or outside the shoulder, causing a pull up and/or out, screwing with the force vector… Maybe I’ll create a diagram if this is difficult to visualize.

I’ll have to test out the balance thing myself though – from thinking about it, it may help, but I’ll try it out and get back to you. Thanks for the idea. But I still wouldn’t try to ‘punch’ with it – I’d do a press exercise in good form that doesn’t totally mimic the stance and mechanics of the punch, since if focusing on balance, we wouldn’t need to do this.

4 years 4 months ago

Any type of full range sit-up, possibly the worst. Bad for your spine, and creates tight hip flexors.

4 years 4 months ago

I stopped going to the gym when the guys there started to do bench press with as much weight on the bar as gozilla could squat .they would have three spoters or more like lifters one of them would get ready to bench then the three would lower the bar down then lift it again because there is no way anyone could lift the bar. then they would pat the guy on the back that pretended to do the lift an say great lift.thats why i train at home no fakes there

4 years 2 months ago

…thats how power lifters/football players/strong men train. With heavy weight and safety in mind. Don’t be so quick to judge until your under the bar!

4 years 2 months ago

yeah, that’s a way of training that could be use.. but it depends on the technique you have, some people just put too much weight and curve their back because it’s too much for them and they do the movement wrong, and maybe will have problems later.

But it sure can be done well and it can be good sometimes.

4 years 2 months ago

I don’t know how Eric feels about people posting other routines on his site – but I’m sure he’ll take it down if need be…

Here’s an awesome PL style routine that works for all types of athletes….

4 years 4 months ago

Totally agree with you on this one, when I was working with bands I would never hold them in my hands for those exact reason. I did however find that the were useful if I placed it around my hips (or core area). I have always believed that to build a strong and powerful punch you must have a strong and powerful core; and by placing the resistance on my hips instead of my hands I felt that I developed faster punches as a result. Think it over and let me know if what I suggest has any merit, would love to get your perspective.

4 years 4 months ago

DEFINITELY – the bands around the hips is a great exercise for training rotation speed. Highly recommended!