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MMA Training Plan: Get in Fighting Form!

Train like an MMA Fighter

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Mixed Martial Arts, also known as cage fighting, is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Originally only the domain of men, women have recently been stepping into the ring for no-holds-barred matches. Kendra Ruff, 25, was first introduced to the sport by her MMA fighter ex-husband... who told her she couldn't do it because she was "too pretty."

Now she's the No. 1 amateur in her state and remains undefeated. It's not the blood and guts that keeps her coming back—although there's plenty of that—but the confidence that comes from fighting.

"It's like having a secret. I can put on my cute dress and go out for a night on the town and not have to worry. I always feel in control."

Now Ruff works as a boxing instructor and personal trainer for Lifetime fitness and owns her own business, Iron, LLC . To get the same "sexy sweaty" feeling as Ruff, she offered to take SHAPE readers through one of her killer conditioning routines, no equipment necessary!

Forward Rolls

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Relive your playground glory days with this move we all learned as kids. From a crouched position with your hands on the ground in front of you, tuck your chin, push with your feet, and roll your body over! Do 5 rolls total.

Fight tip: If you haven't somersaulted lately you may be surprised by how disorienting they can be. Take it easy, go slow, and use your hands so you don't take your weight on your neck.

Shoulder Rolls

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Take your somersault up a notch by turning it into a diving shoulder roll. Starting from a standing position, lean forward, tuck your right shoulder, and roll. Use the momentum to help you stand back up at the end in a slight lunge. Ruff uses this move to avoid her opponent in the cage, but you can use it to help improve your balance, coordination, and core strength.

Fight tip: Practice on a soft mat or surface and make sure you are rolling over your shoulder, not your head. You'll be flying like Jackie Chan in no time!

Rollback Stand Inchworm

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Challenge your balance, coordination, and strength with this roll into an inchworm. Crouch with your rear down by your heels. Roll backwards and then forwards, standing up with the momentum. From standing, bend at your hips and reach down for the ground in front of you. Walk your hands out until you are in a full plank position. Walk your feet back to your hands. That's one rep. Repeat 5 times.

Fight tip: As anyone who's tried Pilates knows, the humble roll works a lot more than you think. Just be careful not to roll so far back you go onto your neck. If the move is too difficult, put your hands down to help you roll up to standing.

Leg Through

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Plank is a killer move for your core, but just holding still can get boring (it's okay, you can admit it!). Amp up your abs and shoulder workout with a little leg action. Begin in a solid plank position with your feet and hands wide. Sweep your right leg underneath your left and tap your toe as far out on your left side as you can. Return your right leg to plank. Repeat on your left leg. Aim for 10 sweeps on each leg.

Fight tip: Every movement begins in your core, because having a strong core can mean the difference between finishing a fight and getting sidelined with an injury. Adding the rotation with your leg makes you more stable throughout your full range of motion.


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The Scorpion: One stretch to rule them all! Warm-up your hip flexors, back, shoulders, chest, and quads with this stretch that's as fun as it is effective. Start on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders. Bend your right knee and then lift your right leg as far as you can across your body until you feel a good stretch. Try to keep your chest on the ground. Hold for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.

Fight tip: Flexibility comes in handy in the fight cage, allowing Ruff to slip through locks and holds. She makes it look easy, but touching your toe to the ground is advanced. Just aim for a good stretch and eventually work up to the full pretzel.


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Shrimping looks as funny as it sounds but this move, unique to jiu-jitsu and MMA, is great for training multi-directional movement skills. Lie on your back with your hands up to guard your face and your knees bent, feet flat on the ground. In one smooth motion, flip to your right side and jackknife your legs (pictured). Return to your back and "shrimp" the other direction. Try 10 in each direction.

Fight tip: This little movement is a critical one in MMA fights as it helps the fighter wiggle out of their opponent's grasp. While you would hope to never need that skill in real life, it's a good one to train just in case.

Triangle Hip Raises

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MMA fighters often have someone's head stuck in between their legs for a triangle hold, but it's probably best if you just pretend. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and hands up to guard your face. Lift your right ankle on top of your left knee so that your right leg makes a triangle. Contract your core and use your abs (not hands!) to lift your hips and rear off the floor. Extend your bottom leg straight up and continue lifting your hips as high as is comfortable. Slowly lower back down. Repeat 5 times before switching legs.

Fight tip: Try not to put your hands on the floor to stabilize yourself; make your core do all the work!

Log Roll Pushup

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Incorporate core work, lateral movement, and coordination drills into your humble pushup. Start by performing a standard pushup (knees or toes). Then tuck your right arm and roll smoothly to your back. Hold for 1 breath with your arms and feet lifted off the floor (pictured). Without putting your hands down, roll to your left until you are on your stomach with your hands and feet raised. Hold for 1 breath. Put your hands down and do a pushup. Repeat the sequence by tucking your left arm to roll. That's one rep. Do 3 complete reps.

Fight tip: Who doesn't love rolling around on the floor? But MMA fighters have good reason to practice ground movements as well as upright exercises—a large part of this type of fighting is jiu-jitsu or grappling and Ruff needs to be as efficient laying on the ground as she is standing on it.

Single-Leg Split Squat Jumps

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Also known as jumping lunges, these plyo moves are a serious butt-blaster. Like all plyo moves, they also give a serious cardio burst at the same time! Start in a lunge position with your back knee almost on the ground. Jump as high as you can, switching legs in the air and landing in a lunge position with the second leg forward. Move quickly and repeat for 20 total.

Fight tip: Your glutes are the largest muscle in your body and should be providing the main source of power in all your large movements such as running and jumping. Yet so many of us neglect working our backsides. You should really feel this move in your glutes. If you don't, adjust your lunges so more of your weight is on your back leg and be careful not to lean over your front leg.

Sprawl Burpee

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Everyone's love-to-hate move, the burpee, just got even more loveable, er, hateable. But no matter how you feel about them, this full-body move works your body from head to toe. Begin like a normal burpee: from standing, squat down and jump your legs back into a wide pushup position. Now, lower your body towards the ground and sweep back up through your hands to "up dog" position (pictured). Jump your feet back to your hands and return to standing. That's one rep. Perform 5 reps, slowly.

Fight tip: Being able to control your movements from high to low positions will help you whether you're dodging punches or tree branches on your trail run! If you want to be hardcore like Ruff, add a tuck jump at the end of each rep.

Judo Pushup

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Ruff didn't get her buff shoulders just from punching (in fact, the force behind your punch is supposed to come mainly from your hips) but from a lot of compound upper-body movements like this Judo pushup. Just like "divebombers" or "Hindu pushups," start in a down dog or V-pushup position with your hands and feet on the ground and your hips up in the air. Leading with your nose, scoop your body down between your hands, skimming the ground and ending in an up dog position (pictured). Reverse the movement back to the start position. That's one rep. Perform 5 slow reps.

Fight tip: If reversing the scoop on the way back up is too difficult, take it out and just push back into down dog.

Tuck Hurdle Jump

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"Plyometrics are a necessary first step for training quickness and power," Ruff says. To do these, pick a line perpendicular to your body (imaginary is fine). Jump explosively to the side and forward—over your "line"— tucking your knees at the top. Land softly on the other side. Repeat by jumping to the other side and forward. Do 6 jumps forward and 6 jumps backward.

Fight tip: Plyos are great for training fast-twitch muscle fibers, the type that helps you do power moves like sprinting, lifting heavy, and, yes, punching. They're especially important for Ruff, as they allow her to move explosively to avoid sending a "tell" to her opponent.

Forward Body Pull

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Strong shoulders are no good without a strong upper-back and arms to support them, and these forward body pulls do just the trick by training all three muscle groups at the same time.

Lie on your stomach on a slick floor (you can do this on carpet but the carpet may bite back!). Stretch your arms straight out in front of you with palms down on the floor. Keep your feet slightly lifted. Contract your upper back and pull your body forward with your arms, sliding all the way through until your hands are down by your bra line. (Kendra is pictured in the middle of the movement.) Lift up your hands and stretch your arms out again and repeat 10 times. The janitors at your gym are going to love you!

Fight tip: This feels like just an upper-body move, but holding your core in tight—think bellybutton to spine, not sucking in—makes a huge difference in how easy it is to move through these.

Skate Jumps

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Indulge your inner speed skater and work your legs with these plyometric skate jumps. Again, find your perpendicular line. Crouch low and hop sideways and forward across your line. As you land, bring your trailing foot behind you but not touching the ground (pictured). Push off your standing leg to jump back across the line, moving forward each time. Do 6 skaters forward and 6 backwards.

Fight tip: Stay low to the ground. We're going for explosive power, not Broadway leaps (although jazz hands are encouraged!).

Plyometric Pushups

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Clapping pushups aren't just for meatheads and Army recruits! Ruff insists that every girl can train to do at least one of these impressive moves—and it's worth the effort. Plyo pushups not only work your shoulders, chest, arms, and core like normal pushups, but adding the cardio and explosive elements will really up your strength fast. Plus, it makes a great party trick!

To do these, get in a standard pushup position. Lower your body down until your elbows are bent to 90 degrees. Then push as hard as you can off your hands. Aim for getting one good clapping pushup.

Fight tip: No one wants to nosedive into the carpet so take it easy at first to learn the motion. Start by using this progression: 1. Do a kneeling pushup with your feet braced against a wall. 2. Move to a full pushup position with your feet against the wall. 3. Move away from the wall and aim to just get a little air under your hands. 4. Work up to clapping (For yourself! Because you deserve it!)!

Side Hold Crunch

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Core stability doesn't come from situps but rather from using it in specific motions in all directions. To make sure you're targeting your core as an entire unit, try this side hold crunch move: Begin by holding a side plank position with feet stacked and your top arm lifted to shoulder height. Slowly lift your top leg and hold the side plank for 1 full breath. Then crunch your knee towards your elbow (pictured) and back out again. That's one rep. Do 5 slow reps on each side.

Fight tip: If you get wobbly, drop to your knee on your bottom leg. You'll still get a great abs workout.

V-Sit Shadow Box

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Every move begins with your core so fighters work theirs a lot. Try Ruff's variation on the Russian twist by balancing on your rear with your feet off the ground and your hands in guard up by your face. Punch quickly as you turn side to side. Perform 26 reps (26 because you can't have uneven obliques!).

Fight tip: To make this move easier, place your toes on the floor. To amp it up, hold someone's head between your knees and punch them like they do in MMA. Kidding! Leave the broken noses to the pros (Kendra's had hers broken twice!).

Sled Sprints

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Sprints may not be fun while you are doing them, but you'll reap the metabolic and fat-burning rewards for up to 48 hours afterward! Ruff advises sprinting at maximal effort for 40 meters or 20 seconds. Rest just long enough to get your breath back—anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on how conditioned you are—and then repeat. 10 more times. Yes, you read that right. You'll thank us when you're slipping into your skinny jeans!

Fight tip: Speed is integral to nearly every sport you play, so training specifically for speed is a great way to enhance your sport-specific skills. To make this move even more effective, try pushing a weighted sled (sometimes called a "prowler") across a slick floor.

Shadow Boxing

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Bring both fists up by your face in guard. Hold your shoulders and core in tight. Keeping your left hand by your face, punch the air with your right. Extend your arm until it's straight but without locking your elbow (pictured). Quickly bring your right hand back as you punch with your left. Do a left-right-left, right-left-right series of punches using a 1-2-3 count. Punch as quickly as you can. Do 3 sets of 3 minutes each.

Fight tip: Punching the air and punching a person are two very different feelings (so I'm told) but shadow boxing is a great way to practice proper punching form, work on your speed, and get your heart rate up.