why mma fighters don't lift weigts

Why MMA Fighters Avoid Building Too Much Muscle?

There is a simple reason, why MMA fighters usually are skinny and don’t have so much muscle. That is weight classes. If a fighter gains too much muscle, they might end up in a higher weight class.

That is the main reason MMA fighters are so skinny. Another reason is that having too much muscle will eventually make you slower and stiff.

In this post, we will dive deeper into the weight classes of MMA, do MMA fighters lift weights, and why they might not. Let’s get started!

MMA Fighters avoid building muscle because of weight classes

In MMA, your matches are based on weight classes. This means, you will get matched against opponents, that are in the same weight class as you are. Let’s take a look at the weight class chart, shall we? (This chart was last updated in June of 2022)

Weight ClassUpper Weight Limit (LB)Upper Weight Limit (KG)
Strawweight115 lb52.2 kg
Flyweight125 lb56.7 kg
Bantamweight135 lb61.2 kg
Featherweight145 lb65.8 kg
Lightweight155 lb70.3 kg
Super lightweight165 lb74.8 kg
Welterweight170 lb77.1 kg
Super welterweight175 lb79.4 kg
Middleweight185 lb83.9 kg
Super middleweight195 lb88.5 kg
Light heavyweight205 lb93.0 kg
Cruiserweight225 lb102.1 kg
Heavyweight265 lb120.2 kg
Super heavyweightNo limitNo limit
MMA weight classes of Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Source.

By looking at the table, we can see that weight classes usually advance when added around 7 to 10% to the previous weight. Therefore, if you can maintain a lower weight, you will be matched against lighter-weight opponents.

10 lb addition might not sound like a lot, but if that 10 lb is almost 10% of your weight, it will have a significant difference. That is why MMA fighters try to keep their weight as low as possible.

Also about the super heavyweight class, like the table says, there is no limit. This means you can weigh 266 lb and be matched against someone who weighs 350 lb or more.

For women, the weight classes mostly follow the table above. However, some organizations also have an additional atomweight weight class, where the upper limit is 105 pounds or 48 kilograms.

Do MMA fighters lift weights?

Despite avoiding gaining weight, MMA fighters do lift weights as part of their training. Not all weight lifting is bodybuilding. You can lift weights just to keep your muscles in shape.

By lifting weights, you can get resistance for your muscles easier, compared to just doing regular MMA training. So yes, MMA fighters also lift weights. Just not for the purpose of bodybuilding.

How often MMA fighters lift weights depends on the level and goals of the fighter. If you wish to be a professional fighter, you have to train like one.

If you want to just have MMA as a hobby, lifting weights is not necessary. You can get really far as an MMA hobbyist, with just regular MMA training and some cardio.

Cardio plays a big role in MMA. If you are out of breath after a minute in the ring, it’s not going to end well. More about why MMA fighters do so much cardio in this post.

If you train MMA, do you have to lift weights?

Being an MMA fighter, you don’t necessarily have to lift weights. It of course depends on your other training as well as your goals.

MMA fighting comes down to three pillars, if one is weaker, the other two can not completely fill the gap.

Three aspects of MMA fighting
  • If you lack technique, your strength and endurance won’t get you far in MMA.
  • If you lack strength, your punches and endurance won’t make them powerful enough.
  • If you lack endurance, you can not throw powerful punches for long enough.

Find out what is your weakest part, and focus on developing that. This applies to a lot of other aspects of life as well. By focusing on one aspect too much, your weaker parts can be holding you back.

One of the ways to improve your weakest aspect of fighting is to have your own MMA gym. In there, you can focus on developing your weakest skills, whereas in class, you will go along with the instructions.

Your own MMA gym doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, depending on what you are trying to develop, you could get started with very little to no equipment. More about building a home MMA gym in this post.

Quick fix for each of the three aspects of fighting:

Technique and skill can be developed by going to instructed classes, speed bag, punching bag, or shadowboxing for example.

Strength can be trained with a heavy bag or weight lifting.

Endurance and stamina can be easily trained without any equipment, simply by going for a jog. More ways in this post.

Final thoughts

So, I hope this answers the question of why MMA fighters are so skinny. It’s simply because if they gain weight, they will have to fight in the upper-weight class.

If you are a casual or semi-casual MMA hobbyist, you don’t have to worry about gaining weight. Unless your goals are to become a professional.

Weight lifting can improve your overall MMA performance a lot, with the cost of gaining some weight. If you already have a little bit extra weight, then lifting weights on top of MMA training can really help you out.

It’s also important to get enough rest between training sessions. If you have your schedule full of different pieces of training, such as MMA and gym, try not to burn yourself out. Rest is also an essential part of development.

More posts about MMA can be found here.

Hopefully this was helpful to you, have a nice day!

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