As mixed martial arts evolves, focus in training is shifting. MMA striking drills are taking center stage over beating the hell out of each other. Back in the golden days of the sport, there was much more emphasis on toughness as a technique. Fighters would hammer each other in hard sparring sessions to condition themselves for competition.

Sure, it got them ready for the Octagon, but there’s no telling what damage was done to their long-term health thanks to all that punishment. Of course, sparring still has its place but Brandon Gibson gives TRAIN readers a schedule for MMA striking drills with reasoning behind each one.


What the MMA coaches say

Experienced competitors like MMA legend Robbie Lawler have been vocal about their move away from those antiquated regimes. Their sparring is now limited, and if they do strap on their gloves for a one-on-one session, it’s likely to be light – for self-preservation as much as anything. But is there still a place for a stimulated scrap?

“It depends on where the fighters are at in their career and development,” explains Brandon Gibson, striking coach at Fighters Only World MMA Awards “Gym of the Year” Jackson-Wink MMA.

“For a guy like Andrei Arlovski, who’s been through a lot of fights at a high level, it’s not a tool we could use to advance him that much. If we’re going in for short duration where the fighters are really focused on implementing the game plan they want to.


mma striking drills


If we’re going in for short duration where the fighters are really focused on implementing the game plan they want to use in their fight, it’s productive. If it’s under the coaches’ watchful eye and they’re making adjustments between rounds, sparring has a place. During fight camp it’s a waste if the guys are just getting in there to spar with each other as a workout or to make gains.

One session a week with a good warm-up and no more than three rounds is enough. I’ve seen gyms where guys will spar 10 rounds. Whether that’s for conditioning or strength development, there’s more effective area where fighters can make those gains. Here are some striking solutions for a full week’s worth of training”


MMA striking drills by Brandon Gibson



• 1 day a week
• 3x 3-minute rounds

Remember this is not a fight. You’re not trying to knock your training partner out. Stay relaxed at all times and try to score points on your opponent.

Brandon says: “Injury prevention is my top priority for all fighters. I want to make sure we’re playing chess matches with each other when we’re in our 60s and 70s and haven’t left it all in the gym or the cage. We can find other areas where we can push fighters 100%.”


Pad work

• 3 days a week
• 6x 5-minute rounds

Get your pad man to wear shin guards so he can make you defend leg and arm strikes, as
well as holding his mitts or Thai pads up to absorb yours.

Brandon says: “This is one of the best ways to simulate a fight. I’m able to make the fighters feel the pace of a fight using combos, exchanges and defensive aspects – having them think about the process and what their set-ups are going to be – rather than just blindly or aimlessly throwing.”


Striking drills

• 3 day’s a week
• 1-hour class

Keep it light, fast and simple. Throw two or three-shots at your partner, then defend or evade when they immediately return fire. Speed things up as you progress.

Brandon says: “We do a lot of drill-based classes with the fighters. It’ll be like a two-for-two where a fighter gets to work on their combos, stance, set-ups and defensive side. Bag work and shadow boxing can be great alternates if enough drilling partners aren’t available.”


Staying safe

“Fighters should use headgear, shin pads, kneepads and elbow pads,” says brandon. “I don’t see any top schools sparring in small gloves.”


Spar sparingly

Sparring sessions should be held once a week for short durations and fighters need to be very aware of the impact these sessions have.


Get it drilled

It’s easy to forget that striking isn’t all about attack. Learn how to close vulnerable points and cover up when you’re under fire in a fight.


Get started with sparring

“If you’re a young fighter – amateur or pro – I do think there’s a place for sparring, learning that toughness or how to defend to find that ability to come back under fire,” says Gibson. “It can be productive, but once you get to a certain level, you know you’re tough and can take a punch; there’s no reason to do hard sparring just for sparring’s sake.”


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