When I meet a mixed-martial artist for the first time, I often get asked the question, "How strong should I be?" The answer I always give is "Stronger than you were a week ago." But after that, I tend to give in and talk a little bit about how strong and in what exercises constitutes a realistic target.
However, it must be said that the most important thing for a fighter is relative strength as opposed to absolute strength. Fighters need to be as strong as possible for their particular weight class, so if getting any stronger means an increase in bodyweight, then it may not be worth it.
For example, if you fight at 170 lbs, if you can deadlift 350 lbs, there is little benefit to bringing your deadlift to 450 lbs if it means you have to bump up and fight in the 185 lb weight class. However, that doesn't mean that you can't bump up to a 450 lb deadlift, it just means you'll have to work on the neural component and your movement efficiency as opposed to hypertrophy.
Now, what are some general guidelines to follow when thinking about how strong you should be if you're a mixed-martial artist? Use the following formulas to figure out a base level of strength to aim for. Plug in the weight class you fight at as opposed to your normal weight. So if you walk around at 200 lbs but you fight at 185 lbs, use 185 lbs as your multiplier.
Max deadlift = 2.0 x Weight Class
Max bench press = 1.5 x Weight Class
Max reverse barbell lunge = 1.0 x Weight Class
Max 1-arm dumbbell row = 0.55 x Weight Class
If you're testing these exercises, they must be performed in perfect form through the full range of motion. No partials here.
So someone who fights at 205 lbs should be able to deadlift 410 lbs, bench press 305 lbs, reverse barbell lunge 205 lbs, and 1-arm dumbbell row 110 lbs. How do you measure up?
Now these guidelines are very general and will not apply to every fighter. Everyone's body is unique and the way some athletes are built will make it difficult to achieve some of these numbers. For example, a really tall and lanky fighter, like Kendall Grove who fights at 185 lbs and is 6'6" tall might have difficulty achieving a 275 lb bench press, and it probably wouldn't be in his best interests to shoot for it.
But most people have the body types to eventually be able to achieve these numbers with a properly designed training program, without neglecting conditioning, mobility, and power.
So for those of you who just have to have some numbers to go by, there you go. But take them with a grain of salt, as a narrow focus on achieving these numbers in the gym may not give you the performance edge that you need to win in the ring. Instead, set them as benchmarks and stick to an effective program that will get you the results where it counts.
Eric Wong, BSc, CSCS, is a MMA Performance Coach who trains pro fighters to be able to go the distance in the cage. To learn how to balance your strength to prevent injury and improve performance, check out the Ultimate MMA Strength and Conditioning Program