Functional MMA and Wrestling Traning Programs


Deep squats using bodyweight, additional resistance and unstable surfaces should be included in dynamic MMA traning or wrestling conditioning programs. The reason is because deep squats simulate changing levels.


Changing levels basically involves squatting down in a forward motion so you’re in good position to attack an opponent’s leg(s) for a takedown. Level changing forms the basis of the folkstyle type of wrestling you see in high school and college wrestling. Takedowns are at times attempted when the feet are moving or off balance. Level changing on unstable surfaces such as air pillows can simulate the instability involved with shooting in for a takedown.


Traditionally used as a wrestling conditioning drill, wrestler squats differ from regular bodyweight squats due to the involvement of leaning forward, which you should not do for regular squats. Leaning forward adds the functional training component to the squat, however you place a lot of stress on your lower back and knees if you are not conditioned or have injury. With that being said, wrestling squats should not be attempted if you have back or knee issues.


Before going into more detail, I’d like to add a comment about exercise tempo for wrestler squats. Start off slow and focus on the form described below and maintaining balance throughout the whole range of motion. Eventually, you want to be able to change levels as fast as you would in a real situation. If you’ve never squatted before or haven’t recently, try these without the pillows.


Level changing on air pillows (feet square) – Step onto air pillows (you can actually use normal pillows or sofa cushions as well) and establish an upright stance, knees slightly bent with hands together in front of chest, palms facing forward. Keeping back straight and head up, squat down leaning forward so that back of elbows touch the knees at the bottom of the movement. Return to starting position. Get into a good practice of keeping your head up to help with your squatting form and most importantly so it becomes second nature in your wrestling or MMA training. Any decent wrestler will snap your head down the second you look down at the mat.
Level changing on air pillows (feet staggered) – Establish same stance as above except with feet staggered front to back about a shoulders width apart. Squat down leaning forward so that knee comes between both elbows and makes contact with the same side shoulder. After finishing the last rep, immediately switch legs so that the rear leg is now forward and repeat.


If you’re a beginner start off by doing 10 reps in each position for a total of 30 reps. The key is to not take a break in between changing positions. By the time you can do 50 reps in each position your lower body anaerobic endurance will be quite impressive. Doing wrestler squats as a warm-up before every wrestling or MMA training session and after when you’re body is exhausted will set you apart from the rest.