#4 Best Bodyweight Exercise for Fighters

Many professionals I train suffer some sort of injury from years of being subjected to short-sighted and unhealthy conditioning methods. I believe - and this is just a theory - that this is the result of adopting a scholastic/collegiate training approach to a sport that only has periodic events. If you’re competing frequently, then peaking becomes problematic. Most scholastic wrestlers never peak because they must continually compete sub-prime conditioning and consistently under-recovered.

Fighters however typically have 2-3 months minimum between fights, if they’re coaching team is concerned about their longevity. As a result, if I’m given my full 12 weeks to peak a fighter for an event, they will notice a dramatic improvement in conditioning, sparring performance, technical accuracy, confidence and attentional stamina. This isn’t just because of the magic of the formula, and the excellence of the content, but also because my fighters are able to actually compete fully-restored in their conditioning prime.

This sport has the potential to devolve because MMA remains an “entertainment” sport. The reality is that if you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind, and you don’t get the public excitement necessary to be offered a title shot. This is why some fighters feel the pressure to behave like “bad boys” on camera with the drama of entertainment wrestling. Unfortunately, to stay in the minds of the public, fighters feel forced to accept bouts with only a few weeks notice. That’s too fluid to peak.

Although it doesn’t make many of the fighters happy who come to me saying that they absolutely must have a two-week program to get ready for their fight, I have to tell them that little to nothing can be accomplished in only two weeks, and the best thing that they could do is wait for another fight. They feel too much pressure from so many directions that advising them to hold back seems too overwhelming. But it’s not just a matter of how much better their performance would be, but also a matter of career longevity. Since my primary concern for my athletes is career longevity, increased mobility for technical refinement and then enhanced performance of actual skills, my exercise selection is unorthodox.

One recurring chronic pain and injury in many fighters is rotator cuff tears and impingements. The primary culprit of this ache and pain is the conventional push-up. This isn’t because the exercise itself has poor mechanics. It’s due to the fact that any exercise performed without compensation and recovery will result in diminishing returns, performance decrease and eventual injury. This is especially true in the excess which most fighters are forced to perform push-ups.

The Swinging Plank and its remedial version the Piston Press solve the dilemma of a fighter’s need for forward pressure in full range of motion without injury from excess volume. The full range of motion of the shoulder needed for forward pressure for fighting can be seen in the illustration below.

And for the Piston Press and Swinging Plank address from 70 degrees to 170 degrees out of the full range of motion of the shoulder (approximately -50 degrees to 180). See second illustration.

The Piston Press is the beginning move for developing the full Swinging Plank. It involves the following steps:

Begin with a deep quad squat arms extended overhead, butt to heels.

Keeping elbows in, drive forward off the forefoot to place forearms on the floor.

Continue driving until lower-arms are perpendicular to the floor pinching the floating ribs, glutes clenched and squeezing the corset of muscle around the core.

Drive elbows backward until forwarms touch the floor.

Continue backward into deep quad squat to complete the repetition.

The Swinging Plank takes this broad range of motion and then “slings” it across from one shoulder to the next to involve the core in an alternating ispilateral (same side) upper torso contraction with a contralateral (opposite side) lower-body contraction. This wringing-out-the-washcloth motion allows you to generate full bodily forward pressure without isolating strain to the shoulders, in a manner superior for transfering to the sport of MMA.

Begin in the deep quad squat but turn your head to one side (i.e. to the left) burying your nose in your armpit, with the knees together and twisted to the same side as the head is turned (i.e. to the left) with the outside of the bottom thigh parallel with the ground.

Driving with the forefoot, twist forward and out to the forward position of the piston press, forearms parallel to the ground tight to the ribs, glutes clenched, tailbone slightly tucked and core contracted as if taking a shot in the gut.

Continue the direction of your twist as you drive backward off the palm heels to bury your nose in the opposite shoulder and twist your knees to the opposite direction top of the bottom thigh parallel to the ground.

Perform the opposite swinging plank to the original position to complete one repetition.

The Swinging Plank and it’s remedial version - the Piston Press - will allow you to generation actual functional strength in the range and motion necessary for fighting, not just in stand-up grappling but also in ground-fighting. Once you have a smooth performance of the exercise, you can insert it into a metabolic conditioning circuit, such as the program that has created such successes for Alberto Crane: METCON Tango v5.0.

Please keep me updated on your progress with the Piston Press and Swinging Plank!

Scott Sonnon Ultimate Fighter Conditioning Russian Sambo for Mixed Martial Arts Competition

  • Shoulder Range of Motion
  • The full range of motion of the shoulder.
  • Piston Press / Swinging Plank Range
  • The Piston Press / Swinging Plank develop strength from 70 degrees to 170 degrees range of motion.
  • Back Position of the Swinging Plank
  • Bottom thigh parallel, on forefoot, palms driving sits-bones to heels, nose buried in arm-pit.
  • Forward Position of Swinging Plank
  • Forearms perpendicular to the mat, glutes clenched, core tight, on forefoot.


CombatChaz's picture

love your stuff!

Marshal D. Carper's picture

This is crazy awesome.

I love the amount of detail you put into your work. It's phenomenal.


FireCat-75's picture

thanks great work!!!

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying "I will try again tomorrow"

son_of_mogh's picture

I've been a professional personal trainer since 1995. Without any sarcasm, I can honestly say you are my hero.

Never Stop Learning; nothing worthwhile comes without discomfort.


mmarcroft's picture

I'm gonna try these as potential workarounds for my ongoing rotator cuff saga (I've had 7 major shoulder surgeries, and hope that I've finally had my last). Bench presses (incl. incline presses) certainly take their toll

Pain- it may be the best reminder that you are still alive

jwhite43's picture

mmaarcroft, I too have had some serious shoulder issues over the years. Not as bad as yours it sounds, but bad enough that I have had to change my strength training a LOT. I've had the luck of working with Scotts stuff directly (he works out of the club I manage) and I have to say that my shoulder have been getting stronger and stronger and I have regained range of motion that I hadn't had for several years. Many of his workout work on the fine motor control of the shoulder and increase stabalization. Good luck with everything!!!

"You shut your mouth when you're talking to me!"

diabolic's picture

This workout is soooo much harder than pushups lol. I have a hard time keeping my hands in place, and it seems like every rep I slam my forearms into the ground. GREAT workout, I've been looking for new bodyweight exercises for a long time.

- Tim
Bullfight critics ranked in rows
crowd the enormous plaza full.
But only one is there who knows
and he's the man who fights the bull.

mERCury6l6's picture

my hockey experience was hell on my rotator cuffs, but using rehab methods sorta like these helped a lot. Wish i knew about Coach Sonnon back then...

ChezRansom's picture

I have a qualm with this one. As you have stated, "One recurring chronic pain and injury in many fighters is rotator cuff tears and impingements."
This is true of almost 70% of the population, fighting or not. The culprit? You say "the conventional push-up"
Shoulder impingements and tears come from an imbalance between the muscles that pull the shoulder girdle in a specific direction. Push-ups, bench presses and other pushing movements do contribute to this imbalance, but muscles can become tight just from habitual positioning or keeping your shoulders in one position more than another, ie. SITTING AT A DESK AND TYPING. You stated that "any exercise performed without compensation and recovery will result in diminishing returns, performance decrease and eventual injury."
This is true and I follow on your pathology of restoring a full range of motion , which is why I am confused that your solution is, well, another pushing exercise.
Rotator Cuff

As you look at the rotator cuff injury you will see the developing tedonitis (pink area) and then the tear (below the bursa) at the medial attachment of the upper pectorals to the humerus or arm. Upon this examination, one can conclude that the inflammation and eventual tear is caused by overuse of the upper fibers of the pectorals.
Now if you've ever been through a high school weight training program, you've been told that doing the incline bench (slanted with your feet lower than your head) will build up your "upper pecs." Not entirely accurate but the movement of pushing something diagonally over your chest and head will become stronger. Stronger muscles mean shorter fibers means risk of injury if not properly "compensated", as you put it.
So, again, your solution is to have the person with a possible inflammation of a pectoral tendon go from doing a standard push up, where the lower, "meaty" fibers that attach to the humerus are under stress, to doing a diagonal press over his/her chest and head to now stress the upper, finer fibers that attach at the exact same insertion, the bicepital groove of the humerus. This painfully loads an enormous amount of stress over an even less equipped tendon. The piston pump will only aggrevate the shoulder inflammation. As for the swinging plank, this added hip swing does address a weakened core but because of the latissimus dorsi (lats) and their origin located at base of the lumbar spine and inserted, coincidentally, around the humerus and into the bicepital groove, the rotation of the pelvis and spine away from the loaded shoulder will cause an added stress of eccentric rotation at the rotator cuff. No good if you want to keep punching people in the face.
Although the first and best reccomendation is to go see a physical therapist or orthopedist, one solution is to stop pushing and start pulling. Now because of certain people's deficiency in range of motion there has to be some discretion in what causes pain and what doesn't. You'll find that lifting your arm straight over your head or doing "high rows" is painful. To restore proper function and range of motion, you must stop closing yourself off musculoskeletally and start opening up your posture. Stretching what is tight and strong, i.e Chest, anterior deltoids and strengthening what is lengthened and weak, i.e rhomboids (between shoulder blades), and mid-trapezius (over your shoulder blades attaching to shoulder and humerus). Here is a great exercised for all of you "closed off" individuals. Cobra 1Cobra 2 (If you can't see these photos, it's because I'm retarded and only know how to work MySpace stuff) Anyway, it's a rear shoulder strengthening exercise and is great for range of motion. A lot of the band work I do with Remix fighters is to keep their shoulders is good functioning order. I've also helped some fighters go on to repair muscle imbalances and have kept them playing. In short, the Piston Press and Swinging Plank are probably not the best exercise for someone who wants to prevent rcurring shoulder inflammation. Try doing no/low weight pulling exercises in which you work the full range of motion with a straight arm. And Remember, pain is the body's defense system. DO NOT PUSH THROUGH PAIN.
Also, Scott, try reading these articles as they will help you understand where I'm coming from.

thaijitsu's picture

I have been combining this with Rhadi Furgeson's super arms protocol. Great work out.


erjon4's picture

pretty cool stuff
I'll try it

5150 Ctiricalifornia's picture

great drill. I tried it. it is not as easy as it looks. thanks.