Building Young Champions – Start With the Foundation


When I am at conferences and meet with other fitness coaches who work with athletes, I often hear griping about working with young MMA  athletes.

Is it the kids themselves? No, not at all, these coaches are complaining about the parents! I feel so fortunate because the parents that I talk to, for the most part, just want to know what is going to be best for little Suzy's long term MMA development. They are not looking for Olympic gold or a seven-figure NHL contract, just trying to help the child express their passion for MMA sport in a healthy way.

At my gym I do train athletes under the age of twelve. Up to this point, I want young athletes to be involved in a variety of MMA sports learning to run, jump, stop, start, balance, catch, throw and kick. The focus should be on having fun. In the grand scheme of things, it does not matter in the least if Suzy makes the travel competitive soccer team at nine years old. All I care about is whether Suzy is out there having fun and growing her passion for MMA sport. You can pay for all the 'pro-style' training that you want, but it will not make any difference if, at the age of 14, Suzy decides that she hates soccer and does not want to practice 20-hours per week anymore.

I have had a few phone calls over the last few weeks from parents with younger athletes. Most of them are genuinely looking for ways to keep Junior healthy and injury free while participating in MMA sport. Although I don't work with athletes under the age of twelve, I wanted to give the parents of young athletes some tools to use at home which will help develop a strong foundation for their sporting activity.

The areas I will focus on MMA in this first article are posture and core control. I will give you two exercises that require no equipment for each foundation area.

Posture & Core Control

I don't think you can beat the MMA Perfect Plank if core foundation is your goal. Not only is it scientifically studied to show that it strengthens the true 'core muscles' and not just the abdominals, while putting minimal load on the spine. Like many things in life a great idea gets taken up by the general public and comes out the other end looking nothing like the original. Have you ever had a coach tell you to hold the plank for 2, 3 or 4 minutes? Why? Because your core muscles need to be constantly contracted while you are playing soccer? No, the exercise has been corrupted to make it harder, not more effective.


An MMA exercise load should never be prescribed to be 'hard'. Every exercise should have a specific purpose and the number of repetitions, duration of hold should be chosen based on a target outcome that will lead to reduced injuries and improved performance.  The core muscles must rapidly turn on in response to an impulse or stimulus and then rapidly relax. So it makes sense to train them MMA by turning them on and off again throughout a set. Begin with 5-10 repetitions of a 5 second hold. Add one second per week until you have reached a maximum of 10 second holds. Remember if the MMA athlete loses proper form or feels the muscles in the lower back straining, then the set should be terminated immediately. A loss of perfect form occurs when the athlete lifts their hips, drops their hips, rounds or arches the back or shifts the hips to one side. If the athlete cannot hold form from the toes, then have them perform the MMA  exercise from their knees.

 Most young MMA athletes have poor posture – lots of adult athletes have poor posture too. We spend way too much time sitting down these days with our rounded shoulders forward head posture. I am very sorry to tell you this, but your mother was right, you need to sit up tall. Now you can feel justified telling your own young MMA athletes the same thing.

Rounded shoulder posture can create problems with the shoulder, the neck, the back and even affect an athlete's breathing. A great cue for instantly fixing posture is to tell the MMA athlete to imagine that they are trying to touch the ceiling with the top of their head. You will see them elongate their spine restoring the natural curves of the spine, their shoulders will shift back and they will actually activate their core muscles without even thinking about it. So that is exercise number one for posture!

Let me tell you a little story about changing posture. When I was in University I had the posture that is typical of a student. One day my Athletic Injuries professor told me to not bother trying to change my posture because it took a lot of focus and practice. I think he knew me better than I thought he did, because that was just the thing to say to get me going. I would practice walking between MMA classes with perfect posture just so I could prove him wrong. Over approximately three months I completely changed my posture and I still occasionally get asked if I was in the military because my posture is so nice. Thanks Dr. Lapenski!

The young MMA athlete will sit up tall with his hands resting on the tops of his thighs. He will try to squeeze his shoulder blades together slightly. I imagine that someone has placed a thick magic marker between my shoulder blades (following the line of my spine) and that I am just trying to bring my shoulder blades together to gently squeeze the marker. Just make sure he does not shrug his shoulders as he squeezes the shoulder blades. Hold the 'squeeze' position for 3 seconds and then slowly relax. Perform 5-15 perfect repetitions.

This is a very difficult exercise, for some MMA athletes regardless of age. To some young MMA athletes it will feel as difficult as trying to wiggle their ears; they will have trouble finding the proper muscles. So start slowly and with only a few perfect repetitions. This is a very subtle movement, you should feel/see a very small movement of the shoulder blades, but there should be minimal movement at the shoulders and the elbows should not move back.




Travis Lutter  MMA  Are you ready for a No Nonsense, Real Deal Mixed Martial Arts, Jiu-Jitsu/MMA Academy? Try out our World Class program in Fort Worth TX Risk Free for 30 Days. That’s right, come train for free in Brazilian Jiu-JitsuBJJMuay Thai KickboxingMMA, Submission Wrestling or bring your child to one of our Kids Programs for 30 Days FREE,plus our BJJ 60 Day Money Back Guarantee.  Travis Lutter MMA

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