Wondering what it takes to become the best of the best? Kit Cope is no stranger to this concept. Through his hard work and dedication to his sport, he has become one of the top mixed martial arts (MMA) athletes out there.
Anyone who’s ever taken part in MMA sessions knows that this form of activity requires more than brute strength. It requires focus and coordination as well as the mental tenacity to persevere regardless of what’s going on around you. MMA athletes are bred to have power, strength, speed, coordination, balance, and above all else, persistence.
Kit Cope demonstrates all of these character traits and more. Growing up with a parent in the Air Force, he moved around a lot. This meant one of two things would occur. First, you could become really good at making friends and learn to fit in without too much trouble. Or, the opposite could happen and you would become the ‘new kid’ who got nothing but trouble. “I got picked on a lot for being a new kid and I had to learn to deal with that,” he says. “Couple that with the fact I had big ears and a smart mouth and you have the making for either a victim or a fighter.” Clearly, Kit went the fighter route.
When Kit was 16, he found and fell in love with Muay Thai. By the time he was a junior in high school, he already had a few wrestling scholarship offers under his belt. After becoming the youngest member on the US Thai boxing team, he turned pro during his senior year. However, he didn’t end up wrestling. Instead he followed his heart and passion and continued with Muay Thai.
This led him to achieve great feats including being the first American to fight in the Rajadamoern Stadium, and the first American to win the Thailand Muay Thai championships. He also had the great honor of fighting against Burma on the Thailand National Muay Kaad Chuek, which is essentially bare knuckle Muay Thai.
From here, he went on to win four world titles in Muay Thai and transitioned into MMA fighting. He was thrown right into the ring and went on to fight in King of the Cage, Bushido, WFA, WEC, and the UFC. Needless to say, Cope has seemingly unlimited experience in the sport.
So what are his favorite exercises to build up the strength, power and speed he needed to achieve all this?
While he obviously spends countless hours in the ring, he doesn’t discount the importance of weight training in the gym to improve his performance in the ring. “There are key exercises and lifts that I do to enhance my abilities as a fighter,” he explains. “Unlike most other sports, MMA is multidimensional and you need both explosive power as well as the ability to sustain time under tension.” This calls for a unique training strategy that touches upon all of these points.
The following three exercises are some of Cope’s favorites, all of which you can easily include in your own training program. Challenge yourself by regularly including these exercises and you can attain fighter-like results.
If there’s one big power movement you need to learn to do, it’s the hang clean. “This one is just like the standard power clean, but you never put the weight down,” explains Cope. “This is a very explosive movement and you’ll want to make sure that the weight is heavy enough that you would be unable to pull it up from thigh to collarbone without a jerk.” If you go too light, you won’t be challenging yourself as you should.
Place a barbell down on the ground standing behind it with your feet about hip width apart, turned out slightly if comfortable. Reach down and grasp the bar using an overhand grip, hands shoulder width apart. Keeping your back straight, bend through the knees and begin to aggressively extend through the hips and knees as you drive the weight upward. Shrug the shoulders to pull the weight upwards, tucking the body under the bar while the elbows move forward and in front of you. The bar should land at collarbone height so you are in a front squat position. Fully extend the knees to come to a standing position to complete the rep. Repeat the process until all reps are completed.
Perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps towards the start of your workout when you are feeling most fresh.
Complete the entire explosive movement before the bar reaches the top of your abs so that it floats to the top with the force that you used to yank it up.
Next on the list of must-do moves is the medicine ball drive. It requires upper body strength, and will yield a good cardiovascular workout with enough reps.
Start by holding a medicine ball in shot put position, standing perpendicular to the wall with the ball in your hand furthest from the wall. From here, twist your torso to generate momentum and force, and try to drive the ball through the wall.
Perform 10-20 reps of this, picking the ball up after each throw.
“This should be done in a very explosive manner,” says Cope, “which is what will help you build maximum speed and power.” He also notes that you are not to throw the ball, but rather maintain control over it the entire time.
Cope notes that some gyms may not be so fond of you doing this exercise, but are a great addition to any bodybuilder’s workout program.
For this exercise, you’ll climb into the hack squat rack and load the bar with 20-40 pounds more than your body weight at a minimum. From there, bend your knees below 90 degrees and pause for three seconds. Jump explosively as high as the rack will allow.
Perform 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps depending on fitness and skill level.
“Pay attention to the foot placement and straighten your legs after the launch, bending them again upon landing to absorb the impact,” says Cope.
Work these moves into your training plan to challenge yourself in a new way. These exercises will bring an element of power that may have previously been missing from your training. With regular inclusion, you’ll see your fitness and athletic capabilities improve.