The Bomber, Pt. 2: Strength Workout for Legs and Abs

By James Parker

Last time, I described my high-intensity workout, "the bomber," for chest, biceps, and shoulders. The next workout in this routine hits the legs, with an abs and core workout to be added in when and where you feel the need. In our final, upcoming instalment, I'll take you through a back and triceps workout; each of these routines forms one day of a three day per week program.

Though I've put the core work with the legs, you want to make sure to do at least a couple of ab sessions in a week. The core is more than just your abs; it's also the muscles to the side of the abdominals (the obliques) as well as the muscles in opposition to the abs, the spinal erectors and quad lumbar. Although the crunch can be a good beach muscle exercise, it can also be lacking in its ability to functionally train the whole core. There is a growing consensus that ab muscles don’t get as strong a functional workout without the spine literally leaving the floor. The idea is to train your muscles in tandem, never over-developing any one area of the body. It can be very easy to create an imbalance that can have disastrous effects later in life, or even sooner for a professional fighter. Keep this in mind when doing your legs as well as your core exercises. 

From a fighter's perspective, besides the obvious need to develop leg strength for kicking, the legs can also be used to hold yourself in a dominant position on the ground or keep you from being swept into your opponent’s dominant position. Not only that, but the legs can arguably be called the foundation of the human body. Without a strong foundation, especially at its weakest links and keystones, the house can fall. So, these exercises are largely devoted to parts of the legs that don’t always get enough work. In other words, we're going after your weak spots.

Start with a warm-up (several minutes on a cardio machine, for instance), and then begin with these exercises.

Exercise How to Repetitions Sets Notes
Dumbbell Walking Lunges Perform walking lunges alone; or with a dumbbell in each hand; or, if you have stairs handy, lower the weight amount by half and walk up a flight of stairs, two at a time, for a nasty super set. Make sure that you tighten your core through out the exercise, especially on the stairs, to help maintain balance and “shoulder” some of the weight load. 8 - 10 3 For fighters that have injuries that can be exasperated by loading a bar for squatting, the walking lunge can not only hit the same muscles, it can do it just as effectively—or more so for those that need balance work to replicate the similar, if not more controlled, aspects of a fight. Plus because it’s a unilateral exercise, a small amount of weight can easily make this exercise harder to perform.
Romanian Dead-Lifts This is like touching your toes, but with dumbbells attached to your hands. Make sure you truly understand this exercise before attempting it. The knees should not be locked out, but also shouldn’t move through any kind of range of motion. Think of those funky little desk-toppers that were essentially a glass tube with a bulbous bottom, filled with a small amount of red liquid. Usually, they had a googly eyes and a top hat. The bird would tip its nose down to its feet with out ever bending its “knees” or “back," essentially hinging at its hips. 8 2 This is an obvious staple, as it not only hits the hamstrings, but also the lower back and glutes..
Semi-Mummy Wrap and Bosu Twist To learn to do this, one of my most hated exercises, look here. 8 steps each way; 8 twists 2 - 4 The wrap (as well as the bosu balance twist) works the gluteus muscles that can get missed by other compound exercises. You can do either, or both as a superset.
Plate Slides To learn my murderous plate slide, look here. This exercise helps work the inner areas of the leg, called the adductors (as opposed to the abductors being trained above). 8 2 You can also use the machines in your gym that isolate on these areas instead of the exercises above if you have trouble, just make sure to use a good weight that will make it hard to squeeze out 8 reps.
Standing Single Leg Calf Raise Stand on one foot, with heel off the back of a platform, and raise yourself high onto your toe using the muscles in the calf. There’s been some argument about the stress placed on the Achilles tendon when these exercises are performed with the heel off of a raised platform. Since most fighters won’t be in this position during a fight, with their feet generally starting from a flat position, I recommend just doing this exercise with your own feet flat and just lifting off the ground and back for your range of motion. 8 2

Bomber for Core
The core exercises you can do with any bomber exercise group, or even on their own. I separate them into two divisions at the minimum, and sometimes three. Since the abdominal muscle is a long muscle, I’ve found that it is necessary to work the upper region and lower region as if they were separate muscles. Don’t misunderstand, the lower abs get worked when you do a typically upper ab exercise like crunches, it’s just usually only in a secondary fashion. To make sure the lower abs are hit properly, as well as the hip flexors, I like to do exercises specific to that region on leg day. This saves the upper abs for an upper body region of the bomber.

Since it’s usually the area missed, and typically hardest to hit, we’ll start with the lower abdominals. I like to make sure there is little to no support for the lower back during the range of motion. Recent research suggests that the posterior chain needs to be engaged when doing ab and core work; supporting the back reduces this. But always avoid anything your doctor has expressly forbidden you to do. With the core, too many reps easily completed means that you are not engaging this area enough and are most likely only flexing your spine, which you could probably do for days to no ill effect, but little good.

Fighters need strong cores not just to support the spinal rotation needed for striking, but to withstand the blows from strikes as well as the pressure from grappling. It’s amazing how quickly someone truly tightens up when they think they are about to be hit there. Visualize that when working this area, please.
Exercise How to Repetitions Sets Notes
Sling Knee Raise The best knee-raise ab exercise is done with your arms in ab slings, hanging, back completely unsupported. As you raise both knees to your chest, be sure not to swing. Doing so will create momentum and reduce the work you core is doing. Also, raise with the knee, not a straight leg. Even though lower ab work can work the hip flexors somewhat, we don’t want to target them more than the abs. 8 - 10 2 - 3 You can do this exercise hanging from a pull up bar as well, if you don’t have slings.
Straight-Leg Sit-up Lie on your back with legs extended and hands behind your head. The whole idea is to not lift your heels from the ground, while keeping your head in line with your spine. Raise up until your body is just off of being perpendicular from the ground (keeping stress in the core). This one is not only hard to do, but hard to get right. To make it harder, go from keeping your arms close to the body to extending them out above or to the sides to add resistance. As many as you can. 2 - 3 As soon as the heels come off the ground every time you rise, you’re done.
Traditional Sit-up Anchor your feet under a flat bench or anywhere that will keep them down on the floor. With knees bent and hands behind the head, do a full sit-up. As many as you can. 2 - 3
Stability Ball Crunches Position the ball beneath your back, with feet on the floor. With hands behind the head, do crunches to the center. Keep your neck neutral throughout the exercise, avoiding staring up at the ceiling. You can add resistance by holding a medicine ball to your chest. 8 - 10 2 - 3 Even though I said I was against using anything to support the back, the wonderful thing about a fit ball is that the support it gives is minimal compared to the balance it removes. Just balancing on this ball can engage the core, so doing sit ups or crunches work even better.
Kettle Bell Cross-Punch or Squat to Cross-Punch Holding a kettle bell so that the bell is placed on the back of your wrist, start facing forward with the arm bent and hand by your shoulder. Keeping the kettle bell balanced, punch across your body, allowing your heel to come off the ground. For the extra squat, you would come out of the bottom of the squat position in a twisting motion until you ended in the position described above. Lower the same way. 8 - 10 2 Pick a kettle bell of lower weight than you might use for other exercises, as this one extends the weight out like a shoulder dumbbell raise. Perform this motion slow and controlled to really feel it, to both sides of the body.
Next time I’ll finish the Bomber routine with a series for the back and triceps that usually has my guys wanting to lie down. Until then, go easy with all above exercises until you are sure you have a good understanding of what they are and how to do them. Trust me when I say that even without weight, some of these exercises can be nasty if you don’t focus and pay close attention to what you are doing. Like any pro fighter, know your “opponent”  before engaging him and you’ll be better armed to get what you need out of the experience. Once you’ve got these exercises down, then you can train like your life depended on it. 

About James Parker: James Parker is a certified personal trainer, mixed martial artist, mixed martial arts conditioning coach, and freelance writer in Los Angeles, California.