The Rock Routine

My alma mater, Cal State Chico , has a lot of great things -warm weather, clean campus, nice people – but it had a horrible gym. It was small, with old equipment, crowded and smelled like a sewage plant (they now have a state-of-the-art gym facility).

One day a couple of amateur MMA friends asked me to help develop a program that would get them into fighting shape and improve their performance. Their goals were to lose body fat, not gain any muscle and improve conditioning. I knew we needed some space and any reason to escape that gym was welcomed.

We found an area outside near the track on campus that had a pull-up bar. Being poor college kids we had no exercise equipment to work with. I found some small rocks, grabbed a dish towel from home and we got to work.

The Rock Routine consisted of three components: The first tossing and throwing the small rocks to improve power, next using the pull up bar to work on pulling and grip strength, and finally sprint intervals around the track to increase conditioning and make you hate life.

Strength is the ability of muscles to produce force, whereas power is the ability of the muscles to produce force more quickly or rapidly. The Rock Routine was based on improving power and conditioning without adding any muscle mass so the athletes could make weight. For these reason we used light rocks about the size of a grapefruit. The emphasis was to move the rock as fast as possible and as far as possible. It was run in a circuit format and lasted about 45 minutes that included a warm up.

The first component on the Rock Routine is power. The first of three rock exercises was a single arm push toss. Grab the rock about chest height and shove it as hard as possible in front of you. This movement works the push muscles including the chest, shoulders and triceps. The reps were low (three to five on each arm) because we wanted max effort and too much volume would increase the likelihood of injury.

The second was a rock slam into the ground. This began with the rock help overhead and while keeping a straight back, slam the rock into the ground using the lat muscles and finishing in a deep squat position. This position is best for preventing rounding of the lower back and it increases hip mobility, which is important in MMA. This movement emphasis the latissimus dorsi and the muscles of the back responsible for pulling and holding opponents.

The last rock exercise was an overhead toss. The start position resembles a “granny shot” in basketball. The rock is held between the legs with the hips back and chest up. The athlete then explosively pushes the hips forward to toss the rock as hard as possible overhead while maintaining a natural spine. This works on the lower body muscles and is a similar movement to the kettlebell swing and deadlift.

The strength component used the pull-up bar. The chin up (palms facing you) and pull up (palms facing away), are both excellent exercises to build strength and develop the upper back. A great version the Rock Routine incorporates is the towel pull up and chin up. Simply swing the towel over the bar and grab it. I suggest starting with one towel first. By gripping the towel during the exercise, you can develop outstanding forearm and grip strength, which can be a great asset for many sports like wrestling, rock climbing and MMA.


The last component of the Rock Routine is interval sprints around the track. I got this from my old exercise physiology professor and still use it to this day. It is simple, but not easy. Sprint the straight-aways and walk the turns. That's it. Once again the goal is max effort each sprint so limit the volume and focus on quality and not quantity.

The Rock Routine was born out of necessity but still lives on because it gets results. Also, it can be done outside and it is fun to throw things. The downside is you need some space, throwing rocks around can be dangerous, it may beat your hands up and it might get you some awkward looks from people. However if you don't mind messing up your lawn a little bit, this program can be very effective.

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