Strength training has been evaluated and utilized for sports performance since the beginning of time. Starting out in the early days with Olympic sports and even back in the Gladiator days, strength training has been a critical part of an athlete’s preparation. In Mixed Martial Arts, despite its meteoric rise in the past 10 years, there are still some common misconceptions about strength for a sport like MMA. Strength training is one of the integral part in a fighter’s preparation.
Let me start off by stating that with any program there must be a structured plan, a method and systems that will facilitate growth. Without a plan, yes you plan to fail. So before we talk about strength in MMA we must make sure all keys to victory are set up. Then worked accordingly to induce the greatest amount of success possible. Working on your technical skill is very important. These are the specific techniques and tactical drills that a fighter must show competence in to become a good fighter. Working on all aspects of the sport is the priority. You must create a hierarchy of modalities that you will need to put into place for maximum performance. Once this is in place and your drilling and technical practice has been set then we must get strong.
When two fighters have equal levels of technique and skill the defining factor of success between the two will be who is stronger. Strength training is not just lifting weights to pump up your biceps or leave you looking good for the beach. When you are developing your abilities to become strong all aspects of athleticism will become more attainable. We are talking speed, agility, power, and endurance. Now on that note if you do not develop adequate strength than those other qualities will become mediocre at best.
Fighters must identify their weakness as well as their strengths. What’s their style of fighting and what is their training background. When this is established and the fighter knows who their fighting, a solid strength training program is put together to initiate progress.
Depending on length of time available, the camp should start with a structured block of hypertrophy and joint integrity training phase. This will include slow eccentric movement exercises and higher volume sets. While working with eccentric strength and plyometric exercises to prime there joints for high impact collisions they will be experiencing skills training (sparring, grappling).
After a few weeks it’s time for a strength block phase where the point is to try and push the envelope of maximal strength output. Work is primarily in the 85-90% of 1 rep max range with sets of 3-5 repetitions.
All exercises will focus on 6 major movement qualities:
With these exercises all aspects of physical preparation are covered, with a general to specific periodization model. In the beginning of the strength phase general fitness is the main goal, working on overall work capacity and movement efficiency. At the end of the strength phase the focus becomes more specific to the sport. So exercises we choose will have a higher carryover to the physiological demands of the sport. For instance a Zercher Squat, Med Ball Double Under Carry, & DB Hip Bridge Floor Press will carry over well into the competition from a physical preparation standpoint.
A solid strength program should have two objectives in mind. Get the athlete physically capable to train at a high level and develop superior bio-mechanical and physiological capabilities over the opponent. Stick to basic multi-joint movements such as Back/Front Squat, Barbell Deadlift, Overhead Press, Sled Push/Pull and Planks. Once the foundation of strength is optimally met then we can move on to the specificity of sport exercises. Don’t get caught up in trying to do what you see on social media. Do what needs to be done to help that athlete become better. Solid multi-joint movement exercises with stabilization techniques will get a fighter strong and capable to withstand load and impact.
We all should strive to become a stronger version of ourselves. Strength is not easy to develop. If all things are lined up and programmed properly then it can most definitely be done.
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