I am not a fighter. I am not your MMA coach. I don’t pretend to know every nuance of the sport. The MMA world needs clarity when it comes to strength and conditioning and hopefully I can help. It amazes me that fighters can have a wrestling, boxing, BJJ, and Muay Thai coach, yet go to youtube and the internet for their strength and conditioning. Sounds crazy right?
For the last 10 years I have trained Olympians, NFL Pro Bowlers, MLS all stars, NCAA D-1 athletes and hundreds of other competitors. A few things that reign true for all athletes, regardless of sport include:
If you move beautifully and effortlessly, you move efficiently.
- Strong is strong anywhere. Strength wins, always.
- Being faster and more explosive than your opponent is ideal.
- Proper energy system development (ESD) allows you to stay stronger, longer.
I have always been fascinated with MMA. In the last year I have devoted countless hours training fighters as well as learning more about how to properly train these athletes. The information available is scarce because the “top” trainers want it all to be a secret. My hope is that this blog will enlighten you a bit about the secret.
The Mystery of the History
This is a phrase that I first heard from my mentor Brett Jones. Not only does it rhyme nicely, but it also fits perfectly when describing a vital part of working with a fighter, the initial evaluation. During the initial evaluation, the trainer/coach should try to gather as much information about the fighter as possible.
This SHOULD include:
- Injury history
- Medical conditions
- Recent fights- information and outcome
- Recent training camp – how it went in general, what worked/what didn’t work
- Weight class
- MMA strengths/weakness
- Sleep habits
- Movement baseline (FMS)
- Strength baseline
The list above is fairly long and I could honestly write a novel on each subject, but in order to keep it simple, today I will share some quick information on each subject.
This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how often coaches/trainers overlook this discussion. If I am going to work with you, I should know the mileage on your body. I want to know about broken bones, connective tissue injuries (ligaments/tendons) surgeries, concussions, scars, and all your aches and pains.
Again, this seems obvious but needs to be addressed. Conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart conditions, and all other concerns need to be put on the table. If we want your body to function at the highest level possible, I need as much information as possible.
This ties into medical conditions. It’s good to know what your fighter is taking. Whether they are taking medication prescribed from a doctor or something they bought at GNC, I should know what they are ingesting. Let’s just say I don’t think that taking super turbo jackD is a great idea if a fighter has a prior heart condition. Weight gainer 5000 may not be the best if a fighter has IBS. In all seriousness, just be smart and ask your fighters to consult an MD when dealing with meds.
Before you try and design the perfect fighter diet, start with the basics. If they eat fast food, drink tons of alcohol and smoke cigarettes, I think you know what areas they need to focus on to start.
Nutrition for fighters is pretty simple. The majority of their diet should include lots of fruits, veggies and lean meat. Nuts and avocados are great sources of fat. Starchy carbs should be mainly consumed post workout. Just like anyone, fighters can cheat here and there, but they need to get back on the wagon after that pizza they ate on the way home from their buddies fight last night.
Recent Fight Information
If you just started with a new fighter you need to know where he came from. How did his last fight go? Did he win or lose? In what fashion? How did he feel overall? Were there any injuries, concussions, etc.? Again, it may seem obvious but it’s important to note since this is vital information when it comes to program design.
How did the last 10 weeks go? Has the fighter been sick at all? How often did he train? How many days per week? What days were BJJ/Striking and situational work? How tired was he? Any overtraining or overuse situations?
Again, essential information that is often overlooked. In my opinion, fighters should always be walking around no more than 15-18 lbs over their weigh-in. Why? The weight cut will be easier, their joints will be happier and they won’t feel as tired when it’s time to start cutting for the fight.
If you look at the body composition of MOST fighters in the UFC, they are roughly 10% bodyfat or less. It’s no surprise that being strong and lean is a great asset to have when you are ready to step into the cage.
Another thing to consider: You could get a call at any point to take a fight. Sometimes these last second fights are great opportunities. If UFC or Bellator calls and wants you to take a fight in 2 weeks but you are sloppy and out of shape, it’s a missed opportunity. Trust me, you’ll be kicking yourself for that one. Be prepared!!!
If a fighter is a great striker, but terrible on the ground, this information is vital to me as a strength coach. If a fighter’s arms get tired after :30 of mitt work, some upper body endurance work might be included in his training regimen. Knowing every strength and weakness of a fighter is vital to ensure proper program design.
Sleep is recovery. If you are not sleeping well, you are not performing well. It’s that simple. Every fighter trains hard, but lacks the tools for proper recovery. More on this later.
This is huge. I won’t get into detail about how moving poorly can be detrimental to the fight game, but I will say this: if you move poorly, you’re not only fighting your opponent, but you are fighting yourself and your own restrictions. Not only does this require greater energy expenditure, but it also excludes you from creating optimal power output because you’re working against your own restrictions.
A great starting point when obtaining a movement baseline is the Functional Movement Screen (FMS.) Gray Cook and his team have done an amazing job on assessing, correcting and retaining movement patterns.
In addition to the FMS, I use other orthopedic assessments to dig a bit deeper. The fight game has greater mobility and stability demands than other sports and these need to be assessed, then addressed.
Eric Cressey once said “ Strength is the glass, the bigger the glass, the more qualities you can fit into it. Do you want to be more agile? Faster? More explosive? Get stronger! Anyone who tells you differently isn’t wrong, I just know I’m right.”
You don’t need to be a powerlifter, just stronger than your opponent. Here are some basic strength guidelines I keep in mind as far as training fighters:
- Double bodyweight deadlift
- 24k weighted strict pull-up
- 1.5 bodyweight back squat for 5 reps
There are millions more, but once you hit these, your baseline is pretty good.
Stay tuned for more info on training fighters. I promise nothing but quality information on this blog.
Please, ask questions, comment and let me know if you have any suggestions.