Mixed martial arts (MMA) pose a huge challenge to any strength and conditioning coach preparing a fighter for competition. This sport is such a challenge due to the wide range of physical qualities that a fighter needs to be prepared for to be successful. To compete at the elite level fighters need to be strong, powerful, fast, agile, aerobically and anaerobically fit, durable and skillful.
It is essential to understand which physical qualities limit performance, and which are prevalent in the most successful athletes. Unfortunately there is limited research into the physiological demands of MMA. However, the majority of strength and conditioning coaches can construct a program for a fighter using the following information.
There are three rounds unless it is a title fight, when there are five rounds. Thus the standard workout is 17 minutes in total, or 29 minutes for a title fight. Each round consists of five minutes with a 60 second rest in between. This is obviously a huge work to rest deficit and in reality no fighter works for the whole five minutes of each round. However, each round will consist of extremely high intensity alactic dominant efforts followed by random rest periods (most efforts will not last for more than 10 seconds without some of a lower intensity period). This information links into the next point and is essential when designing the conditioning component of a fighter’s program.
Each round will likely consist of striking and its associated movements, wrestling/clinch work and ground work. Over the last four years in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the welterweight division the striking to clinch to ground work ratio is, on average, 34:5:61(%).
This is critical information when preparing a fighter for this level of competition. Specificity is a fundamental principle of strength and conditioning and unless a fighter is being trained with the sports-specific requirements in mind, they are unlikely to get the carry-over gains they are hoping for. Combining the information on duration and activities that will occur should give a good insight into what will be necessary to include when conditioning an MMA fighter.
Key areas of fatigue that have a direct correlation with performance inhibition can be classed into two categories: peripheral fatigue, such as deltoid fatigue (preventing a fighter from keeping their hands raised to guard their face from striking) and central fatigue, such as a fighter’s inability to regenerate ATP and therefore having their performance output limited. Both ideas need to be addressed and trained to enable a fighter to maintain their output throughout the whole fight.
Strength and Power
As the sport is governed by weight classes, the average weight for a fighter at competition is around 5-10kg heavier than the amount they weighed in at. This is useful to know as it has implications for the direction and levels of explosive strength and power that need to be trained. As we know from published research, maximum power is likely to occur at around 50% of maximal capacity.
In any training program for MMA it is critical that a fighter is trained to produce their maximum power outputs at the levels of resistance they are likely to face at competition. For example, a welterweight fighter needs to develop maximum strength qualities of around 180kg to enable them to elicit max power at 50% of their capacity, which would be 90kg. This will mean they are more than capable of producing high levels of power at the weight of their opponent. In practical terms, this means selecting an exercise that you believe you can train a fighter in to reach those levels of maximum strength through the planes of motion in competition.
Lower limb max strength: back squat, front squat, heavy power pushes, deadlift.
Maximum strength and power are only part of the story and these physical qualities lend themselves more to the wrestling and groundwork components of the sport. Further down the force/velocity spectrum are qualities that can affect striking performance. As its position on the spectrum would dictate, ballistic strength is a more velocity-dominant than force-dominant action, which is also true of the requirements of striking. For punching power and success, it is not necessarily the amount of force a fighter can produce but rather how quickly they can produce it. There is plenty of research to suggest that ballistic strength is developed using 0-20% of max force capacity and therefore this must be reflected in the exercise selection and loading parameters used within training.
Ballistic exercises such as hurdle jumps, box jumps, bounding, light prowler accelerations, light sled accelerations.
Catering for all the physical requirements for MMA is one thing, but putting them into a weekly program with all the other technical demands is another. Finding a balance for a fighter is paramount to the success of a training schedule. No matter how well thought-out and accurate a strength and conditioning program is, if it is part of an overall training load that is either too little or too much it will not have the desired effect on performance. Below is an example of a weekly timetable for a full-time professional fighter.
The key take-home message for strength and conditioning for MMA is that the components of the training program must mirror the requirements of the sport. There is a lot of training associated with the sport that is “hard” but in order to actually affect competition performance, having a program that is underpinned with scientific ideas is a must. After all, it’s very easy to make someone tired; it’s much harder to make them better.
- Baker, D. Methods to Increase the Effectiveness of Maximal Power Training for the Upper Body. Robert U. Newton, PhD, CSCS Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Western Australia, Australia.
- Baker D (2003c), The acute effect of alternating heavy and light resistances upon power output during upper body complex power training, J. Strength Cond. Res., 17(3): 493-497.
- Baker D (2001a), Acute and long-term power responses to power training: Observations on the training of an elite power athlete. Strength Cond. J. 23(1): 47-56.
- Paper by Dr Fred Hatfield about the different types of strength: http://drsquat.com/content/knowledge-base/fresh-look-strength
Source: Fitpro Network