Because of how novel strength & conditioning is in this sport, coaches are still trying to figure out the best exercises and training methodologies to build the best Martial arts athlete. Traditional endurance training modalities like running, or strength exercises like squats and power cleans may not always transfer well into the performance of a full contact athlete. The body types and skills in Martial arts and sports differ greatly from fighter to fighter or competitor to competitor there are no one-size-fit-all strength & conditioning protocols.
Endurance and power drills must be tailored to the individual and must be prescribed in a way where it does not interfere with the skill acquisition of the athlete. A high performance coach must not forget that strength & conditioning training is only one piece of the puzzle. At the end of the day, Martial arts skills are the backbone of success in this sport.
1) Do not cause an injury to the athlete
2) Ensure the athletes physical attributes are peaked and tapered correctly going into a fight
3) Improve athlete-specific performance measures over time
4) Selectively pick exercises and training protocols that complement the specific skill-set of the mixed martial artist
The biggest benefits that come from strength training are increased force production and power, as well as injury prevention. I will be specifically talking about force production and power in a later part. Right now, I’ll just dive into injury prevention.
Many muscle injuries come from the inability to decelerate a certain limb, or the inability to tolerate the forces produced when a muscle undergoes an eccentric contraction (EC). An EC happens when an external force is applied to a muscle, while the muscle fibers lengthen. Think of the lowering portion of a bicep curl, the deceleration/ground impact portion of a vertical jump, or the feeling in your quads while walking downhill. As long as we perform full range of motion resistance exercises and progressively overload them, we increase our ability to handle larger magnitudes of forces, especially at longer muscles lengths (where we’re most susceptible to injury).
One of the most common injuries in professional sports are hamstring strains. Occurring in athletes from sports such as rugby, football, soccer and any other sport that requires running/sprinting. While the demands of MMA are much different and small strains and nagging injuries are bound to happen from rolling (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) or sparring (striking), fighters can still learn from the modifiable risk factors involved in hamstring strains that are so prevalent in other sports in order to reduce chances of injury while training. These modifiable risk factors include sub-par functional muscle lengths, poor posture, strength and muscle imbalances and muscle inflexibility amongst others. Strength & conditioning practices should revolve around addressing these issues first, before focusing on increasing strength, power and endurance.
Yes and no, it depends on what training plan the head instructors and coaches put their fighters through. Unless the head coach is knowledgeable on concepts such as heart rate monitor training, lactate threshold, cardiovascular training methods and periodization, a fighter’s conditioning and physical preparation should be overlooked by a high performance coach. Much like how strength training should fill in gaps and address the weaknesses of a fighter, specific-conditioning work must be performed to optimize a fighter’s gas tank on fight night.
Without getting too in-depth into the metabolic and endurance demands of MMA , BJJ and Muay thai, conditioning must be done at the right intensity, at the right time, with the right amount of rest in order to induce the changes we want in a fighter.