Strength and Conditioning for Combat Sport Fitness Training

With the increased interest in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a sport and method of fitness training strength & conditioning within combat sports has rightfully become more accepted. Gone are the days where your old school boxing coach will tell you not to lift weights as it will make you bulky and slow. Evidence based strength & conditioning works hand in hand with combat sports performance. Combat sports include boxing, kickboxing, MMA and various traditional martial fighting styles. In this article we merely scratch the surface of combat sport strength & conditioning.

What is Strength & Conditioning

Firstly we should define strength & conditioning. Generally speaking strength & conditioning refers to physical training to assist a particular activity, primarily a sport but could be an occupation, as opposed to training for general fitness. Certainly combat sport falls into this category, as strength & conditioning will assist your combat sport performance and training. Strength & conditioning can consist of weight training, other forms of resistance training, speed and agility, lactic threshold conditioning and required aerobic conditioning. Strength & conditioning programming will either be based on GPP (General Physical Preparedness) or SPP (Specific Physical Preparedness).

Bodybuilding vs. Strength & Conditioning

An initial misconception which must be abolished is the confusion between bodybuilding and strength & conditioning training. The goal of a bodybuilder is to increase muscle size (muscular hypertrophy) and definition (low percentage of body fat) all for the purpose of aesthetics. Whilst there will be a certain level of increased strength the large muscles do not mean a package of potential terror; all show and no go as it is said. Whereas strength & conditioning training has a focus on applied GPP and SPP improvement in areas of strength & conditioning. Athletes would focus more towards increases in neural activity in muscle fiber recruitment, and its application in force production and speed. Athletes would also focus on other areas such as conditioning (energy system -primarily lactic anaerobic), mobility, agility and endurance.

MMA Conditioning

MMA has become a popular viewing sport. A sidekick to this is the increased interest in MMA conditioning. MMA style conditioning will primarily focus on – but not limited to – weight bearing exercises over an extended period of time which matches that of a competitive bout, either individually or as a circuit. This training is specific to the strength & conditioning requirements of an MMA athlete and can include the use of tools such as weights, TRX, bodyweight, prowler sled and implements such as tractor tyres and marine rope.

Former UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Personal Strength Training Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar has a close working relationship with strength & conditioning coach Luke Richesson, who implemented a functional movement strength program whereby Lesnar will complete tri-sets (3 exercises consecutively) within strength repetition ranges. An example of this is a 1 Arm Row x 3 (heavy weight, each side) onto Barbell Bench Press x 3 (heavy weight) onto Clap Push Up (pause between each repetition) x 3. All exercises completed with heavy loaded weight (strength range) and aimed to be completed in a controlled yet explosive movement.

A more staple strength workout for athletic performance which is used in MMA conditioning would be the 5 sets of 5 repetitions, completed with heavy weight and long (2-5 minutes) rest periods. An athlete would complete lead in sets building up to a weight before initial set of 5. This type of programming would primarily focus on compound exercise which would carry a large amount of relative weight, such as deadlift, squat, bench press, overhead press and pull up (additional weight if required). On top of this Olympic lifting is additionally a method used in MMA conditioning.

Old School Methods

Many combat sports still have a certain perception of strength training and conditioning in the usage of calisthenics and light weight high repetition weights for strength, and slow long distance roadwork (runs) for conditioning. We have already covered the misconception between bodybuilding and athlete strength training as the main reason why many traditionalists will steer clear of heavy weights, and utilizing light weights over high repetitions is merely training muscular endurance NOT strength. However the usage of traditional roadwork is interesting. Undoubtedly combat sport, and to train towards it, will require a large amount of aerobic conditioning and lower body endurance which would be trained for by long roadwork sessions. Also early morning roadwork (6am not 8am) will instill a particular level discipline. However many MMA athletes have ditched the notion of roadwork in favor of lactic threshold (LT) conditioning such as prowler sled push and pull, battle ropes, kettlebell circuits and hill or track sprints. It has been proven that this type of training has a direct application in fight situations. A combination of both LT conditioning and roadwork is a logical choice; one built on science, the other on time tested tradition.

In all an athlete who is training for combat sport can greatly utilize strength & conditioning as a way of improving performance. Most other if not all sports use these methods and so should boxers, kickboxers and MMA athletes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.