Does your training show when it matters the most in a fight?
Watching MMA fights at all levels, we notice the athletes that are at peak speeds, strengths, sharpness, etc., during the first minute of the fight, right? But as the rounds move on and the time ticks down we notice these peaks can change for most. Even at the highest levels, one instance in lack of judgment, decrease in reaction time, or decrease in power of a kick or punch can lose the battle. That fighter loses not because the other fighter had more skill but because he wasn’t more mentally or physically prepared. These are crushing reasons to lose. In everyone’s eyes it is known that the outcome was preventable. What happened? Yes, fighters most of the time will use a loss to motivate them to train even harder for the next fight. The important question is, “What went wrong?” I believe when a fighter finally reaches an opponent that has equal or slightly more/less talent and conditioning, there is one thing that guarantees victory. “Training Carry Over”, how much of the preparation for the fight actually carries over into the ring with situations like fatigue that happen in the” last 30 seconds” of the fight or later rounds. This is also seen in the boxing world as well.
Before I go on, I want to remind you what I talked about in my last article, The Future of MMA. In this article, I talked about human movement deficiency and efficiency, plus how ALL dysfunctions should be addressed to maximize any athlete’s full potential and prevent injuries. There are absolutely no “ifs”, “ands”, or “buts” when it comes to this component. If you have not read the article I encourage you to do so before you go on. If you have not engaged yourself in becoming an expert in corrective exercise, then you are not maximizing your full potential as a trainer or coach and are most definitely not maximizing any athlete or client’s full potential. In addition, you are allowing the possibilities of injury that will slow down or end a career.
With that said, let us move on. There are a few components of an athlete before and during a fight that are important to consider when designing the strength and conditioning part of a program. This is my breakdown and it is not limited to just these!
- Mental / Psychological state at the beginning of each fight – “fresh state”
- Physical / Conditioning level in a fresh state – beginning of fight
- Mental / psychological state in a fatigued state – later rounds or the last 30 sec.
- Physical / conditioning level at a fatigued state – later rounds or the last 30 sec.
Note: It is very important, like with any topic of discussion, that we do not “bottle neck” our thoughts. So feel free to add to this list if you feel it adds to your program.
Before I get into the main topic, #4, I want to briefly cover # 1-3 so these layers of complete preparation opens up thoughts of how you as a Strength Coach can reflect on these components and any other areas you might improve on. By doing this you can increase your own value and your athlete’s performance as well.
#1 – The mental state of an athlete before they enter the ring, we all know, is very important in the success of winning a fight. Proper preparation is taken in this aspect of the game. Many hours of visualizing offensive and defensive tactical moves and combinations from the opponent allow quicker and more accurate reactions. This also gets the athlete into “the zone” for the event. Without getting into all the technical science jargon, think about it with common sense and real life experiences.
Note: Another belief of mine is that you must use common sense, scientific evidence, and life experiences [not just your own but others that have been in this industry longer than you] to develop your more advanced methods.
For example, do you feel more confident when you know what to expect or when things are unknown? Going past that, would you feel even more confident and efficient if you knew all specific details than just generalizations? If you could visualize the future somehow of what the opponent would do, that would guarantee you never lose right? It is just common sense that if you haven’t visualized a situation then you will have a more difficult time with that situation! For a fighter, in which every second counts, knowing more than your opponent gives you huge advantages.
#2 – The athlete’s condition going into the fight. I would have to say about 99% of the time a serious fighter will put everything into physically preparing for a fight. Again the question to ask is, was the athlete put through a complete program? Mastering all the phases of flexibility, range of motion, understanding correct movement and postural control, strength, strength endurance, lactate threshold, aerobic capacity, balance, reactive and stability capabilities, speed, power, agility, etc., make a TRUE athlete. Only talent and skill will allow certain levels of success to be reached but will not make a champion. When talent is combined with optimal athletic abilities, then others better watch out.
Note: A trainer with a client or Strength Coach with an “athlete” never begins with a true athlete. This is our number one job before anything else! Do not maximize abilities based off current physical restrictions. You must first decrease the client’s restrictions, increasing full potential, and then maximize abilities based on the new restriction level set! We must develop each individual to the highest levels of athletic abilities while decreasing the potential of injury even though these new abilities and higher performance levels can cause higher degrees of injury. Not only does your client reach new levels but you will see your own value increase in the eyes of your clients which in turn means you grow as a professional as well.
#3 & 4 – The fighter must be able to carry both mental and physical preparedness into later rounds of the fight. I believe these two components are intertwined. In the perspective of the beginner level fighters to intermediate, this component will allow a greater separation from the competition. That is, if all other components are in place! When we get to the more advanced levels and pro levels, we are looking at a high caliber athlete and fighter. Especially at the pro level, they have already developed into an elite athlete with high levels of talent. For example, when doing Sandbag or kettle bell exercises alone in a workout, does it have limitless performance advancements throughout an athlete’s career? My theory is that it has much more development powers for beginners, less for intermediate, and about none for advanced users. Two things usually become speed bumps in all the levels of MMA fighter’s careers – Injury and the “last 30 seconds” of the fight. My last article I talked about the injury prevention and the developing of an athlete. Now let’s talk about when fatigue sets in later in a fight. This is when the playing ground becomes more equal, or when it goes all wrong!
There are many great styles of training and awesome types of equipment used (sandbags, TRX, Kettlebells, etc). However, these are only as effective as they relate to an actual fight. How you combine the exercises and equipment are what determine the quality of the workout. There is no protocol or textbook way of doing things. The only thing that is protocol is the foundational science and common sense you have in your own head. The truth is, what makes a great trainer/coach become elite is being able to take any athlete in any sport and any situation, break it all down, build it from foundation up, and use the tools the right way to accomplish the goals. You should be able to do this with ANY sport!
NOTE: When you certify and become an expert in a piece of equipment, please do not assume now you have a secret weapon. It is important to know everything about that piece if you plan on using it, but do not look at it as a one dimensional solution.
Our job is to make the individual an athlete and maximize his or her potential in the fitness layers of their sport. What I want you to do is think of all the situations your athlete goes through when in a fight or on the field. From those situations think of the different layers, from the foundational to structural that will make a complete program. For example, posterior musculature like your erector spinae hold you upright, correct? Does it do that by doing repetitive contractions or does it do it isometrically? So why do we see mostly movement exercises done for muscle groups that have the primary purpose of holding static positions, while the main focus should be on the stabilization abilities over long periods of time? Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the movement exercises are very important because that motion is done in the ring, and strength is important. BUT when is that muscle needed to support the fighter’s posture the most? I think a fighter would agree when they are in a standing game and trading fist that they want to have good postural stability and muscular strength-endurance. If there is a fatigued erector spinae that cannot support lumbar to thorasic spine posture in an isometric position after fatigue has set in then it is safe to say reaction time and power decrease, because the foundation has failed. Furthermore, if the erector spinae is overcompensating then reciprocal inhibition will cause the “abs” to deactivate. In other words, we have a total breakdown of what we have been training so hard for! Remember as I said in my last article, you are only as strong as your weakest link. So doesn’t it make sense to implement factors like these into your training programs? Common sense and science right?!?
I hope I was able to spark deeper thinking into how you design performance programs so they carry over into the ring when it matters the most. Below are a few examples of how I implement different layers into a workout. The main focus will be leg and hip strength endurance and power in sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. Also, what will be incorporated is the mental part when these muscles are fatigued and asked to do technical drills that are related to their disciplines.
Goal: Fatigue legs and peak heart rate to red zone and then go into fighting drills that stay close to the plane of motion done in the exercises. Overloading of the musculature responsible for the specific plane of motion will improve performance. This example focuses on mainly endurance, lactate thresholds, power, and recovery. You can also incorporate stability and other components into these if you like.
20 speed squats, 40 jumping lunges with opposite arm reaches to ground, 40 power steps (first 20 jumping for height and 2nd 20 for speed), and last 20 squat jumps (5 regular, 5 with butt kickers, 5 with knee tucks, and 5 regular again). Do these with NO rest. The goal is to max out the heart rate and mentally challenge the athlete past what he or she thought they could put themselves through. With my advanced clients I add weight with dumbbells and weighted vests if body weight doesn’t make them second guess their abilities. Also you want them to get to the verge of wanting to take multiple small rests. This is called the mental failure zone. Your job is to not let it happen!
NOTE: There is no room for fake progressions. What I mean is that if your client takes 5 brief rests in the round and in 4 weeks you start allowing 15 brief rests, and they are able to use more weight or go faster, does it mean they have improved? Or is it that you allow them to cheat more?
Also make sure failure in posture and form is NOT compromised from fatigue. More times than not the first initial loss of posture or form is from their mental thoughts. All of this is a fine line, so pay attention to how the athlete responds.
At this point, the athlete’s heart rate should be between 90% to 95% of max heart rate. If you have a heart rate monitor it helps with precise training levels as it pertains to anaerobic threshold and recovery rates. Now right after the leg circuit, you have the athlete do combat drills that work on the front to back motion for 30-60 seconds. For example, combine straight on offensive and defensive drills. Keep it intense. Tell the athlete to imagine this is for the championship. The goal is for the athlete to focus on dropping the heart rate while in this state of exhaustion. Take note of how long it takes them to drop to 80-89% of max. After the drills, see how long it takes the heart rate to drop below 75% by actively walking around. If the client cannot recover out of these zones then they are not ready for this kind of training. You must re-evaluate them and get their base conditioning right or drop the intensity down so progressions can happen.
Start with full 2 minute rests before going to round 2 and round 3. A progression will be to get it down to 1 minute.
Everything will be side to side movements. They will start with side to side squats, making sure to go deeper and deeper each rep. Do 40 total. Then go straight to side to side lunges as fast as possible. Do not allow shortening of the lunges. Have them reach across with opposite hand. Do 40 total reps. For the third exercise have them do side to side power steps. Again the first 20 are for height and the last 20 are for speed. And lastly do Ice Skaters (40 total).
Check the athlete’s heart rate and take note. Now, do 30-60 seconds of sagittal and frontal movement drills. The goals are the same as round one. Make sure the athlete responds sharply and use powerful movements as he or she would in a fight. After this make sure to record the heart rate recoveries. Also take note of how many mistakes or the level sharpness portrayed.
This round is going to show the guts and want the athlete has. Everything will be rotational hip movements or a transverse plane of motion. Start with squat rotations as fast as possible for 20 reps. Then move to 40 total reps of turning lunges (transverse lunges). Third, is turning power steps for 40 reps. And last 90 degree turning jump squats (5 regular, 5 with butt kickers, 5 with knee tucks, and 5 regular again).
Because the athlete will be extremely fatigued at this point take note and re-enforce posture issues and technique. Mentally coach them through 30-60 seconds of combat drills that incorporate rotational movements, sagittal, and frontal plane movements.
NOTE: This workout is intense and not meant to be done every day of the week. It is to work on a particular aspect of an athlete’s training. Make sure recovery is properly done. For example: do not do hurricanes the next day!
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