MMA Strength & Conditioning: You’re Doing it Wrong!

Mixed martial arts (MMA)  magazines, forums and blogs are filled with images of sexy new strength and conditioning techniques designed specifically for the needs of a fighter. These mind blowing techniques mimic the movements of a fighter and are designed to challenge your willpower and stamina. The coaches behind this program are certified, jacked and inconceivably idiotic. In an attempt to recreate the wheel, these coaches will leave you broken down and out of commission. I’m not speaking to the fighters in this rant. This article will be much more about the silly practices you will often see fitness professionals (term used loosely) using in the strength and conditioning of mixed martial artists.

There is a lack of quality control in the world of fitness. All too often individuals with a generic understanding of how to make a client sweat use their professional understanding of operating a stop watch, yelling, and counting downward to assume they are qualified to train the fit, unfit, pregnant, arthritic, and athlete alike. If you are a legitimate mixed martial artist looking for a bright future in the sport or a S&C coach looking to train mixed martial artists, reading this article could save rotator cuffs and careers.

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Form follows function

First, let’s look at "functional fitness"; a term that is being used to represent anything that doesn't resemble traditional fitness, but in reality means something else entirely. Functional training means training in a way that carries over into your daily practices, or a general preparation for unexpected real life stresses. For instance, I teach every one of my clients how to pick themselves up off the ground. To some, picking oneself up off the ground comes in the form of a "burpee". To my senior citizens, this could mean using a bench to pull themselves up to a standing position. Let your 90 year old grandmother fall one time and tell me building strength in "standing up" isn't functional. To go further in this example, you must ask yourself if an Olympic Lift is "functional" for your grandmother. Could learning the Power Clean with a minimum load be fun and beneficial for grandma? Absolutely. Is it more functional than a simple Deadlift? Unlikely.

Now, let's look at functional training for a mixed martial artist. Any aspiring mixed martial artist belonging to a good camp (fight gym) will already be participating in regularly scheduled bouts of high intensity anaerobic activity through MMA training. Without making this an article on bodily stress and recovery, I feel it is important to also mention that a mixed martial artist is nearly always nursing an injury and at best, borderline fatigued. So, usually we are looking at an athlete who trains twice a day, has poor mobility and is training for the purpose of performing better in a fist fight. Programming around bouts changes the perception of “functional” similar to how we did for grandma.

Coaching Qualifications

If you're a coach, adding a mixed martial artist to your list of clientele should bring a sense of anxiety to your life. I'm not saying it won't be worth it! I'm simply saying that once this specialized athlete hangs up the phone, you must immediately ask yourself several questions.

  • Do I know exactly what a mixed martial artist needs from me?
  • Am I willing and knowledgeable enough to program a workout cycle in relation to the fighters current training schedule, allowing them to peak at the right time?
  • Do I have the time to train an individual with special programming?

If these questions seem silly or a waste of time- please, do not train fighters… Or my grandma.

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What kind of S&C does a mixed martial artist need?

If you are dealing with a legitimate fighter, he or  she will not be needing you to "get in shape". Anyone who has completed several 5 minute rounds of sparring or wrestling knows that a workout can hardly compare. What you, as a coach can and should do however is work with the athlete to develop greater strength, speed, agility, flexibility, and proprioception.

Are you willing and knowledgeable enough to program a workout cycle in relation to the fighter's current training schedule, allowing them to peak at the right time? If a fighter comes to you 12 weeks out from a fight, you better have a plan. Factors such as their proximity to "fight weight", preexisting injuries, mobility, prior workout experience, and fight training commitments should be focal points of workout programming.

Got a guy walking at 200lbs who will fight at 170lbs? Keep him on the low volume side of barbell lifts, or possibly opting for dumbbells instead.. Bum shoulder? Don't you dare let him "kip"! A combination of controlled, horizontal and vertical pulls should be the prescription. Does he have the mobility to establish a proper front rack or overhead position? If not, you don't have time to fix the solution, but can supplement movements with ones that require less mobility, yet still require equal physical demands (i.e. Shrugs  > Power Clean). Where can you fit S&C in with the current training schedule? Make sure your athlete has ample recovery time between workouts, and isn't seeing any interference between the two. See what I mean? A lot of work!

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Do you have time to train a fighter?

With the above factors in mind, your fighter obviously will not be participating in the same workout routine as the majority of your clientele. Are you able to work with them at the same time as your class, giving them equal attention to their special programming, ensuring they move with efficiently and safe? The answer is no. So, your ideal solution is a special time for your fighter(s). A lot of fighters are broke, and you're not a professional fitness volunteer, so that must be figured out. Sheesh…

So you feel you’re ready to train a fighter. As is said, “When the student is ready the master appears”. While I never condone practicing sexy new techniques on an athlete, you know we aren’t reinventing the wheel to train our combat sport athlete. Know your stuff, create a game plan and find an athlete in need of your service. You are looking for a fighter with determination, coachability and time. When you start, remember that less is more and your goal is to increase the usability of your athlete’s weapons- not to fatigue them.

Taking on strength and conditioning of a mixed martial artist is not an easy task. As a coach, it is crucial that you are honest with yourself before undertaking any special population clientele. When training a fighter with big dreams and goals, it's important to understand your potential place in the promotion or destruction of their career. Your goals with a fighter far exceed before and after pictures, 1 rep maxes or a better workout time. If you are up to braving the challenge of MMA strength & conditioning, you are now responsible for the health and performance of an aspiring athlete!

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Tyler Minton

Nutrition Coach at Power Athlete
Professional mixed martial artist, gym owner and Power Athlete Nutrition Coach. An avid follower of CrossFit Football since its inception, Tyler has implemented Power Athlete methodology with thousands of athletes in his own gym and abroad. A student of Robb Wolf's for 7 years, Tyler uses the principles of ancestral health to help athletes empower their performance. One of the worlds leading weight cut experts, Tyler works with some of the UFC's top athletes, preparing them for peak performance when they step into the cage. Tyler utilizes his own personal and coaching experience, combined with the very best in nutritional education to help athletes fuel the fire!

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7 Responses to MMA Strength & Conditioning: You’re Doing it Wrong!

  1. Yves Mueller

    Great Article Tyler!

    Would you recommend doing CrossFit Style conditioning after Strength Training for an MMA Athlete? Even if he had BJJ Practice about 5 hours prior to that?
    So like the CFFB approach. First Strength for ex Squat & Press, followed by a short MetCon.
    My fighter is in his OFF Season right now. He won’t fight till March next year so far.

    • I actually wouldn’t. If he is training hard, I would maybe just do the SWOD each day separated by your training session. I my off season I would typically do the SWOD in the morning followed by some drills. Then, fight training would be at night.

  2. Yves Mueller

    Thank you for the reply Tyler!

    I am working with him since one and a half year now & found PA/CFFB as the best source for programming, knowledge in general. I just took the Seminar in Nuremberg and it was awesome!
    So I want to implement the Power Athlete methodology way more. He is the first Fighter I have ever trained and I am in the first stages of my coaches career as well.So it is great to get in touch with you guys so easily and find some great answers! His goal is to make it to the UFC as a welterweight and his chances to get there just increased since he signed with SBG Ireland. So I am doing my best to help him reach that.

    Could you recommend some Training methods that worked well for you?

  3. Yves- You might also want to check out Grindstone! It may actually be perfect for your fighter during the off season if he’s not training MMA several times a day.

    The best advice I can give him is to recover and eat enough! I wish I would have values those things from the start!

    So you’re in Ireland? I’ll actually be there in November!

  4. Yves Mueller

    Okay! We will check it out! The Problem is, like in your article…we don’t have much money to spend.
    We have to see, if we can spend the $27 a month. Like I said, just the beginning.
    I even train him for no money, because he could not afford a S&C Training otherwise.

    Sounds easy at first, but i totally know what you mean by that! Fortunately he is healthy and has no injuries to take care of right now.

    He is only in Ireland for his fight preparations, but he is from Germany. Would be great to meet you anyways. What are you doing in Ireland?
    If you are curious, you can look him up on IG…its @Greenmaskmma

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