MMA Strength & Conditioning Program – Build a Better Fighter!

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With every strength and conditioning program, you first have to develop a base with an athlete by putting him or her through a series of assessments. This will include both flexibility and coordination, looking for weak points in the athlete’s physiological and neurological make-up and their ability to recover from stress-related exercises. Once this is established, then it’s time to put together a program that will help them improve the imbalances and weak points you assessed, plus build on whatever they feel they want to improve that will work well with their fighting style.

Start the athlete on a routine 2-3 times a week, depending on if they are in fight camp or in their off season. If they are in an off season, this is the time you want to work on more high-intensity, lower volume skills with power-oriented movements, mixed in with longer lower intensity cardio. When in a fight camp, usually around 6-12 weeks out from a fight, you want to cut the training down to 2 days a week for strength and power and use the 3rd day for more fight-oriented muscular endurance work, such as 5×5-minute rounds of continuous work.

At 2-6 weeks out from a fight, cut the workouts down to just 2 days a week to allow the athlete to focus on more fight specific practices and martial arts. With those 2 days, focus on pre-rehabilitation work, flexibility and muscular endurance high-intensity work. Focus on sprints with minimal rest times for cardio, along with fight specific movements, such as bag work, shadow boxing, ground and pound with bands, sprawl and brawl. The week of the fight needs to strictly be about recovery and fine tuning. This is more of a mental focusing for the fighter, so there should not be any high-intensity or stress-related work being done at this time. If a fighter has to cut weight, this will be an even more difficult time for him or her, so focus more on their food intake and light cardio to help pull off a couple of pounds before weigh-ins. Remember, all the hard work is done, and it’s time to have fun!

The main lifts for a fighter that will help them become a stronger and more explosive fighter in the cage will be Squats, Deadlifts, Box jumps, Overhead Press, and Floor Press.

1.  Squats can be varied to help different muscles of the hip and leg to fire and become stronger for an overall stronger lower body and hip force development. These will help in areas such as Wrestling (takedowns, takedown defense), Striking (punching power, footwork elusiveness), and BJJ (guard passing, guard strengthening, submissions), while also strengthening their lower body lactic acid threshold! Front squats, Zucher Squats or Grapplers Squats, Box Squats, and Overhead Squats are all great movements for a fighter to develop strong force development. All lifts can also be performed with chains and bands to add an extra resistance and a stronger neurological response.

2.  Dead lifts by far are the best full body movement, not only for fighters but for everyone wanting to become the strongest version of themselves. Dead lifts, performed correctly, will improve the fighter’s posterior chain and aid in a strong base to take the fight wherever they want it to go. This also helps improve all aspects of martial arts. This lift can be performed traditional style or sumo style. Do both ways to hit each part of the muscle initiated in this movement to eliminate imbalances. Once again, this can be performed with bands and chains for a greater response to the work. To reduce risk of injury, you can alternate squat days and dead lifts days so you will not overwork a single muscle group.

3.  Box jumps develop a strong powerful mind and lower body. They work more for explosive neurological strength rather than brute force. This exercise will develop speed, coordination, and conditioning. Your athletes should perform this movement with more intensity than volume, sticking with a rep range of 5 jumps of 5-10 reps, with 1-2 minutes rest in between to get the max energy to develop this power, speed, and agility movement.

4.  Over Head Press will develop the athlete’s upper body power and strength. It helps with upper back and shoulder stability, along with core strength and stability. This lift can be performed with a barbell, dumbbell or Strongman log. Bands and chains are also good to attach or use with the lift.

5.  Floor press is a movement that will help the athlete’s upper body strength and power, along with putting the fighter in a position that relates to a fight’s position (bottom guard, bottom mount, top guard). Perform this exercise on the floor, with the athlete’s elbows tucked in to the sides, back arched, and upper back pinched together. Legs can be flat on the ground or planted for hip drive off the bottom motion. This movement can be performed with chains and bands for stronger lockout power for more explosion and K.O power in the fighter’s punches.

6.  Conditioning for the fighter will vary depending upon where they are in their camp or if it is offseason. The conditioning portion should either be on an opposite day of the lifting days or directly after the lifting. Remember, this should never be any longer than 60 minutes, except in an offseason. The athlete still has to train at least 2-3 times a day, not only on Strength & Conditioning but also on Wrestling, Striking, and BJJ Grappling. We want to avoid possible over-training of an athlete, so this is why putting together an effective and strategic program is extremely important.

Nutrition is the first and last line of defense in a fighter’s strength and conditioning program. If the athlete does not have the right amount of fuel, then it will be difficult or even impossible to achieve the results needed out of the program. The fighter’s weight, how far out they are from the fight, and what weight they walk around at will alter the food intake of the athlete’s diet. As a standard approach, always aim to get around 2g of complex slow-digesting carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight the fighter walks around at, 1g of protein per pound of walk-around weight, and about 0.5g of healthy fats per pound of walk-around weight. Stick with this from the offseason until about 2 weeks out from weigh-ins. Two weeks out, numbers should be brought down by half to help facilitate the weight cutting process. Proper hydration is key to a stronger, healthier fighter, so aim to get at least 1 gallon of water a day for fighters 150 pounds or more and around ½ gallon for fighters under 150 pounds.

Supplementation will also help aid in nutrition when food doesn’t provide all the nutrients needed to help fuel and keep the fighter healthy. Always take a Multi-Vitamin, Fish Oils (Omega 3 and 6), Vitamin B Complex, Vitamin D3, Magnesium, Branch Chain Amino Acids, Whey Protein Powder, and, if necessary, Glutamine for recovery from workouts. These supplements must remain a staple in the fighter’s nutrition. For tips on food choices, recipes and nutrition breakdown, check out the book Healthy Cooking: Fat-Loss and Fit Eating by Phil Daru, available on Amazon.com and Darufit.com.

If you are a coach, trainer, or fighter, I recommend integrating these concepts into your program. As a strength and conditioning coach or trainer, you must develop a certain relationship with your fighter/athlete to reassure them that you are with them 100% and that the program and designed workouts are going to take them to a new level. If you are a fighter, I advise you to take notes on your progress. Keep your numbers logged so you yourself can see the change in strength, flexibility, mobility, coordination, and power.

A good strength and conditioning program needs to be precise and straightforward. With each individual workout, there must be a designed approach performed at an optimal level each time. No unnecessary risk should be involved, and this applies especially to Combat Fighter Athletes since the risk is high enough with their own skill training. Be aware of other aspects of the fight game, and know that strength conditioning, although a vital part of the fighter’s preparation, is still only one part of many. I am a big believer in gaining a mental edge over competition, and without a doubt having a solid training camp with skill-driven preparation and a well-planned strength and conditioning program will give the fighter a mental edge over all competition. A strategic training plan will enable a fighter to be ready at any moment to step into combat and take care of business. A quality program for MMA needs to be a well-planned approach since fighters rarely have breaks, making it easy for them to over train, especially when throwing in a high-intensity strength conditioning session every other day.

When you develop your program Make sure you take into account those factors and know when it is time to taper down the session or bring down the intensity, as well as knowing when to ramp it up. The build-up to a fight can be taxing, but if you stay with the plan and make notes on progress, it will be easier to manage the desired outcome!

In closing, MMA strength and conditioning programs need to be based on specifics to better facilitate a fighter’s needs and to monitor their progress leading up to competition. Programs need to be well versed in the areas of martial arts, making sure you cover all aspects of where the fight could and will take place. Be conscious of the volume, and carefully approach each day with a plan to build up the fighter rather than breaking him down. Nutrition also plays a key role. Make sure the fighter is properly hydrated and well-nourished through the fight camp and into the offseason. Supplementation needs to also be on point to initiate a greater health benefit for everyday recovery from training and overall health. Last, proper preparation and management is a vital component to a fighter’s progress.

Now that you’re ready, let’s get to work!

For more information go to Darufit.com. You can also check out videos on YouTube by going to Phil Daru and subscribing to the channel. Hope you enjoyed this article and take this information with you to create success!

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