“Strength is an essential component of all human performance and its formal development can no longer be neglected in the preparation of any athlete.(1)”
The fundamental reason for classifying fighters, by weight class, is ultimately a question of strength. In order that a fight ultimately displays a dynamic quality of fairness, fighters are matched by body weight. Conventional thinking suggests that fighters, of approximately the same body weight, are comparable in strength. However, science tells us something all together different. “The production and increase of strength both depend on neuromuscular processes. Strength is not primarily a function of muscle size, but one of the appropriate muscles powerfully contracted by effective nervous stimulation. This is the foundation of all strength training. (1)”
With regards to this article, it is recognized that all fighters must possess a high level of technical skill relative to ones chosen form of fighting. It is this skill, when combined with strength and conditioning and ultimately mental toughness, that yields dominance.
Thus it is the purpose of this article is to provide the No Holds Barred (NHB) Fighter with the information necessary to incorporate the optimal means and measures of resistance training into a sport specific program.
Strength training is vital for fighters.
The opponent, with whom the fighter battles with, during various situations throughout a fight, provides high resistance. “We may conclude that the magnitude of muscular force depends on the external resistance provided. Resistance is one of the factors that act to determine the force generated by an athlete, but only one. (2)” In the case of fighting, the fighter’s opponent is that external resistance. In the sport of Olympic Weightlifting, to high pull (a variation of the classic Olympic Lifts) a load in excess of double body weight, is commonplace for middle weight lifters. To high pull a load as little as one’s own body weight, in this case less than 50%, of a lifters one repetition maximum (1RM,) is considered novice. For an elite lifter a tremendous amount of force would be generated against such a, relatively light, load. The reason for this is that once absolute force production and rate of force development (RFD) are highly developed, the forces that can be generated in lifting weights, weighing approximately 50% of 1RM, are tremendous. For example, if a 200lb fighter is capable of performing a high pull of 350lbs, then pulling 200lbs is equivalent to only 57% of one’s 1RM. Accordingly, dumping, or throwing a fighter of approximately the same body weight, from the clinch position, would prove to be a seemingly effortless task.
Fighters must pay special attention to lifting maximal weights.
The body weight of the fighter’s opponent, combined with the fact that the opponent is trying to overcome the fighter, represents a high resistance. If a 200lb fighter faced an opponent the size of a child, the resistance would be relatively small. Therefore, the fighter would not require the same strength that would be necessary to face an opponent of equal body weight (200lbs). Moving a high resistance requires a high level of maximal strength; whereas moving a small resistance does not require the same level of strength as moving a high resistance. Observe the difference in size between tennis players and defensive linemen (in American Football). Consider the implements that must be overcome by each athlete. A tennis ball represents a relatively small resistance when compared to a 300lb offensive lineman (the defensive lineman’s opponent). Thus, there is a great difference in body weight, and maximal strength levels, between tennis players and defensive linemen. The resistance that a fighter encounters is his opponent. Two fighters of equal body weight may possess extremely different levels of maximal strength. All else being equal, the stronger fighter will dominate his opponent. It is in the best interest of the fighter to possess the highest attainable levels of maximal strength at any given body weight. Maximal strength is best developed by utilizing the Maximal Effort Method. Lifting weights in excess of 90% 1RM, optimally for 1-2 repetitions per set, is the most effective means for developing maximal strength. It is important to note that lifting weights in excess of 90% 1RM for more than 3-6 weeks, in a row, will yield an over training effect on the central nervous system (CNS). Thus, one must employ the utilization of the Russian Conjugate System of Periodization and rotate different max effort lifts every one to two weeks. By rotating different lifts every week the CNS can positively adapt to the repeated high intensity training.
Fighters must pay special attention to Rate of Force Development (RFD).
Zatsiorsky states that “the maximal force attained when the magnitude of a motor task parameter is fixed and the RFD, particularly the RFD developed at the beginning phase of a muscular effort, are not correlated. Strong people do not necessarily possess a high RFD. (2)” It is for this reason that a powerlifter will not put the shot nearly as far as a thrower. Absolute force production must be combined with the ability to develop that force rapidly in order to be powerful. If a fighter is only capable of absolute force production at a slow velocity then shooting in on an opponent becomes futile. However, if a fighter possesses a high RFD as well as high absolute force production, then not only will that fighter posses the explosive strength necessary to effectively shoot in on his opponent, but also cause appreciable trauma to his opponent once he obtains positive control. A high RFD is achieved by utilizing the Dynamic Effort Method and Plyometric (shock training). By lifting sub-maximal weights (approximately 50-75% 1RM), explosively, and performing various plyometric drills, one effectively influences the central nervous system to improve various neuromuscular processes that aid in increasing RFD.
For an illustration of recommended loading parameters, for developing RFD and maximal strength, it is suggested to the reader to reference my article entitled “The Russian Conjugate System of Periodization Applied to MMA Fight Training”.
Strength Endurance
“Strength endurance is the lengthy display of muscular tension without diminished work-capacity. (3)” Strength endurance is realized in a fight, in that the fighter must continually strike, take down, and grapple, with his opponent. In a NHB competition, if the duration of a round was less than one minute, the need for strength endurance would be debatable. This, however, is not the case. The duration of each round of competition may vary considerably depending upon which federation a fighter is competing in. “So, multiple repetitions with various weights are the basic method of developing strength-endurance. The intensity is determined by the dynamics inherent to the specialized exercise. If significant effort is required, use the optimal heavy weight in combination with light weights or with exercises imitating the regime of the classic exercises. (3)” In NHB fighting significant effort is required. This may be realized by either repeatedly performing sport specific skills (i.e., shooting in, with various weighted vests), or by varying the load lifted (i.e., back squats, utilizing the repetition method).
Goal Specific Strength Training
Throughout the course of a NHB fight, a competitor will find himself required to respond to numerous situations (i.e., stand up, shooting in, sprawling, throwing, in the clinch, in the guard, full mount, etc.). Each of these situations calls upon various motor skills in order to capitalize on the situation and dominate the opponent. Goal specific training is the method for addressing the various different motor skills necessary for fighting. “The requirements for exercise specificity should be thoroughly satisfied. The exercise of first choice should be the main sport exercise with additional resistance sport exercises with added resistance. This resistance should be applied in the proper direction (in locomotion, horizontally) and not exceed a level at which the motion pattern (the sport technique) is substantially altered. (2)” For a fighter this added resistance can be obtained with the use of a weight vest. In this case the fighter would continue to load the vest until the point just short of where technique becomes compromised. If the fighter were to continue to load the vest with weight, past the point where technique becomes compromised, then he would experience diminishing returns. Therefore, the fighter will experience the best training effect by utilizing a load that does not comprise technique. Thus, by training with added resistance, in this case a weight vest loaded with the optimal amount of weight, the fighter improves force production capabilities, in addition to anaerobic conditioning. This is ultimately realized when the fighter removes the weight vest and continues to fight.
There are many variations of realizing strength training. Each fighter must choose the means and methods that will best develop the sport specific skills inherent to his chosen fighting system. Through utilizing the various means and methods of resistance training, to develop the multiple components of strength, the fighter is better suited to dominate his opponents. Remember, in No Holds Barred Fighting, domination is the name of the game.
James Smith- Phone: 858-483-3226 Email: smith@strengthwise.com
1. Siff, M.C. (2000). Supertraining. (Fifth edition). Denver, Colorado.
2. Zatsiorsky, V.M. (1995). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics.
3. Laputin, N.P. and Oleshko, V.G. (1982). Managing the Training of Weightlifters. Kiev. Zdorov’ya Publishers. Sportivny Press. Livonia, MI.