The Significance of Specific Strength Development in MMA

TAGS: sport, MMA, smith, strength, training

As the sport of MMA progresses so must the specific means and methods of fighter training. For some time now it has been widely acknowledged that fighters must be highly skilled and conditioned in order to be competitive at the elite level. What has failed to have been addressed in the grand scheme, however, is the importance of developing specific strength.

With respect to specific strength development, one term which all competitive fighters must be made aware of is power to weight ratio. This term illustrates the significance of fighters maximizing their power capabilities with respect to their bodyweight. A high power to weight ratio, combined with a high level of technical skill and conditioning, may allow a fighter to dominate his respective weight class.

In this regard-

-Most fighters are aware that they must achieve a high level of technical skill in order to be highly competitive.

-Most fighters are aware that they must achieve a high level of anaerobic/aerobic conditioning in order to be highly competitive.

-Most fighters are UNAWARE of the various means and methods of developing sport specific strength which will directly translate to increased performance in the Octagon, in the ring, on the mat, etc.

The development of submissions, takedowns, striking, positioning, etc, has been well defined. What has not been well defined (in the MMA world), however, are the specific means and methods of developing the various manifestations of muscular strength which will add an extremely valuable dimension to any fighter’s capabilities.

Considerations

When devising a training program, all fighters must take into account the overall volume of training (e.g. skill work, conditioning, strength training) and its effect on the central nervous system.

At the elite level, it is most common for the majority of a fighters training to primarily consist of skill work and conditioning. Thus, the optimal means and methods of sport-specific strength training MUST be employed, because the majority of training volume will be comprised of skill work and conditioning.

If a comparably lesser volume of training is to be allotted to strength development, then the training time devoted to the development of specific strength, must be optimally utilized.

Fighters must be made aware of the different means and methods of strength training and their effect on the neuromuscular system.

Certain fighters are seeking either to move up a weight class or to maximize their bodymass in their current weight class. Other fighters may desire to move down a weight class, while maintaining strength levels as best as possible. There are fighters who desire to increase their strength levels while maintaining their current bodymass. All of these different circumstances call for the utilization of different training parameters (e.g. exercises, sets, repetitions, load, etc).

Athletic Preparation

Before a fighter may commence an advanced training program that fighter must first develop a certain level of both general and special physical preparedness (GPP/SPP).

GPP is achieved by means and methods of general conditioning, mobility, flexibility, and strength exercises, or drills, which serve to develop a base level of ‘general’ physical preparedness that will prepare the athlete for the implementation of SPP means and methods.

An example of a fighter who would be better served by developing his level of GPP would be a fighter who possesses strength, speed and skill yet cannot express those strengths for any appreciable amount of time during a fight. This is an illustration of a lack of conditioning/anaerobic/aerobic endurance.

SPP encompasses the implementation of ‘special’ or more specific means and methods of training which more closely approximate the actual sport skill(s).

An example of a fighter who would be better served by developing his level of SPP would be a fighter who possesses a high level of conditioning, strength, and speed yet lacks the ability to skillfully express those strengths in a fight scenario. This is an illustration of a lack of technical proficiency, or an inability to proficiently execute strikes, clinch/guard/mount positioning, takedowns, escapes, submissions, etc.

Programming and Organization of Training

All strength coaches and trainers would be wise to incorporate and integrate the programming and organization of training, via the sport-specific means and methods of strength and power development, into the training program of every fighter.

In its simplest terms, the programming and organization of training encompasses the systematic analysis, construction, and categorization of various specific training means and methods and the logical application and integration of these training variables into the actual training program.

Means and Methods of Training

Training means may be defined as any exercises or drills which serve to develop an athlete’s abilities. Training methods may be defined as any systematic organization and utilization of training parameters which serve to develop an athlete’s abilities.

Applicability

The optimal means and methods of training, when utilized appropriately, will benefit any type of fighter, regardless of competitive rules, fighting style, or governing body (e.g. Pride, UFC, Abu Dhabi, King of the Cage, etc.).

An up and coming fighter who has successfully integrated the optimal means and methods of sport-specific training into a fighter development program is Neil Melanson. The following link illustrates a brief demonstration of Neil’s technical skills:

www.teamgorillahouse.com/site/view/NeilTheKneeBarMelanson.pml

Neil has and continues to serve as an example for demonstrating the efficacy of integrating the optimal means and methods of strength training into the training program of a Mixed Martial Artist. Neil’s strength, conditioning, and skill level are exceedingly well developed for any fighter, especially one who has been training for MMA for less than two years.

Some of Neil’s strength accomplishments at 6’4” 250lbs (Drug Free) are:
- 600lb Sumo Deadlift (No Belt)
- 550lb Sumo Deadlift for 3 reps (No Belt)
- 25 Neutral Grip Bodyweight Pull Ups

Neil’s development as a fighter is a testament to the fact that a great fighter may be produced in a very short period of time so long as the optimal means and methods of training are implemented into the training program only after having been constructed, analyzed, and categorized by way of the programming and organization of training.

Program Construction

Program construction is ultimately a factor of time. Every fighter has a different work/school/training schedule. Thus, every fighter is faced with different considerations with respect to how much time may be allotted to the development of all sport-specific abilities. Furthermore, every fighter has different strengths and weaknesses. Thus, every fighter must logically and systematically organize all training variables so that the development of weak abilities is prioritized while concurrently developing and/or maintaining all other abilities.

This logical and systematic organization and implementation of training variables may be realized through the Conjugate Sequence System, and the Concurrent method of periodization. The Conjugate method is a form of periodization in which all sport-specific abilities are developed in sequence over time by means of uni-directional loading of sport-specific training parameters/methods. The Concurrent method is another form of periodization in which all sport-specific abilities are developed ‘simultaneously’ over time. This concurrent development of abilities is achieved by the ‘vertical/complex loading’ of sport-specific training parameters/methods.

Both the Conjugate Sequence System and the Concurrent method of periodization were developed by strength scientists of the former Soviet Union. Initially, both of these two forms of periodization were constructed and applied to the training of elite Olympic weightlifters, and Olympic style weightlifters in the process of achieving sports mastery (PASM). What must be noted is that sport-specific training methods must be specific to the sport for which the athlete is training. Additionally, MMA fighters, or any other type of athlete, must not be compared to Olympic weightlifters. Accordingly, MMA fighters, and every other type of athlete, must NOT train like Olympic weightlifters.

With respect to MMA, both of these highly specialized methods of periodization, the Conjugate and Concurrent methods, may be combined in an effort to yield performance development specific to MMA.

An example of an extremely effective application of periodization methodology is to integrate the simultaneous development of sport-specific abilities, by means of the Concurrent method and complex training, into the Conjugate Sequence System. The training effect yielded by this junction of periodization schemes is the continual and concurrent development of all sport-specific abilities throughout the training year.

As stated earlier, the amount of time that most fighters have to allot to the development of sport-specific strength is more likely to be less than the amount of time which will be allotted to skill and conditioning. Thus, every minute must be maximized during the strength training session. In order to effectively manage and maximize the total volume of training time, which includes the development of skill, conditioning, and strength, one may employ the utilization of the Conjugate Sequence System and the Concurrent method of periodization.

Optimal Strength Training Means/Movements

For every fighter, the optimal means of training will tend to remain constant, while the methods of training will differ depending upon what abilities are in most need of development. Fighters are best served by thinking in terms of training movements, as opposed to training muscles. By thinking in terms of training movements a fighter will develop a better sense of the specific applications of various exercises and the effectiveness, of those exercises, at developing various motor qualities. The primary movement patterns which should be addressed in a fighter’s strength training program are listed below.

Movement Patterns
- horizontal pulling (row variations, reverse flys)
- horizontal pressing (flat DB/BB press, push up variations, med ball throws)
- vertical pulling (chin ups/pull ups, shrugs, climbs)
- vertical pressing (overhead DB/BB press, med ball throws)
- spine/hip/knee/ankle extension (squats, deadlifts, Olympic lift variations, med ball throws, lunges, step ups)
- spinal flexion/rotation/abduction/adduction (leg raises, trunk twists, side bends, med ball slams/throws)
- knee flexion/hip extension (glute ham raise)
- spinal/hip extension (back hyper-extension, reverse hyper-extension)

Force and Velocity

The force: velocity curve, which is commonly referenced in strength training circles, is a means of illustrating whether certain physical actions register as being primarily a function of force (limit strength or strength speed) or primarily a function of velocity (rate, speed, or speed strength). The rate of force development (RFD) is synonymous with the term explosive strength (producing maximal force in minimal time). These concepts should be familiar amongst fighters. Unfortunately, most fighters are unaware of what methods of strength training yield force dominant or velocity dominant strength. The marriage of force and velocity is power.

The significance of the concept of force and velocity, with respect to strength development and fighter training, is that certain fighters would be better served by developing their force dominant capabilities; whereas, other fighters would be better served by developing their rate dominant capabilities. Once a fighter achieves optimal levels of force dominant strength (limit strength, strength speed) and rate dominant strength (speed strength) that fighter will be in a state of physical readiness which will render him capable of producing maximal power. This may be the difference between a competent striker and a knockout machine.

Certain training methods yield the development of strength speed, whereas, other training methods yield the development of speed strength. Fighters must be aware of the function of the various means and methods of strength and power development.

The Prioritization of Training

Priority must always be given to the development of weaknesses. By developing the specific abilities which are in most need of improvement; the sum of the abilities, which are specific to the expression of the sporting activity, become strengthened.

Accordingly, one should-

1. Identify weaknesses
2. Construct a program which will serve to develop the specific ability/abilities which are weak while concurrently maintaining and or developing all other sport-specific abilities
3. Employ the optimal means and methods of sport-specific training which will serve to enhance strength and power development in sport

In a MMA competition between opponents of unequal skill levels, all it takes is one mistake for a lesser opponent to secure a victory. This is the nature of MMA. At the end of the day, however, the fighters who consistently demonstrate their abilities by consistently winning competitions are the fighters who posses a high level of all sport-specific abilities.

At the elite level, more so in the past yet still a current factor, the fact that the MMA community, ironically, has seen many strong fighters who lack conditioning, many highly skilled fighters who lack strength, and many highly conditioned fighters who lack skill, is well documented.

It is time to create training environments which produce extremely strong, skilled, and conditioned fighters with a regularity that will render sporting excellence- commonplace.

Raise the bar!

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