Competing in arguably one of the toughest of arenas - in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) competition - requires the possession of a number of attributes, all of which, when developed to perfection and combined to create the ultimate fighter, represent the pinnacle of athletic performance and achievement.
Speed, anaerobic capacity, agility, strength, power and flexibility are all factors which play a role in MMA success and they need to be targeted with precise training methods for the fighter to realize their potential and dominate on competition day.
In saying this, there are other, possibly more crucial, key aspects associated with competitive success, that need to be factored into one's MMA program. Although the aforementioned core fitness components of MMA performance underpin the level of skill a fighter will demonstrate on contest day, the strategy a fighter uses over the final few weeks prior to a contest will make or break their performance.
With MMA competition being what it is - the ultimate combat sport utilizing a wide variety of martial arts techniques and styles - a solid foundation based on a sound mental approach and compatible lifestyle is required, especially during the final few weeks before a fight.
In this fast-paced, popular and highly energized sport, any slight error in judgement in contest preparation can cost a fighter dearly. A pre-fight strategy that encompasses mental preparation, sound diet, technical refinement and specific strategising for that particular contest will form the basis for training during the final stages of training.
This article will give some insight into how to develop the right foundation while taking a detailed look at what typically would happen during the final few weeks prior to a fight, with expert pointers on what the best pre-fight strategies are.
Forming The Base
Preparation for any MMA fight will include developing a solid skills base, which will include technical ability and a sound mental approach, as well as the required physical capabilities such as speed, stamina, strength, power and agility. One of the keys for MMA proficiency is the development of all the styles that might be used during the course of a fight.
Although individual fighters will have their speciality styles and favorite techniques, it is important they also focus on developing other areas of their game. For example, in the event of a stand-up specialist being taken down, that fighter will need to have a good understanding of the various ground techniques and submission holds to survive, and hopefully counter, his opponent's style.
Examples of styles that might be used in an MMA fight include:
As the name suggests, stand-up includes the collective striking styles such as kickboxing, boxing and Muay Thai. Aspects of training fighters will focus on to develop their stand-up will include:
Clinch signifies the close-range fighting that is based on freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, Judo and Sambo and involves clinching (tying one's opponent up to restrict their movement and/or set them up for a technique), takedowns and throws.
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Catch wrestling
- Shoot wrestling
The submitting of one's opponent usually takes place on the ground. A variety of styles are used during ground fighting, of which the main ones are:
These styles are used to improve ground positioning in order to gain an advantage over the opponent, and submission holds, or one's defence against them.
MMA is one of the hardest sports in the world to train for as it requires from the athlete an ability to develop speed, strength, power, endurance, flexibility and fighting prowess to their fullest potential, while keeping bodyweight low and overcoming the mental constraints associated with fear.
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Obviously the ability to fight is foremost in an MMA athlete's arsenal, but without underlying strength and stamina, using the correct technique at the right time and hurting one's opponent with solid shots will be hard. Therefore, a sound training program comprising equal amounts of strength and fitness work is needed to lay the right foundation. Some good pointers on strength and fitness training follow.
The goal of strength training for MMA is to build all the muscles responsible for stability with regard to weight transference during the fight and positioning particularly when it comes to ground fighting, and the force production needed to throw powerful kicks and punches.
Most MMA strength training programs emphasize core movements, which can include specific ground-based lifts such as the deadlift and various cleans, and additional power movements such as the squat (which also develops core stability) and bench-press.
Any good MMA program would use these lifts, focusing on heavier weight with some eccentric movements (emphasizing the negative aspect of the lift) to develop a good base. Light, faster and more specific movements can be use as the fight approaches, and heavy work and eccentrics should be avoided in the final few weeks as they might cause excessive trauma and soreness when an athlete is dieted down and vulnerable to these conditions.
Generally, isolation exercises are avoided unless there is a good reason to include them. An injury that leads to an imbalance, which requires specific targeting, would be one situation where isolation movements such as one-arm preacher curls would be used. Otherwise they would take up valuable recovery time.
In keeping with the focus on stabilization, another commonly used method in MMA training is offset lifting. This involves lifting a weight under the conditions fighters might find themselves in during an actual fight. For example, a one-arm snatch would replicate an off-balance position, and this would better stimulate the lack of balance experienced during a fight than would an easier-executed, more-structured movement such as the bench press.
An MMA fighter would spend considerable time on one leg or in a split stance, so for lower body training, unilateral work such as the one legged squat or lunges would work best to build strength in the specific muscle groups responsible for stabilizing the body at these angles.
Kicking & Punching Power:
A major aspect of any fighter's game is their ability to throw a punch or kick with maximal force. Two main methods can be used to increase kicking and punching power according to training expert Alan Cosgrove 1. He recommends:
- Training the core of the body in the transverse plane.
- Focusing the ability of the antagonist muscle groups to decelerate the limb being used to strike.
The theory behind the latter method says that if you cannot safely decelerate a movement, you cannot safely accelerate the same action. To strengthen this capacity, Cosgrove suggests focusing on forced eccentric loading - for example, lunges and landing from jumps - and release-work such as catching a falling dumbbell at speed.
For these movements always ensure the targeted muscles are warm and an expert is standing by to observe technique, as they can be potentially dangerous if performed incorrectly.
MMA strength coach Martin Rooney 1 feels the best way to develop punching and kicking power is to develop perfect technique and then, having built great form, develop strength and speed in specific areas. The hips and legs, followed by the core region, are areas Rooney says should be the primary focus of strength training for improved striking. Squats, deadlifts, single leg movements and walking lunges are best he says.
The ability to go the distance and execute various techniques relies to a large extent on a fighters fitness levels. Given the high intensity nature of MMA, getting the work to rest intervals right, and utilizing various intense methods of fitness training is the key to ensuring adequate staying power.
Before designing any pre-fight training program it is essential to determine exactly what energy systems a fighter is weakest in, and target these. Also, it is important to know how many rounds (and minutes per round) the athlete will fight.
Usually a deficiency in the anaerobic lactate system (the system which produces performance limiting lactic acid and governs maximal work output) will be what tires a fighter prematurely. Therefore an ability to work maximally, while tolerating lactate build-up is the key to a sustained work rate.
To enhance work rate, Allan Cosgrove suggests training with any method that will tax the anaerobic system sufficiently to build an athlete's tolerance to lactate build-up - interval sprints, sled dragging, circuits, combination lifts and speed ladder work will all take the heart rate through the roof, according to Cosgrove.
Also, a key aspect of fitness training for MMA is specificity. For example, bag and pad work and shield drills in an interval manner will work better for the fighter than running or cycling.
Wearing a mouthpiece is a further way of replicating the kind of situation a fighter will face in competition. The restricted airflow caused by the mouthpiece will have an impact on fitness levels during the fight, so it is important to wear one during training - especially in the final stages - to accustom the body to its effects.
Overall fitness levels are also contingent upon muscular endurance, especially when it comes to applying and defending submissions. These techniques are often isometric in nature and require a sustained maximal contraction. Therefore, including isometric training in ones program is a good way to build this component.
- Lie on you back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Keeping knees bent, lift both legs up.
- Place a hand on each knee and push forward.
- Resist force with knees and hold for a count of six.
- As core muscle becoming stronger, work beyond six seconds.
Two excellent isometric exercises for MMA purposes, which enhance ground fighting ability as well as building core stability and endurance in specific kicking and punching muscle groups, include the push-away and the isometric push-up.
1. The Push-Away:
- Adopt normal push-up position.
- Hold neck in neutral position.
- Hold for a count of six.
- Work beyond six as endurance progresses.
2. The Isometric Push-up:
The Final Three Weeks
Once a good base is developed through using some of the methods described above, as well as other training strategies, it is time to put it all together in the final three weeks prior to the fight. MMA training expert Julien Greaux gives his views on what should take place over these vital few weeks.
One of the first questions a fighter needs to address is exactly how they should train in the final weeks before their fight, when they are trying to make weight and their energy levels might be down. Would they taper off, or train harder? What strategies would they use?
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Lighter, faster and more specific work as the fight approaches seems to be the ticket to success as far as many experts are concerned. Back off on volume and frequency of training, while maintaining or even increasing the intensity they say.
Although this approach is generally accepted as good fighting strategy, Julien adds, "In general the last two weeks of training should be more technical and based more on fight strategy than strength, stamina and physical conditioning." He says a fighter will have to be physically ready two weeks out, as they are not going to improve much cardiovascular-wise over this period.
This underscores the importance of developing a good base of strength and stamina months out from the fight. Julien further adds, "to improve explosiveness, reaction time, and conditioning, I would recommend a lot of sparring - both standing and on the ground. There is nothing better than sparring, because it is the closest you are going to get to the real situation."
He also values the importance of resistance training at this time: "also include some specific weight training, circuit training and core training to maintain strength and power." However he cautions, "the last few weeks you have to train, but not like a maniac, because you don't want to hurt yourself. Keep the training smart at this time."
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With regard to training volume the "more is better" approach does not sit to well with Julien: doing a greater amount of work in the final weeks, especially if you are on a diet where you have to drop your weight, is not the best idea as your body is tired and weaker, and this could also result in injury," he says.
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Nutrition is another area of importance that will ensure adequate energy levels and saying power for the MMA fighter. What is the best nutritional approach for MMA? Julien says to keep the calories high enough to ensure enough energy to train on, but other requirements do need to be considered.
"Depending on the athlete - who may or may not need to make a certain weight - calories will either need to be increased or decreased", he says. "MMA athletes are not too crazy about supplements, as they are not like bodybuilders, but protein shakes, creatine and other stimulants like caffeine are useful as they can help you to train hard, even if you are dieting in the final stages."
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Even with all the right training in place and possessing the fighting skills that emerge as a result, an athlete should still have the mental hardness required to fight under the extremely dangerous conditions that comprise an MMA match-up. It is said that preparing for any fight is one of the hardest of things.
With MMA a fighter is faced with a variety of attack options, thus intensifying the stress associated with confrontation, which adds to overall energy expenditure. Countering these variables requires much mental focus. Julien says you have to visualize your fight, and anticipate and study your opponent.
He says it is important to spend time watching fight footage of one's opponent with a view to analyzing their weak and strong points. This will provide a mental advantage he says. The fighter, through watching his opponent, is better able to anticipate what might happen during the fight, making preparation easier and taking away, to a degree, the fear associated with uncertainty.
"The mental aspect is the most important thing in MMA," said Julien. "Some guys are not too technical, but they have the mental abilities, like they are warriors going out there to show what they have got. Mental toughness and heart: that's what makes a champion I believe."
Julien said training for the fight and actually fighting are radically different things. "Of course you have to know what you are doing technically, but my point is some guys at training are doing some amazing things and once standing in the cage they are a completely different fighter."
Other mental qualities of importance are confidence and aggression. Said Julien: "In MMA anything can happen so fast, so to ensure victory I would say become the most aggressive fighter, because if it goes to decision you will win. Be confident but not cocky, because any MMA champion has lost at least once. We are not superheros, we are human."
The Final 24 Hours
The final 24 hours before a fight are often a psychological make-or-break period for the athlete. Therefore the night before competition and the day of the fight need to be managed well if success is to be realized.
Julien advises, "The night before a fight you should be ready for the war, there is nothing you can really change. I would recommend further channelling your focus on the fight." The day of the fight is often an even more daunting time. Says Julien: "If it's the first fight, you are going to be more nervous than you ever have been in your life.
The noise, the screaming, it's a really special atmosphere. If you have the experience you should know your game and what to do and also what not to do, but for a first time fighter it can be frightening."
During the fight, Julien recommends following several strategies. "Once again you will need to study the guy in front of you, and try to anticipate what he is going to do. Ensure you are aggressive and confident, but not cocky."
Checklist For MMA Success:
Preparing for an MMA fight requires complete commitment to the right training program. The full development of all fitness components, through focused training and correct guidance is essential and, as our experts have explained, specific training requirements will be needed depending on what ones strengths and weaknesses are.
It is hoped this article - although not a full account of all training methods associated with MMA - has provided valuable expert insights into how to prepare for one of the hardest sports of all.
Flex Wheeler / Richard Everage Fight.
Flex Getting His Gear On
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MMA success can be achieved, in part, through following the guidelines below.
1. Solid Skills Base:
Develop a solid skills base, which will include learning the styles that might be used against you during the fight. Having an understanding of stand-up, ground and clinch fighting will give the fighter a more well-rounded game, which will help them to better control any given fight situation.
2. Develop To The Max:
Develop all fitness components to their maximum. Strength, speed, power, stamina, flexibility and agility will all need to be at peak levels if one is to fight at their best. A deficiency in one of these might result in an edge given to the opponent. Be prepared.
3. Focus On Strength & Power:
Focus on core strength and power movements. Although a varied weights program can be a good thing for the MMA fighter, and emphasis should be placed on movements that enhance the ability to generate force and isometric strength.
The muscles surrounding the abdominal/pelvic area (collectively known as the core region) are to be prioritized as they contribute much of the rotation required when kicking and punching. The movements mentioned in this article are ideal for achieving these aims.
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4. As Fight Approaches Prioritize Specificty:
Prioritize specificity as the fight approaches. During the final few weeks, specific fighting training and lighter, faster work should comprise the majority of a fighters program. Longer, heavier, more forceful training sessions might interfere with recovery or result in an injury.
Although some strength and endurance work may be a good thing - depending on what a fighters coach is wanting to develop - focusing on the technical aspects of one's game and developing a specific fight strategy are usually the best strategies during the final stages of training.
5. An Adequate Diet:
Ensure an adequate diet. An MMA fighters diet must be supply them with the required calories in the form of carbohydrates and good fats to provide energy for intense training sessions, and enough protein for repair and recovery. As the fight nears, calories may need to be dropped to make a certain weight, but it is still advisable to eat enough calories to enable hard training sessions.
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6. Mental Approach:
Adopt the right mental approach.
Developing the right mental state is a crucial aspect of MMA fight preparation. To eliminate much of the fear associated with MMA competition, study your opponent to determine a game plan based on his strengths and weaknesses.
Knowing how to approach the fight will allow one to place all their focus on the task at hand, rather than fear an uncertain situation. Having confidence in one's abilities and preparing well with the right training methods will also help to eliminate uncertainty.
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Be sure to visit www.juliengreaux.com
- CBathletics.com.(2006). The Best Mixed-Martial-Arts Training Interview Ever. [Online]