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MaxCondition The MMA Athlete! Part 3

Any MMA athlete is probably aware of the role endurance training plays in their conditioning programs. My question is how many are aware of the proper methods needed to enhance this ability?

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From the coaches and athletes I have spoken to very few have a grasp on what they should really be doing to increase their work capacity as it relates to their event. Running 5 miles per day is not effective for enhancing the type of endurance utilized when competing in a NHB competition.

It is important to have a general understanding of the bio-energetic systems the body utilizes to perform movements. Refer to my article Muscular Energetics at for an in depth look at the different pathways of energy production.

Basic Terms

We will not get to scientific in this article about the process of energy production. Although I would like to provide the reader with some basic terms often mentioned when discussing endurance training. I will also give a sample routine that will enhance the MMA athlete's ability to perform at a high level of intensity for the entire duration of their bout. Below I have listed some terms relative to endurance training.

  • Aerobic Endurance: The capacity of the muscles to perform with oxygen being the primary source of fuel being utilized.
  • Anaerobic Endurance: The capacity of the muscles to perform without sufficient oxygen.
  • Vo2Max: Maximum oxygen uptake.
  • Anaerobic Threshold: Exercise beyond this level induces strong acidosis (high levels of acidosis causes various disturbances in the muscle cell). The lactate concentration at this level is about 4 millimoles per liter in most athletes. At this level anaerobic mechanisms are the primary sources of fuel.

Produce Movement

At any time there is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic mechanisms working to produce movement. To design an effective endurance program it is important to understand which energetic pathway is primarily utilized in carrying out specific tasks. In general activities that are intense and short in duration ( up to 2½ minutes ) are primarily anaerobic. As the activity goes beyond 2½ minutes it becomes more aerobic in nature. Keep in mind that the primary pathway can change often during an event.

The anaerobic system is sometimes called upon for explosive bouts of energy. As an example two guys have been laying down in the guard for 5 minutes. Suddenly the guy on the bottom explosively sweeps the man on top mounts him and begins delivering forceful blows.


Increasing endurance capabilities depends mainly on three factors:

  1. Improving lactate threshold (anaerobic threshold);
  2. Vo2max;
  3. The ability to relax.

Lactate Threshold

To improve lactate threshold the athlete performs activities of very high intensity up to 2½ minutes in duration. The body learns to cope with the high lactate levels and function at intense levels. When you are training to improve Vo2max, longer durations of activity with lower intensities are used. I prefer aerobic interval work for MMA athletes.

The time of the intervals vary depending on the athlete and the time constraints of the up and coming event. The ability to relax plays a key role in an athletes endurance performance. Many athletes have great endurance capabilities, but due to their inability to relax in the ring appear to have poor conditioning. I have seen many athletes in the gym be able to fight for eternity, yet when they compete they look like they are dying within a couple of minutes. When a competitor is not able to relax his breathing is usually hampered and his body is in a constant state of isometric contraction which rapidly results in fatigue.

One of the best ways to learn how to relax is by providing yourself with an inner voice that is constantly telling you to relax. Everyone has his own way of doing this, but the main key is to constantly remind yourself that you are in great condition and you can go all day if you need to. Performing in front of large crowds and sparring in different environments can also be beneficial when learning to relax.

Practice Like You Fight

Below is a program designed to prepare an athlete for a fight that is scheduled for four 4 minute rounds with one minute of rest between each round.

GPP Circuit: Perform circuit 3 times non-stop. Do 4 sets of this, with 1 minute rest between sets ...

  • Burpees: 30 seconds - view exercise
  • Shuffle Splits*: 30 seconds
  • Cross Leg Jumping Jacks**: 30 seconds
  • Mountain Climbers***: 30 seconds
  • Total Duration = 24 minutes.

* These are basically a simple "boxer" type of movement where you shuffle the feet back and forth in quick fashion. Feet are approximately two feet apart; movement is nice and quick.

** Like jumping jacks, but with each time the legs meet at midline they crossover each other. Alternate crossover position.

*** From a push-up position with butt slightly higher than normal, climb/jump quickly, bringing knees up to chest and back. Work in quick fashion.

Punch Out Drills

Punch bag in non-stop fashion for one minute. Throw straight punches, no pausing. Strike bag as many times as possible. Perform Punch out drills. Three 1 minute rounds, 30 seconds rest between each round.

To monitor performance levels count the repetitions performed during the GPP circuit as well as the punch out drills. The goal is to increase the number of repetitions performed with each workout. Perform the movements with good technique. You need to learn to maintain proper form even in the face of fatigue.

Agility and quickness training is usually neglected by athletes and coaches. This means coaches in every sport not just MMA. It amazes me when I meet an athlete that spends hours performing sprints yet does no agility or quickness training. In most sports there is a need for constant change of direction. Reacting to ever changing situations is also evident. In this article I will discuss some basic principles that apply to the above-mentioned qualities.

For an in depth look at agility training refer to the Need For Agility Series at The Code Archives. Refer to Quickness Training at to learn more about quickness training. The article can be found by searching the table of contents.


Agility can be defined as the ability to accelerate, decelerate and rapidly change direction while maintaining balance. The key element in agility training is exposing the athlete to a wide array of different movement patterns. Agility training should be treated as a quality nervous system type of training. Not an endurance event. The nervous system needs to be fresh to maximize its ability to learn. My athletes perform agility training anywhere from 1-4 times per week. This depends on the individual athlete. If the trainee shows great movement in his or her sport minimal time is spent training this quality.

On the other hand if the guy cannot box without falling over his feet a considerable amount of time is spent working on his ability to move. There are some authorities that claim the only way to enhance sport specific agility is by performing the sport. I would disagree with this. For example boxing requires numerous motor qualities. By training the qualities separately there is a more concentrated effort on that quality. Numerous research studies and practical cases have supported this statement.

Agility Drills

In my agility programs I use a variety of techniques. Renegade Training has heavily influenced my training protocols. Agility Training includes ...

  • Non-Equipped Wide Range Drills (backpedal, carioca, etc.)
  • Tumbling (Forward rolls, backward rolls, combinations, etc.)
  • Jump Rope (line drills, slalom jumps, high knees, etc.)
  • Agility Ladder (one foot per square, right foot in, crossover steps, etc.)
  • Barrier Drills or Bag Drills (side steps, two feet between bags, etc.)
  • Cone Drills (quick cut drills, zig zag pivot drills, etc.)

Agility Drills In Action

Most combat athletes are probably familiar with the tools mentioned above. Although, most have probably never seen or used an agility ladder. These ladders are not just for football players. They are for anyone who is serious about their agility training. They are cheap and easy to store away or take with you on the road. I have seen this tool help combat athletes improve their footwork to a level they never thought was possible. Below is an example of what you can expect when incorporating a properly designed ladder program into your regimen.

Recently I began working with a young boxer who was heavy footed to say the least. He was a terror if you chose to stand in front of him and slug it out. When guys gave him movement he was no more than an average boxer. I worked with him 8 weeks and all of a sudden he was a terror moving or while remaining stationary. I incorporated a fair amount of agility drills into his program. We used a wide range of modes such as jump ropes, cones, ladders et..

When we began his agility program he was very efficient with the rope and the numerous cone drills. He was not good with the ladder. Maybe because he had never been exposed to it. To make a long story short in 8 weeks he became very good using the ladder. More importantly he began moving in the ring with lighting quickness and precision. Did the ladder contribute that much to his improved movement skills? I think so.

Reaction Drills

Quickness is defined as the ability to rapidly react and move in response to a given stimulus. Quickness can be thought of as the first phase of speed. Quickness drills are short in duration; usually 6-8 seconds.

Reaction drills make up a large part of my Quickness programs. I like to use everything from quick hand tap drills to lateral movement reaction. Below are a couple of drills that I often use with MMA athletes ...

  • Lateral Movement Reaction: Two athletes face each other in an athletic position. Athlete A begins to move laterally while athlete B mimics the movement pattern. The drill is performed for 6-8 seconds. The partners then switch roles. This is a great reaction drill that teaches the body to rapidly change direction.
  • Quick Hand Tap Reaction: This is a drill that I developed particularly for football lineman. I found that it was also suitable for combat athletes. This drill is made up of four sequences ...

    1. Two athletes face each other. Athlete A holds hands in front of body while assuming the athletic knee bend. Now athlete B holds hands behind the back. Athlete B then flashes a hand and athlete A quickly taps the hand with the mirror hand. Athlete A must return hand to starting position as quick as possible.

    2. Athlete taps hand with crossover hand.

    3. Athlete B flashes two hands and athlete A taps both hands.

    4. Athlete B flashes one or two hands whichever he or she chooses. Once the hands are flashed they are also removed quickly. Athlete A touches the hands anyway possible. This sequence is difficult and requires great reaction time by the athlete. Remember once the athlete shows the hands they are then quickly removed. Each sequence is performed for 8 contacts then you move on to the next sequence.

Mental Toughness

I will close out this week's edition by talking about the mental toughness that is required to be an MMA athlete.

In the past few weeks we have discussed various elements concerning physical preparation of the combat athlete. The discussion of preparing this unusual breed of competitor would not be complete without mention of the mental toughness that goes into this sport. People often ask me what type of person gets in a cage and fights? The mental profile of combat athletes varies greatly. As in any sport you have your good guys and bad guys. For the most part these athletes view what they do as a sport and are no more violent than anyone else on the street. Now, when they enter the cage it is a different story.

No matter how athletically gifted an athlete is they will not succeed at a high level if their mental conditioning does not match their physical. The question then presented is can mental toughness be taught? I think it can be enhanced if the proper steps are taken. My goal is to make the programs I design for MMA to be so challenging that the competition seems easy. This type of training can build tough character. When the athlete is training or enters the ring they ask themselves how many other people are out pulling weighted sleds up a hill or how many other people are chopping on tires with sledgehammers. This type of work is very taxing physically as well as mentally.

One of my favorite motivational tools is the "Old Shotgun Trick". As an example the trainee is going through some GPP work and stops in the middle of performing burpees. They cannot possibly do another one.

Now I will pose this question to the athlete. If I had a shotgun in your face and told you that I would blow your head off if you did not do another rep what would you do? They always do a few more reps. This tells me that it was mental failure that resulted in termination of the movement. By constantly subjecting the trainee to difficult situations their mental toughness increases.

Studies indicate that most successful MMA competitors are very relaxed shortly before their bouts. The guy you see running around screaming and making a spectacle of himself is probably scared out of his pants. The number one indicator that someone is very anxious about his or her fight is the weight question. Everyone has seen these characters. They ask every person they see how much they weigh. The confident athletes stays to themselves and is thinking of the task at hand.

Final Note

Stick to quality training with an emphasis on weak spots. Do not neglect the aspect of mental preparation. By following the guidelines we have covered the last few weeks I am sure your game will dramatically improve.

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