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By Kevin Kearns
The 35-year-old athlete called out the readout from her heart rate monitor after 45 minutes in our “Train Like an MMA Fighter” session at the 2011 IDEA World Fitness Convention™. That’s a lot of burn in 45 minutes, and it gives an idea of the intensity of a mixed martial arts workout.
Widely billed as the fastest-growing sport in the world, MMA combines elements of boxing, wrestling and martial arts. At the IDEA World session, about 200 of us sampled what it takes to get in shape for MMA–a world of kicks, punches and takedowns best illustrated in the popular Ultimate Fighting Championships events. Though few clients of personal trainers aspire to battle it out in the chain-link “Octagon” of a UFC competition, many may see the appeal of a high-intensity MMA workout.
Before we get into the details of the workouts, let’s take a look at the benefits of an MMA approach to training:
* High calorie burn appeals to weight-conscious clients.
* Vigorous workouts address the growing popularity of high-intensity training.
* Popularity of the sport means a lot of the marketing is done for you.
* The training model can apply to other sports.
* Classes do not require extra equipment.
* Trainers can find programs to master MMA fitness modalities.
* The programming is “plug and play” with the right education and training.
There is no question that the popularity of UFC has generated a huge amount of interest in how MMA athletes stay in shape and prepare for battle. Strength and conditioning professionals must design a training regimen that accurately reflects the metabolic demands of the sport.
An MMA fight taxes the body’s phosphagen, glycolytic and oxidative energy systems requiring systematic, functional and sport-specific training that enhances these energy systems. Training techniques for other sports can be used as long as they fit with the sport-specific MMA approach.
Next, I’ll explain the steps we go through to prepare fighters for an MMA match or to prepare you for the 887! . Even if you have no interest in engaging in physical combat, they may still enjoy the idea that they’re getting themselves strong enough for a real fight.
Fight camp is the specific amount of time between matches; ideally it will get the combat athlete to peak conditioning just in time for the fight. It’s a serious commitment of time, generally between 3 and 6 months.
After the fight, I recommend fighters take a week off to recover and then begin to prepare for the next bout. The prime goal of training is maintaining lean body mass, because there is a direct correlation between strength and anaerobic capacity. This is a concept we all want.
Conditioning coaches for MMA fighters also face challenges with recovery issues, injury prevention, overtraining, proper peaking and off-season weight management. The conditioning coach’s job is to create an effective macro-cycle conditioning program with three micro cycles that help the combat athlete peak at fight time.
The micro cycle phases are:
1. Strength and hypertrophy
2. Explosive power
3. “Gas in the tank,” or sport-specific conditioning
Let’s go through each of these phases:
Phase 1: Strength and Hypertrophy
MMA fighters need to build a foundation and rebuild any injuries or muscle imbalances before they can move to the demanding later phases. We worked with 15 UFC fighters and found they need to spend a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks in the strength phase. Heavy strength training that increases muscle mass must happen in this phase; otherwise, the weight-cutting fighters have to do in Phase 3 will be much more difficult.
This phase also establishes a baseline for core strength and overall strength of major muscle groups. Our program model for this phase:
1. Rotating muscle groups
5. 10 to 12 repetition goal
6. PRM formula (progressive resistance method)
7. 3 complete sets of all movements
8. Emphasis on functional movements
Strength and Hypertrophy Workout
This full-body workout covers multiple joints in multiple angles. It’s to be done 3 days a week for a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks:
* Single-leg dead lift
* Grind with Air Fit
* Single-arm chest press on stability ball
* Medicine ball twists
* Medicine ball diagonal chops
* Dumbbell uppercuts
* BOSU plank to press-ups
* Leg curls on stability ball
* Reverse hyper extensions on a stability ball
Phase 2: Explosive Power
Explosive exercises such as plyometrics have been around for years. Though studies have documented that plyometric training can improve muscular power, you need to be extra careful about the frequency and duration.
The challenge with many of these exercises is the nature of the movement: Because they are ballistic, they can cause injuries if not properly coached. Also consider the surface the athlete is training on–combat sports in particular have a high degree of impact and potential for injury. We found it extremely useful to implement equipment such as BOSUs, rubberized medicine balls, and fitness trampolines like the Jump Sport to gain all the benefit without the impact.
We have found that plyometric training helps our UFC athletes if they do it after the strength phase. We also have found it improves the athlete’s proprioceptive awareness and decreases the risk of injury.
Explosive Power Workout
Perform 3 sets in rotating order, 6-8 reps each set, 3 days a week for 4 to 6 weeks:
* Kettle bell snatches
* Box jumps on fitness trampoline
* Explosive inverted rows
* BOSU sprawls
* One-leg hops on fitness trampolines
* Power blocker with The Surge or sandbag
* Fitness trampoline smashes
* Across toss with medicine ball
* Coverta ball ground and pounds
Phase 3: ‘Gas in the Tank’
This is the sport-specific phase, where all your hard work with a combat athlete comes together. It’s a very tricky business because you want the athlete to peak at the right moment while being absolutely vigilant to avoid overtraining. The strength coach must keep these critical factors in mind:
* Weight cutting. MMA athletes must fight at a certain body weight, and many go to great extremes to “cut weight” before a match. This requires a slow progression approach and close monitoring by the nutrition coach and strength coach, so the athlete peaks on time. Before the fight, MMA athletes have to exercise at a higher intensity to burn extra calories to lose weight. Monitoring proper caloric intake is mandatory.
* Overtraining. It’s essential to focus on potential threats of overtraining, which can lead to injuries.
* Proper “tapering off.” Trainers need to decrease the volume and intensity of the workouts when approaching the competition . Because every athlete is different, some may need a few days of rest and others may need up to 10 days. The coaching team needs to work together and listen to the athlete during the tapering-off phase.
The principle of specificity holds that the sports training must reflect the activity to generate the proper training effect. We based our MMA training on a work-to-rest ratio of about 2.2 to 1, though we have seen increased endurance in our athletes with a slightly higher work-to-rest ratio.
We base this formula on the amount of “real time” in the cage or a fight, and many of the exercises in this workout resemble fight moves in the ring. The formula of 9 stations for 35 seconds of work with 15 seconds rest and 1-minute break between each circuit of 9 worked effectively, giving fighters more endurance in the later rounds of a match.
As I noted in the introduction, high caloric burn is another benefit of this stage. We have clocked the caloric burn at 475 calories in 17 minutes with a UFC athlete wearing a heart rate monitor.
Sample Gas in the Tank Workout
This workout is done for 3 days per week for 4 to 6 weeks:
* Resistance bands wrestling shoots
* Wall crush or cage crush
* Standing one-leg punches with resistance bands
* Ground and pound on small trampoline
* BOSU knee drop punch
* Hip escape with Surge
* Plank rows with partner
* Hammer punches
* Band shoots
* Partner band drill (to bring awareness of how to adapt everyday equipment into MMA style training for groups
* Thai knees and shoulder roll-outs with stability ball
* Active rest 1 minute
This program has proven effective with UFC fighters and other athletes. It can be adapted by trainers everywhere for a wide variety of clients. I have used this model effectively with clients ranging from 8 to 88 years old. So, do you want to burn 887 or what?
Coach Kevin Kearns
Kearns is hosting a fundraiser to help remove the stigma of mental illness. More information can be found by visiting https://gofund.me/5a15b749.
Both of Coach Kearns’ books may be purchased on www.Amazon.com. For more information about Coach Kevin Kearns, including scheduling speaking engagements and classes (both online and in person), please contact him at 508-404-8503 or Kevin@burnwithkearns.com.
Coach Kevin Kearns has been coaching in the world of fitness, nutrition, and tactical self defense for over 3 decades. As the former conditioning coach to 15 UFC Pro Fighters, and ranked in the Top 5 in the UFC , he is no stranger to the the importance of proper nutrition and proper mindset programming. He has long advocated to all his clients – athletes or the general population – about the importance of programming mind, body and spirit.
Coach Kevin Kearns BS FMS CPT – Former conditioning coach to 15 UFC Pros Ranked in Top 5 by the UFC Personal Fitness Coach, Author, Columnist, Motivational Speaker, Corporate Wellness Consultant, Youth Wellness Program Provider, Certification Specialist, Personal Self Defense, and Law Enforcement Defensive Tactics Specialist Www.BurnWithKearns.com
Look for Kevin’s column – Burn With Kearns – starting next Saturday in RINewsToday!