A Complete Strength and Conditioning Plan for MMA Fighters
by Brett Bartholomew
The Italian architect, sculptor and painter Michelangelo was once asked about the guiding principle behind his creation of the famed statue of David. His response, “It’s simple. I just remove everything that is not David.” The core of the message was unmistakable and should serve as the very muse for the programming practices employed by strength and conditioning professionals who work within the sport; statues are carved by subtraction. Due to the breadth of necessary physiological capacities, the amount of separate disciplines involved within each individual athlete’s unique fighting style, and the skyrocketing popularity of the sport that has yet to reach its apotheosis both domestically and internationally, it can be easy for the strength and conditioning professional to get lost in the details and begin chasing complexity. And we have seen this very thing happen.
Within the past decade, training fads and trends have risen nearly as fast as the sport’s following, giving way to non-evidenced based gadgets, gizmos and gimmicks all aimed at “improving” or “increasing” the physiological capabilities of the fighters within the sport. Instead of following through with their promises, the sport has seen an increase in injury rates that is nearly unparalleled by its sporting peers; especially as it pertains to the amount of injuries suffered during training camps prior to major bouts. Due to the inherent nature and complexity of the sport, it is not possible nor is it reasonable to definitively link the cause of these injuries to only one issue, but it is well accepted that appropriate program design that is geared towards enhancing the overall strength levels of an athlete or group of athletes reduces injury risk through enhanced durability, force-absorption and expression capabilities, as well as enhanced neuromuscular efficiency which aids in evasive abilities and overall maneuverability.
The aforementioned adaptations are prized acquisitions within a collision based combat sport such as MMA which provides minimal protective equipment aside from that which is used within rehearsed sparring or technical/tactical based training sessions. In order to obtain these augmented physiological qualities, the focus of everything from the long-term performance plan, down to each individual training session with the strength and conditioning coach must be as clear-cut, simple and adaptable as possible.