UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar training hard
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Blue is the owner of All Star Sports Academy in Toms River and Jackson, N.J. He possesses a Bachelor of Science in Phys. Ed. /Adult Fitness from Kean University in Hillside, N.J. Blue works with athletes of all levels, from children to professional, and from a variety of sports. Blue (Twitter: @ASsportsacademy) will be enlightening readers at MMADieHards.com on a weekly basis about physical training and conditioning, giving helpful tips and answering questions.)
Over the past three years, when talking to current or potential clients who compete in mixed martial arts, I tend to receive the same series of questions. Usually my answers are not what they expect to hear or what they have heard from other trainers. However, the reasoning behind my answers tends to click in their head once I go a little more in depth. Here are the three most common questions I get:
HOW LONG SHOULD I DO CONDITIONING BEFORE A FIGHT?
Although I don’t think that a six- or eight-week conditioning camp is necessarily a bad thing, I feel that fighters should be in a conditioning program year-round. Obviously there will be times to back off a little and times to rest completely.
Just like every aspect of training, there needs to be a balance between work and recovery in order to benefit the most from both. That being said, is taking two months off after a fight before starting an eight-week conditioning camp really the best option? Of course not.
The easiest way to explain this is to imagine how much more you can accomplish every time you drill, hit pads, or spar, if your conditioning is always good. In an eight-week training camp, you’re really just starting to hit stride a few weeks in, leaving you with only a month or so of being able to train “in shape” for the other aspects (BJJ, boxing, wrestling, etc.).
Think about the improvements you can make long term if you’re focusing on technique rather than just getting through a session because you’re sucking wind. I always hear the phrase “technique over strength.” What if you had both, and had them all the time? When you’re out of shape, you’ll be more likely to try to just get through a training session rather than really getting the most improvement out of it.
So the answer to this question is that you should always be training. Just like training in jiu-jitsu is cumulative, you can continually make gains in all areas of your physical performance. Rather than being so worried about peaking at the right time, focus more on gradual and consistent gains. Your program design should still enable you to peak at the right time, but training consistently will make that peak that much higher.
SHOULD I RUN LONG DISTANCE?
The only time I use distance running is for recovery. A long jog when you’re sore can help, but will long runs really help your performance in the cage?
MMA is very unique in that it is one of the most unpredictable sports when it comes to what you may encounter. An offensive lineman in football knows that he has to work at an extremely high intensity for a short period of time, followed by about 40 seconds of rest. And their movements are generally limited. In MMA, the pace can be slow with just a handful of high-intensity bursts. It can be a fast-paced fight standing up, a slower fight on the ground, a fight that is constantly changing from stand-up to grappling against the cage to the ground and back up, and so on.
How will running five miles at a consistent pace help? The answer: it won’t. It’s better than nothing but definitely not your best option.
My key to running/track/sprint workouts is to mimic a “fight gone bad.” Rather than long, moderate intensity, aim for high-intensity intervals with short breaks. I like to throw in some active rest, as well. Shadow boxing immediately after a hard series of sprints will help you maintain your technique when you fatigue, for example.
Training at a very high intensity with minimal rest time will help your recovery time not only between rounds, but between different aspects of a fight. If you only train at a long, moderate pace, imagine what you’re going to feel like after a minute of exchanging punches non-stop or defending a takedown like you’re about to go to the ground against a Gracie. Think you’ll be able to recover quickly enough to continue to perform well? Or will you be looking for ways to catch your breath and regain your strength?
The other great thing about this style of workout is that it takes less of a toll on your body long term. Training to compete in MMA puts enough stress on your body. Why add the possible chronic injuries that can be associated with distance running? If you’re training for a three- round fight, your sprint workouts can potentially be completed in less than 30 minutes. Short, sweet, effective, and to the point. Here’s an example of a simple sprint workout I use.
SHOULD I LIFT HEAVY? I NEED TO STAY AT ______ LBS.
This is a pretty simple one.
You’d don’t need to get bigger to get stronger. And just because you’re getting strong doesn’t mean that you’re going to put on a ton of weight. Sure, you may put on a few pounds of lean muscle mass but not any that will keep you from making weight. A lot of the strength gains you stand to make can be more neuromuscular than anything.
You can make improvements in your kinetic chain, activation and sequencing, and getting your body to function better. When it comes to sports performance, isolating muscles rather than movements is like having a fancy car with no horsepower. The proper training systems will get your body to function as a unit, therefore increasing the amount of force it can produce.
More importantly, proper programming allows you to produce force in a dynamic, “functional” environment. Bench pressing is an excellent exercise, but will making it the foundation of your strength training help you produce more force when you need to supports your own body at the same time?
These are just a few of the questions I get on a regular basis. If you have any of your own, feel free to post them in the comments section below and I’ll answer anything you throw my way!