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FAQ of MMA with Brian Blue: Integrating Strength, Power, and Speed into your Conditioning

StrikeForce fighter Derek Brunson works on his foot speed with Coach Brian Blue.


These circuits demonstrate an easy way to integrate both strength and power movements into a conditioning workout.  Power and endurance are usually seen as being completely unrelated, however, good program design can help a fighter produce high levels of power for a longer period of time.  Rather than having an extremely high max power output and a huge drop-off over time, fighters need to be able to maintain a high power output for longer, even if their max is slightly lower.  I also like to work speed and footwork drills in as an active rest period.  This allows you to maintain good stand-up speed even when you start to fatigue.

- Warmup (5 minutes)

- Include jog, backpedal, shuffles, and stance drills

- Dynamic flexibility (Iron cross, scorpion, lunges, leg swings, etc.)

- Complete each circuit 3 times. Circuits consist of a heavy strength exercise followed immediately by a power exercise of the same movement.  These exercises are fairly basic, allowing almost anyone to do this wherever they work out.  Work quickly between exercise 1 and 2, and quickly between 3 and 4.  Work 4-6 ladder drills in between each pair of exercises.  Use the ladder drills that I covered in last week’s article.

- Circuit 1

- Bench Press – 6 reps

- Plyo Pushup – 6 reps

- Barbell Deadlifts – 6 reps

- Box Jumps – 6 reps

- Circuit 2

- Power Cleans – 6

- Med Ball Granny Toss – 6

- Dumbbell Push Press – 8

- Med Ball Shot-put – 4 each arm

- Circuit 3

- Barbell Front Squat – 6

- Russian Hops – 6

- Pulldowns or Rows – 8-12

- Med Ball Slams – 8-12

 

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.

Speed Training for MMA: Improve your footwork speed with basic ladder drills.

Anthony Guzzi works on the ladder as guided by Brian Blue at Nick Catone's Mixed Martial Arts Academy.

Speed in the stand-up game is a killer.  However, it is often viewed as something that a fighter has or does not have.   Fighters constantly train to improve hand speed, yet working on foot speed is often over-looked.  The best part is, there is a lot you can do off the mats to improve your speed that will easily carry over onto the mats.

The video below is an example of a basic footwork drill using an agility ladder that very easily and effectively transfers over to the stand-up game.

The focus on this drill should initially be on balance and coordination.  As you become more comfortable with the pattern, you can pick up the pace and start to add some more variations to it (as you will see in the second video).

This drill is great for working on foot speed, as well as, weight transfer and balance.

When should I use these drills?

When you first start to incorporate speed drills into your training, I recommend working on them separately to focus on the pattern and rhythm.  This may take a couple minute or a couple days depending on your athleticism.

Once you’ve built up an arsenal of drills, start to plug them into your normal conditioning circuits.  A lot of my circuits will go immediately from a lower body exercise or an exercise on the ground immediately to a speed drill.  The goal here is to be able to keep your foot speed and balance as you start to fatigue.

One of Frankie Edgar’s many qualities is his speed in the late rounds.  This is due to boxing coach Mark Henry keeping him in constant movement during training, as well as, always training for speed in our conditioning rounds when tired.

 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.

FAQ of MMA with Brian Blue: Strength and conditioning

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!