Critical Component Series – Strength Training (3 of 6)

You can’t shoot a cannon out of a canoe. Here’s how to use strength training to construct a strong foundation for optimal performance.

In this 6-part series, I will explain each of the essential pieces that comprise a complete strength and conditioning program for an MMA athlete.

The six components are:
1. Dynamic Warm-Up
2. Explosive Medicine Ball Movements
3. MMA-Specific Resistance Training
4. Flexibility
5. Energy System Development
6. Regeneration Time

Having discussed the importance of a dynamic warm, and explosive movements, it’s time now to move onto the meat and potatoes: strength training.

Believe it or not, strength training has been a hot button issue amongst the MMA community as some swear by it, and others still haven’t fully jumped on board. But even as more and more MMA athletes are “buying” into the benefits of strength training, the current methods and programs I see out there are all over the board.

I’ve heard of fighters that follow machine-based workouts, traditional bodybuilding routines, strictly use Olympic lifts, strictly anaerobic circuit training, Crossfit, no strength training at all, and just about everything in between. The point of this article is not to declare any one method is better than another, but rather to assert that the athletes I work with follow a periodized strength training program that has them strong, injury free, and peaked for their match or tournament. Which is why I’d recommend following some sort of periodized plan, as this type of weekly resistance training will help you get faster, stronger, and more prepared for life in the octagon.

Strong foundation
One of my goals as a strength coach is to have my athletes as strong as possible for their weight class. My “Secret Training Protocol” to achieve this goal is, surprise, good old fashioned strength training. There’s really NO secret exercise or method here. There’s a reason the basic, somewhat boring, non-flashy, base movements have been around for so long, and it’s because they work!

We predominantly deadlift, squat, and lunge for lower body strength. And we include pulls, presses, and rows for upper body strength. Sorry. Nothing too exciting here. I love new “toys” as much as the next guy, but in reality the foundational lifts won’t vary all that greatly, regardless of the sport you play. I will try the latest piece of rubber tubing, the Kamagon Ball, the sandbag, the TRX, and just about every other tool on the market today (well, except for the shake weight perhaps), but I use these more with my circuits and for a smaller percentage of my strength routines. They’re really just ancillary movements for conditioning that complement a solid strength training program.

At the end of the day, maximum strength training is a great way to “lay that foundation” early on in the periodized program. As you get closer to your fight or tournament you can then start to transition from max strength work into more “functional,” or “combat specific,” strength training. But the protocol below should give you a sense of what my MMA athletes do in the offseason.

Sample Strength Training Session
Warm-Up
Line drills, thoracic spine mobility drills, glute activation movements. (READ MORE)

Med Ball Complex
Medicine ball power work including slams, rotational throws, and overhead throws. (READ MORE)

Strength Training Routine
A. Rear Foot Elevated Plyo Split Squat 4×8
A. Weighted Pull-Ups 4×6

B. KB Front Squat 4×8
B. 1-Arm DB Rows 4×8

C. KB Turkish Get-Ups 3×4
C. Superband Torso Rotations 3×20

Flexibility
Static stretch routine including calves, hamstrings, glutes, lats, chest, and shoulders.

Putting it all together
While this is a full body routine, this sample workout focuses a bit more on upper body pulling and lower body knee dominant work. The second strength day this week would have an upper body push and lower body hip dominant focus. When 1-2 months out from a fight, we typically strength train two times per week. If we are outside of camp (think off-season for fighters) we’ll train 3 times per week. With all the other disciplines they’re working on (sparring, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, etc.) this comprises a full training schedule.

Regardless of your sport, incorporate a sensible full-body strength routine to build your base strength to ensure you’re strong, injury-free, and absolutely prepared when it’s time for battle.

About Doug
Doug Balzarini is currently the strength and conditioning coach for the Alliance MMA Fight Team in Chula Vista, CA. He is also the founder of DBStrength.com, which provides fitness-related articles and education. Previously, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 for 6 ½ years as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).

A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State University. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, Spinning certification, FMS training, and received his CPR/AED instructor status. He has also appeared in dozens of fitness videos, written numerous fitness articles, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.

Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the Continuing Education Coordinator where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers.

For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.

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