Article by Coach Doug Balzarini
Want to get to the next level? Put the necessary hard work in with metabolic conditioning and you are on your way.

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

The six components are:
1. Dynamic Warm-Up
2. Explosive Movements
3. MMA-Specific Resistance Training
4. Flexibility
5. Metabolic Conditioning or Energy System Development (ESD)
6. Regeneration Time

While we may not include all six components into every single session, they are the foundation for our complete 8 to 10 week camp.

I love intense, heart pounding, push yourself to the limit training. There isn’t a better feeling out there (let’s keep it rated PG people) than crushing a hard core training session. There is that great sense of accomplishment when you know you’ve pushed yourself to the limit, both mentally and physically. This type of aggressive training is designed to improve an athlete’s strength, power, endurance, coordination, and overall physical and mental toughness. And it is for these reasons that I include them into our program.

What are these sessions exactly?
We do a variety of “metabolic conditioning” sessions, including treadmill sprints, hill repeats, Tabata protocols, and multiple strength & conditioning circuits. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the s&c circuit variations we incorporate. Typically, they consist of 3-5 rounds (sets) and last up to 5 minutes long. Each athlete performs the exercise(s) at his station either solo, or with a partner, and then moves on to the next station. This process continues until the 5 minutes is completed.

Common circuit layout
1. Repetition-Based Stations: this involves having each athlete at their own station and completing a certain number of reps before moving on to the next station. I rarely use this format because people go at different paces so stations may be finished at different times and then we could have a “back-up” at a certain station. This works best for 1 or 2 athletes.

2. Obstacle Course Set-Up: I do incorporate this format if I only have a couple athletes (less than 4). This involves 4-8 stations and having the athletes complete them in a certain order as fast as possible. This is a great way to create a little competition between the athletes to see who can complete the course in the shortest amount of time. You usually let the winner give our “punishment” in terms of jump squats or burpees at the end of the session.

3. Timed Stations: As I described above, this is the format I utilize most frequently.

Method to the madness
Once I have determined my layout, I will look at the movements themselves…do I want to include all lower body movements, all upper body, just pushes, just pulls, what plane of motion should I incorporate, what energy system do I want to target today? If you’ve watched a fight, tournament, or even been in one yourself; you’ll know that you utilize everything I just mentioned. So my short answer is – all the above.

The usual set up involves a lower body followed by an upper body movement. I do vary it, but that’s the most common approach. If I lay out two lower body movements, I will start with a more powerful, explosive movement (i.e. broad jumps or pop-ups) then follow it with a grounded, endurance movement (i.e. prowler push). Now if our next opponent is an All-American wrestler with a reputation for repeatedly shooting a single, then we may incorporate some additional exercises that will teach explosiveness with the legs and hips to help defend against a shot. I’m not a big believer in “mimicking the movement patterns of the sport” with my strength & conditioning sessions. I’ll let the other coaches (BJJ, boxing, wrestling) handle that aspect. I think that my goal as a strength coach is to have my athlete in the best shape of his/her life so he/she can stay injury-free and excel in all those other disciplines.

All that being said, these circuits will focus a bit more on the anaerobic system or, to use a popular industry term; “power endurance”. But really, every match you witness, you’ll see every energy pathway exhausted. You’ll see pushing and pulling, lateral movement, sagittal movement, rotational movement, and hopefully you’ll see shoulder flexion when your arm is raised in victory!

These circuits are just one aspect of a complete strength & conditioning program. When implemented correctly, they will help your athletes achieve their true potential in strength, power, speed, conditioning, and mind-set!

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, 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.

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