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The Significance of Specific Strength Development in MMA

By James Smith
www.PowerDevelopmentInc.com
As the sport of MMA progresses so must the specific means
and methods of fighter training. For some time now it has
been widely acknowledged that fighters must be highly
skilled and conditioned in order to be competitive at the
elite level. What has failed to have been addressed in the
grand scheme, however, is the importance of developing
specific strength.
With respect to specific strength development, one term
which all competitive fighters must be made aware of is
power to weight ratio. This term illustrates the
significance of fighters maximizing their power capabilities
with respect to their bodyweight. A high power to weight
ratio, combined with a high level of technical skill and
conditioning, may allow a fighter to dominate his respective
weight class.
In this regard-Most fighters are aware that they must achieve a high level
of technical skill in order to be highly competitive.
-Most fighters are aware that they must achieve a high level
of anaerobic/aerobic conditioning in order to be highly
competitive.
-Most fighters are UNAWARE of the various means and methods
of developing sport specific strength which will directly
translate to increased performance in the Octagon, in the
ring, on the mat, etc.
The development of submissions, takedowns, striking,
positioning, etc, has been well defined. What has not been
well defined (in the MMA world), however, are the specific
means and methods of developing the various manifestations
of muscular strength which will add an extremely valuable
dimension to any fighters capabilities.
Considerations
When devising a training program, all fighters must take
into account the overall volume of training (e.g. skill

work, conditioning, strength training) and its effect on the


central nervous system.
At the elite level, it is most common for the majority of a
fighters training to primarily consist of skill work and
conditioning. Thus, the optimal means and methods of sportspecific strength training MUST be employed, because the
majority of training volume will be comprised of skill work
and conditioning
. If a comparably lesser volume of training is to be
allotted to strength development, then the training time
devoted to the development of specific strength, must be
optimally utilized.
Fighters must be made aware of the different means and
methods of strength training and their effect on the
neuromuscular system.
Certain fighters are seeking either to move up a weight
class or to maximize their bodymass in their current weight
class. Other fighters may desire to move down a weight
class, while maintaining strength levels as best as
possible. There are fighters who desire to increase their
strength levels while maintaining their current bodymass.
All of these different circumstances call for the
utilization of different training parameters (e.g.
exercises, sets, repetitions, load, etc).
Athletic Preparation
Before a fighter may commence an advanced training program
that fighter must first develop a certain level of both
general and special physical preparedness (GPP/SPP).
GPP is achieved by means and methods of general
conditioning, mobility, flexibility, and strength exercises,
or drills, which serve to develop a base level of general
physical preparedness that will prepare the athlete for the
implementation of SPP means and methods.
An example of a fighter who would be better served by
developing his level of GPP would be a fighter who possesses
strength, speed and skill yet cannot express those strengths
for any appreciable amount of time during a fight. This is
an illustration of a lack of conditioning/anaerobic/aerobic
endurance.

SPP encompasses the implementation of special or more


specific means and methods of training which more closely
approximate the actual sport skill(s).
An example of a fighter who would be better served by
developing his level of SPP would be a fighter who possesses
a high level of conditioning, strength, and speed yet lacks
the ability to skillfully express those strengths in a fight
scenario. This is an illustration of a lack of technical
proficiency, or an inability to proficiently execute
strikes, clinch/guard/mount positioning, takedowns, escapes,
submissions, etc.
Programming and Organization of Training
All strength coaches and trainers would be wise to
incorporate and integrate the programming and organization
of training, via the sport-specific means and methods of
strength and power development, into the training program of
every fighter.
In its simplest terms, the programming and organization of
training encompasses the systematic analysis, construction,
and categorization of various specific training means and
methods and the logical application and integration of these
training variables into the actual training program.
Means and Methods of Training
Training means may be defined as any exercises or drills
which serve to develop an athletes abilities. Training
methods may be defined as any systematic organization and
utilization of training parameters which serve to develop an
athletes abilities.
Applicability
The optimal means and methods of training, when utilized
appropriately, will benefit any type of fighter, regardless
of competitive rules, fighting style, or governing body
(e.g. Pride, UFC, Abu Dhabi, King of the Cage, etc.).
An up and coming fighter who has successfully integrated the
optimal means and methods of sport-specific training into a
fighter development program is Neil Melanson. The following
link illustrates a brief demonstration of Neils technical
skills:

www.teamgorillahouse.com/site/view/NeilTheKneeBarMelanson.pm
l
Neil has and continues to serve as an example for
demonstrating the efficacy of integrating the optimal means
and methods of strength training into the training program
of a Mixed Martial Artist. Neils strength, conditioning,
and skill level are exceedingly well developed for any
fighter, especially one who has been training for MMA for
less than two years.
Some of Neils strength accomplishments at 64 250lbs (Drug
Free) are:
- 600lb Sumo Deadlift (No Belt)
- 550lb Sumo Deadlift for 3 reps (No Belt)
- 25 Neutral Grip Bodyweight Pull Ups
Neils development as a fighter is a testament to the fact
that a great fighter may be produced in a very short period
of time so long as the optimal means and methods of training
are implemented into the training program only after having
been constructed, analyzed, and categorized by way of the
programming and organization of training.
Program Construction
Program construction is ultimately a factor of time. Every
fighter has a different work/school/training schedule. Thus,
every fighter is faced with different considerations with
respect to how much time may be allotted to the development
of all sport-specific abilities. Furthermore, every fighter
has different strengths and weaknesses. Thus, every fighter
must logically and systematically organize all training
variables so that the development of weak abilities is
prioritized while concurrently developing and/or maintaining
all other abilities
. This logical and systematic organization and
implementation of training variables may be realized through
the Conjugate Sequence System, and the Concurrent method of
periodization. The Conjugate method is a form of
periodization in which all sport-specific abilities are
developed in sequence over time by means of uni-directional
loading of sport-specific training parameters/methods. The
Concurrent method is another form of periodization in which
all sport-specific abilities are developed simultaneously
over time. This concurrent development of abilities is

achieved by the vertical/complex loading of sport-specific


training parameters/methods.
Both the Conjugate Sequence System and the Concurrent method
of periodization were developed by strength scientists of
the former Soviet Union. Initially, both of these two forms
of periodization were constructed and applied to the
training of elite Olympic weightlifters, and Olympic style
weightlifters in the process of achieving sports mastery
(PASM). What must be noted is that sport-specific training
methods must be specific to the sport for which the athlete
is training. Additionally, MMA fighters, or any other type
of athlete, must not be compared to Olympic weightlifters.
Accordingly, MMA fighters, and every other type of athlete,
must NOT train like Olympic weightlifters.
With respect to MMA, both of these highly specialized
methods of periodization, the Conjugate and Concurrent
methods, may be combined in an effort to yield performance
development specific to MMA.
An example of an extremely effective application of
periodization methodology is to integrate the simultaneous
development of sport-specific abilities, by means of the
Concurrent method and complex training, into the Conjugate
Sequence System. The training effect yielded by this
junction of periodization schemes is the continual and
concurrent development of all sport-specific abilities
throughout the training year.
As stated earlier, the amount of time that most fighters
have to allot to the development of sport-specific strength
is more likely to be less than the amount of time which will
be allotted to skill and conditioning. Thus, every minute
must be maximized during the strength training session. In
order to effectively manage and maximize the total volume of
training time, which includes the development of skill,
conditioning, and strength, one may employ the utilization
of the Conjugate Sequence System and the Concurrent method
of periodization.
Optimal Strength Training Means/Movements
For every fighter, the optimal means of training will tend
to remain constant, while the methods of training will
differ depending upon what abilities are in most need of
development. Fighters are best served by thinking in terms

of training movements, as opposed to training muscles. By


thinking in terms of training movements a fighter will
develop a better sense of the specific applications of
various exercises and the effectiveness, of those exercises,
at developing various motor qualities. The primary movement
patterns which should be addressed in a fighters strength
training program are listed below.
Movement Patterns
- horizontal pulling (row variations, reverse flys)
- horizontal pressing (flat DB/BB press, push up variations,
med ball throws)
- vertical pulling (chin ups/pull ups, shrugs, climbs)
- vertical pressing (overhead DB/BB press, med ball throws)
- spine/hip/knee/ankle extension (squats, deadlifts, Olympic
lift variations, med ball throws, lunges, step ups)
- spinal flexion/rotation/abduction/adduction (leg raises,
trunk twists, side bends, med ball slams/throws)
- knee flexion/hip extension (glute ham raise)
- spinal/hip extension (back hyper-extension, reverse hyperextension)
Force and Velocity
The force: velocity curve, which is commonly referenced in
strength training circles, is a means of illustrating
whether certain physical actions register as being primarily
a function of force (limit strength or strength speed) or
primarily a function of velocity (rate, speed, or speed
strength). The rate of force development (RFD) is synonymous
with the term explosive strength (producing maximal force in
minimal time). These concepts should be familiar amongst
fighters. Unfortunately, most fighters are unaware of what
methods of strength training yield force dominant or
velocity dominant strength. The marriage of force and
velocity is power.
The significance of the concept of force and velocity, with
respect to strength development and fighter training, is
that certain fighters would be better served by developing
their force dominant capabilities; whereas, other fighters
would be better served by developing their rate dominant
capabilities. Once a fighter achieves optimal levels of
force dominant strength (limit strength, strength speed) and
rate dominant strength (speed strength) that fighter will be
in a state of physical readiness which will render him
capable of producing maximal power. This may be the

difference between a competent striker and a knockout


machine.
Certain training methods yield the development of strength
speed, whereas, other training methods yield the development
of speed strength. Fighters must be aware of the function of
the various means and methods of strength and power
development.
The Prioritization of Training
Priority must always be given to the development of
weaknesses. By developing the specific abilities which are
in most need of improvement; the sum of the abilities, which
are specific to the expression of the sporting activity,
become strengthened.
Accordingly, one should1. Identify weaknesses
2. Construct a program which will serve to develop the
specific ability/abilities which are weak while concurrently
maintaining and or developing all other sport-specific
abilities
3. Employ the optimal means and methods of sport-specific
training which will serve to enhance strength and power
development in sport
In a MMA competition between opponents of unequal skill
levels, all it takes is one mistake for a lesser opponent to
secure a victory. This is the nature of MMA. At the end of
the day, however, the fighters who consistently demonstrate
their abilities by consistently winning competitions are the
fighters who posses a high level of all sport-specific
abilities.
At the elite level, more so in the past yet still a current
factor, the fact that the MMA community, ironically, has
seen many strong fighters who lack conditioning, many highly
skilled fighters who lack strength, and many highly
conditioned fighters who lack skill, is well documented.
It is time to create training environments which produce
extremely strong, skilled, and conditioned fighters with a
regularity that will render sporting excellencecommonplace.

Raise the bar!

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