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Specific Strength Development in MMA

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Old 08-17-2006, 11:48 AM
EricT EricT is offline
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Default Specific Strength Development in MMA


The Significance of Specific Strength Development in MMA
By James Smith
For EliteFTS

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 fighter’s capabilities.


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 sport-specific 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 athlete’s abilities. Training methods may be defined as any systematic organization and utilization of training parameters which serve to develop an athlete’s abilities.


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 Neil’s technical skills:


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. Neil’s 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 Neil’s strength accomplishments at 6’4” 250lbs (Drug Free) are:
- 600lb Sumo Deadlift (No Belt)
- 550lb Sumo Deadlift for 3 reps (No Belt)
- 25 Neutral Grip Bodyweight Pull Ups

Neil’s 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 fighter’s 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 hyper-extension)

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 should-

1. 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 excellence- commonplace.

Raise the bar!

James Smith- Email: smith@strengthwise.com

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If you act sanctimonious I will just list out your logical fallacies until you get pissed off and spew blasphemous remarks.
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Old 08-17-2006, 12:05 PM
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ChinPieceDave667 ChinPieceDave667 is offline
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Default Heavier Complexes

Here is something I just came across that might help. It kinda goes with what is said here. I'll also post this on the other discussion.

Originally Posted by Zach Even

Time Under Tension for MMA Fighters & Grapplers
By Zach Even – Esh
For www.EliteFTS.com


Fighters and grapplers need to be incredibly fit all around. They need it all; great aerobic and anaerobic endurance, great strength endurance, power endurance and extreme mental toughness. There is a lot of confusion on how a fighter or grappler should train. Managing their time between training in the ring / mat and in the gym (or out of the gym) becomes important.

With all the time these athletes spend in actual skill and live training sessions their energy levels and the amount of recuperation is much less than the average athlete. A lot of their sparring is strength training per se. They are constantly pushing, pulling, lifting, rotating and more. Due to all of their time spent training we want to make sure we do not overdo it by pushing them more and more to the point where overuse injuries, mental and physical burn out become a side effect of the training.

We use a variety of methods for training our grapplers but there is one way that has worked very effectively and you can use it or tweak it to see how it works. The art of coaching is key here so learning how to taper or apply training methods for each individual comes into play. The problem with fighters is they have the mentality of “out working” their opponents. The philosophy of training smart equates to harder training for most fighters. This is where you need to understand their body while communicating with your fighters constantly. Asking about current injuries, emotional and physical state will be a huge step towards learning what works best for your fighters and grapplers.

We always start our work outs with a thorough warm up. We take some from the Parisi warm up, and also added some other calisthenics and band work using the Jump Stretch bands. We may also incorporate some light reverse hypers and kettlebell swings before we start the grunt of the work out. Sometimes this warm up is slightly extended to get the athlete mentally warmed up. After working or going to school for half a day, then training at their dojo or club and then coming to strength train can be a long day. A good warm up with some pumping tunes might be all your athlete needs. As mentioned before, incorporate the “art of coaching” and determine if your athlete can go through a tough training session or if they need a lighter more recuperative day.

We will often start with a max effort exercise using short rest periods and reps in the range of 3 – 5 on our heavy sets. The warm up sets as we build up have a rep range of 5 – 10. Some examples of our max effort exercises might be:

Flat / Incline barbell or dumbbell bench press
Deadlifts (all variations: trap bar, straight bar, bent knee, sumo, RDL, and sometimes we add chains to the DL movement)
Heavy Rowing motion: 1 arm rows, bent over barbell rows, t bar rows on the grappler
1 arm or 2 arm clean and press or military press: Kettlebells, dumbbells or sand bags
Squats of all variations: box squat, sand bag squat (sandbag held in front or on shoulders), kettlebell squats
After the athlete performs a good 4 – 6 hard sets (on average, sometimes less & sometimes more) in the 3 – 5 rep range we move on to our time under tension training using various tools. The time under tension (TUT) builds great strength endurance as well as mental toughness.

The tools for time under tension can be almost anything, but here is a list of tools me way use for TUT:

Sledge Hammer
Wooden Logs
For example, let’s say that the first lift was the bent knee dead lift with a straight bar, after the heavy sets we might move on to using a 50 – 70 lb sandbag for 5 minutes with out ever placing it on the floor! Five minutes represents some of the time frames for a round used in MMA fights or Grappling tournaments. Below is a list of exercises with reps that we will use with the sand bag for 5 minutes, repeating until the 5 minute “training round” has ended.

Sandbag / 5 minutes:

Clean & press x 5
Zercher squat x 5
Good morning / RDL hybrid (hold bag in zercher position tightly against chest) x 5
Reverse lunges x 10
Turkish get up x 5 (holding sandbag against chest or w/arms extended)
The above TUT round is an ass kicker no doubt about it. After this round we may perform some shorter rounds of 2 – 3 minutes using kettlebells or a barbell. There are a lot of variations for TUT training and I have also spoken to Louie Simmons regarding this method. I asked him about how he trained current Pride fighter, Kevin Randleman. Louie would have him perform a 10 minute round of a 205 lb barbell complex that worked like this:

1. Power clean from ground x 1 rep

2. hang clean x 1 rep

3. hang clean and press or jerk x 1 rep

After the 3 rep complex above, Kevin rested 30 seconds and would keep repeating for 10 minutes.
This complex represented an explosive bout that may happen during a fight. Notice I said “May happen.” As Coach X has stated, every program has flaws and nothing is perfect. There may or may not be a 30 second explosive bout of action during a fight, who knows! The fight may not even last 30 seconds! This is why I use a variety of TUT rounds such as 5 minute rounds like above, or one exercise for one rep done for 5 minutes such as a burpee, clean, squat & press combo with a barbell, kettlebells or sand bag. We might do this 1 rep combo followed by a 15 second rest period. The 15 second rest period can represent the time where the grappler is in the guard and working for good positioning but not exploding aggressively.

How can you create a work out that has carry over to your style of fighting or grappling? Perhaps you might perform exercise on your back to improve your ground game. You might perform floor presses and various sit up movements with kettlebells and only perform the bottom portion of Turkish get ups for a total of 5 – 10 minutes.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I have learned from the coaches here at Elite so keep coming back to learn from these great coaches. One last point I must drive home that Jim Smith emphasizes (which has led me to listen more and more to my athletes) is that of individualizing the program as much as possible to meet the level of GPP and overall conditioning that you or your athletes posses. Some athletes can handle a lot of volume and intensity while other reap great gains from short work outs that have a lower intensity level.

For example, I trained a high school wrestler with only time under tension variations during his in season once a week for no more than 20 minutes including his warm up! To me this seemed it wouldn’t work but he kept stating things such as: “I feel so strong out there and I feel like I am never tired”. I watched his performance improve through the entire season where as most kid burn out mentally and / or physically. In addition this athlete perform little if any max effort training. It worked because we listened to one another and found a time and intensity level that worked best for him!

Zach Even – Esh is a Strength & Performance Coach for combat athletes located in NJ.

To get your free old school training mini course for combat athletes visit For www.CombatGrappler.com
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Old 08-17-2006, 12:09 PM
EricT EricT is offline
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Good find, Dave. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing I was talking about before.

I really like the idea of sandbags, kettleballs, shit like that, btw. How much more closely does a sandbag resemble an opponent than a barbell?

Makes me wish I was training MMA so I could try it out.
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Old 05-14-2007, 09:37 AM
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ChinPieceDave667 ChinPieceDave667 is offline
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0311 or Sleazy, Could one of you guys move or copy this to the MMA forum?
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Old 05-02-2011, 02:46 PM
violenthero violenthero is offline
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Solid Article... what is the best place to find MMA strength training articles.
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Old 10-20-2011, 03:41 AM
DrCM DrCM is offline
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I liked the kettleballs part
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Old 10-20-2011, 06:07 AM
Tmno Tmno is offline
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great articles, i learned some infos here
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Old 07-10-2012, 10:44 PM
aawebdev aawebdev is offline
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This is the great article. I have been looking everywhere for the information about this. Thanks a lot for this post.
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