Explosive MMA Conditioning
In almost every sport the ability to be explosive and powerful often goes hand in hand with success, and this is especially true in Mixed Martial Arts. Being a faster and more explosive fighter gives you the ability to overpower, outwork, and outgun your opponent from start to finish. The truth is that almost every athlete can dramatically improve their power with the right program, but very few programs get it right.
In this article I will teach you the keys to doing it right. I will show you how to dramatically improve your explosive power, and most importantly, how to develop it specifically for MMA. I will also do much more than just give you a few exercises to throw together as many coaches often do, I will lay out the foundation, the specific methods, and the science behind explosive power development for MMA and why my program is different.
If you have no interest in the real science and philosophy of explosive power training feel free to skip to the end, but for those who want to know the how and the why of strength and conditioning, read on?
What is power?
In the cage or octagon, power is more than just a physics equation, it?s your chance to knock your opponent out, ground and pound until the ref stops it, or grind out a punishing decision. You see power in MMA depends on not just how strong or how fast you are, but how well conditioned your specific energy systems are to allow you to produce power when it counts.
This type of power is not just a measure of muscular strength and/or speed, but rather a measure of the power of your energy systems. You can think of how high your vertical jump is or how hard you can punch or kick as a measure of external power, while energy system power can be thought of as internal power.
Understanding how to develop the power of your energy systems and how to apply this power to MMA is the result of intelligent planning, specific training, and is how you can succeed where other programs often fail.
Energy System Power
The body has three principle systems it uses in an overlapping fashion to produce the energy your body needs to survive, to move around, and to try to punch, kick, or elbow people in the face. These systems are known as the anaerobic -alactic, anaerobic-lactic, and aerobic systems.
The three systems vary both in terms of how fast they are able to produce energy, and how long they are able to sustain that energy production. This means that each energy system has a power component as well as a capacity component. You can think of the power component as the size of the engine, the bigger the engine the more horsepower it can create and the capacity is the size of the gas tank, the larger the gas tank, the longer the system can produce energy.
The system I?m going to discuss in depth in this article is the alactic energy system, and when trained properly it is the key to devastating striking and brutal ground and pound. I?ll lay out for you the specific periodization plan needed to maximally develop your alactic power, and I?ll give you the principles and methods I?ve used to prepare some of today?s most explosive top fighters.
The Alactic System 101
Before I get the details of how to improve your explosive power, it?s important to understand more about how the system works in the first place. The alactic energy system is also known as the creatine system or the ATC-PC system, and it is the most powerful of the three energy systems ? though this also means it also has the shortest duration as well. The alactic system fuels the most explosive efforts, those few crushing seconds that result in your opponent getting knocked out, tapped out, or the fight stopped by the ref.
All three energy systems ultimately produce the body?s energy currency known as ATP, but the alactic system can produce extremely high levels of power because it is requires few very chemical reactions to generate the ATP needed for muscular contractions. Fewer chemical steps means ATP can be generated very quickly, but it also means it is capable of using all its energy producing capacity very quickly and generally only lasts 10-12 seconds at max power.
Training properly improves just how explosive you can be in those 10-12 seconds, and it can extend how long you can maintain that power for. In a fight, this can mean the difference between a knockdown and a knockout, or the difference between getting the takedown and taking a knee to the face on the way in.
How much power you?re able to generate using the alactic system is primarily the result of a few different components. Once you understand these components and how to improve them, creating an effective program is just a matter of piecing together the puzzle.
Pieces of the Puzzle
How much power you?re able to generate using the alactic system can be broken down into mechanical and met abolic components of the neuromuscular system. This probably sounds more complicated than it really is, but it?s important to understand. The mechanical side of the equation simply means how much force the muscle is able to generate, and how fast it?s able to generate it. This primarily depends on the nervous system?s ability to rapidly contract as much muscle as possible at once, and on how well the supporting connective tissues (tendons, fascia, etc.) can use elastic energy to produce force.
The second half of the alactic power equation stems from the met abolic properties of the muscle, in other words how efficiently they produce the ATP they need to contract. The faster the chemical reactions of the alactic system can take place, and the more of the raw materials the muscles are able to store in them, the more power you?ll be able to generate. The speed of the chemical reactions can be thought of as the horsepower of the system, while the storage capacity can be thought of as the size of the gas tank.
Training to improve alactic power means both sides of the equation need to be developed. First, the nervous system must be developed to contract the maximum amount of muscle as rapidly as possible and the connective tissues must be trained to use elastic energy effectively. This will result in stronger, more explosive muscular contractions. Second, the energy producing properties of the neuromuscular system must be developed to fuel these explosive contractions using the alactic energy system to the maximum of its ability.
The Programming Progression
Alright now that the scientific part is out of the way it?s time to get down to business and tell you just how it?s done. Applied correctly, the training progression will dramatically improve your explosive conditioning specific to MMA and help give you that fight ending knockout power that every fighter wants.
Alactic power development should take place over three separate but overlapping blocks, or phases of training. Each of these phases is designed to develop the mechanical and met abolic properties of the neuromuscular system we just discussed. The three blocks are sequenced specifically to develop these properties in the correct order for their maximal development. In other words, the properties that are developed in one block form the basis for the development of the properties that will be targeted in the next block. This is exactly what periodization is all about ? or at least what it should be about. Keep in mind the final stage is designed to take place in the final stages prior to a fight as this is when your explosive power should reach its peak.
BLOCK A: Max Explosive Strength
The purpose of the first block is to increase the mechanical potential of the muscles, i.e. their max effort power, by raising the abilities of the nervous system ? this motor ability is also known as starting strength. You want to start by improving your maximum 1-rep power and rate of force development as this will provide the foundation for training your ability to maintain this explosive power in the later blocks. Block A should come just after a maximal strength block in your yearly training cycle and will generally last 3-6 weeks. The focus should be on 100% quality and maximal acceleration on each and every rep. Make sure to follow the rest guidelines strictly.
For Block A, the following principles should be used to improve maximum explosive strength:
Reps: 1-8 per exercise
Sets: 3-5 per exercise
Rest: 2-4 minutes between sets, 6-10 minutes between exercises (active rest)
Tempo: Max acceleration, 1-2 second pause between reps
Volume: 2-6 exercises per workout, 2 workouts per week.
Exercise selection: Squats, Olympic lift variations, Jump squats, Jump lunges, Presses, Explosive Jumps, Heavy Med ball throws, etc.
The Complex Method is extremely effective at improving maximum explosive strength and can be used for a period of 2-3 weeks in the middle of the block.
Exercise A (max strength exercise): 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps @ 90-95% resistance
Exercise B (jumping, or ballistic upper body exercise): 3 sets of 6-8 reps @ 30%
3-4 minutes active rest between sets
4-5 minutes active rest between Exercise A&B
8-10 minutes active rest between groups of exercises (series)
2-3 series per workout
BLOCK B: Max Alactic Power
After you?ve improved you max explosive strength in Block A, it?s time to develop the ability to maintain this power output by focusing on the max power of the alactic system. The elastic properties of the neuromuscular system ? this is also known as reactive strength ? will also be developed during this phase and will serve to further improve your overall explosive power and build upon the previous block. In order to improve max alactic power, specific exercises will be selected that allow for maximum power output for 10-12 seconds.
The transition from general to specific exercise selection will also begin and the principles of this phase should also be utilized specifically in your MMA skill development as well. By the end of the block the exercises used should consist of explosive MMA drills, i.e. bag and pad work along with grappling and ground drills. The focus should be on maximum intensity of effort for each 10-12 second set.
You should begin monitoring your heart rate in between sets to gauge heart rate recovery and use this to set rest intervals. You will notice your heart rate decreasing faster during intervals between sets as your explosive conditioning improves. Block B should last 2-4 weeks.
For Block B, the following principles should be used improve maximum alactic power:
Time: 10-12 seconds per set
Reps: 8-15 per set
Sets: 6-10 sets per exercise
Rest between sets: rest until heart rate drops to 130-140
Rest between exercises: 8-10 minutes active rest
Tempo: Approximately 1 second per rep
Volume: 2-4 exercises per workout
Exercise selection: Jump squats with KB, Explosive Jump exercises, Uphill running, Stair jumps, Explosive Push-ups/pull-ups, Med ball throws, Explosive wrestling drills, pad and bag work, etc.
BLOCK C: Max Alactic Capacity
Now that you?ve significantly increased your maximum explosive strength and alactic power in the first two blocks, it?s necessary to finalize these improvements by maximizing how long you can maintain your explosive power for and ensuring that it?s specific to MMA. This is the final stage and at the end of the block your explosive power will reach its peak.
In order to develop your alactic capacity, slightly longer work intervals will be used along with shorter rest intervals. By doing this, a maximal demand is placed on the alactic system?s capacity and thus it will adapt by improving. Keep in mind there is a strong genetic component to this capacity and there is only so much it can possibly improve. You can improve your alactic capacity 10-20% with intelligent training, but your alactic system is ultimately limited by the amount of creatine phosphate and ATP that can be stored in the muscle so there will always be an upper limit to its capacity.
An important part of Block C is the finalized transition from general to specific exercises. This means you should only use exercises and drills that are specific to your sport. In MMA that gives you the option of doing pad and bag work, wrestling drills, ground and pound, etc. The focus should be on maintaining proper technique in the drill at the highest rate of speed possible.
You should continue monitoring your heart rate in between sets to gauge heart rate recovery and decrease the rest intervals over the course of the block until they are only 10-20 seconds as your conditioning and power endurance improve. You will continue to notice your heart rate decreasing faster during intervals between sets as your explosive conditioning improves. By the end of this block, you should be able to keep your average heart rate under your anaerobic threshold. Block C should last 2-3 weeks and should end 1 week prior to fight or competition date.
For Block C, the following principles should be used improve maximum alactic capacity:
Time: 12-20 seconds per set
Reps: 10-20 per set
Sets: 4-8 sets per exercise
Volume: 2-3 exercises per workout
Rest between sets: start with 30-45 seconds, decrease to 10-20 seconds
Rest between exercises: 10-12 minutes active rest
Tempo: Max speed
Exercise selection: Explosive drills specific to MMA disciplines