Mixed martial arts is one of the most demanding sports you will ever do. It requires elite athleticism coupled with an endless number of skills to master as part of your MMA training.
With rounds of 3-5.5 minutes, the sport requires high stamina from an athlete who must give their very best from bell to bell.
In an era of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and Tabata protocols, endurance is an often overlooked aspect of MMA training, but probably one of the most essential.
In endurance training, we are talking about aerobic capacity, and this is developed through roadworks, swimming, cycling or triathlons. These are just a few suggestions, but any activity performed at a range of 120-150 bpm will develop your stamina, as long as that activity is performed for between 40-90 minutes.
The goal is to have a resting heart rate between 45-50 bpm. This is a demonstration that your body is efficient at using oxygen as energy and that each heartbeat is delivering a large amount of oxygenated blood to your muscles.
Most fighters use traditional road work – or long slow distance (LSD) runs, to develop stamina. It is still common for many fighters to wake up at the crack of dawn and go for a run before full MMA training begins. Such endurance is a great active recovery and prepares your body for a day of work at the gym. Some hunters also take advantage of roadworks in the evenings, or prefer swimming, biking, skipping, or shadow boxes. The key is to reach the heart range of 120-150 bpm and stay in that range for up to 90 minutes three or four times a week. A heart rate monitor is a great investment to maximize endurance.
While having a good aerobic base is the foundation of your athletic prowess, most of the time you spend fighting will be spent in the anaerobic zone. Anaerobic power relies on glycogen reserves in your muscles and liver to fuel your body.
These energy reserves, while extremely powerful, only last a few minutes before depleting. This is why you will often see a fighter deliver a quick flurry of punches and then accelerate. It is then up to the aerobic energy system to break down fat tissue and supply the muscles with glycogen.
The best way to train anaerobic capacity is to use HIIT, Tabata protocols and a variety of other short workouts that keep your heart rate between 150-171 bpm.
These are performed for short bursts of activity with short rest periods. For example, if you use one HIIT protocol, you might sprint for 30-40 seconds, alternating with a 15-20 second jog or walk. Do that for 15-20 minutes.
The Tabata protocol is even more demanding, requiring 20 seconds of vigorous activity that brings your heart to 170 beats per minute, then 10 seconds of rest for 20 minutes. Anaerobic training is definitely not for the feint, and is probably the hardest to tolerate for most aspiring MMA athletes.
Strength is also crucial to MMA training. Because wrestling is such an important part of the sport, being able to manipulate, maneuver and control your opponent often boils down to sheer strength.
There are many ways to develop your strength, using dumbbells, body weight training, strong men training or even Olympic weightlifting.
The key to gaining efficiency in these facets requires training with resistance up to 90% of the weight you can lift for one rep, with short cycles of 3-5 reps for 5 sets.
This can be 3-5 handstand pushups for 5 sets, or 3-5 standing presses for 5 sets. Strength training is tough on your central nervous system, so you need to have plenty of recovery time between sets to make sure you hit each set completely fresh. This can be between 3-5 minutes of rest between sets.
Barbell training is an easy to measure and accessible way to train strength. Stick to large compound movements that train the body proportionally by using multiple muscles in succession. The squat, bench press, deadlift and shoulder press or pull-ups are perfect.
The goal of the MMA fighter should be to develop strength such as you can squat 1.5-2 x body weight, bench press at your 1.25-1.5 x body weight, deadlift 2-2.5 x body weight and 10 pull perform ups with 20 kg of extra weight attached.
MMA is a sport that is constantly evolving and a number of unarmed combat disciplines have been adopted by many fighters – from karate to sambo and from judo to taekwondo.
Whichever disciplines you choose to incorporate in your own style, you will need to pay particular attention to three key areas of the sport: batting, wrestling and submissions.
All fights start standing up and often end there. You must develop hitting skills, be able to deliver knockout blows, and have proficient footwork and hand speed to control the fight and throw combos at your opponent. Two of the best hitting arts that apply directly to MMA are Muay Thai and boxing – which are often the foundation of most MMA fighters’ punching skills. Some also use taekwondo to develop a less predictable standout style.
Grappling is also essential, and probably the most dominant discipline in the sport. You must be able to control your opponent’s body at all times, be able to fight in the clinch, control him against the cage and on the ground. The best skills for this are wrestling – both freestyle and Greco-Roman, as well as judo and Russian sambo. With these abilities, you can bring your fighter down if you want, or stop him from knocking you down if you prefer to fight standing up.
The last skills are submissions. Many would lump this together with wrestling, but the emphasis here is not just on controlling your opponent, but finishing your opponent and winning the fight. Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is the most dominant form of submission fights. It is a very effective martial art that dominated the MMA sport in the beginning. Catch wrestling is also an alternative, but it is difficult to find good catch wrestling schools.
However, it is not enough just to be good at these skills. It’s how you put them together as part of your MMA training and the transition between every aspect of the fight that really sets you apart as a mixed martial artist.