Just read through all responses to make sure this hasn’t been said yet and a lot of good points were hit, but still some major simple factors being left off the table.
Sento touched on a lot of major questions to ask before developing the program:
- When is the next fight. Treat this like in-season vs. out of season, periodize the programming and ramp accordingly to peak performance around bout time (maintain top strength, endurance, and overall stamina without risking injury).
- What is his current lifting program (if any) and what is covered in his MMA training. This also depends on his martial arts disciplines. Generally Muay Thai will include jump rope and calisthenics in the warm-up and the entire class is essentially an interval-based cardio session, while Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or MMA Grappling will involve a lot of slower tactical training going live closer towards the end. Keeping this in mind, it may not be necessary to perform added cardio on Muay Thai days, while he could benefit from it on grappling days, unless he takes both training sessions in the same day.
- Understand the demands of the sport. I have to agree AND disagree with Sento here. Spot on with establishing the importance of strength endurance in MMA, but there is also significant benefit to low-rep strength training, so I’ll outline a few program considerations below:
A. SMR: Strength to Mass Ratio: Weight is a key factor in MMA, so knowing his weight class target and current weight is vital. The program should be designed at getting his target weight to the upper end of his weight class limits so he has a mass advantage over those lighter than him in his weight class. Now take into consideration where this weight is coming from and tailor the program to encourage lean, functional mass that has as much strength for his size as possible. I will generally have the athlete perform their lower rep strength lifts before going into a higher tempo metabolic portion (described below) that addresses higher rep ranges as opposed to high-set volume hypertrophy training.
B. MMA ENERGY DEMANDS: MMA is one of the few sports that require strength, power, and anaerobic components as well as both cardio and muscle endurance, so it should be trained for in this way. Look at the Work:Rest ratio (Round Time vs. Time in between rounds to recover) and develop an interval-based hybrid of strength and power training finishing with a metabolic component. So UFC fighters would train for 3-5 sets of 5 minutes work (SEP: Strength/Endurance/Power Hybrid) to 1 min Rest (True Rest or a low-level active recovery/mobility exercise). The SEP Hybrid would could include 3-5 exercises like Standing Military Press, Half-Kneeling Landmine SA Press, or weighted Pullups as a strength exercise and battle ropes, kettlebells, treadmill sprints, box jumps or other plyometrics to address power and endurance.
C. ACCESSORY WORK: Grip Strength, Shoulder/Scap Stability and Isometric Neck strengthening | Whether taking the Diesel Crew route and training specific exercises just for grip strength or utilizing pull-based exercises with varying grip widths, this can enhance your ability in the cage and give you an advantage on the ground as many submissions revolve around different hand-holds and anyone who has competed in the sport knows how difficult this gets when you have a sweaty opponent. Shoulder and Scap stability, while helping to prevent dislocations and other shoulder injury can also serve as a supplement to your pushing and pulling strength. Last, neck strengthening is included in every MMA fighter’s program as they often have to brace off their head in certain positions either against the ground or their opponent. There have also been a few research studies (better quality studies are needed) that relate neck strength and head-to-neck circumference ratio to incidence of concussions.
D: INJURY PREVENTION: Mobility is key in this sport, and while general flexibility is addressed during training, things like T-Spine Extension, Rotational Mobility, and Glenohumeral IR/ER and not until you are forced beyond your limits by your opponent. I like to include this at the very end of the workout with one dynamic stability exercise with movement while balancing (balance exercises used at the end of training are aimed at stimulating the muscles to continue to stabilize through fatigue), followed by two mobility exercises like Side-lying Windmill or Supine Overhead Y-W long ways on a foam roller. Foam roller work itself and yoga/breathing exercises are also good inclusions if you want the gold-standard.
E: MMA MOVEMENT PATTERNS: Know the sport and understand what movements they will need to produce to be successful. Using this, you want to develop your exercises to closely mimic these patterns keeping in mind that multi-joint compound movements that challenge your muscles to work as a functional unit and require stability at your core will be optimal. Below are a few exercises I’d include in the program:
Inverted Row: Requires posterior chain activation and stability while pulling in a horizontal plane as seen in many grappling positions.
Deadlift/RDL/SL RDL: Can’t go wrong with any one of these or all of them. Posterior chain power, hamstring, glute/hip strengthening for shooting and take downs combined with grip strength.
Bench Press: Although the bench is taking on some of the stability roles, there are moments when you shoulders are flat on the ground and you are required to produce “pushing” strength. However, I would definitely consider variations (Stability Ball DB Bench press) and pushup variations (Plyo pushup, Judo Pushup, Divebombers) for more full body and increased muscle activation. Regardless, developing strength and power in this movement pattern can definitely help you pack a harder punch.
Landmine Presses: Landmine Squat-to-Press, Half-Kneeling SA Landmine Press, Landmine Pull to press-All of these are phenomenal for working variable resistance and free-moving shoulder strength/stability. The Squat-to-Press and Pull-to-Press variations both train power development from legs to upper body while the Pull-to-Press addresses a rotational power component.
Kettlebell Cleans and Snatches: You don’t have to take as much time training O-Lift form before adding on enough weight to stimulate muscle adaptation. Kettlebells help address muscle endurance, leg power and shoulder strength all in one.
Anti-Rotation and Anti-Extension Exercises: Training the muscles to resist both rotation and extension is vital if you don’t want to get muscled around by your opponent. Include the Pallof Press and Ab Roller/Barbell Rollout and you’ll be in good shape.
Grip Strength Variations: Play with the width of the barbells/dumbbells with either fat-grips or wrapping towels to simulate the width of grabbing a wrist or leg or consider pinching grip exercises like plate pinches or pull-ups from towels to improve grip endurance and strength while mimicking a Gi hold in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.