Friday, January 13, 2012

The #1 Thing You MUST Do If You Want To Be A Better Fighter

As MMA becomes increasingly popular, more and more people are becoming interested in the martial arts.

Not surprisingly, these individuals want to train like their favorite UFC hero. They see videos on YouTube of guys like Georges St. Pierre or Sean Sherk training like freaking mad men and want to emulate them.

 I mean, it isn't hard to understand why anyone wouldn't want to perform and train like any of the Pro MMA athletes.

The problem is: I don't think many of these guys really understand how high-level MMA fighters actually train - when the cameras and/or media aren't watching them.

Stop Trying To Be The Best At Exercising!! -

Most newbies to a combat sport don't have a well defined idea of what it takes to make a great fighter.

They see their favorite fighter using kettlebells, battling ropes, flipping tires, running sprints, etc... and think that stuff is what makes great fighters.

It isn't.

To illustrate my point: I get at least 2 emails or private messages a week from people asking me to critique their current training program. The ENTIRE TIME I've been doing this blog I've never had someone send me a program that includes fighting skills training (heavy bag work, shadow boxing, mitt work, sparring, fight drills, etc...) more than 3 times a week.

In these routines virtually everyday includes some sort of strength training or general conditioning workout. These guys make time for the bench press, tossing around kettlebells, sprinting, burpees, squats/deadlifts, swinging a sledgehammer at a tire, etc...however, making time for things like grappling drills or heavybag work seems more like an afterthought on these routines.

Their priorities are all out of whack!

Don't get me wrong: strength training and conditioning has its place. But for a n00b, that place is very limited.

A new martial artist has more pressing matters to deal with.

Focus on Fighting - 

When anyone first starts training in a martial art or combat sport their bodies need time to adjust to the new training stimuli.

If you don't allow your body that time and you try to lift, do conditioning work, and learn a new skill set you are setting yourself up for burn out and overtraining.

Let's not forget the S.A.I.D. Principle: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.

It's an acronym they drilled into our heads when I was going to school which, basically, means that the human organism adapts very specifically to the demands that are imposed upon it.

In the world of sports and performance enhancement this means that you can improve certain skills by practicing those skills. Runners improve by running, swimmers improve by swimming, etc...

If you want to be a better fighter you should practice those things that best approximate fighting: heavybag work, partner drills, scenario drills, sparring, etc.... I touched on this concept in an earlier article.

I typically advise guys to drop all general conditioning work when they start training in the martial arts. All the new drills, heavybag work, shadowboxing/kata, and sparring will be more than enough conditioning for now.

As for strength training, I generally recommend the trainee drop the frequency down to 1 full body, high intensity session a week. Some guys can get away with 2 sessions but I think most people would be better served sticking to a single session and really drilling down on their fight training.

A Better Routine For N00BS -

Let's take a look at what I would consider a good routine for an active (familiar with strength training and conditioning) individual who is an absolute beginner in the martial arts:

Monday - Fight Training A*
1. Stand-up Training
    A. Warm up/Shadowboxing
    B. Solo Drills (on heavybag or done like shadow boxing)
    C. Partner drills (feeding drills, mitt work)
    D. Sparring (light sparring or "sparring" drills for beginners)

2. Specific Conditioning (pick one)
    A. Several rounds on the heavybag
    B. Several rounds of high intensity shadowboxing
    C. A few extra rounds of sparring

Tuesday - Fight Training B*
1. Grappling
    A. Warm up/solo drills
    B. Partner Drills (passive to moderate resistance)
    C. "Free Rolling" (full resistance, trying to work in the partner drill from above whenever possible)
    D. Flexibility Drills

2. Specific Conditioning (pick one)
    A. Do a few rounds of solo grappling drills at a high intensity
    B. Do a few more rounds of free rolling

Wednesday - Strength Training Circuit
1. Deadlift - 5-8 reps
2. Overhead Press - 5-8 reps
3. Pullup (may need to be weighted) - 5-8 reps

Work through this routine in circuit fashion. That is, 1)pick an appropriate weight/resistance level for each lift, 2) do the prescribed number of reps for that exercise, 3) then move on to the next exercise.

Cycle through these lifts 3-5 times. You can rest as much as 30 seconds between each exercise and up to 1 minute each time you cycle through the three lifts.

Thursday - Fight Training A
(roughly) same as Monday

Friday - Fight Training B
(roughly) same as Tuesday

Saturday - "Open Gym"
This day is open to work on your weaknesses, get in some extra sparring and free rolling, and basically have fun. Don't worry too much about specific drills or even conditioning. Just do a little "free style" work and train hard.

*I'm assuming here that most reading this have found themselves a qualified instructor and can only make it to one class a day (which is typical for most people). If you are not doing training in a typical gym or dojo and/or you are able to make multiple classes or training sessions a day, then your routine will look different. This is simply a "starting point" and acts merely to give you an idea of how it should be done.

The idea here is to train for what you want to improve: fighting.

I could throw all kinds of crazy shit into this routine but that wouldn't make you a better fighter. The idea is to keep things simple so you can improve, not to do so much that feel overwhelmed and burnt out.

Conclusion -

Like Kenny Powers says you shouldn't be "...tryin' to be the best at exercising."

Instead you should focus on your "sport."

Really and truly, this applies to both the green-horns and the veterans in the martial art/combat sport world. Your strength training and conditioning work should be something of a dessert in your overall program and your fight training should be the appetizer, main course, and side dish.

As always:

Train Hard,
Josh Skinner


  1. Excellent article, Josh. People also seem to forget that a lot of the fight training itself is hard on the body, and that you need time to recover. In addition to needing to prioritise the skill work; you also simply can't take a good strength and conditioning program and then just add martial arts on top and expect it to all work out the same.

    By the way, have you read Easy Strength by Pavel and Dan John? It covers this kind of topic.

  2. If this is the training program for beginners then the expert program must be crazy. I think a very athletic person who is already in shape could pick this up but most people would need to ease into MMA slower.