On Saturday, February 23rd I competed in the I. Flowing Arts &Hammers MMA Newcomer Challenge in Corinthia. My fight was scheduled for three, three minute rounds under Aggrelin rules. In this post, I will shortly outline my preparation – which was quite different from what I usually do – and elaborate on the rationale behind it.
First, I have to say that I just returned from a four week trip to Thailand, where I trained Muay Thai at different gyms. Hence, my striking was on a reasonably high level, as was my aerobic conditioning. However, I have totally neglected my wrestling, grappling and Strength training during that period. Most of the gyms I have been to didn’t have barbells, let alone power racks or platforms. I did a ton of push ups, bodyweight squats and crunches, but once you can do 15 pushups, they just won’t get you stronger. It’s not like you can’t get stronger doing bodyweight exercises only – up to a certain point, that is absolutely possible. However, to do so, you’d need to incorporate harder pushup variations for low-volume sets, say, single arm push ups. That is not what is happening in Thailand, though. There, it is mostly sets of ten or twenty in between rounds.
Looking at the residual effect of training according to Issurin and Lustig (2004), you’d think that a 28 day layoff won’t have a particularly negative influence on maximum strength but I can tell you, it has. At least in my case, it had. Might have been the fact that I did so much aerobic training during those two-a-day Muay Thai sessions that competing adaptations sped up the decline of my strength and lower levels. I don’t know. The thing is, strength in the weight room is easily quantifiable. You either make the lift, or you don’t. Despite being conservative with my goals, I didn’t make quite a few lifts when I came back.
Due to these factors, I decided to make wrestling and strength training my priorities. Think about it in terms of the via-positiva/via-negativa approach. My best winning strategy was to keep the fight on the feet and force my opponent to brawl. A losing strategy would be to get taken down by a superior grappled and be submitted on the ground. Wrestling was, in other words, my insurance against failure, while striking was my way to success (or so I figured). Adequate strength levels would serve as a platform for my wrestling and allow me to dictate where the fight would take place.
|AM||WR||MxS UB+ HIIT||WR||MxS LB||UB SX|
Table 1 – weekly training schedule. WR means Wrestling practice, MxS is a max strength session, SX is a speed strength (ergo, power) session. REGEN is a light regenerative session on the ergometer. UB indicates upper body and conversely, LB stands for lower body.
Having said all that, Table 1 shows my weekly schedule. I’d be in the gym four times a week, two of which were strength emphasis days, with the other two being devoted to speed and power. For the first time in my life, I followed an upper body / lower body split. This was inspired by Dan Baker, whom I have listened to at the Polish S&C Association’s annual conference last year. Off-season, coach Baker has his Rugby players do one upper body strength day, one upper body power day, one lower body strength day and one lower body power day. Goes without saying, all that is on top of energy system training and specific practice. To manage fatigue, the training is reduced to one total-body strength session and one total-body power session per week when in-season (Baker 1998). For me, it was a convenient approach in that
- I work in the gym every day anyhow, so I might as well toss in a (low volume) session while I’m there.
- Having a dedicated upper body day (even two) allows me to hit the spin bike for some lower body HIIT after lifting and address the high intensity anaerobic stuff that wasn’t really touched on Thailand, while minimizing adaptation interference.
At this point, I won’t dive into too much detail concerning the strength and power sessions. Suffice to say, strength was very low-volume (two or three lifts, done in the 2-5 RM range). Basically, for lower body strength I did a squat, an RDL and a ventral core exercise (something along the lines of a suspended body saw) to attenuate the heightened tonus in the posterior chain. Upper body strength was dumbbell bench press and weighted pull ups. Power was a complex session according to the guidelines by Lim and Barley (2016). I used squats and drop jumps for the lower body session, with some stir the pot in between sets. For upper body, I did dumbbell bench presses and plyo push ups, with some renegade rows in between sets to adress the core.
As mentioned above, I did some HIIT sessions on the spin bike after my upper body lifting sessions. The session design was inspired by the work of Burgomaster et al. (2008). In the first week, I did four, thirty second, all-out intervals, interspersed by four minutes of active recovery. In week two, I progressed to six such intervals. Week three saw a reduction in the rest period, from four minutes all the way down to two. Finally, during the fourth and final week, I did nine, twenty second intervals with one minute of rest. Considering the fact that my resting heart rate was 49 at the end of the training block, I figure my aerobic system improved alongside my local muscular endurance
Wrestling and MMA practice always involved some sparring, but was generally composed of drills and last-minute adjustments. Saturday was my „hard“ sparring day, i.e., it revolved around shark tank and similar training modalities. Since Saturday is the traditional sparring day at my own gym anyways, and since I knew I had to perform on a Saturday evening, that session was the week’s key session, the culmination of all the other stuff I’ve been doing over the days leading up to the weekend.
At last year’s Combat Sports Performance Summit, Dr. Buzzichelli outlined his periodization approach for high-level BJJ fighters and showed us how they would deload for just half a week before smaller competitions. I decided to go that route and train until Wednesday during fight week. Now I have to admit that during those last workouts, my body was already trying to recover from overreaching. Might have been better to just skip them. That way, I might have avoided getting sick afterwards. Well, hindsight is always 20/20 as they say
Now the preparation may or may not have been optimal, but success leaves clues, and I won by first round submission that night. Ironically, I took the fight to the ground, despite postulating a game-plan that revolved around striking. I may have stuck to the plan, but I saw a great opportunity for a clean takedown and took it. Once on the ground, I dominated the bout, despite being out-weighed by roughly 4 Kg (almost 9 pounds). Talk about uncertainty in sports. To wrap things up, here’s a highlight reel of the KaiGym competition team, put together by my Luta Livre trainer Bobby Bozic:
Next stop is the national championships in April. Stay tuned.
don’t get hurt
Baker, D. (1998). Applying the in-season periodization of strength and power training to football. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 20(2), 18-27.
Burgomaster, K. A., Howarth, K. R., Phillips, S. M., Rakobowchuk, M., MacDonald, M. J., McGee, S. L., & Gibala, M. J. (2008). Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. The Journal of physiology, 586(1), 151-160.
Issurin, V., & Lustig, G. (2004). Klassifikation, Dauer und praktische Komponenten der Resteffekte von Training. Leistungsport. 34, 55-59
Lim, J. J., & Barley, C. I. (2016). Complex Training for power development: Practical applications for program design. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 38(6), 33-43.