In today’s article, MMA conditioning expert Eric Wong answers our readers’ questions on conditioning and strength training methods for MMA and combat sports.
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Q: Joints appear to be the first thing that really “go” as we get older. I can personally attest to the difficulties in training for MMA when you’ve got knees and elbows that have reached retirement age before the rest of you.
I’ve learned that “hurdler’s stretches” are horrible for knees in sports involving kicking. Are there other traditional stretches that are NOT good for MMA? What would be included in a GOOD MMA warm-up/cool-down?
A: Stretches that are bad for anyone in general are stretches that stress joints as much or more than muscles.
Examples of other bad stretches would be traditional toe touches where you round your back trying to touch your toes. This results in stress to the discs in the low back, which can lead to a disc herniation or bulging disc, which then causes low back pain.
Other stretches that are not good are any stretches that torque the knee, like the hurdler’s stretch. An alternative to the hurdler’s stretch for targeting the piriformis and outer hip muscles is what I call the Figure 4 stretch, or you can just search for ‘piriformis stretch’ and you’ll find it.
In terms of what’s a good MMA warm-up/cool down, the best warm-up improves joint mobility, soft tissue quality, and incorporates dynamic mobility exercises such as leg swings, lunge and reaches, and squat-to-stands. It’s impossible to share all of the details here, as there are over 30 such exercises that I use with my fighters. I outline everything in detail my Advanced MMA Power Training system.
Q: Other than running & doing sprints, what can a fighter training for an m.m.a. event do to increase his/her cardio for maximum performance;so that their body doesn’t quit on them in the middle of a fight?
Q: If you are a striker, how much B.J.J., Wrestling, Judo, or for that matter grappling should you know in order to compete in an m.m.a. event?
A: You should know as much as you need to keep the fight standing and/or get back to your feet if you do get to the ground. This will all depend on your opponent – if you’ve got a fight lined up, you’ve got to know how good he is and what it will take to keep the fight where you want it.
Q: In regards to over all conditioning & cardio training,how much harder is it to train your body to be ready for an m.m.a. event, vs. only a striking event, vs. only a grappling event?
A: I wouldn’t say it’s any harder or easier, just different. For either events, you’ve only got so much training time available, and when you are training, you’ve got to be giving everything you’ve got. But the exact exercise choices, programs, and methods used will change based on the need. For example, strikers don’t need as much maximal strength as grapplers or mixed-martial artists.
Q: I have noticed that Americans use a lot of conditioning NOT involving martial arts movements. (Rich Franklin, etc…) Eric uses many very good conditioning exercises and it will get you in great shape, but shouldn’t you push your conditioning with martial arts movements themselves? (kicking bags, etc…) Then you got fighters who when they are tired will do stuff like Machida, Anderson Silva. They get tired by mostly sparring and variations of their techniques. I have no doubt about the efficiency of Wong`s conditioning system but isn’t the second one better as a fighter?
A: You don’t have to choose one or the other, as they complement each other, and you can and should do BOTH for maximum results. The thing with strength and conditioning is that it maximizes your potential to execute your MMA skills with full power or maximum endurance.
When you spar and train your MMA skills, that’s where you take this physical potential and turn it into specific power and endurance. If you NEVER do strength and conditioning, your physical potential will quickly plateau, as it is difficult to properly train your body to take it to the next level.
For example, an important quality to develop strength in is your pulling muscles, which you do using chin ups, rows, and even bicep curls. Being strong in your pulling muscles means you’ll be strong locking guys up in clinches, finishing submissions like chokes, etc.
But if you only train doing clinches and chokes, you won’t be able to add extra resistance to take your muscles to the next level, like you can with rows, chinups, etc. When you increase the strength and endurance in these muscles then you go to choke someone out, they’ll definitely notice!
Q: I was interested in training some of my friends in this way, but am running out of training methods. I’ve used kettlebells, tires and medicine balls etc. What other training methods can I use t condition the body?
A: I see this a lot – it’s not so much about the tools, but it’s about the programs and strategies used to achieve a certain goal. You may have the strongest, most powerful kick in the world, but if you don’t know when to use it properly, it’s completely useless! Strength and conditioning is all about choosing the right parameters, at the right time, to achieve the desired effect.
Here’s another example – many fighters think that because a workout is hard, it’s effective. But you could compare my Crazy 8’s Bodyweight Circuit to a workout that’s all about getting 500 pushups as fast as possible. The pushup workout will be much, much harder and your arms will feel like jello, but it’s not nearly as effective for MMA fighters.
Based on your tools of choice, you can use them many ways. Medicine balls are some of my favorite tools for MMA. You can use them to train pure power, by doing sets of 6-8 reps with complete rest, which would be around 1.5-2 minutes between sets.
This may not seem like it’s doing anything but it’s developing your Anaerobic Alactic energy system and nervous system to develop maximum power. Then when you want to develop endurance, you go to shorter rest periods and longer sets.
I don’t promote ‘hardcore’ training and have pictures of kettlebells, tires, and sledgehammers all over my websites because it gives fighters and coaches the wrong idea. The effectiveness of MMA strength and conditioning lies in the program, not the tools.
Q: What exercise would you recommend to become more explosive? Faster?
A: Again, this goes to my previous answer.
There is no magical exercise that improves explosiveness, it must be developed through a progressive training program where different qualities build on each other. In order to be explosive, you must first have a good level of general strength in basic movements like Bench presses, Deadlifts, Squats, Lunges, and Rows.
Then, you can train using lower rep ranges to develop maximal strength. You can then train using high velocity / low-load exercises using body weight exercises like Jumps or Clap push ups.
In my programs, everything is periodized based on a fight – so the goal of the entire program (which can last 8, 12, or 16 weeks) is to maximize explosiveness and endurance for the fight, so you can be as powerful in the 3rd round as you are in the 1st.
I will not give you a simple answer because it gives you the wrong idea about what it takes to develop your physical abilities as a mixed-martial artist. Just remember – there is no magic exercise or tool – the key is in the program.
Q: I just need a clarification about the street fighting, I am a black belt I am very good in sparring and kicks and fighting skills in karate dojo, and I am practicing street fight also in the dojo, but when I go to real street fighting I am getting shivering and I can’t touch the opponent. I don’t know why? Please give me a suggestion to change this in street fight situation.
A: OK, so hopefully this is purely self-defense because from the sounds of it you’re not going out there picking fights so maybe I can help you with this one…
The key is in your mental preparation. You’re getting all nervous because you’ve never encountered this situation before. Use the visualization techniques picturing the situation and picturing yourself being relaxed. You can’t execute your techniques when you’re nervous. So if you can relax, you’ll be fine.
Also, if you start to get that feeling, change your breathing – breathe slower and deeper and it will help to keep you calm.
Q: I have mostly kids in my class and I cant get them past 10 push ups without stopping… any suggestions on getting them to work harder at it?
A: First of all, don’t force them to do Push ups beyond what they can do in good form. Good form consists of a solid, bridge like body and full range of motion. Any less than good form and you’re encouraging poor posture and poor movement patterns. So you can teach them to stop when they lose their form.
Next, there are 2 limiting factors to the number of Push ups kids can do – their upper body strength and their core strength. Upper body strength will be improved through progressive training.
It’s tough to do in a group setting, but you can start off doing multiple sets with proper rest in between. Do 2 sets, then progress to 3, 4, 5, etc. Rest 1 minute between sets, and always tell them to stop if their form falters, or stop them yourself.
Then, develop their core strength using basic exercises like planks, side planks, etc. These exercises are far better than crunches as they train the core for stability, which is what the core is designed for and is specific to improving Push ups.
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