1 – “You can’t shoot a cannon out of a canoe” Charles Poliquin – Build From The Ground Up.
When we walk, run, kick, punch, jump etc. our feet are the only thing in contact with the ground. We develop power through this connection so if we lack the ability to control and use the foot we’ll never fully reach our true potential to develop force. What happens at the foot dictates how the knees, hips and core move, accept and transfer power. If we have inefficient movement patterns up through the kinetic chain we are essentially “leaking energy”.
The aim of punching or kicking is to transfer the maximum amount of force through your own body into your opponent.
So look at it like this, when I throw a punch or kick, the power is generated in my feet through my contact with the ground. If my base (i.e my feet) is strong and stable, my knees can accept and transfer this force optimally into rotational power through my hips and core into my shoulders and out through my fist into my opponent (or through my foot in the case of kicking)
But what happens if my feet aren’t strong?
Firstly I Leak energy trough the foot and ankle complex because I can’t develop a rigid lever to push from.
My shin and my knee rotate inwards or outwards (keep in mind knees are made for flexion and extension, they don’t deal very well with excessive rotation) so that’s the second leak in the chain. The knock on from here is -where my knee goes my hip generally follows and this can result in the glutes and muscles around the hip not being able to do their job properly (third leak in the chain). So now we have a malfunctioning foot, knee and hip complex, inefficient glute control etc…… I won’t go any further I’m sure you’re starting to see the pattern here!
As important as it is for fighters to have a really strong core there’s only so far this will take you if the force you’ve generated can’t even make it as far as your core in the first place.
The video below will show you some very simple exercises that I use with all my athletes to develop control over the foot.
2 – Flexibility Vs Mobility
Fighters are continually forced into positions of extreme ranges of motion (ROM) to a much greater extent and under much higher loads than most athletes in other sports. As a result of this the common thing is to spend huge amounts of time working on flexibility to expand the ROM the athlete can get into voluntarily or under force by an opponent. The problem here is this… Just because I can get into extreme ranges of motion freely by being flexible doesn’t mean I’m strong in these ranges. So if my hip is pushed to into external rotation to an extent that I’m strong enough to resist I’m fine BUT what if I’m pushed that little bit further? OK flexibility wise I’m probably comfortable and safe enough but what if I’m not strong out in this range and I can’t resist the force being placed on me out here?
3 things can happen here
- 1-You can wait it out and hope your opponent lets pressure off (not very likely!)
- 2-The hip is going to have to take the consequences which generally means groin strains or capsular damage to the hip (might not be immediate but more a build up of chronic problems over time).
- 3-Probably the most common, the pressure is going to be transferred to torque at the knee joint (as we’ve already seen knees don’t like to be rotated) and we can end up with stress and strain on the outside of the knee. (I’m relatively new to training MMA athletes but every single one I’ve trained has reported injury or bouts of pain on the lateral side of the knee from being forced into external rotation at the hip).
As a coach I don’t generally spend a lot if any time specifically working on flexibility with most athletes and clients but I would strongly argue that combat sport athletes need to dedicate time solely to flexibility work.
The key here is to find the balance between flexibility and mobility. As Coach Oisin McCabe from Compound Martial Arts taught me, “the more flexible an athlete becomes the more options they have for effective techniques (e.g offensive guards, kicking techniques and recovering from dangerous positions)” so essentially with improved mobility and flexibilty the athlete can access a wider range of skills to utilise.
Mobility is something that can be easily scheduled into a strength and conditioning programme for a combat athlete without interfering with the session aim. As a rule I use a 6-8 minute standard mobility warm-up for every client. Extra mobility is done on rest periods between bigger compound lifts and accessory work.
The video below shows a small section of the mobility warm up every athlete and client at Doolin Performance works through on a daily basis.
3 – Get Strong
Strength is a huge mitigating factor when it comes to reducing injury risk. In general, stronger athletes are more robust and resilient and therefore more likely to withstand forces that may result in injury for weaker athletes.
Putting injury risk aside and looking at things from a performance point of view, strength is a precursor for power development. As we’ve already seen in the first section on training feet, the aim for an MMA athlete is to transfer power through his/her kinetic chain into an opponent.
Strength is the ability to develop force in order to overcome a resistance whereas power is the ability to overcome that resistance in the shortest amount of time. So if we can’t develop sufficient force effectively it doesn’t really matter how fast we can deliver this force. An athlete that can develop a large amount of force and then learn to do that at speed is much more dangerous than a weak athlete moving at the same speed.
Martial arts athletes don’t need to train like powerlifters. The aim of strength training for combat sports is to optimise the athletes strength relative to their body weight while also making sure they are able to deliver this force with precision at maximal speed.
A simple strength training programme for a combat sport athlete should include pushing, pulling, pressing, squatting, hinging, lunging and rotating movement patterns. Once they have mastered the basic movements you can play around with different grips and loading strategies (i.e ropes, Bulgarian bags, med balls, unstable weights etc.) to make things more specific to the sport itself. Mid to low rep ranges with longer recovery periods works best with these types of athletes.
4 – Repeat Steps 1-3 Regularly
Very simply put….
Keep it simple – Keep it consistent
5 – Remember MMA is your sport not weight lifting!
To be effective, strength and conditioning should be seamlessly integrated into a fighters normal training programme on a regular basis. If the S&C and martial arts coach are not on the same page and working against each other this could be catastrophic for the athlete.
S&C coaches should work closely with martial arts coaches to deliver a comprehensive and well-rounded training programme for the long term development of the athlete in a safe and knowledgeable environment.
S&C should not dominate the athletes training, it should compliment existing training and supplement any gaps in that training with whatever the athletes needs to progress including testing, load monitoring and recovery sessions.
If you’re interested in developing your athletic potential from the ground up with Doolin Performance click here, fill the contact form and we’ll get back to you to book a free consultation and screening session.