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Strength vs Conditioning

Tyler Welch
28 November 2009
Strength vs Conditioning

The combat sports community has made great strides in regards to embracing the world of "functional" training, and shedding the ineffective shackles of bodybuilding-style training. In that transition, though, the value of training for strength has become neglected. It is almost as though an aversion to basic, practical weight training has been cultivated in pursuit of ultimate functionality.

It is common now to see gyms full of tires, sledgehammers, chains, medicine balls and the like. These are all valuable tools, for certain. But just as valuable is the squat rack, the barbell and its kin. As I've mentioned numerous times, trainees must not forgo basic foundational strength training in a rush to move on to advanced plyometric and bodyweight work. With the increasing popularity of bodyweight training, non-mainstream tools (kettlebells, clubs, bands, etc), the basics of strength training are being abandoned for more fashionable methods.

There are certain undeniable truths in strength and conditioning. One of those truths is how to develop strength. The bodybuilding and supplement industries would have you believe that using methods that increase the SIZE of your muscles necessarily leads to increasing the STRENGTH of your muscles. And so all too many trainees have fell into the trap of endless sets of eight to twelve reps at submaximal weight. This does, of course, assist in hypertrophy (increased muscle size) - something that has its place in strength development. What this method ignores is the development of maximal strength: to create more strength or power in your activity of choice, you must cultivate the ability to create power. Funny, right?

Let's say you're in an MMA fight. Let's say you see an opening - a chance for a double shot, or an open chin asking for a huge overhand right. At that exact moment - not later in the fight, not the next day, next year, but in that exact moment in the cage - how many chances do you have? Answer: one. You must be able to explode, get the shot, knock him out. If you can't create that power, you've got nothing. So what's the use of constantly training your muscles to be able to perform at submaximal strength for eight to twelve repetitions? Easy answer: vanity. It's easy, it's common, and it gives you big guns.

If you want to get stronger, you need to get stronger. Use basic lifts such as shoulder press, squats, deadlifts, cleans, and snatches. Learn how to do them correctly, and do them for low reps with high weight. The nervous system needs a challenge in order to adapt, change, and grow stronger.

Doing timed intervals, jogging, jumping rope, doing bodyweight movements for high reps - these are all valuable things (except jogging, but that's another point). But these movements really only assist in developing low levels of force over extended periods of time. Remember the example from a few lines up? Strength is a skill, and you must train it to be able to use it.

The reason we call it Strength AND Conditioning is that these two concepts cover the spectrum of strength (props to Chip Conrad for letting me steal liberally from his catalog), from developing low levels of force over an extended period of time to explosive, maximum effort. So you've got to be able to stay on your feet and last the fight - endurance, as some call it - do some GPP (General Physical Preparedness), or what we've been describing as conditioning. It's important, for sure. But don't forget getting strong. Because why leave it up to the judges when you can knock him out?Tyler Welch is the Strength & Conditioning Coach at Neutral Ground Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is also the founder of Second Nature Fitness, an active Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, and a whole lot of other stuff that means he paid a bunch of people to teach him things about fitness. Follow him at,, Facebook and

See a list of previous USCS Strength & Conditioning articles here.

Last Modified:
01 August 2011

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