Recommend Print

Strength and Conditioning for Optimal Performance

Chris Merritt
02 March 2011
Strength and Conditioning for Optimal Performance

At some point in the sport's development, coaches and fighters decided that because mixed martial arts is “extreme” or “crazy,” the workouts should be, too. But, looking at the facts, mixed martial arts strength and conditioning shouldn't be any different from other sports.

I’m willing to bet that almost every mixed martial arts fan out there can think of at least three fights in 2010, in shows as big as the UFC, that were decided by conditioning. And it doesn’t take a genius to understand that to make it to that level, one does not ignore preparation.

So why, then, can an athlete not go for 15-25 minutes of competition with all that he has. Is it will and determination? While mental toughness obviously has its benefits, probably not.

We see it on behind the scenes footage all the time. Fighter “x” is going through a crazy non-stop workout full of the latest fitness trends and gadgets. His heart rate is through the roof, he can hardly lift himself off of the floor when it finally finishes, and he swears that is what you need to put in to get to the top.

Stop by your local gym for an MMA conditioning class, and you’ll probably see similar techniques being applied daily. This approach is wrong.

Fighter “x” is being filmed for television. The footage needs to be entertaining for the fans and play mind games with his opponent all at once. This fighter probably only trains at that pace for the cameras, or, on occasion, to develop the mental edge to push through stressful, unknown situations.

There are two categories of training an athlete's camp addresses: General physical preparation, or GPP for short, makes up the general, physical, basic abilities to perform in almost any sport. GPP includes, but is not limited to, endurance, strength, speed, and flexibility. There's also, specific physical preparation, or SPP, which makes up the specific exercises that address the sport directly. There is no cut and dry distinction between GPP and SPP for every exercise. It merely depends on the period of training and demands of the sport.

That crazy workout for the cameras is going to fit into the GPP category. But remember, GPP involves endurance, strength, speed, and flexibility. These “run them into the ground” programs only address some form of endurance, at best. The other stuff just isn’t that entertaining for television, because it is what most other athletes are already doing.

A properly designed strength and conditioning program for MMA needs to address all of the facets of GPP, as well as SPP. Following the workout on TV, no matter what it was, is going to be too narrow a focus to bring competitive success.

Let’s look at a very basic layout for a proper week’s training:

Monday- Upper/lower strength split: This workout should flow from dynamic warm-ups, including corrective work, to core lifts (speed-strength before strength), assistance lifts, and finally cool-down  with corrective work and stretches.

Tuesday- Conditioning: See Martin Rooney’s "Hurricane Training" (Men's Fitness- Hurricane Training). Not to say that this is all that there is for conditioning, but Martin has some great ideas and a solid, laid-out plan to work off of.

Wednesday- Upper/lower strength split. See above.*

Thursday- Conditioning. See above.*

Friday- Upper/lower strength split. See above.*

*Workouts will not necessarily be the same from day to day.

This layout does not include any skill training. Ultimately, the above routine is a supplement and skill training is the most important part of preparation. In all reality, the best conditioning for any sport is to play the sport. Nothing else can emulate the adrenaline, energy, or dynamics of a fight.

So before you run into your next “MMA conditioning class,” take a look at the overall picture and make sure that you’ve got all of the bases covered.

For more on this philosophy of conditioning, check out Eric Cressey’s article, “What I learned in 2010,” #8 (What I Learned in 2010). Nor does this layout include an obscene amount of cardio on a daily basis. To understand a little more about the need for strength training over conditioning, see USCS writer Tyler Welch’s “Strength vs. Conditioning” article (Strength vs. Conditioning).

Chris Merritt is the co-founder of Beyond Strength Performance, received his B.S. in Kinesiology from the Pennsylvania State University, and has a multitude of certifications that say he can regurgitate information to pass a test. The important thing: Chris Merritt gets results. He has countless mixed martial arts athletes whom he coaches and consults with to help make weight and turn right around to perform optimally when it matters. If you or any of your athletes have questions, feel free to contact Chris through his website (

Photo courtesy of
Last Modified:
01 August 2011

Add comment

Security code

US Combat Sports Facebook US Combat Sports Twitter US Combat Sports YouTube US Combat Sports RSS Feed MMA Recap