Developing Explosive Power for MMA – Part One

In almost every sport the ability to be explosive and powerful often goes hand in hand with success, and this is especially true in Mixed Martial Arts. Being a faster and more explosive fighter gives you the ability to overpower, outwork, and outgun your opponent from start to finish. The truth is that almost every athlete can dramatically improve their power with the right program, but very few programs get it right.

In the following series of articles I will teach you the keys to doing it right. I will show you how to dramatically improve your explosive power and most importantly, how to develop it specifically for MMA. I will also do much more than just give you a few exercises to throw together as many coaches often do: I will lay out the foundation, the specific methods, and the science behind explosive power development for MMA and why my program is different.

If you have no interest in the real science and philosophy of explosive power training feel free to skip to the end, but for those who want to know the how and the why of strength and conditioning, read on…

What is power?

In the cage or octagon, power is more than just a physics equation, it’s your chance to knock your opponent out, ground and pound until the ref stops it, or grind out a punishing decision. You see power in MMA depends on not just how strong or how fast you are, but how well conditioned your specific energy systems are to allow you to produce power when it counts.

This type of power is not just a measure of muscular strength and/or speed, but rather a measure of the power of your energy systems. You can think of how high your vertical jump is or how hard you can punch or kick as a measure of external power, while energy system power can be thought of as internal power.

Understanding how to develop the power of your energy systems and how to apply this power to MMA is the result of intelligent planning, specific training, and is how you can succeed where other programs often fail.

Energy System Power

The body has three principle systems it uses in an overlapping fashion to produce the energy your body needs to survive, to move around, and to try to punch, kick, or elbow people in the face. These systems are known as the anaerobic -alactic, anaerobic-lactic, and aerobic systems.

The three systems vary both in terms of how fast they are able to produce energy, and how long they are able to sustain that energy production. This means that each energy system has a power component as well as a capacity component.

You can think of the power component as the size of the engine, the bigger the engine the more horsepower it can create and the capacity is the size of the gas tank, the larger the gas tank, the longer the system can produce energy.

The system I’m going to discuss in depth in this article is the alactic energy system, and when trained properly it is the key to devastating striking and brutal ground and pound. I’ll lay out for you the specific periodization plan needed to maximally develop your alactic power, and I’ll give you the principles and methods I’ve used to prepare some of today’s most explosive top fighters.

The Alactic System 101

Before I get the details of how to improve your explosive power, it’s important to understand more about how the system works in the first place. The alactic energy system is also known as the creatine system or the ATC-PC system, and it is the most powerful of the three energy systems – though this also means it also has the shortest duration as well. The alactic system fuels the most explosive efforts, those few crushing seconds that result in your opponent getting knocked out, tapped out, or the fight stopped by the ref.

All three energy systems ultimately produce the body’s energy currency known as ATP, but the alactic system can produce extremely high levels of power because it is requires few very chemical reactions to generate the ATP needed for muscular contractions. Fewer chemical steps means ATP can be generated very quickly, but it also means it is capable of using all its energy producing capacity very quickly and generally only lasts 10-12 seconds at max power.

Training properly improves just how explosive you can be in those 10-12 seconds, and it can extend how long you can maintain that power for. In a fight, this can mean the difference between a knockdown and a knockout, or the difference between getting the takedown and taking a knee to the face on the way in.

How much power you’re able to generate using the alactic system is the result of a few different components. Once you understand these components and how to improve them, putting together a program is just a matter of piecing together the puzzle.

Pieces of the Puzzle

How much power you’re able to generate using the alactic system can be broken down into mechanical and metabolic components of the neuromuscular system. This probably sounds more complicated than it really is, but it’s important to understand. The mechanical side of the equation simply means how much force the muscle is able to generate, and how fast it’s able to generate it. This primarily depends on the nervous system’s ability to rapidly contract as much muscle as possible at once, and on how well the supporting connective tissues (tendons, fascia, etc.) can use elastic energy to produce force.

The second half of the alactic power equation stems from the metabolic properties of the muscle, in other words how efficiently they produce the ATP they need to contract. The faster the chemical reactions of the alactic system can take place, and the more of the raw materials the muscles are able to store in them, the more power you’ll be able to generate. The speed of the chemical reactions can be thought of as the horsepower of the system, while the storage capacity can be thought of as the size of the gas tank.

Training to improve alactic power means both sides of the equation need to be developed. First, the nervous system must be developed to contract the maximum amount of muscle as rapidly as possible and the connective tissues must be trained to use elastic energy effectively. This will result in stronger, more explosive muscular contractions. Second, the energy producing properties of the neuromuscular system must be developed to fuel these explosive contractions using the alactic energy system to the maximum of its ability.

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