Strength and Conditioning Periodization for MMA

When I first start talking to a fighter that comes to me for advice, I always ask when their next fight is. I do this because the answer to this question starts my brain working to figure out what their strength and conditioning program should look like.

Now the initial plan in my head always gets modified, because after assessing their strengths and weaknesses to determine their needs, it’s clear what they have to work on.

Because it doesn’t matter if explosive power endurance training is the most important thing to work on, if you can’t even generate power yet, there’s no chance that you’ll be able to develop power endurance.

So here’s an overview of a basic Periodization template that I use with my fighters. This template is an ideal situation where we have 12 weeks of training until the fight, the athlete is injury free, has some experience weight training, and has a decent level of strength. This template is NOT for advanced athletes or absolute beginners.

Phase 1 – Base Conditioning, 4 Weeks

During the Base Conditioning phase, physically the idea is to develop the soft tissues: muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Metabolically, what we’re trying to do is develop the anaerobic lactic energy system – the system that allows you to go harder through the muscular burn.

For strength training exercises, I like to aim for a higher rep range to achieve a set that lasts for 30-50 seconds, resting no more than 90 seconds between sets. This allows the anaerobic lactic energy system to kick in and not be fully recovered by the time the next set starts. A combined upper/lower body push-pull split works well here. Rest 2 days between workouts, which will mean you’re training 2-3 days/week.

Right after the strength training portion, some form of intervals with work intervals lasting 45-60 seconds each with a 1:1 recovery work well, repeated for 6-10 total work intervals.

Phase 2 – Strength, 4 Weeks

For exercise selection during the Strength phase, I’ll choose the standard big lifts like deadlifts and bench press as the main strength builders, with sets of 4-6 reps, resting about 2 minutes between sets.

For accessory exercises, we’ll get more into unilateral exercises to get the body integrated and avoid too much muscular damage, since the limiting factor is usually stability as opposed to strength. I also like to introduce medicine ball throws here.

In terms of energy system work, I’ll have my fighters take 2-3 weeks off from energy system development in the middle of this phase so the body and nervous system can focus on strength development.

Some fighters get worried about this, but the fact is if you pushed yourself hard during the Base Conditioning phase, yo’’ll benefit from taking your new gas tank and applying it to your MMA training. To do intervals properly takes serious effort, and if you’re killing yourself on intervals all the time, often your MMA sessions will suffer, so it’s good to refocus your mind and body to a more specific task.

Phase 3 – Power, 2 Weeks

The Power phase is where you develop maximal power and power endurance. Stick with the same big compound exercises you were using for strength development, but drop the rep range to 2-4 (depending on experience) and up the rest to 3 minutes between sets.

Keep working on the unilateral exercises for 6-8 reps per side, things like 1-arm rows, 1-arm dumbbell presses, etc. Do 2 workouts a week.

For energy system development, we’ll introduce something I call NRG System complexes. These complexes are designed to really develop your anaerobic lactic and alactic (ATP-CP) energy systems. Basically, the circuit lasts 5 minutes and you cycle through 10-12 different exercises, but there are many details that separate this workout from a typical MMA conditioning circuit. Do 2 workouts a week.

Phase 4 – Taper, 2 Weeks

Tapering is very important, because during these last 2 weeks, the focus will be on MMA development, with the last week typically being quite light with your mind on making weight.

Strength training is done with submaximal loads lifted as fast as possible, with sets of 3-4 reps. Choose 3-4 exercises for the entire workout, keeping the workout under 30 minutes. The last strength training workout should be about 9-10 days before the fight.

NRG system training is continued with the last workout being 7-8 days from the fight. The hardest workout should be around 11-12 days before the fight, where you go balls out for 5 rounds of 5 minutes.

Well that’s a very general overview of the Periodization scheme I use with my intermediate level MMA fighters. If you’re at the same level, I suggest you stick to a scheme similar to this for peak performance for your fight.

The most important thing that I always stress is to have a planned program ahead of time to stick to. If you want to get a complete program to get in absolute peak physical conditionin for a fight that’s got everything laid out, step-by-step, then take a look at my Ultimate MMA Strength and Conditioning Program.

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