Strength and Conditioning for MMA sometimes gets overly complex. People get lost in the sea of information surrounding the mystique of MMA and how to become the biggest and baddest athlete on the planet. Athletes of all weight classes are trying to find the best training systems including: Oxygen deprivation training (ie: training with a snorkel on to decrease the amount of oxygen coming into your body), Crossfit training (random “high-intensity” exercises thrown at you in a timed fashion somewhat similar to circuit training), and even a mixture of Powerlifting (a competitive sport involving Squats, Deadlifts, and the Bench Press) and Strongman training (a competitive sport involving Stones, Kegs, and more typically for heavy weights for time or reps); but are these systems truly the best the elite athlete? Hell are they even the best for an up-and-coming athlete at all?

Instead of using a specific mentality or a one stop shop for training, we’re going to go into Strength and Conditioning a little bit more while answering what many think it is, including well-meaning coaches as well as what it can be.

What is “Strength and Conditioning”?

When we’re looking at Strength and Conditioning, more often than not we have people on one side and people on the other. People who solely believe Strength is the answer (typically coaches who did some form of Powerlifting and/or Strongman in the past) and people who solely believe Conditioning is the answer (typically coaches who are more traditional in their approaches and prefer circuit based workouts or have competed in more endurance type events – running and cycling are the big ones). I’m not one to believe in any specific thing – I lie somewhere in the middle. If an athlete is too strong, I’d prefer to work on his conditioning – there is such thing as being too strong; and of course, if an athlete is too conditioned, I’d prefer to work on the athletes strength.

Before we go into why, let’s get a working definition going of strength and conditioning (which for this definition I will be using the term endurance, as most people view conditioning more like endurance).

Strength is simply the ability to move with resistance. For example, a bench press is a specific movement in a lying position where you move your arms up and down against gravity. The more weight you put the strong you are at moving your arms up and down.

Conditioning/Endurance on the other hand is simple the ability to repeat motion. For example: Being able to punch 100x without being gassed compared to being able to punch 200x without being gassed. You are simply repeating a forward motion of your arms in a standing position over and over again. The athlete that move his arms forward and back more has more endurance.

Although these definitions might seem too simplistic they say everything you need to know and nothing you dont and that’s what I care about.

Now that we got some boring stuff out of the way let’s move on…

How do most strength-focused coaches do it?

Most strength coaches are trying to do several things. One of the main ones being increasing what’s called your one rep maximum (the most amount of weight you can lift once) on several barbell exercises (Squats, Deadlift, Bench Press, Bent Over Rows, and Overhead Press are but a few) because it gives a measurable way to track your improvements over time – there’s nothing wrong with it. In order to increase your strength from what you are now to three months from now, it’s often done in what’s called a periodization scheme which basically is a individualized program for whatever event he/she is participating in.

The idea is simple let’s plan shit out, and by so and so date you’ll be this strong (we hope). Most of the time it works out as planned, sometimes it doesn’t – it’s often trial and error because some athletes don’t just train for fighting, but also have a bunch of other life stresses that get in the way of recovery; including work and kids.

How do most conditioning-focused coaches do it?

Conditioning is often a little bit harder to plan in a measureable way – oftentimes conditioning coaches use heart rate as a way to determine if a client is more conditioned or not, although there are many instances where an individual’s heart rate doesn’t necessarily determine what kind of effort that person is going under. For example, I’ve seen people with decently high heart rates, look like they’re going for a walk in the park.

Other conditioning coaches use what’s called Strength Endurance exercises like Kettlebell Swings, Battling Ropes, Barbell Push Press, etc. that favor repetition of movement and use these to illicit a conditioning response.

Good conditioning coaches often have some sort of plan, but the general conditioning approach is often much more guess work than it should be, as I’ve seen many top notch conditioning coaches who simply determined if a workout was effective or not by how much their athletes “got gassed” or if he/she “puked.” This is often counter-intuitive to a good conditioning routine because you are either getting better or worse…and I’d rather have any athlete I train constantly getting better; faster than everyone else.

How do I prefer to do it?

One of the biggest things I look at for my personal clients is figuring out their weakness. Are you weaker than you should be? Are you slower than you should be? Are you as conditioned as you can be? But this is all relative to the opponent you are facing.

Many people simply think of their own personal, “This is what I need”, but when compared to what? Whenever I take any of the athletes I train, I say this – “What is your opponent better at than you? Do we have enough time to make you better than him at that? If not, what else can we do about it?”

For example, let’s say I know your opponent was a farm boy. Typically strong mother f…….s. Are you weaker than him and by how much? Let’s pretend his strength is 2 notches higher than yours, all I need to make sure if your strength is 3 notches up, not 10-20 notches up. If we are limited by the time we have why go several notches higher when you don’t have to, especially when there are other abilities you may want to work on.

I tell my athletes all the time, my goal isn’t to make you the strongest athlete in the gym. My goal is to make you the baddest athlete in the cage. Isn’t that what you’d prefer to be too?

Here’s how you do it:

If you have a match coming up. Look at your opponent and look at his game as honestly as possible. Ask yourself, “What can he do, that I can’t?” Is he stronger, faster, or more conditioned than I am? Is there something I can do about it? If there isn’t, what can I do to my own personal abilities that will help compensate for that?

If you don’t have a match coming up. Look at yourself and look at your game honestly. How strong do you really need to be? How fast do you really need to be? How conditioned do you really need to be? If there is anyone you know is already superior to the rest, try working on another one and see how it goes for you. What you’ll notice will surprise you…

Darryl can be found in “The Play Pen”, editing videos of himself playing with himself or with his clients, training his clients for Pure Greatness, or writing smart-ass articles on Easier Strength Training. If you’d like to contact him: E-mail him at [email protected], “Friend” him on Facebook (Darryl Lardizabal), or Tweet him @XPO312.