Recently, on an MMA discussion board, an interesting topic was brought up. The question was a simple one – “What is your training philosophy?” The poster then goes on to ask, “What have you learned through the years of training beyond just theroy? What has really worked for you and your trainees?”

There were quite a few interesting answers, most of them pretty good. I didn’t post anything. Rather, I sort of “stewed” on it for a few days. Honestly, it was because I didn’t have a definitive answer at the moment. I mean, I had never actually tried to answer that question before. I knew how I trained, how I advised others to train, and how I generally answer certain types of question. But what was my “philosophy?”

After thinking about it for a few days, I was chatting with a buddy of mine on the phone, and this topic came up. All of a sudden, I found myself with my answer – my philosophy:

Training is a lot more complex than most “regular joes” like to think it is. At the same time, it’s not nearly as complicated as most trainers would like you to believe.

I know what you’re thinking – “Yeah, man – THAT was helpful.” Haha – looking back on it, I agree that at face value, it doesn’t look all that appealing. So let me go into it a little more…

S&C (strength & conditioning) training is all about general preparation. Unless some sort of S&C element is your game/competition itself (a la powerlifting, Olympic lifting, etc. – but seeing as how this is an MMA site, I kinda doubt that will be the case in most instances), you want to utilize S&C training to bring up your basic physical qualities. You want to be stronger. More powerful. Quicker and faster. Have more endurance (botth cardiovascular and muscular). Be able to outwork your opponent. All of these qualitites can help you become a better fighter / win more fights.

S&C does that by producing a response. That response to your training is what enhances the physical characteristics that will help make you a better fighter. For instance – you’re not as strong on the mat as your opponents. So, you do strength training. While doing so, you lift heavy weights. Your body is not accustomed to lifting these heavy weights, so it (through a variety of processes) becomes stronger. With that newfound strength, you can hit the mat, and be stronger than you were. Apply this same scenario to any one of multiple physical characteristics.

So, how is training more complex than most “regular joes” think it is? Simple – hit up a local gym, and take a look at what you see. More than likely, you’re going to see a bunch of guys that have no real idea what the hell they’re doing. Whether it’s the ABC – Always Bench & Curl – guys, or the guys who lift WAY more weight than they should (I love seeing a guy lie on a bench, and spot his training partner’s deadlifts from underneath…oh, wait – the guy standing up is spotting the other guy doing bench presses? Then why is he pulling more weight than the guy on the bench is pushing?), or who believe that you have to do 14 different exercises for biceps alone, just so that you can hit each “part” of the muscle (which is a fallacy, by the way).

These guys really don’t have any idea what they’re doing, and they don’t know that they have no idea. They are probably reading their favorite bodybuilding magazine, or doing some workout that an old football coach (who didn’t know what he was doing, either) gave them, or just wandering around the gym, doing whatever seems like a good idea.

Let’s take a look at a perfect example – you can walk up to any one of these “regular joes,” and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that if you asked them if “low reps build strength and size, while high reps build definition”, they’d tell you “yes.” And they’d be dead wrong. This is a mistruth that’s been going around for ages. (By the way – high reps have nothing to do with “building definition”. “Definition” will come with lower bodyfat percentage, which is going to be had most easily with changing diet and cardiovascular conditioning. The idea that you can start doing higher reps to “define” a certain bodypart is a myth.)

It’s not their fault, most of the time – they just don’t know any better. More often than not, they’ve never seeked out real training truth, yet at the same time, nobody has ever sat them down to tell them what really works for what, and how. Like I said, there is nothing wrong with it – it just is what it is. Hell, there was a time when I, too, thought that higher reps would “build definition” (though, that was a LLLLLOOOONNNNGGGGG time ago – haha). Besides, if all the “regular joes” knew how to really train, there wouldn’t be a need for us strength coaches, right? And it’s not like you can just pick this stuff up overnight – I’ve been training / studying training for 16+ years.

Ok, so if the “regular joe” doesn’t (even if it’s not his own fault) know what he’s doing, then we have to turn to the trainer, right? Well, that doesn’t always do us a bunch of good, either.

You see, most training isn’t really that complex. It can be complex, but most of the time, it’s just not necessary. Yeah, our “regular joe” may not know what he’s doing, but that’s because nobody has ever shown him the ropes, either. Trainers, however, can do that. But, they run into a certain dilemma. If they teach a “regular joe” how to train himself, then what do they need the trainer for? He’s just put himself out of a job. It would be like taking your car to your mechanic, and instead of him just fixing it, he showed you how to do it yourself. If he does that, and you can do it next time, then you’re not going to come back, are you? And if you don’t come back, he’s losing business. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the ole’ “bottom line.”

At the same time, trainers need to differeniate themselves from the rest of the trainer crowd. Let’s say you head up to your local gym, and join. That’s maybe $100-150 joining fee, plus let’s say $35/month. Then, you sign up for 12 sessions of personal training (3x/week, for 4 weeks – a month’s worth) at $40 each. You’ve just committed to spending roughly a thousand bucks or more. If you show up for your first training session, and your trainer has you do a simplistic 3 sets of 10 on a few basic exercises, you’re gonna get pissed. You could’ve come up with that on your own, right? Well, the gym manager sure doesn’t want you in his face, demanding your money back becasue one of his boys gave you some ultra-basic program. So chances are, they’re going to “spruce it up” a little.

This is why all these fads come and go (and even if they stay) – step aerobics, ab wheels/gizmos, spinning classes, “functional” training, “core” training, etc. It’s all about marketing. Think about it – would you pay your hard-earned money for somebody to tell you to jog a couple times per week, go ride your bike a few miles a couple times per week, and do some basic situps or hanging leg raises? No. But gyms get memberships all day long for step aerobics, spinning classes, and “core” training.”

Now, let’s step away from the run-of-the-mill gym chains, and take a look at some of your better strength coaches out there. I’m not going to name names, but if you hit up some of the better training websites or forums on the internet, they’re not tough to find. They come out with some pretty innovative, creative, and good programs. So what’s the problem? Most of their trainees have NO NEED for such complicated routines. Why? It could be for a variety of reasons. But for most MMAists, it’s because they’re not in good enough physical shape to warrant such complexity, or they spend so much time on skills training, that they could never actually recover from such a crazy workout.

Think of it this way – say you had a Mustang with a small-block V8, and was 15 years old. You decide that you want more power and torque out of the motor, so you’re going to drop $5-6k on a supercharger setup. That’s fine – superchargers are a great way to bolt on power. But remember that I said the car was 15 years old. What sort of shape is the motor in? Has it been babied, and not have that many miles on it? Fine, you’re probably good to go. Or, let’s say it was rebuilt with a strong lower end (crank, rods, pistons) and aftermarket cylinder heads just a few thousand miles ago. That will work well, too. But on the other hand, let’s say that your motor has 135k miles on it, never been rebuilt, hasn’t been taken care of, smokes, and uses oil. Would it make any sense to bolt that trick supercharger on that tired motor? No – it couldn’t handle it. You’d probably blow it up the first time you hit the gas real hard.

Many of these super complex training programs are the same way. Just a couple days ago, a buddy of mine sent me a link to a Q&A, where a collegiate strength coach was designing an S&C program for his school’s volleyball team, and was asking an online S&C “authority” his opinion. He was modeling a top Russian sports scientist’s program. This was one of the most complex programs I’d ever seen. Now, I’m pretty sharp, but this thing had me rubbing my eyes by the time I read the whole thing. And this “authority” is telling him he’s put together a great program. Is he nuts!?!

First of all, these girls aren’t even going to know how to do half this stuff. So unless the coach plans on training each athlete individually, he’d better prepare for a bunch of half-assed workouts, simply because they don’t know what to do (or how to do it). Second of all, this is a program that was meant for elite athletes (think Olympic level). How many of those volleyball players are really elite athletes? They might even be elite volleyball players, but how close are they to reaching their physical potential? Probably none of them. Many – if not most – of your MMAists (even at the top level of the UFC, DREAM, etc.) are the same way. They’re elite MMAists, but their physical abilitities and capabilities have a long way to go.

Another thing I see a lot of trainers doing that I think is stupid (and is just a way to try and differeniate themselves) – having athletes doing complex exercises that are not necessary. The phsyical qualities that these movements train are marginal at best in many instances, and most of the time, don’t have any real carryover to their sport (in our case, MMA). Take that stupid swiss ball, for instance. Now, there are a few exercises that that thing is good for. But when I see a guy doing barbell squats on one, or power versions of Olympic lifts on one, I can’t help but think that this is stupid. The possibility of injury is just way too high. Now, some trainers will tell you that these sorts of movements build balance. I say that’s crap. If you want better balance, build more relative strength (i.e. – higher strength for your bodyweight) and do some basic footwork drills. But again, trying to market advice like “get your squat up, keep your bodyweight down, and do the Dot Drill a few times per week” is a lot tougher than marketing something more exotic like a swiss ball.

In fact, I’m of the notion that most of these sorts of feats are nothing more than circus tricks. Sure, they look impressive, and take a good amount of physical prowess to pull off, but will they really help you become a better athlete? No freakin’ way. But that’s a subject for a later article…

So, where does that leave you, the MMAist? Well, in more coming articles here on MMA, I hope to give you some of the knowledge that will help you put together your own programs, and will dispell a lot of the myths and crap that passes for real training information. That way, you can have real training information, that will give you real results, and really make you a better MMAist.

One last thought – when putting together your own S&C program, if you’re going to err one way or the other, make it too basic, as opposed to too complicated. You’ll get much better results.

Train Hard, Rest Hard, Play Hard.

Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins

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