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Fighter conditioning – Part 1

For as long as I can remember, I have had a genuine love for martial arts and have practiced it in some form or another for 31 years. From Judo, Muay Thai, boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to Wrestling, Systema, Kung Fu and Karate, you name it, I’ve tried it. After 23 years of training and competing, I opened my own MMA club in 2007. Two years later I, along with a friend, opened Irelands first full time, purpose built MMA gym. Eventually, through my own curiosity and interest, as well as a need to condition fighters, I immersed myself in the study of strength training methods. Today I still read, study and attend certifications and workshops of the strength coaches I respect and who I believe, are the leaders in their fields.

As a sport, MMA is in a lucky position, it is still relatively new as far as sports go and as such, hasn’t become stuck in a certain training dogma, most coaches I know, rarely have issues with trying new systems when it comes to strength training. As the coaches and fighters techniques evolve so do the conditioning methods but I still find it hard to understand how, even with all the studies and science to back up the benefits of strength training for combat sports, there can still be so many boxing coaches who maintain stone age beliefs in the best way to train fighters.

Now before I get flooded with hate mail, I’m not saying all coaches are this way but I do know of trainers who continue to preach these outdated ideas of lifting weights slows you down, that pounding the roads is the only way to get ring fit or that you shouldn’t drink water during training.  The old school types still refuse to accept that their way isn’t the only way.

I seen this highlighted once again, in a recent interview with Irish boxing legend, Dave Boy McAuley. He suggested that Carl Frampton, the current IBF super-bantamweight world champion should stop using weights, as he believed it was what caused him to struggle during his latest title defence against Alejandro González Jr. He suggested that it may have been The Jackal’s preparations that have left him excessively heavy and struggling to make weight and this was a contributing factor as to why he wasn’t as sharp as he usually is. He said and I quote

“The only reason I can think why he struggles is that he is lifting weights.”  “Weights help you lift things, they don’t make you punch harder and I know guys who are a walking muscle and they couldn’t break an egg. Muscle weighs more than fat, and if he just cut back the weights a bit – I think he would make the weight easier.”

You can read the full article here http://www.irish-boxing.com/dave-boy-mcauley-frampton-ditch-weights/

Regardless of what he thinks, Carl looks every inch the athlete and his strength & conditioning enabled him to weather a storm and pull off the victory. I am not attempting to put Dave down, he was a great fighter and he managed accolades that I never will but he isn’t an S&C coach and his knowledge of training, stems from a time of drinking raw eggs and chasing chickens. In his day, this worked but only because it was what everyone else was doing. The birth of the internet changed that forever.

Suddenly the ability to speak to different trainers or read about their methods was as simple as a click of a button. As coaching communities grew, so did the knowledge and this lead and still leads, to new discoveries that mean fighters continue to become stronger and fitter than previous generations.

He is correct that lifting weights has the possibility to slow you down and there are a lot of fighters being fed the wrong information by so-called S&C coaches who have no idea of how to train an athlete and this is where the trouble begins. I have always believed there is a big difference between a PT and a strength coach but so many trainers and fighters don’t realise this. Someone can become a PT in less than two weeks, this does mean they are qualified to coach an athlete.  This is specialist coaching that requires knowledge of the fight game, years of experience and making a lot of mistakes before you can truly understand how to coach a combative athlete.

A fighter is not your normal client. They are, for the most part, driven, hungry, selfish and obsessive. It is the nature of the beast. If they weren’t this way, they would not be fighting. Their mindset is completely different to the average person. When training Joe Blogs you are always trying to find ways of motivating him, with a fighter, you will always be trying to find ways of holding them back. Even with all the knowledge there still exists a belief within the fighting community that more is better, this is wrong. BETTER IS BETTER!! Your goal should be to have your fighter spending less time training and the more time recovering. The ability to simplify a training program so as it does what is required of it and nothing more is a skill within itself.  As with all fighters, boxers need to be as strong and explosive as possible but still remain within a certain weight bracket so there are many factors to be considered and like all contact sports, there is always the possibility of something going wrong.

In part two I will discuss the rules I believe a strength coach must follow when training an athlete in the lead up to a fight.

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