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Metabolic Power Training for MMA

By Alwyn Cosgrove


SLAM!!! The empty Mountain Dew can hit the table. “What’s that?” yelled Dave Tate. I instinctively reached for my wallet. It was an empty can and Dave was thirsty.

And pissed.

But I was wrong (not entirely as Dave was thirsty, and pissed) but that wasn’t his point. “It’s a f-ing weight room” said Dave.

Uh – ok Dave. Where’s my thinking – OF COURSE an empty soda can is a weight room.

SLAM !!!! An empty glass hit the table. “And what’s that?”

I didn’t answer but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just an empty glass.

“That’s the f-ing track!”

The actual point of this exchange was Dave’s lesson to my young self. Each drinking vessel was in fact a complete and separate place to train and we shouldn’t mix the training modalities. The idea that one could pour the soda into the glass and therefore mix the two went unnoticed by Dave, and in the interests of personal safety – unmentioned by me. (Of course he went further than what I’ve described though, but that’s a whole other article. Let’s just say that when a three-hundred pound man uses three cuss-words in a four word sentence he’s a tad upset.)

Dave’s point was thus: Strength in the weight room, conditioning on the track and never the twain shall meet. I disagree a bit. And in a bid to keep Dave pissed (as a)he’s a lot more fun, and b) I am now thousands of miles away instead of within throttling distance) I am about to present the fact that we can use the weight room for another purpose besides strength work. What Dave does not understand is that there are some people out there who have goals outside of squatting 1000 pounds and bench pressing 700. This is the world he lives in. He does not live in the world we all live in. Some of us came into strength training for different backgrounds; sports – health – personal training etc. We use the weight room for a myriad of different purposes.

I came from a competitive martial arts background – Tae-kwon-do and kickboxing. In our world we were more interested in how to hit harder, faster and for longer. We used the weight room solely as a means to improve our end goal – never as an end it itself. Those of you involved in fighting sports or training other athletes know what I mean. It’s not always about improving max strength. It’s about max results. So while Dave lives in his world, we need to live in ours. This program is not about building a 700 pound bench press, far from it. This program is about using the weight room for conditioning.

Before we get into the actual exercise prescription, I should point out that I still believe that maximal strength levels should be achieved prior to endurance or energy system development. My theory is this: when we are talking about endurance – we are talking about power endurance or speed endurance or strength endurance. If we haven’t built up appreciable levels of power, speed or strength, then what the hell are we trying to endure? A low level of power? A low level of speed?

Conditioning coach Mike Boyle once pointed out that “It is significantly easier to get an explosive athlete ‘in shape’, than it is to make an ‘in shape’ athlete explosive. The first will take weeks the second may take years”

Based on the results to the recent EFS survey, you guys want to hear more about Mixed Martial Arts. Fighting sports are pretty unique in that they are the only activity where your sole goal is generally to render your opponent unable to continue. No matter how far behind a fighter is, there is always the hope that one perfectly delivered strike will knock out an opponent; thereby winning the battle. Sport Combat is perhaps the ONLY activity whereby one of the participants can be hopelessly outclassed and even further behind, and yet at a stroke – Win. Decisively. In this article I’m going to combine conditioning in the weight room with MMA training. However this advice could easily be utilized in other sports.

Endurance Training

Traditionally endurance training for combat sports of mixed martial arts has looked something like this:

  • A) Run
  • B) Repeat
  • C) See A.

This is an effective approach if we think of competitive fighting as an aerobic dependent event. But it’s not. We are dealing with repetitive, albeit sub maximal power movements – which running does not replicate too well. Traditionally power athletes have over-trained their aerobic system to prepare for their anaerobic power sport. So doing long distance work for anaerobic athletes can often make “joggers” out of “jumpers”. Let’s not build endurance at the expense of the power and strength components we have taken so long to build up.

What about sprinting? While again being effective, some conditioning coaches use sprint training as their sole method of energy system development (ESD). This is at best a short-sighted approach. It is not uncommon to see well conditioned fighters who have used sprint based ESD fatigue rapidly in hard matches. The reason for this is although their cardio system is well conditioned the effect of lactic acid on their localized muscle groups is devastating. If we do not condition the muscle groups themselves to handle high levels of lactate, the cardio system will feel fine, but that area will lock up and shut down. Kickboxers call this “heavy legs”. Motocross athletes experience the same phenomenon but call it “arm pump” – where despite feeling fine – the forearms become so pumped up and unable to move that the rider is toast anyway! And besides—no one wants to run!

Can’t say I blame them. No one I’ve ever met likes running. Except runners. And no matter what they tell you they don’t like it either. The commercials that have the hot chick running along the beach with her dog smiling are lies. All the runners I see on my drive to work are miserable old fat bastards who look like they hate life. The only other runners I see are my running sport athletes who are getting the crap beat out of them doing agility or conditioning with me. And they don’t like it either – trust me.

So what’s a good way of improving metabolic power, or doing interval training without running? By doing it in the weight room (can you hear Dave getting pissed?) using a method of lifting called complexes. Now I’m not the first person to ever use complexes. But after talking to my colleague Robert Dos Remedios (strength coach at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA) we felt the need to define the term:

Complexes are performing two or more exercises in a sequence with the same load. You complete all your reps with one movement first, then complete all your reps with the next movement. Example: When combining a squat with an overhead press, perform 5 reps of squats first, then 5 reps of overhead press without dropping the bar.

Seriously this type of exercise demands a ton of work from the body. Here’s an example: At the end of both of the Dynamic effort days (or twice a week if you are using a different programming option) the fighters perform one of the following complexes:

Complex One

  • Deadlift – 6 reps
  • Romanian Deadlift – 6 reps
  • Bent Over Row – 6 reps
  • Power Clean – 6 reps
  • Front Squat – 6 reps
  • Push Press – 6 reps
  • Back Squat – 6 reps
  • Good Morning – 6 reps

Complex Two

  • Snatch Grip Deadlift – 6 reps
  • Snatch Pull – 6 reps
  • Upright Row – 6 reps
  • Power Snatch – 6 reps
  • Reverse Lunge – 6 reps each leg
  • Push Jerk – 6 reps
  • Jump Squat – 6 reps

That’s 8 exercises at 6 reps each. Each rep is performed with good control and flows directly into the next exercise without rest. At about 2 seconds per rep, this complex should only take about 96 seconds. The key is to just keep the bar moving.

After each complex we rest for 90 seconds and repeat for four complexes

The entire “interval training” program as described will take about twelve minutes.

  • Week one: 4 circuits x 6 reps 90s rest
  • Week two: 4 circuits x 6 reps 75s rest
  • Week three: 4 circuits x 6 reps 60s rest
  • Week four: 4 circuits x 6 reps 45s rest
  • Week five: 5 circuits x 6 reps 90s rest
  • Week six: 5 circuits x 6 reps 75s rest, etc.

Don’t underestimate this type of training. Complexes can be grueling. This eight-movement complex x 6 reps has a total volume of 48 reps per set! At only 100 pounds on the bar, that comes out to 4800 pounds of total work per set. So in terms of density, we’re looking at over twenty thousand pounds of total work in, by week four, less than 10 minutes. That will help melt the fat off the body without having to resort to lighter weights in the workouts or be seen pounding the pavement and will reap its rewards when the fighter steps into the ring. Even if the fighters are not using any type of strength program, this routine will really help to condition their bodies to handle the high levels or lactate that will be produced in a fight, and is an excellent fat loss tool for any athlete needing to preserve muscle and strength while dropping fat.

But to keep Dave happy – if you’re in his presence do these complexes outside of the weight room!! I can’t be held responsible otherwise.

Alwyn Cosgrove


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