Strength & Power that Transfers Into the Cage…We’ll Show You How to Build More Effective Workouts

By Phil Daru

The years of throwing exercises together in a time based circuit, with no real structured approach, are coming to and end. Hopefully with the help of myself and a few of my fellow MMA S&C coaches we can finally put this this old chaotic “training” method to rest.  And to solidify my thoughts on the matter, I decided to keep it real with you, and actually go into full detail on how to approach an MMA strength and conditioning periodization program. So get your note books out, or in this day and age just get ready to take some screenshots on your smartphone and let’s get down to business.

MMA WorkoutsThere are several approaches you can take when structuring a combat based performance program. With the number of different periodization methodologies everyone has a purpose and a desired outcome, but with that being said the program needs to match the subjective circumstances. When I meet with a fighter for the first time I evaluate what exactly they have going on in there career and what are the circumstances we will have to work with or around. This could be relationships, any other jobs or businesses they are working or own, and how long we actually have for a training camp. This will in turn help me with identifying which programming method we will use to fully optimize their performance for competition. Finding the right approach of programming per fighter is huge, this must be carefully thought out in order to maximize performance and reduce risk of injury.

MMA WorkoutsSo, how do we go about prescribing the program that fits the circumstances? Well the answer is simple - how long do they have to prepare. When I find out exactly what's going on in a fighters career and know if they either have a full camp of training or have to be ready to take a short notice fight in less than two weeks it sways the program left or right. On one side if I have a fighter like Joanna Jedrzejczyk who I know has a set date and 8 weeks to fully prepare for a fight, or on the other side if I have a local prospect that could potentially get called up to the UFC or Bellator at any moment, that's going to determine how i structure their training going further. For the fighters that may have to take short notice fights the most optimal periodization method would be the Conjugate Method approach. This would be designed to keep the fighters physically ready at all times. Working through each individual modality of the fight game throughout each day of training. With maximal, sub maximal, and explosive power days four times a week the body has the opportunity to adapt to the desired stimulus and maintain strength year round. In some cases this may work for fighters that have more experience in the weight room due to the constant varying of exercises and modalities causing adaptation to be more prevalent. I would go on to say this may be suboptimal for fighters with less experience. In fact they would need more time to adapt to a stimulus and get a true benefit out of the exercises acquired. In either case I find it a must if you have to be ready at all times throughout the year to take a fight. If you want to checkout my 8 week MMA Conjugate Method Program Template the link will be down at the bottom to get your copy of the PDF.

MMA WorkoutsMy basic or shall I say my most notable approach is something I like to call Combat Block Periodization. Essentially what this does is take blocks of training modalities that have the highest rate of transferability to the sport of mixed martial arts and phase them out to lead into a fight performance peak. Each phase of training leads into the next, forming what's called phase potentiation. This basically means one phase has the ability to transfer into the subsequent phase by preparing the nervous system and muscular system to transfer into the next wave of modalities. We typically will start a fight camp eight weeks out taking into account that the athlete has been working on some out of camp general fitness and has developed an overall base of strength and aerobic capacity. Building A Base Article. In phase one the primary focus is to develop some strength endurance and joint integrity while working three times per week.  Utilize exercises that are going to create the ability to be strong in situations that carry over in the cage. A breakdown of Phase One would look something like the example below.

Phase 1:​ Strength Endurance, Strength Hypertrophy, Joint Integrity, Anaerobic / Alactic Conditioning

MMA Workouts8-7 weeks out
Squat, Hip Hinge, Push, Pull, Carry, Core
3-4 sets
5-6 reps
RPE 7-8

6-5 week out fifth week being a deload
Squat, Hip Hinge, Push, Pull, Carry, Core
Start implementing more explosive exercises (med ball throws, drop jumps, bounds, hops, etc.)
3-4 sets
3-5 reps
RPE 8 (5-6 deload)

5 weeks out deload
Mobility, Correctives, Carries, Core
2-3 sets
5-6 reps
RPE 5-6

fighter WorkoutsPhase One is to help drive strength and overall balance to the body while continuing to build adaptations to the specific imposed demands. Each week ramping up intensity to lead into the fifth week deload when the the body can heal and receive what's called super-compensation.

This means the ability to have a higher performance capacity then the weeks prior. Going into Phase Two we want to keep driving intensity high while bringing down volume. This will help the fighter recover from their training faster so that they can spend more time on their skills specific work. That will become the main priority getting closer to competition. Since MMA Workouts is such a highly demanding and multifaceted sport there must be structure and timing of certain trained bio energetic demands to facilitate fatigue management and overall performance. Since the volume and frequency of skills and tactical practice become more of a priority the physical preparations must have the highest bang for its buck per say. You have to be in and out, get what we came for and be done. No extra work or unnecessary cardio after an hour long strength and conditioning session. With that being said we must start to incorporate higher intensity movements and exercise sequences. Explosive power, speed strength, and anaerobic conditioning become the focus leading into more sport specific timed duration bouts of conditioning (lactic conditioning circuits 3x5, 5x5). Here is what phase two may look like...

Phase 2​: Maximal Strength, Speed Strength, Explosive Power, Sport Specific Conditioning

4-2 weeks out

  • Contrast Training, Rate of Force Development, Lactic Circuit
  • 3-5 sets
  • 3-5 reps
  • RPE 10 for Strength RPE 5 for Power
  • 3x5 or 5x5 minute rounds circuit
  • 1 week out deload
  • Mobility, Correctives, Weight Cut
  • Focus on drilling and skills specific game planning

Each exercise should be carefully thought to enhance the fighters ability to be dominant in competition. Stick with compound movements with the greatest degree of functionality and carry over to a fight. Now this doesn't mean weighted punches and kicks or sprawl outs with a barbell on your back. Primarily you want to incorporate squats, deadlifts, presses, pulls, and don't forget to carry something heavy. Most of the time perform exercises unilaterally and on occasion bilateral with focus on overall core balance and stabilization. Here are my go to exercises for maximizing performance for mixed martial arts..

Squat Variations:

  • fighterZercher Squat
  • Front Squat
  • RFE Split Squat
  • FFE Split Squat
  • Goblet Squat
  • Box Squat

Deadlift Variation:

  • Sumo Deadlift
  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Kettlebell Deadlift
  • Romanian Deadlift

Push / Press Variation:

  • Floor Press
  • Dumbbell Floor Press
  • Z-Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Press
  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Landmine Press
  • Half Kneeling DB Press
  • Full Kneeling DB Press

Pull / Row Variation:

  • Chin Ups
  • Pull Ups
  • Inverted Pull Ups
  • TRX Row
  • Bent Over Barbell Row
  • Dumbbell Row
  • Renegade Row
  • Bird Dog Row

Carry Variation:

  • Farmers Walk
  • Suitcase Carry
  • Waiters Carry
  • Bottoms up KB Carry
  • Sandbag Carry
  • Sled Drag
  • Prowler Push

Core Variation:

  • Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Ab Roll Out
  • Stir The Pot
  • Bird Dog
  • Bear Crawl
  • Waited Dead Bug
  • Hanging Leg Raise
  • Hollow Rock

Proper construction of these exercises with the format given will be a crucial part of overall performance and adaptation. With that being said planning of deloads is another key component in the preservation and progression, but even then you cannot fully control the athletes other training demands that is required for a mixed martial artist. This is when auto regulation becomes another tool to be utilized to keep the athlete from overtraining, degression and even injury. Technology such as Heart Rate Variability, Velocity Based Testing, and Resting Heart Rate Calculations can be highly beneficial for the identifying potential risk of overtraining.

Another good way to monitor your athletes fatigue is to simply ask them what they did that day and week. Also find out how they are feeling. Fully getting to know your athlete will help you identify markers of fatigue and detraining. This is where the art of coaching comes into play.

exercisesHaving the ability to identify discrepancies in demeanor and motivation along with evaluating coordination and balance with grip strength could be looked at as more of a hardware approach to monitoring fatigue that can be highly beneficial as well. As I can attest both have there place in the paradigm of performance and fatigue management. My advice is to utilize everything you can to enhance the fighters ability to progress.

Structure in this sport is key, the same goes for all things in life. The key to this article is simply evaluate, identify, indicate, formulate, and execute. This is the process at which all programs must be structured around. For more information on MMA Periodization Programming for Performance make sure to checkout my website and for upcoming seminars and training program templates.



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