Phil Daru Talks About What It Takes to Develop Stronger MMA Fighters

By Phil Daru

Strength training has been evaluated and utilized for sports performance since the beginning of time. Starting out in the early days with Olympic sports and even back in the Gladiator days, strength training has been a critical part of an athlete's preparation. In Mixed Martial Arts, despite its meteoric rise in the past 10 years, there are still some common misconceptions about strength for a sport like MMA. As a physical preparation coach for several world champion MMA fighter I can honestly say that strength training is an important part in a MMA fighter’s preparation.

Stronger MMA FightersLet me start off by stating that with any program there must be structured plan, a method and systems that will facilitate growth. Without a plan, yes you plan to fail. So before we talk about strength in MMA we must make sure all keys to victory are set up. Then worked accordingly to induce the greatest amount of success possible. Working on your technical skill is very important. These are the specific techniques and tactical drills that a MMA fighter must show competence in to become a good fighter. Working on all aspects of the sport is the priority. You must create a hierarchy of modalities that you will need to put into place for maximum performance. Once this is in place and your drilling and technical practice has been set then we must get STRONG.

Strength training is not just lifting weights to pump up your biceps.

When two MMA fighters have equal levels of technique and skill the defining factor of success between the two will be who is stronger. Strength training is not just lifting weights to pump up your biceps or leave you looking good for the beach. When you are developing your abilities to become strong all aspects of athleticism will become more attainable. We are talking speed, agility, power, and endurance. Now on that note if you do not develop adequate strength than those other qualities will become mediocre at best.

Strength training for MMAStrength training for MMA is somewhat new since not a lot of evidence has been out to show success in one specific program. I trained and fought professionally for almost a decade. I continue to study and learn the science behind the bioenergetic demands of the sport. I believe I have somewhat of an idea on how this thing should work. Strength first and foremost cannot be achieved without properly assessing movement capabilities of a MMA fighter. If they have disfunction we must take care of the issue before even thinking about putting external load on the body. Once all joints are mobile and stable in their given areas that's when the fun starts.

When working with a MMA fighter I must identify their weakness and where are their strengths. What's their style of fighting and what is their training background. When this is established I find out when the competition is, then put together a solid strength training program to initiate progress. Depending on how long I have I will start the camp with a structured block of hypertrophy and joint integrity training phase. This will include slow eccentric movement exercises and higher volume sets. While working on eccentric strength and plyometric exercises to prime there joints for high impact collisions they will be experiencing skills training (sparring, grappling). After a few weeks we then go onto a strength block phase where we are trying to push the envelope of maximal strength output. Work is primarily in the 85-90% of 1 rep max range with sets of 3-5 repetitions.

All exercises will focus on 6 major movement qualities:

  • Squat
  • Hip Hinge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Carry
  • CORE Work

With these exercises we cover all aspects of physical preparation with a general to specific periodization model. In the beginning of the strength phase we are more general fitness working on overall work capacity and movement efficiency. At the end of the strength phase the focus becomes more specific to the sport. So exercises we choose will have a higher carryover to the physiological demands of the sport. For instance a Zercher Squat, Med Ball Double Under Carry, & DB Hip Bridge Floor Press will carry over well into the competition from a physical preparation standpoint.


physical preparation standpoint

A solid strength program should have two objectives in mind. Get the athlete physically capable to train at a high level and develop superior bio-mechanical and physiological capabilities over the opponent. Stick to basic multi-joint movements such as Back/Front Squat, Barbell Deadlift, Overhead Press, Sled Push/Pull and Planks. Once the foundation of strength is optimally met then we can move on to the specificity of sport exercises. Don't get caught up in trying to do what you see on social media. Do what needs to be done to help that athlete become better. Solid multi-joint movement exercises with stabilization techniques will get a MMA fighter strong and capable to withstand load and impact.

We all should strive to become a stronger version of ourselves. Strength is not easy to develop. If all things are lined up and programmed properly then it can most definitely be done. Dominate your opponent and reduce injury while getting STRONG!

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