How To Prepare For a Fight : Strength and Conditioning Edition

by William Wayland

At the Ipswich Strength and Conditioning Conference I spoke about the fast and frugal peaking tree, a flow chart/decision tree to aid you the MMA and S&C coach or athlete in determining best course of action when confronted with a fight date and limited time to train for it. Born out of the necessity to solve the fact that most commonly fighters come to me with a question of "I have either 8 or 12 weeks (sometimes 4!) until my fight what should I do to get physically ready?". Having a system or structure to follow removes a lot of stress. Like most good idea’s in S&C this isn’t an original one, the fast and frugal peaking tree was originally developed by Leo Morton, I merely expanded on it.

As you can see this plan defines what the focus is on and identifies a concrete attribute to emphasize. What it doesn’t do is tell the individual steps needed to reach your goal, that’s where tactical planning and coaching intuition comes into the picture.

We are given effectively three avenues to pursue strength, power and anaerobic conditioning (including strength and power endurance) in the run up to the fight. These qualities can be concurrently worked if needed to some extent. I will offer some insight into how I answer the questions the tree poses. I use a few unsophisticated tests to determine what the athletes strength and conditioning state is. Often time is short and technical abilities of the athletes limit what we can be done in testing.


In a recent conference I explained a simple test I do when the 12 or 8 week question comes my way and I have to answer the ‘Strength’ question. In this scenario I’ll put body weight on the bar and get the athlete to try to squat/bench it for 15 reps (thanks Dan John) sometimes I’ll also use pull-ups also. If they can achieve this then they are strong enough for now, they cannot achieve 15 reps we’ll run strength block for 4 weeks. Often I have to hit the ground running, thus performing a stressful max test means I lose a session that could be used for training.


The question of conditioning is important. Strength takes years to build but match conditioning can be improved rapidly when acutely targeted. When it comes to the ‘Conditioning’ question quite simply I’ll use a HR recovery test. Once your heart rate is within the target range (I use 160-180bpm) usually we’ll go to estimated lactate threshold, stop exercising and measure heart rate immediately and then measure it a minute afterwards. Take the difference between the two and divide it by 10.

  • <10 = Extremely Poor
  • 11-20 = Low
  • 21-40 = Good
  • 41-50 = Excellent
  • 50 = Elite Athlete

For my Clients anything below a 35 is unacceptable and suggests conditioning is lacking. Sure there are more sophisticated methods, but this one is so simple fighters can do it themselves.

I’m often asked why road work or longer duration aerobic conditioning is not included. Aerobic conditioning in general isn’t an area for improvement on the tree hopefully the athlete is training in their chosen combat sport with enough regularity their general conditioning should be of a good standard.

It is important Have a process, execute it. By having a simple structure in place we remove some of the guess work. We do still however have to choose the path that will have the greatest amount of impact based on what the fighter NEEDS not what you or they WANT to do, time is short you cannot mess around. By limiting your training targets you can maximize results. What is adequate? Well that down to you as a Strength Coach or an athlete to make informed decision, you can use my determinants or your own, every fighter is different. While taking my athletes through the tree I try remind of the idea, that building a base of relative strength and power outside of fight preparation is crucial, this even now is a concept many even at pro level fail to grasp. I often say the consistent long term work is in laying down the roots of strength so the power and other capacities can grow.

William Wayland is a strength coach and owner of Powering Through in Chelmsford, Essex, UK. Striving for performance that can be measured in success on the field, on the court, in the ring or in the cage. William works with Olympians, UFC fighters and other high level athletes.