Brett Bartholomew Breaks Down His Strategies for Training Elite MMA Fighters

Brett Bartholomew has worked with top athletes for over a decade and continues to pave the way for other coaches.  In today’s podcast, Brett reveals his strategies for developing strong, powerful, well conditioned MMA Fighters.


In This Episode, We Discuss:

  • Common Mistakes of MMA Strength Training
  • Prioritizing Sessions
  • 4 Pillars of MMA Strength Training
  • Understanding Conditioning for MMA
  • Coordinating with Other Coaches
  • and More!

Mentioned in this podcast:

Savage and Simple – Most fighters don’t have access to a world class facility or strength coach, so Brett developed a complete program that coaches and fighters can follow.  Simple, yet powerful, content to help educate and guide an athlete from start to finish.


Brett Bartholomew is a strength and conditioning coach, author, consultant, and founder of the performance coaching and consulting company, Bartholomew Strength. His experience includes working with collegiate teams, professional teams, businesses, and individual clients. Taken together, Brett has coached a diverse range of athletes from across 23 sports at levels ranging from youths to Olympians. He’s supported Super Bowl and World Series Champions, along with several professional fighters, including those competing in the UFC. He has also worked with members of the United States Special Forces community. His coaching and speaking has spanned the globe, from China to Brazil and numerous other stops in between.

As an entrepreneur, Brett has proudly served as a teammate and supporting partner in the strategic growth of two separate performance companies and is a highly sought-after consultant and mentor for many others across the United States and abroad. Additionally, his work and expertise has been featured in numerous local and national media outlets.

His book, Conscious Coaching: The Art and Science of Building Buy-In (Amazon), achieved “Best Seller” status in the categories of “Sport Coaching” (#1), “Business/Money” (#8) ,and was ranked in the “Amazon Top 100 Books Overall.”

Brett is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) where he holds both their CSCS*D & RSCC*D distinctions. He is a proud graduate of Kansas State University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology, and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where he obtained a Master of Science in Education in exercise science with an emphasis on motor behavior, cueing, and attentional focus in human performance.


Learn More About Brett’s New MMA Program Here:

>>Savage and Simple:  A Complete Strength and Conditioning Plan for MMA Fighters<<


Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Brett Bartholomew

Interview with Brett Bartholomew talking about and Breaking Down his Strategies for Training Elite MMA Fighters 

Corey Beasley [00:00:01]: Hey guys, is Corey Beasley with fight camp conditioning. I’m on the phone with Coach Brett Bartholomew. Brett, how you doing?

Brett Bartholomew [00:00:07]: Good. Corey, how about you?

Corey Beasley [00:00:09]: I’m doing good man. Thanks so much for joining us. I know you’re super busy. Just moved out to Atlanta and got a lot of good things going.

Brett Bartholomew [00:00:19]: No, I appreciate it. It’s always easy to make time for people like you and we’re excited. I’m going to be opening up my own facility out here, hopefully in the fall if timelines go correctly and as they should. And we’re definitely excited, but thanks for all your support.

Corey Beasley [00:00:34]: Of course. So Brett, for everybody that’s listening, I know you’ve trained a lot of some of the biggest names in the UFC and you’ve worked with a lot of different combat athletes, but give everybody that’s not familiar with some of your work, just a little two sense of who you are and what you’re doing?

Brett Bartholomew [00:00:51]: Yeah, so I’ve worked in everything from intercollegiate athletic to a tactical special forces population as you mentioned elite athletes in the realm of American football, rugby, soccer, mixed martial arts, boxing, 23 sports in all. But primarily what I focus on now is kind of the major sports here in America at least. So mixed martial arts, boxing, American football, basketball, baseball, and what have you. And so that, that’s a big part of what we’re doing now some the collegiate setting at Nebraska and in Southern Illinois worked with athletes performance now EXOS with a small independent venture, unbreakable, has one of the performance directors. And now I’m opening or we’re in the process of opening my own business. And your podcast is actually going to be the first time I mentioned the name of it. The bridge human performance. So we’ll look and do some really unique things out here, not only from a training facility standpoint, but a coach development standpoint. So excited to hopefully bring a league of more extraordinary coaches to the performance community. Because what you find is a lot of people have the tools, the toys, the tech, what have you, but coaching skill is something that’s still is in short supply and especially it could be useful in the fighting world. And being able to connect the dots from a performance standpoint with the people that we interacted with daily. So that’s the gist of it, kind of in a nutshell. And happy to have been able to team up with you to create something that I think is going to be pretty exciting for fighter.

Corey Beasley [00:02:27]: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s talk about some of the athletes that you’ve worked with in the past and just talk about some of those guys real quick?

Brett Bartholomew [00:02:37]: So from the fight world or just overall?

Corey Beasley [00:02:40]: Just let’s just talk about the fight world for now.

Brett Bartholomew [00:02:43]: Yeah. So fight world, we were fortunate enough to have with one of my previous ventures on opportunity to partner with the UFC in regards to helping develop not only up and coming fighters, but some of their the main stage and more premier fighters and just trying to help them to understand the value of good strength and conditioning not from necessarily a bigger, faster, stronger standpoint that you hear promulgated so much in football, but more importantly from a durability standpoint and explosiveness standpoint, an injury prevention standpoint, which goes hand in hand with durability and just being able to help them express their more natural athleticism. So that’s what’s going on. And then they’re directed with fighters. So everybody from Juliana Pena, Luke Rockhold, Rashad Evans and a bunch of fighters in between, we worked with, they would send anywhere from five to 10 fighters out per stent and had the opportunity to work with them and then also go out to Las Vegas and speak to them about more sound fundamentalism of great training. Because as you know, Corey, you have a market right now that fighters are scared of strength and conditioning. They think it’s going to make them sore, slow and stiff. Probably rightfully so. Because I think there were a lot of coaches in the past that were too eager to try to take, you know, what they did with football or other sports and what have you and just inject it, almost tend to force feed it into the fight world. And while you know, fighters don’t need, it’s a myth, this whole idea of specificities, specificities, what they get when they train and do things related to mix martial arts. They do have some special considerations as it pertains to their program design. So we’re hoping to take all the things that we learned. I learned working with these elite fighters at different levels and create a product and a project that that kind of helps them understand the value of it a bit more and feel like it’s a little bit more attuned to their needs and demand. So I try to keep the client list fairly, I’m not wanting to go and say I worked with this guy in this guy, but we’ve been fortunate to work with some pretty high level folks

Corey Beasley [00:04:54]: Now as those guys came out. And you saw a lot of guys coming out from a lot of different camps, different places, different backgrounds. What are some of the like common things that, as you’re sitting there talking with these guys what are some red flags or challenges or obstacles or things that you needed to overhaul that were pretty consistent across the board

Brett Bartholomew [00:05:18]: As you know, it all varies. And one thing I just want to start off with disclaimer with anybody listening. You need to understand that sports oftentimes is a big follow the leader type approach. So you may hear a name that I’ve worked with or somebody that another coach has worked with and think, Oh, they haven’t won a world title yet, or Oh, they’re struggling or they got their butt kicked in their last fight. You have to be wary of thinking that training methods in and of themselves are all of a sudden going to win you a fight. Anybody that tells you, Hey, follow this training program and you’re automatically going to become the best and the top in the world. It’s just a lie. So much goes into that. So the learnings that I had is you saw like Rashad who was a little bit longer into his career. He’s trying to find and rekindle that vital spark. He’s had injuries. He had those things. Oftentimes what you see as these guys, whether it’s Rashad or newer guy coming up in the game, they all have several issues that go on with the joints in their body. Whether it’s a 20 year old shoulder separations a variety of meniscal issues, even things with their neck. And what people are forgetting is that stronger muscles support these ligaments and structures. Like muscles are supporting entities for the frame of our body. And an MMA, when you’re putting ligaments and tendons, vendor’s severe stress and strain and arrest, if you’re not physically strong, you’re more likely to injure yourself. And so that’s what you see is you see tremendous athleticism. You see tremendous expense, but you don’t see great movement quality a lot of times they move really well in the contact to their sport. But when you get them out of the context of that and in the weight room form suffers posture horrible. And all these things combined with that countless hours they spend training wear down their body. And if they’re not strong, they’re not staple they can’t produce the forest. They can’t, not only adequately support all these explosive movements, but also the odd angles that they get in when moving when grappling, if people are applying toward a different limb or anything like that, you have to be able to stabilize against that. So what we’re seeing is people that have worn their body down or seeing people that their training oftentimes mimics what they’re doing fighting wise. So again, it just perpetuates instead of building the body up continually, just takes chink out of the armor. So you’re getting a fighter, that’s where he pushed himself to the limits and training, in tactical or technical, tactical training of their sport. Whether that’s jujitsu, whether that’s striking what have you. Then they go into the weight room and they put together some high intensity circuit where it’s just like, they think that it’s helping them keep from gassing out, but really what it’s doing is whittling away their energy systems even more. You can’t throw up in the weight room and think that you’re going to be ready for a fight. You can’t sit there and leave absolutely depleted and then starve yourself to try to make weight or not hydrate appropriately and then go into your next training session. So we’re just seeing people constantly wear themselves down. They always want to feel like getting tired is actually, there’s no plans, there’s no strategies. So usually they enjoy two to four years relatively speaking of success. And then they start to literally gas out later in their career because their body can’t keep up with the demanding, can’t recover adequately. Put it short Corey, there is no plan. And because there’s no plan their bodies start to wear out. Whether it’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, what have you. There’s so many things going on that they just, they wear out.

Corey Beasley [00:08:56]: Yeah. So I think you talking about longevity and durability, you’re also talking about the types of workouts that people are doing, whether it’s sports specific or just a metabolic grinder type of activity. Which all falls underneath of having a well thought out organized plan.

Brett Bartholomew [00:09:20]: No doubt. I mean, people need to understand there is science and nobody goes into fight an opponent without a well-organized plan where things are going well if they’re not going well there’s a way to test like approach, when they get to fight night, but they’re not approaching the training the same way they may do it with their sparring sessions. And again, they’re mixed martial arts based sessions but they’re not doing it for strength and conditioning because people aren’t prioritizing it. And because they think, you know what, we’ve seen fighters for decades achieve the pinnacle of sport without doing so. But the question they’re not asking themselves is how much longer could that a fighter have sustain that? And did they really get to the top level of their physical prowess? There’s a reason an Olympian stayed training, for four years in between Olympics. There’s a reason every other sport has taken on strength and conditioning in a formalized setting. And so what you see in the fight world is very similar to what we saw with baseball 10 to 15 years ago. There wasn’t a lot of weight training going on. You saw injuries increase, you saw a lot of issues. And now most baseball teams have structured strength and conditioning programs. You’re seeing home run rates go through the roof and this is not akin to the steroid era. You’re saying players enjoy a longer career or just enhance career longevity. Fighters have got to have a plan, they’ve got to take a scientific approach and they’ve got to treat their body like the investment that it is. Because the minute your body breaks down, no matter how naturally talented you are, no matter how smart you are tactically you weren’t done in the fight game done.

Corey Beasley [00:10:58]: Yeah, absolutely. Now as we’re talking about longevity and a well thought out plan for fighters for MMA fighters what are some of the pillars of creating a good plan for these guys and what are some strategies or tactics that they can implement?

Brett Bartholomew [00:11:14]: Yeah, so you know, four pillars that I look at is one proper movement quality, these guys have got to learn how to move adequately. And what that means is, it doesn’t come down to your form it in your fighting maneuvers. It comes down to how well your body moves, hinge bend, right move side to side, front to back rotate. We need to look at asymmetries, right and left side. We need to make sure that there’s balance or relative balance at least within that training. So they’ve got to have great movement quality of course, and then anybody knows that strength is the foundation of that movement. We have to have support. You got to look at strength as a supporting mechanism. So it’s one thing to be able to move, but you have to support that range of motion. And our bodies are innately designed. Everybody has different levels stiffness inherently. Everybody’s got different levels of range of motion. You look at joint length, limb length, you will get muscle tension, all these kinds of things people have to really lock in on developing a great strength base, after that, and this is of course, I mentioned nutrition and sleep and what have you, but since we’re talking training, I’m just going to keep it at a training related thing. So we have movement quality, we have strengths and then they’ve got to be able to recover. And recovery doesn’t mean just like, okay, get sleep foam roll, do these kinds of things. Recovery goes into how you sequence your training program. So that means there’s certain times in the fight plan whether it’s eight, 12 weeks, whatever you want to do. There are certain times or that volume and intensity is going to be higher and other times where it’s going to be lower. So you can have a strenuous session but still promote recovery because it may not be as strenuous as some of the other things you’re doing. Does that make sense?

Corey Beasley [00:13:06]: Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of times people talk about when we’re thinking about exercise variables, a lot of people just think about movement. Like, what exercise are they going to do and how much weight is there when there is volume and intensity and rest and all these other variables that they need to come into play.

Brett Bartholomew [00:13:26]: No question. And so the nature of that is then it comes down to timing of it all. So this to me is a really important pillar because people will sit there and say, okay, I’m going to go all out. They’re training, their absolute butt off and there’s still eight weeks prior to the fight and there’s this kind of getting yang that exists between making sure that your sparring sessions all those pieces in your weight training session match up or align in terms of the ebb and flow. You can’t go all out in the sparring sessions or technical tactical sessions at the same time you’re doing that in the weight room conditioning and all that you will deplete yourself far before you ever get to fight night. So if you look at movement quality, a great strength foundation, how you sequence all this and then more importantly how you time that sequence of training. That’s what really allows you to put together a great and adaptable plant. And I think if there ever was a fifth pillar you know it would go to that you’ve got to be adaptable, you’ve got to be flexible. I understand the real world and it’s something that we talked about in the program that I know you and I worked on together is there’s times where I’m working with fighters and you know what they’re striking coach, jiu jitus coach, wrestling coach does not give two shits about strength and conditioning. So I was supposed to have the fighter for an hour. Now all of a sudden I have him for 20 minutes. So you’ve got to provide option because, and this is something that is on strength coaches as well. A lot of strength coaches open their mouth and say they’ve got great training plans and this is what the science says, this is what the research says, but it’s not realistic the strength coach doesn’t have 90 minutes. They don’t have the fighter for this long. They can’t do these things. They may have a fighter that’s never done weight training before or they plan out what they’re going to do for conditioning and then they’re not prepared when the fighter comes in already calf. And then they just say, well, mental toughness, tough you got to get through it anyway. Great strength training program or performance program has got to be adaptable and provide athletes and fighters in general with options. And so that’s something we really tried to focus on.

Corey Beasley [00:15:31]: Yeah. And I think anybody that actually fights that trains and does multiple different disciplines I think that’ll make a lot of sense to them because even the ones that, like you said, the ones that do have organized schedules, it always goes out the window or things come up or they did more than they thought or it escalated or they got injured or their shoulder, their elbow, their knee. And you has to be flexible.

Brett Bartholomew [00:15:58]: No question and I really had to reorder those pillars and might be quality of movements, strength foundation, adaptability, and then time and sequence really go together. If you’re not adaptable in the fight game, if you’re not adaptable in the performance game, it gets really ugly really quick. And that’s how we fall into this pit pull. I mean, look on YouTube and you know better than anybody and you type in, fighting strength and conditioning, NMA, strength and conditioning. There’s somebody pulling on a mask, they’re trying to gas out. There’s like five minute rounds in five stations. They’re doing all these technical exercises where the forms crap and these coaches are just saying, Hey, this is what’s going to prepare you. And then fighters, really what they’re deriving from that is confidence by putting themselves in that position, they’re like, okay, I’ve been gassed out in training, therefore, I know I can go the distance and fight night and they don’t understand. It doesn’t work like that your energy system, resources, your body’s physical capacity, however you want to look at it is like a bank account. And if you guys keep spending all your money prior to Christmas or whatever the birthday or what have you, nothing to spend, you’re tapped out. And that’s what you’re seeing. That’s what happens when guys gas out and research supports this. It’s very rarely that they’re not in shape. It’s more so that they’ve done too much and it’s inadequate recovery in timing.

Corey Beasley [00:17:22]: Right. So I think that’s powerful information and as we’re kind of going through some of this stuff I think a lot of times people can get overwhelmed by the strength and conditioning side because so many people make it so complicated. And just spending, some time with you and reading some of your stuff and helping organize some of the things that you’re putting together. Making complex ideas to simple is one of your strengths.

Brett Bartholomew [00:17:51]: Thank you. That because how I think, I’m not smart enough to figure it out you and I both know Carmen like she’ll run laps around us. Like I think I’m pretty well read in the research until Carmen drops down and says, well but no, I’ve always thought of listen the simple things done savagely well, it always had to make sense to me as a fighter and I was a very low level, I just did golden gloves or what have you, but I was above average athlete. And I never really had great coaching and I’m not saying great coaching, that’s why I didn’t achieve the pinnacle or what have you. I knew I wanted to go into strength and conditioning pretty early, but I just knew, you know what, this doesn’t make sense to me or I didn’t know, because growing up I had bias like I was a baseball player I followed what I read in books and magazine. So I’ve been there. And so I really try to take everything that we know from a science-based community and make it make sense to athletes that maybe don’t care about that stuff in terms of the details, but want to extract the valuable lessons and I think you do that as well. And I think that’s why team up in this matter.

Corey Beasley [00:19:05]: Now as you’re talking about that, I think that, you have put together a program that’s for MMA fighter specifically. And it’s called Savage and simple we spent a lot of time putting that thing together, but if you wouldn’t mind, give everybody a little two sense of what this program’s about and why you felt it was necessary.

Brett Bartholomew [00:19:30]: So first off, I think the main thing is, having worked on kind of more exclusive type facilities for a while, it was always cool being a part of that. But at the same time you felt bad knowing that there’s tons of coaches and fighters, whether at their high school level, middle school level, or the advanced level, what have you that don’t have access to these facilities are either not in their area. A lot of them are really extensive and so we kind of felt like, we’re not helping the community the best we can. And as you said, like listen, the majority of stuff that was given to these coaches were these body weight workouts. There was just push-ups, pull ups, traditional roadwork, and we’re like focused around a gimmicky tool or a product. Nobody was really giving them what they would get if they came to these facilities, which they were well, organize, adaptable plan. So that’s what we wanted to deliver and we wanted to make it at a price point that actual people like us and these other coaches and fighters could afford. Right. Like an 18 year old who has a summer job could afford this program many times over. And those are the people that I think need it the most, like that’s great that you know, all these other fighters and athletes have access to that, but that’s not the majority of people that, that need the help, sure need it. But we need to set up the next generation of fighters to be better educated and understand there’s a smarter way to do it that is not necessarily easy. It’s just well-planned out. So what we were able to do together is create something that outlines, first of all, the why. We wanted to make sure there’s a little bit of education and nobody’s going to get turned off by scientific jargon. It just outlined, Hey, here’s phase one, here’s phase two, here’s phase three and here’s a taper. Here’s the reason we need to do these things. And then we provided PDFs are not only the weight room sessions, but alternatives they could do if they don’t have access to those things. Energy system or what everybody knows as conditioning work. And it’s not dependent on you having one piece of equipment, there’s options for that. How are you feeling today? What was the nature of your practice? What do you have access to? What are your weak points in terms of your conditioning, like are you really good at those short, ten second bursts and you gas out later in the round or is it the inverse? So we created a product that we really think is going to help people options A, B, C and D. It phases it for you so you know what to do when and it’s so easily laid out at least I think. And you did a great job kind of help it with the formatting of this. Anybody can follow it. I mean, literally, I have one fighter that got an advanced version of it the other day. He sent me a picture and he’s posted it on his refrigerator, just phase on. Guys confirm it down. They can, while they’re making breakfast. You can look at phase one and know what your workout is going to be either that day or every single day of the week. And I think that’s the strongest component is we’ve taken that, the nuance, the novelty, all the shine and the nonsense out of it and created something really useful for everybody.

Corey Beasley [00:22:39]: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that it’s something that I mean, like we said before, it’s taking very complex ideas, somebody reads physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics books and stuff like this. It’s tough to organize those ideas, those thoughts, all the stuff that you see on social media now, what the studies are saying recently and what you’re doing versus what the other guy’s doing and all this other stuff. It’s so complex when you’re right. I mean, the program that you put together is super simple. It’s kind of the green, yellow and red intensity levels, and has schedules and workouts and exercises and what you’re doing and why. And it puts it in a very simple package. So I really do think it’s going to be a cool resource for people.

Brett Bartholomew [00:23:27]: No doubt. And I think that’s what’s important. Its 12 weeks that feels more like a conversation than a textbook. You can follow it at your own pace. You can adapt for anything. I mean, many of the workouts don’t require much else other than dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell. You can do it in a garage gym. You could it in your basement. You can do it at your facility if you want. It’s easy. And I just tried to model it again based off things that I wish I would’ve had at that level or when I did talk to people, whether is Luke or Rashad or Juliana or any of the other people that came through what they wish they would have had coming up. And we tried to model it off that because again, it’s great to have the big names and they get a lot of love, but they’re not the next generation of fighters. They’re the ones that they’re now the next generation needed to learn. How can I enhance my striking, my ability to apply more pressure during arm bars chokes and really being able to run the opposition into the ground with better conditioning words and how can I organize manner that I get and I understand. And again, thanks for the opportunity to do it. Because I know when I reached out to you I said, Hey, I have an idea but really it was your unique kind of vision on that as well, that I think you really enhance the collaboration and hopefully put some together that helps a lot of people.

Corey Beasley [00:24:48]: Yeah. And I think it will and Brett I think even just the pillars that you’re sharing on this call right now, I mean, I think just with people, the more we’re talking about that and laying that stuff out there, the more it is going to help people that are coming up, you know, and they’re just starting out or they’ve been in for a few years and not quite where they want to be, but they can always improve. And I think it just makes it simple for everybody. So Brett, thanks again for sharing with us, man. I really do appreciate it guys. That Savage and simple program you’ll see links coming out this week. It’s going to be on sale, so definitely keep your eyes peeled and Brett, thanks again man. For people that are wanting to stay in touch with you and learn more what’s the best way for them to do that?

Brett Bartholomew [00:25:34]: Easy. I have a website If that’s too long of a name, I totally understand it. You can just get me @coach_BrettB on Instagram or Twitter. And I’ll be sharing stuff on my Instagram story and on social media about it as well. With direct links if you want to learn more. So thanks again. I appreciate it.

Corey Beasley [00:26:02]: Awesome, man. Thanks so much. Have a good day.