The title is a little brash, I know, but I promise to be gentle... In fact, this article will be much more about the silly practices you will often see fitness professionals (term used loosely) using in the strength and conditioning of mixed martial artists. With the lack of quality control found in the world of fitness, too often individuals with a generic understanding of how to make a client sweat use their professional understanding of operating a stop watch, yelling, and counting down, to assume they are qualified to train the fit, unfit, pregnant, arthritic, and athlete alike. If you are a legitimate mixed martial artist looking for a bright future in the sport or a S&C coach looking to train mixed martial artists, reading this article could save rotator cuffs and careers.
First, lets look at "functional fitness"; a term that is being used to represent anything that doesn't resemble traditional fitness, but in reality means something else entirely. Functional training means training in a way that carries over into your daily practices, or can prepare you for unexpected real life issues. For instance, I teach every one I train how to pick themselves up off the ground. To some, picking oneself up off the ground comes in the form of a "burpee". To my senior citizens, this could mean using a bench to pull themselves up to a standing position. Let your 90 year old grandmother fall one time and tell me building strength in "standing up" isn't functional. To go further in this example, you must ask yourself if an Olympic Lift is "functional" for your grandmother. Could learning the Power Clean with a minimum load be fun and beneficial for grandma? Absolutely. Is it more functional than a simple Dead Lift? Unlikely.
Now, let's look at functional training for a mixed martial artist. First, you must realize that any aspiring mixed martial artist belonging to a good camp (fight gym) will already be participating in regularly scheduled bouts of high intensity anaerobic activity through MMA training. Without making this an article on bodily stress and recovery, I feel it is important to also mention that a mixed martial artist is nearly always nursing an injury and at best, borderline fatigued. So, usually we are looking at an athlete who trains twice a day, has poor mobility, and is training for the purpose of performing better in a fist fight.
If you're a coach, adding a mixed martial artist to the list of your clientele should bring a sense of "Oh no..." into your life. I'm not saying it won't be worth it! I'm simply saying that once this specialized athlete hangs up the phone, you must immediately ask yourself several questions. Do I know exactly what a mixed martial artist NEEDS from me? Am I willing and knowledgeable enough to program a workout cycle in relation to the fighters current training schedule, allowing them to peak at the right time? Do I have the time to train an individual with special programming? If these questions seem silly or a waste of time- please, do not train fighters.
What does a mixed martial artist need? If you are dealing with a legitimate fighter, he or she will not be needing you to "get in shape". Anyone who has completed several 5 minute rounds of sparring or wrestling knows that a workout can hardly compare. What you, as a coach can and should do however is work with the athlete to develop greater strength, speed, agility, flexibility, and proprioception.
Are you willing and knowledgeable enough to program a workout cycle in relation to the fighter's current training schedule, allowing them to peak at the right time? If a fighter comes to you 12 weeks out from a fight, you better have a plan. Factors such as their proximity to "fight weight", preexisting injuries, mobility, prior workout experience, and fight training commitments should be focal points of workout programming. Got a guy walking at 200lbs who will fight at 170lbs? Keep him on the low volume side of barbell lifts. Bum shoulder? Don't you dare make him "kip"! Does he have the mobility to establish a proper front rack or overhead position? If not, you don't have time to fix the solution, but can supplement movements with ones that require less mobility, yet still require equal physical demands (i.e. Heavy KB Swing > Power Clean). Where can you fit S&C in with the current training schedule? Make sure your athlete has ample recovery time between workouts, and isn't seeing any interference between the two. See what I mean? A lot of work!
Do you have time to train a fighter? With the above factors in mind, your fighter obviously will not be participating in the same workout routine as the majority of your clientele. Are you able to work with them at the same time as your class, giving them equal attention to their special programming, ensuring they move with efficiently and safe? The answer is no. So, your ideal solution is a special time for your fighter(s). A lot of fighters are broke, and you're not a professional fitness volunteer, so that must be figured out. Sheesh...
Taking on the strength and conditioning of a mixed martial artist is not an easy task. As a coach, it is crucial that you are honest with yourself before undertaking any special needs clientele. When training a fighter with big dreams and goals, it's important to understand your potential place in the promotion or destruction of their career. You're goals with a fighter far exceed before and after pictures, 1 rep maxes, or a better workout time. If you are up to the challenge, you are now responsible for the health and performance of an aspiring athlete!