Strength and Conditioning in Competitive Martial Arts: Part 2

Monolith Grappling Arts

I apologize that it has been a while since my last installment on Soviet training methods. It’s been a shitstorm of events for me over the last month or so, and the sambo team has been pretty active, as well. We competed in the first ever NOLA Sambo Invitational and took first and second in the 74kg weight class, along with a great performance at the collegiate judo national qualifiers, and then the San Antonio Open. One of our young guys is days away from making a trip to Iowa to compete in the collegiate judo nationals. I am definitely bragging here, no doubt about it.

We left off last time talking about hours spent training, and the importance of general physical preparedness, which began our segue into sport specificity. As American athletes, we have heard quite a bit about sport specificity in the last 6 to 7 years, as this has become a vital part of all NCAA and professional strength training programs. There are scores of articles on unilateral resistance training for boxers, in order to develop a stronger right cross, or parachute training for sprinters, as a method to improve off-the-block explosion. Are these new methods? Absolutely not. They have, however, become more and more mainstream in the strength and conditioning world.

Rather than think about what physical activities we should do for our sport, though (we’ll talk about that soon), let’s look at specificity in another way: in the entire spectrum of human physical attributes, which are most likely to create success in your chosen sport? Then, similarly, what characteristics do you have that could play a role in your personal success? Arguably, basketball players have an advantage if they are tall. Anderson Silva has long limbs and a short torso. These things matter.

In the Soviet Union, athletes were selected at a young age for special training, based on physical characteristics that were conducive to success in particular sports. This is an early and very basic form of sport specificity, as certain characteristics are clearly better for certain sports. An example might be a large amount of hip and glute development at an early age, which could easily be tailored to achieve success in strength sports like weightlifting. A combat athlete might show more prowess in local muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, or speed during fine motor skills.

American sambo coach Gregg Humphreys (Dynamo Combat Club in Bettendorf, IA; sambo instructor for Miletich Fighting Systems) described this process to me last fall, as he received a physical evaluation from Soviet coaches during his first trips overseas for training. Coach Aaron Fields from Seatown Sambo in Seattle underwent a similar process, as well, during his time training with the national sambo and wrestling teams in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Aaron is fairly tall, fairly lean, and has a background in judo and wrestling. Therefore, his evaluators determined that his focus should be on foot sweeps. These ideas were based on scientific, repeatable data, mined from hours and hours of research on athletes. From there, they were able to develop real, tangible numbers that applied to specific movements performed during specific sports. Judo athletes under a certain height are mathematically handicapped, because of their body type, in a certain group of techniques. They are advised to focus on dropping arm throws, for example, as opposed to techniques like the hiza guruma, or the “knee wheel”.

Think about your body type, and the things that you do well in your chosen combat sport. If you have long, lean legs, maybe the triangle choke should be your go-to. Or perhaps, if you are short and stocky like myself, sambo groundwork may suit you better: staying off your back, working for pinning techniques, and focusing more on top control than submissions. The same can be applied to striking, in principle. While taller guys tend to have a well-developed jab, designed to keep the opponent at a comfortable distance, there are shorter guys that have great jabs, also, like Miguel Cotto. The shorter guys have to apply it differently, though, and certainly cannot use it to keep a taller opponent on the outside. Rather, it is used for disrupting the opponent’s rhythm, or setting up a lunging hook.

This is all about efficiency, which is a huge component of the Soviet model. How can I make my skills as advanced as possible in the shortest amount of time? Take your natural attributes and exploit them. This is not to say that you should ignore certain aspects of the game; on the contrary, learn everything, but focus on developing those things that will take you to the top quickly, and use your training time wisely.

Training Philosophy: Physical vs Technical

Russian Sambo courtesy of SystemaSpetsnaz.com
[Russian Sambo image courtesy of SystemaSpetsnaz.com]
If you read my first article, “Strength and Conditioning in Competitive Martial Arts” then this next installment should help to elucidate those concepts even further. If you did not read that article, I hope that this one can stand on its own. Rather than outline specific exercises or routines, I want to continue to lay the conceptual groundwork for a solid training philosophy.

One of the ideas that I encounter in martial arts frequently, specifically among practitioners in the US, is the idea that strength training is somehow anathema to fighting, or even counterproductive. Hardly a BJJ class goes by without someone complaining that their partner “just used his strength”, and has “no technique”. To a certain extent, I am sure that this is an extension of Helio Gracie’s idea that strength is not the only component of combat, and that strength can be overcome by superior technique. Everyone can agree on that. It is incorrect, however, to take this to its extreme and make the claim that strength does not matter. This is something that you are much, much less likely to hear in a top collegiate wrestling program, or at a sports club in Russia, and that is because it is an empirically proven fact that stronger athletes perform better. If your opponent is stronger than you, your appropriate response to the problem should be developing your own strength. If they are larger than you, then you should consider bulking up or cutting down. It really is that cut-and-dry.

Every time I begin to work with a new athlete, especially fighters, I find myself burdened with the task of convincing them that strength and conditioning work is of equal importance to skills. Udo Quellmalz, one of the best competitive judoka of all time, was a product of the Soviet model, as he competed for East Germany before the Wall fell. He continued to train, of course, after the USSR dissolved, and was quoted as saying that “the East German approach was much more professional than that of the West. The volume and intensity of training was so much higher” . He also described his preparation for the 1995 World Championships as a single “ten-day conditioning camp in the Austrian alps. We hardly did any judo, it was just endurance and strength training”.

The government-subsidized coaches and scientists that oversaw his training recorded the empirical data of these sessions in great detail, including lactate levels, VO2 max, recovery time, etc. The modalities that worked were kept and developed, while the others were scrapped. One of the bits of data that piqued my interest the most, however, was the simple recording of hours spent training. Quellmalz spent 20+ hours a week training, as opposed to the average 10 hours spent by elite Western athletes. The volume of training is impressive, sure, but the detail that I am focusing on here is that there is not a distinction made between the hours spent on physical preparation, and those spent on skills work. It was one and the same.

I challenge you, the readers, to record how much time you spend on physical preparation vs skills work over the next week. Then, add the two numbers together. This should give you a real, tangible representation of how much time you are spending on becoming better at your respective disciplines. We will pick up again next week with training specificity under the Soviet model, as an extension of the ideas expressed in this article.

References:
1. Mark Law, Falling Hard: A Journey into the World of Judo (Boston: Trumpeter Books, 2007), 173.
2. Mark Law, Falling Hard: A Journey into the World of Judo (Boston: Trumpeter Books, 2007), 174.

Taking Your Game to the Next Level – Nomad

I wanted to start the New Year off by talking about how Strength, Conditioning, and Nutrition play a vital role in mixed martial arts (MMA). Often times we see fighters, both amateur and pro; run out of energy in the cage. Good energy levels from bell to bell play an important role when it comes to whose hand is raised at the end of the fight. I’m sure many of you have seen a fighter come out for Round One with high energy, however; by Round Two or Three become sluggish and unable to defend themselves and ultimately loose the fight.

Ray Rod The Judge
Photo courtesy of Spida Photography

Fighters must find the right balance in their training and in their fight. Fighters should understand that strength, conditioning, and nutrition are also part of a successful game.

Joel Jamieson, founder of 8weeksout.com, is one of MMA’s top Strength & Conditioning Coaches and pioneers and is widely regarded as the nation’s leading expert in the science of physical conditioning for MMA. His no nonsense scientific approach and Precision Conditioning training system is helping to revolutionize how today’s top fighters get in shape and has been instrumental in the success of more than 20 of the world’s best fighters from the UFC, Dream, WEC, Shooto, K-1, PrideFC, and other major organizations.

In one of Joel’s articles titled “Ultimate Fight Conditioning – Push the Pace” he writes “regardless of a fighter’s weight class, every cell in their body needs a constant supply of energy to function. This includes the cells within muscle fibers, of course, and they need energy in order to do their job of contracting and producing the force it takes to throw strikes, go for and defend takedowns, attempt a submission, etc.”

He goes on to say “Dynamic sports like MMA that require an athlete to produce a ton of energy to support high levels of muscle force and power for up to 15-25 minutes no doubt rely on both aerobic and anaerobic energy production – there is simply no way that either system alone is capable of producing enough energy by itself. This fact is generally well known and accepted, but what’s often misunderstood, however, is just how important the balance between these two energy systems really is.”

He then breaks it down to three major components, developing your cardiovascular system to deliver as much oxygen to the working muscles as possible, training the muscles to become more efficient at using the oxygen that your cardiovascular system is able to deliver and finally incorporating a training method called pace work. For combat sports, this type of work should take the form of sparring or pad/work and the general guideline is simply to deliberately train at the maximum pace you can sustain without any real measure of fatigue.

Right here in Texas we have great strength, conditioning, and nutrition personal trainers who are making a difference for Texas fighters. The Muscle Factory, of San Antonio, is one of those training facilities. Roland Gonzalez, Owner and Head Trainer, of the Muscle Factory has been helping amateur and pro MMA fighters for years. Roland will tell you that “we are not here to replace the importance of stand-up, wrestling, or jiu jitsu, we are here to supplement it.”

Roland continues “We can help improve a fighter’s game by first improving their cardio and muscle endurance by incorporating a variety of exercise regiments that fit the fighter’s needs and lifestyle. Secondly, we would start a diet plan that would help with strength and muscle recovery that will help maintain fighter energy.”

“The only real way to make lasting changes, regardless of your goals, is to use a holistic (meaning whole body) strategy. Every muscle group, including the heart the lungs, nutrition and diet, and positive mental wellness all have to be included in your overall program.”

While at the Muscle Factory I was able to watch Roland put Ray “The Judge” Rodriguez, a pro mma fighter out of San Antonio, though one of his two hour work out. Wow….it was high paced! I was impressed with Roland’s personal attention to detail and motivation during Ray’s work out.

After his workout, Ray told me “Training at the Muscle Factory has made me a complete fighter. My size, strength, stamina, and speed have all improved greatly.” Ray also said “Roland Gonzalez is amazing at what he does, and is one of the most genuine people I have ever met in my life. He’s been at every weigh in and been able to help me put back on 15 to 20 pounds before my fight time.”

In closing I would say seek out a professional trainer who can help you with taking your game to the next level.

If you wish to contact Muscle factory please call 210-771-9044 or visit them at www.themusclefactory.synthasite.com

Nomad
Photo courtesy of Spida Photography

Strength and Conditioning in Competitive Martial Arts

Richard Crenwelge
Photo taken from Mikhail Kozitskiy FB page

It is sometimes difficult to advise fighters, and “hobbyist” combat athletes, about the importance of strength and conditioning training, usually because of preconceived notions that they have on the subject. Therefore, in this first article, I just want to skim the surface, and provide a cursory introduction to the relationship between modern competitive martial arts and how we must prepare for them. This, of course, will be done through the lens of my own experiences. I feel that this could (hopefully) clear the air between me and my audience.

My primary martial art is SAMBO, which many of you have become familiar with through Fedor Emelianenko and his brother Aleksander, or Sergei Kharitonov, or perhaps even the Diaz brothers, as they have been singing the praises of SAMBO all throughout 2012. Although I am certainly not anywhere close to the best SAMBO athlete out there, I have an incredible passion for the sport, and have competed here in the States, as well as in Russia. I mention this not to pat myself on the back, but to segue into the subject of strength and conditioning in competitive martial arts. What is it that I have learned, through my experience in SAMBO, and how does the US compare to Russia in the areas of skill and physical preparation? What can I share with you guys that could have a positive effect on your training?

First and foremost, I have never in my life received as humbling of an ass-kicking as I did in Moscow, in March of 2012. Not only was my opponent supremely skilled, he was also incredibly strong, fast, and proprioceptively aware. Out of all the amazing fighters and grapplers I have trained with over the years, there hasn’t been a single BJJ or judo black belt, D1 wrestler, or Golden Gloves champ that felt as inhuman as this guy did. The difference is in emphasis and mentality.

In the Soviet Union, many of these athletes were sent to sporting clubs when they were very young, and they trained in their respective disciplines for hours a day, month after month, over a course of many years. This is a testament to their cumulative experience and skill, which reached a phenomenal level very early in their career, as opposed to many BJJ athletes here, who did not begin training until they were “out of the house”, or were never afforded the luxury to train the requisite 5+ hours a day. A very large part of the Soviet training model, however, revolved around physical preparation, as opposed to the very common 10min warm-up, 20min skills work, and 30min sparring sessions that you see in your local grappling gyms. In fact, one former Soviet strength coach has been quoted, and this is paraphrased, that 75% of athletic training, regardless of discipline, was purely general physical preparation. Only 25% was reserved for skills. It was under this model, also, that Soviet athletes dominated the sporting world so consistently for so long. That is not to say that they always won, or that they were always the best, but their overall performance in the sporting world was inarguably unprecedented.

The previous paragraph, here, is crucial. Visualize one typical day of your own grappling or MMA training and what it involves. Then, if you also lift weights or train for cardiovascular endurance, sandwich the two together. This is, roughly, what the Soviet model entailed. They did not lift weights, go for a jog, and then wrestle, in neatly separated packages, with a modicum of crossover among the three. All of these training methods were an inseparable part of the whole. A wrestler wrestled, a gymnast tumbled, the hockey player played hockey. Thus, the lines of distinction were blurred, and training was simply training.

Absorb that for the next week, and I will elaborate on this more in my next article. Thank you for reading.