Q: What are the biggest mistakes that seem to be made in MMA fighters’ training and preparation?
J. Hale: Two of the most common mistakes, among many, are:
- Attempting to train exactly like your MMA hero.
- Training to the point of extreme fatigue in every session and assuming extreme fatigue is synonymous with great workout.
Those are only a couple of many mistakes, but they are probably two of the two most common. The belief that fatigue means that you’ve had a successful workout is a huge fad in the fitness industry. If that were true, there would be no need to do anything other than burpees and sprints.
Q: Is their one thing all winners seem to have in common?
J. Hale: Winners come in all shapes and sizes. However, most A-Class fighters share a few common characteristics:
- They are able to use criticism to their advantage.
- They posses a strong work ethic.
- They realize the importance of a properly designed strength and conditioning program (and this includes proper nutrition).
- They also need to be resilient in order to reach a world-class level of performance. (Although, some with freaky athletic ability are exceptions).
Q: How concerned are you with a fighter’s “weight room numbers”?
J. Hale: It depends on the fighter. If he feels really strong and powerful in the ring, his weight room numbers are probably decent (of course this is relative). However, I have seen fighters who have relatively good weight room numbers, but they appear weak in the ring. This could be due to a number of things. In general, power seems to be more important than max strength. In most combat situations, there is an insufficient amount of time available to display max strength. In turn, I haven’t seen anything that suggests that weight room numbers have a strong correlation with a fighter’s success. I have, however, seen fighters become too concerned with their weight room numbers and neglect training other factors that are important for MMA success. This inappropriate allocation of training effort often leads to decreased MMA performance. You have to choose what the top priority is. Big weight room numbers are not needed to be a great fighter.
Q: What is the most important strength training movement for MMA athletes?
J. Hale: There is no magic lift. In general, my athletes perform mostly compound movements. If a particular lift seems to be injurious to an athlete, I get rid of that movement and use a substitute. The manner in which the movement is performed (e.g. rep speed, rep number, exercise order, etc.) must also be considered.
Q: How much time and effort is divided amongst separate goals such as maximal strength, conditioning, etc?
J. Hale: This depends on an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, training goals, and experience level. For beginners, increasing max strength generally enhances other motor qualities, assuming that weight gain is not too rapid. (Weight gain generally decreases relative strength which, in turn, sometimes decreases movement abilities). Intermediate and advanced trainees generally have much wider responses to training programs. One of the most de-emphasized, yet important, motor qualities is agility. Sprint training does not enhance agility. In order to enhance agility, movements that involve directional changes are necessary.
Q: Is the bench press necessary to have in a fighter’s program in order to improve punching power?
J. Hale: No. The majority of power production is generated from the legs, hips, and torso rotation. Relaxation is also a key attribute contributing to punching power. That doesn’t mean that performing bench presses or their variations are inherently detrimental, it simply means that one does not have to perform the bench press to become a powerful puncher.
Q: How do you periodize your strength training during camp?
J Hale: Between six to eight weeks out, I really start to pick up tempo sparring and devote one day a week to hard sparring. About three to four weeks out, I reduce supplementary endurance work. (This also depends on the athlete, and in some cases I eliminate it completely). At this point, the sparring and SPP work is enough work capacity training. I also reduce the volume of strength training. One week before the fight, we focus on tempo sparring with minimal strength training. Then, one to two days out we focus on strength speed or speed strength. We also begin to focus on strategy (various options).
There is a huge variance in modes of training that I use the last week before a fight. Some fighters need to stay active on a daily basis while some fighters perform better in competition when discontinuing activity a few days before the fight. Preparation during the last week also depends on the athlete’s weight. If the athlete needs to shed pounds to make weight, and diet therefore becomes increasingly important, the volume of activity may increase significantly when compared to previous weeks. When an athlete needs to lose a large amount of weight, the volume of training may increase and food intake may need to be drastically reduced. Occasionally one’s food intake may need to be reduced more than I would prefer, but if you are in a weight class sport, you have to make the weight.
Q: When do you like to incorporate strength training into the fighter’s training schedule?
J Hale: This depends on time availability and primary training emphasis. Many fighters do not have the luxury of training two times per day. If a fighter can only train one time per day, I usually have him perform his skill work first. Another key thing fighters and coaches need to realize is that no matter how great the preparation is pre-fight, the fighter must learn to resist over excitement and pace himself when competing. I have seen many perform great in the gym and then go on to perform horribly in front of large crowds. Fighters have to learn to Relax, Relax, Relax. Each fighter may have a unique strategy that he uses in order to employ this cognitive skill of relaxation.