Periodisation for Fighters

Periodisation for Fighters By Barry Gibson

You’d be amazed at the training programmes some MMA fighters follow even now. However, when you look around on the internet, you can see that there is a veritable wealth of info – in fact an overload if you like. So it’s no wonder that the average combat athlete suffers from paralysis by analysis!! The idea of training in a series of phases could be dated back to the first Olympics – athletes began training ten months out from the month-long games. The recent models of periodisation came about in the 60s, people like Tudor Bompa formulated and organised training plans and structuring work phases to allow the athlete to peak at an appropriate time.

So how does it work?
Further clarification of periodisation for fighters has been provided by JC Santana – his work has simplified the process for coaches and fighters alike – allowing everyone to benefit from a structured plan rather than going through the motions and risking over-training.

At Grapplefit, I’ve adopted the same method of introducing specific phases of the training plan. Fighters such as Ross Pearson go through a series of stages that looks something like this:

Strength phase, Power phase, and finally Fight conditioning/metabolic conditioning or power endurance depending on which label you attach to it. It is possible to add extra phases such as a conditioning phase at the start to accustom the athlete to the rigours of training, also following this would be a hypertrophy phase. These would only be added if needed by the athletes. Individual assessments are a must in this matter – not all athletes can follow the cookie cutter method – everyone is different!!!

So first we’ll look at the strength phase – this is vital for fighters. The idea of weight training making fighters slow and cumbersome is long-gone!! This archaic notion is beginning to change but only very slowly.
The strength phase consists of building the neuro-muscular component and not adding size in order to allow for weight class restrictions. Also, big muscles require fuel as you’ll all be aware.

So for reps and sets I’d advise going no higher than 6 reps for 5-6 sets. In fact the classic format of 5×5 works really well for this. Progressively heavier sets until you reach a maximum load. Your last set of five should be a struggle if not impossible. If you hit three reps on your last set, then I’d be happy. Next time around, only add more weight if you hit 5×5 on all of your sets. Strength training isn’t, or doesn’t have to be complicated. Try to lift more than you did last time around, in terms of reps or weight, and if necessary, take baby steps.

A sample strength workout may look like this:

1/ Rack Pulls – 5×5
2/ Weighted dips – 10/8/6/4/2 (where 10 reps is a simple bodyweight warm-up, weight is added for 8 reps, then again for 6 etc until a heavy set of 2 reps)
3/ Weighted Pull-ups – 10/8/6/4/2
4/ Resistance band back extensions – 3×6
5/ Plate sit-ups – 3×6

And that would be all for a strength phase – at Grapplefit I may add in some keg lifts, or sand bag drills, but for this article I’ve kept it simple using kit most people can get their hands on.

So next up is the power phase:

Power can be defined as strength x speed. It is commonly known as speed-strength. This is what many athletes chase as a sporting quality. Lighter loads are used here to allow the athlete to move faster which is the goal. I would use the strength plan above to build the power of the fighter by adding an explosive element following on from the heavy strength movement. So a sample workout may look like this:

1a/ Rack pulls – 3×5 reps
1b/ Overhead tyre throw – 3×5 reps

2a/ Weighted dips – 3×5
2b/ Downward med ball punch throw – 3×5 each hand (this follows the same movement pattern as the dip)

3a/ Weighted pull-ups – 3×5
3b/ Resistance band snapdowns – 3×6

There is a possibility of adding extra movements into a routine in order to work in some functional components or some rehab or prehab work, or even just for extra conditioning.

It may look like this:

Weighted pull-ups – 3×5
Resistance band snapdowns – 3×6
One-leg front reach – 3×8 each leg (good for balance and proprioception)
Resistance band anti-rotations – 3×8 each way
Squat thrusts – 3×10

The above set-up is how a power complex might look at Grapplefit for a fighter. This allows them to get extra conditioning in, functionality or combat specific work, or to add a rehab element or perform some preventative exercises. Not a bad idea really.

Next time, I’ll cover the all-important power-endurance phase. The one fighters dread when they come to Grapplefit!



Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.



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