Thursday, 31 March 2011

Good Luck to Wes Murch of Olympians MMA

One of my strength and conditioning clients, Wes Murch, is all set to fight at Recife Fighting Championship in Brazil where he'll be facing ex-UFC fighter Junior Assuncao.

All the very best of luck Wes!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Using Strength and Conditioning to Facilitate Skill Learning in Jiu Jitsu - Part 2

In part 1 of this article I discussed the goals of strength and conditioning for Jiu-Jitsu, and how it was vitally important to match the needs of any sport to its programming. In this article, I’d like to give you some practical applications of these concepts with example exercises that will develop the attributes required for effective skill learning. The exercises detailed here are by no means extensive but they will give you a great, albeit somewhat alternative, way to approach your strength and conditioning.

I still recommend that people have a strong foundation in the big lifts – squat, deadlift, press and the Olympic lifts.

We’ve already spoken about both range-of-motion (ROM) and multi-planar movement. To refresh your memory, ROM refers to the movement produced by any given joint, or collection of joints, and we need to encourage full ROM. Multi-planar movement refers to moving the body through multiple planes of motion, as would naturally occur in competition.

Exercises That Encourage Full Range-of-Motion Movement

The exercises recommended here will help to develop and maintain healthy range-of-motion and thus aid flexibility, application of power and agility.

  • Overhead Squat
The overhead squat is an exercise that promotes lower body and core strength and is the gateway to the Snatch – another excellent exercise. Besides this, it is impossible to do the exercise without a healthy range of motion – especially in the hips and shoulders.

It can be performed as a warm up/mobility exercise with a dowel/broomstick (as pictured below), or weighted with an Olympic bar or various other implements.

Hold the bar, with straight arms, above the head (roughly above the shoulder blades). Actively shrug the shoulders and then squat as normal – making sure to keep the chest high and heels down.

  • Snatch
If you have some proficiency in the Overhead Squat then the Snatch is a natural progression. One of the Olympic lifts (the other being the Clean and Jerk); it develops great power – especially in your ‘pulling’ muscles. A correctly performed Snatch requires full extension through the hip and shoulder, and this movement has great application to any athletic movement.

It is typically performed with an Olympic bar but also possible with dumbbells, kettlebells and other implements.

Start with a weight/bar on the ground. Holding onto the weight, explode powerfully upwards, extend fully at the hip and allow the bar to travel upwards and above your head to finish in the overhead squat position. The snatch is a very complex lift and you should speak to an Olympic lifting coach to learn it.

  • Windmill
The Windmill is an exercise designed to improve core strength while standing and is also great for developing shoulder stability. The benefit of improving core strength in the standing position is that it has a specific impact on techniques such as standing grappling, clinches and throws.

Its ability to develop flexibility under load is of great importance. Moving through a high degree of range of motion (ROM) while under tension produces greater real world flexibility than many other stretching methods.

Start with a weight in one hand, held overhead. Before you start this exercise turn your feet out at 45 degrees and slightly bend the knees. Using a smooth movement through the waist allow your body to bend down and reach towards the ground. This movement should come from the core and hips without using the knees.  Once you have touched the floor - or your body is parallel to the floor - return to the starting position with an upright torso.

In the pictures below I am performing the Windmill with a sandbag but the exercise can be done with any weighted implement.
Exercises That Increase Multi-Planar Proficiency

The exercises recommended here will help to improve your ability to move effectively through multiple movement planes. Our biggest concern is to try and reduce our sagittal (forwards and backwards) plane dominance. So we need to include strength and conditioning exercises that focus on movement and ‘stress’ in the Frontal (sideways) and Transverse (rotational) planes.

  • Lateral Lunge

The lateral lunge is a lower body strengthening movement that will improve your ability to move laterally. It can be performed with bodyweight alone or with any weighted implement.

Stand with your feet parallel and take a big step sideways. As the foot lands, bend the knee (as you would in a squat). Allow the opposite leg to straighten; making sure that the foot stays flat.

  • Windmill

I know it has been included as a full ROM exercise but it is also a great multi-planar exercise. Frontal movement through the hip and rotation about the shoulder, hip and spine make this a worthy exercise.

  • Lateral Snatch/Landmine

The lateral snatch develops some of the similar benefits derived from the regular snatch but it is single handed and stresses the frontal plane. Any single handed exercise is useful as it will help to avoid any imbalances you may have. Whereas the ‘stress’ in a regular snatch will pull you forwards of backwards, the lateral snatch will force you to resist laterally.

Take hold of one end of an Olympic bar. Explode upwards in one powerful snatch movement so that the bar ends up above the head. The opposite end will remain on the floor, running parallel to your feet.

How Do I Include These In My Programming?

If you are not currently performing these exercises as part of your strength and conditioning programme then add them. Building proficiency in these movements is stage 1. With new movements like this, treat them as you would a skill element – encourage rest periods and high quality technique.

When you have developed a level of proficiency then you can add them to your regular programming as:

  • Strength exercises (e.g. 5x5)
  • Fight specific conditioning sessions (a mix of exercises with minimal rest periods at high intensity)
  • Warm-up/mobility elements (e.g. prior to a skills session)

I hope you have enjoyed this alternative take on strength and conditioning for Jiu-Jitsu. I always view strength and conditioning as a tool for success and I think this is a useful way to construct your programming. Look at weaknesses and put elements in place to combat them. If you are interested in working with me then please get in touch.

This article was originally published on

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Using Strength and Conditioning to Facilitate Skill Learning in Jiu Jitsu - Part 1

Strength and conditioning is a subject that divides opinion in Martial Arts, MMA and especially Jiu-Jitsu. Most people tend to think of skill learning (technique practice/sparring/rolling) as one thing, and strength and conditioning as something entirely different. Common practice is to use strength and conditioning as an external intervention to a physical problem:

“I need more strength”
“I need more speed”
“I need more agility”

Thus, most strength and conditioning programmes become constructed around these goals. And this, I believe, is where one of the fundamental problems stems from. If there was a more linear relationship between strength and conditioning and skill learning then I think not only would more people follow a strength and conditioning programme, but we’d also see great improvements in performance as a whole.

Furthermore, a strength and conditioning programme that was implicitly designed to facilitate skill learning would help to eradicate the disparity between the mainstream concepts of ‘fitness’ and skill. We would begin to see training methods that develop organically to suit the current needs of athletes.

What Is the Goal of Strength and Conditioning?

I think that the strength and conditioning programme should be developed with one primary goal in mind – to improve your abilities as an athlete/fighter. It’s clear that skill practice makes you a better jiu-jitsu player over and above strength and conditioning. So, it makes sense to base your programming around the goal of maximising your ability to practice jiu-jitsu more effectively. This seems like a fairly complicated way of saying:

“Use strength and conditioning to allow you to train harder”

For me, strength and conditioning is about putting an athlete in the best position to maximise their skill training. So a good strength and conditioning programme is really just the starting point to achieving great success. Rather than just focusing on some arbitrary activity – “I lift weights to get stronger” – it’s important to consider the outcome of all of the individual elements of the programming.   

Are you training to get better at strength and conditioning or Jiu-Jitsu?

What Physical Attributes Aid Skill Learning In Jiu-Jitsu?

While we might accept that developing a strength and conditioning programme around these concepts is valuable, catering for this is not an easy task. One size certainly doesn’t fit all in this example.

For the purposes of this article I am going to focus on what I believe to be two of the most important physical attributes for skill learning – multi planar movement and range of motion (ROM).

When developing our programme it is important to consider the desired outcome – we need to match the programme to the sport. Rather than speaking in simple terms such as “strength”, “speed” and “endurance” I’d like you to consider the way you move during Jiu-Jitsu. While it is difficult to quantify all of the techniques, we should probably all agree that Jiu-Jitsu is an activity in which you are required to move in all directions. In biomechanics we call this multi-planar – or moving the body through multiple planes of motion. These are loosely classified as Sagittal (forwards and backwards), Frontal (sideways) and Transverse (rotational). Sprinters, as another example, operate almost exclusively in the Sagittal Plane.

So, it follows, that we need a strength and conditioning programme that develops your ability to move effectively in multiple planes. The issue with many resistance exercises is that they work in the sagittal plane but not in the frontal or transverse plane. So perhaps basing your routine on the bench press, squat and deadlift isn’t necessarily the best thing for you. Develop proficiency at moving sideways and rotating and you can expect to see and improvement in skills that require this movement.

Range of motion is a term used to describe the movement produced by any given joint, or collection of joints. For the purposes of sporting performance (in most cases) we need to encourage a full range of motion for all of our exercises. Why? Because the ability to move effectively through a full range of motion has great parallels in athletic movement. You can think about this as the ability to move into or out of positions, escape submissions, apply force from a variety of angles or apply more force generally. We can all think of someone with reduced range of motion – they normally slouch and struggle to move with any agility.

The ability to move freely translates easily into skill learning. An athlete who is primed for this will always excel. 

What Does This Mean For My Strength & Conditioning?

Look closely at your technical ability/skill and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you struggle with certain skills – both in learning them and progressing with them?
  • Which areas of skill learning do you excel at?

Once you have an appreciation for your own skill level, you can start to look at building a strength and conditioning programme to support this. Try to develop the programme to attain proficiency in certain movement patterns/planes. If there are skills that you struggle with, examine whether you have physical deficiencies that can be eradicated to assist in this process.

  • Are certain muscles tight?
  • Do you have a lack of stability in certain positions?
  • Do you feel weak in certain movements?

Working out where your areas of skill excellence are is also vital. It will help to govern your fight strategy and preparation.

I’d like to finish by saying that it’s always important to look at training from different angles – especially strength and conditioning. By bucking the trend of following mainstream trends you may just propel yourself to a higher level of performance.

This article was originally published on

The 10000 Hour Rule

“In Hamburg we had to play for eight hours”

The Beatles

This weeks article is a partial book review of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. You might think that a book written by an intellectual has little relevance in the world of strength and conditioning for MMA but read on…


The book attempts to look at the study of success. What makes some people successful when others fail?

In chapter 2, Gladwell attempts to answer the question:

“Is there such a thing as innate talent?”

Most people would say yes. And common thought is that there are always people who stand out as ‘naturally gifted’. We are guilty of classing these people as phenomenal and freaks of nature but how much of a role does innate talent really play. Not as much as we once thought it would seem.

Gladwell gives the example of a study done in the early 90’s by K. Anders Ericsson at two colleagues at Berlins elite Academy of Music. The musicians were categorised by their current level of skill: potential world class, good and those who would probably just teach. What they found was that the potential world class musicians had a total of around 10000 hours practice behind them, the good musicians around 8000 hours and those that would probably just teach had around 4000 hours practice. This was apparent across the board.

So, the best musicians didn’t just magically attain this level. They worked much harder than everyone else. At some point they decided, or were encouraged, to become better.

The Beatles

The following is an excerpt from Outliers:

The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr –came to the United States in February of 1964, starting the so-called British Invasion of the American music scene and putting out a string of hit records that transformed the face of popular music.

The first interesting thing about the Beatles for our purpose is how long they had already been together by the time they reached the United States. Lennon and McCartney first started playing together in 1957, seven years prior to landing in America.

In 1960, while they were still just a struggling High School rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany.

“Hamburg in those days did not have rock-and-roll music clubs. It had strip clubs,” says Phillip Norman, who wrote the Beatles biography Shout! “There was one particular club owner called Bruno, who was originally a fairground showman. He had the idea of bringing in rock groups to play in various clubs. They had this formula. It was a huge non stop show, hour after hour, with a lot of people lurching in and the other lot lurching out. And the bands would play all time to catch to catch the passing traffic. In an American redlight district they would call it a non stop striptease.

“Many of the bands that played in Hamburg were from Liverpool”, Norman went on. “It was an accident. Bruno went to London to look for bands. But he happened to meet an entrepreneur from Liverpool in Soho who was down in London by pure chance. And he arranged to send some bands over. That’s how the connection was established. And eventually the Beatles made a connection not just with Bruno but with other club owners as well. They kept going back because they got a lot of alcohol and a lot of sex”.

And what was so special about Hamburg? It wasn’t that it paid well. It didn’t. Or that the acoustics were fantastic. They weren’t. Or that the audiences were savvy and appreciative. They were anything but. It was the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play.

Here is John Lennon, in an interview after the Beatles disbanded, talking about the band’s performances at a strip club called the Indra:

We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with the experience of playing all night long. It was handy them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over.

In Liverpool, we’d only ever done one hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing.

Eight hours?

Here is Pete Best, the Beatles’ drummer at the time:

“Once the news got out about that we were making a show, the club started packing them in. We played seven nights a week. At first we played almost non stop till twelve-thirty, when it closed, but as we got better the crowds stayed till two most mornings.”

Seven days a week?

The Beatles ended up travelling to Hamburg five times between 1960 and the end of 1962. On the first trip, they played 106 nights, five or more hours a night. On their second trip, they played 92 times. On their third trip, they played 48 times, for a total of 172 hours on stage. The last two Hamburg gigs, in November and December of 1962, involved another 90 hours of performing. All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated 1200 times. Do you know how extraordinary that is? Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.

So What Can We Learn From This?

The stories presented in Outliers demonstrate that talent is nothing without preparation and that the exceptional among us are prepared to do more than everyone else to succeed.

Have you put in your 10000 hours of training?

To find out more about this fascinating book, get your copy here:

If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

Originally published on BritMMA

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Ring Training for MMA Athletes

Gymnasts have used gymnastic rings for hundreds of years to develop tremendous upper body and core strength. In this article I’d like to discuss whether they can be utilised in an MMA strength and conditioning routine – and if so, do they offer any particular advantages for the MMA athlete?

What are the Gymnastic Rings?

The gymnastic rings used by male gymnasts in competition for a variety of ‘artistic’ movements. They come in pairs and are connected, via straps, to a frame of some sort. Modern rings have been adapted to be suitable for strength and conditioning purposes and most can be fixed to any solid structure – including beams and even tree branches.

The Flexible Training Aid

The gymnastic ring is to bodyweight training what the sandbag is to free weights. It effectively adds high levels of instability to a variety of bodyweight exercises. This concept of instability, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, is very important in MMA. Competition and training in MMA involves, at least to some degree, exposure to an unstable force/object i.e. your opponent. Therefore, a sensible strength and conditioning programme should always address this.

Other than this inherent element of instability, the gymnastic ring is an extremely flexible training aid to work with. As the rings are effectively ‘free moving’ they offer a variety of options not typically present in bodyweight or fixed bar training. The mastery of your own bodyweight is of utmost importance but typical bodyweight work involves you moving yourself against a fixed surface. Think of some of the most common bodyweight exercises – chin ups, press ups, dips. You move but the bar or floor stays stable.

But, when facing an opponent, you need to be prepared for the surface (in this example, your opponent) to move. This is a very simplistic way of looking at the concept of instability but I hope you can see that training for both instances is important.

Range of Motion

The idea that the ring is ‘free moving’ also leads us to consider the range of motion (ROM) in certain joints involved in exercises and during basic human movement. The shoulder joint falls into the category of ball and socket joints and it allows the arm to move through 360 degrees. During MMA training and competition you will no doubt have experienced this – think arm bar escape.

If we know that the arm can move through 360 degrees and that the gymnastic ring allows movement through the same range, then it makes it a great choice for those wishing to improve and maintain a healthy ROM through the shoulder joint. Exercises where the shoulder joint is allowed to move through a full ROM while under tension have few parallels in traditional weight training. The ability to effectively train in this way is great for injury-proofing joints.

Furthermore, it is not necessary that joints always go through a full ROM to get the most from using the rings. The fact that you are able to resist against instability is as useful as moving through it.

The Bodyweight ‘Multi-Gym’

The traditional ‘multi-gym’ – a pin select machine designed to give the user plenty of options with minimal fuss – in my opinion, deserves to gather dust in the corner of the garage (where 95% of these machines naturally end up). But if you were looking for a piece of equipment to give the user plenty of options in their bodyweight training then the rings come very close.

This can work on a few levels. The rings can be used to progress beyond your current level of bodyweight mastery – adding both instability and intensity. You will be amazed at how much strength is required to perform exercises on the rings. We would normally class this as an exercise progression.

Press Ups →Ring Press Ups
Dips→Ring Dips
Chin Ups→Ring Chin Ups
Handstand Press Ups→Ring Handstand Press Ups

Conversely, the rings can also allow easier versions of certain exercises. We would normally class these as regressions.

Inverted Ring Rows←Chin Ups

The rings also open up a whole new class of exercises that simply cannot be done, at least in the same way, without them.

Muscle Ups
Dislocations/Skin the Cat

Integrating Gymnastic Ring Training

The easiest way to add ring training into your strength and conditioning is to begin substituting some of your existing bodyweight training for their ring variations. This will typically go into your met-con or fight specific conditioning sessions.

Press Ups →Ring Press Ups
Dips→Ring Dips
Chin Ups→Ring Chin Ups
Handstand Press Ups→Ring Handstand Press Ups

You will also want to spend some time working towards mastering some of the ring specific skills such as the Muscle Up. The muscle up, although not the hardest of ring skills, will develop great upper body strength and agility. It is effectively a Chin Up followed by a Dip, all performed on a set of very unstable rings. Muscle Up practice would fit well into a strength session.

You may also want to include some of the mobility drills on the rings as part of your injury prevention programme/warm up. The dislocation/skin the cat or backwards roll on the rings is a great drill to encourage shoulder flexibility.

My Favourite 5 Gymnastic Ring Exercises

Chin Ups/Inverted Row: Develop great strength in your ‘pulling’ muscles. The angle and position of the rings can also aid in rehabbing stiff and injured shoulders. They can also be performed with uneven rings for fight specific drills.

Press Ups: Develop great ‘pressing’ strength. Again, you can adjust the ring angle and position to aid problem joints. Builds agility and control, ideal for improving striking in the mount/top position.

Muscle Up: Builds unrivalled strength and agility using only your bodyweight.

Shoulder Dislocation/Skin the Cat: Develops great core strength and shoulder flexibility. High transfer into fight specific skills such as arm bar escapes.

Leg raises/Knees-to-Elbows: Great core strengthening exercise with the added challenge of controlling the rings.

Purchasing Gymnastic Rings

Elite Rings are the original and best gymnastic rings on the market. They have been specifically designed to be used for strength and conditioning rather than gymnastics (this is an important distinction).

They are shipped from within the UK and come with a 2 year warranty. Plus, every set comes with its own training guide to allow you to get the most from your gymnastic ring training.

To learn more and order your own set, please click on the link below:
If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

Originally published on BritMMA

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Store Now Available

MMA Strength and Conditioning now has a store featuring all of our favourite products. New products will be added regularly. If you have any questions about the store or how you can use the equipment most effectively please contact me

Sandbag Training for MMA

“Sandbag Training to this day is a HUGE part of how I train and how I train my athletes.”

                                                                        Zach Even-Esh, Strength Coach

In this article I’ll be discussing the merits of the humble sandbag as a Strength and Conditioning tool for MMA. I’ll also be providing you with some practical tips for making your own bags and training programmes you can try.

Why use sandbags?

I’m a huge advocate of barbell lifting as a means to improve strength and conditioning in athletes but the sandbag is invaluable as an additional training tool for MMA athletes. They are great training aids for the following reasons:

  • They are awkward to lift, just like an opponent. This produces ‘real-world’ strength
  • They require, and develop, greater grip strength than conventional lifting
  • Their size and shape can be adjusted to your needs
  • They are very inexpensive
  • Due to their uneven nature they develop great balance and ‘core’ strength

I am not exaggerating when I say that you can build elite-level conditioning with the sandbag.

Sandbag training sessions

The simplest way to integrate sandbag training into your existing strength and conditioning routine is to substitute all existing barbell, dumbbell and kettlebell work with a sandbag. Cleans, Presses, and Rows all work great with a sandbag.

You can also be creative and add the sandbag to hill sprints.

The following workouts will develop strength, power, speed, agility and endurance across a broad range of energy systems.


21 - 15 - 9

Chin Ups, Heavy Sandbag Thrusters and Box Jumps.

Perform 21 repetitions of each exercise, then 15, and then finish with 9.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


Run 400m, 21 Sit Ups, 21 Sandbag Power Clean and Press. 5 rounds.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


10 Chin Ups, 20 Sit Ups, 30 Sandbag Push Jerks, 40 Squats. 5 rounds.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


100 Sandbag Thruster Burpees.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


20-1 of Sandbag Thrusters, Burpees, Knees to Elbows.

Complete 20 repetitions of each exercise, then 19, then 18 etc.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


Box Jumps, Sandbag Power Cleans, Heavy Sandbag Front Squats, Sit Ups, Sandbag Push Jerks.

Perform each exercise for 1 minute, giving a total round of 5 minutes. Record the number of repetitions performed within each minute for each exercise. There is a 1 minute rest period between each set of 5 exercises but a running clock during each round. Repeat for 3 rounds in total.

Record your total repetitions for the whole sequence.


Ground to overhead with a Heavy Sandbag. 50 repetitions.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


5 Handstand Press Ups, 10 Chin Ups, 15 Sandbag Thrusters, 20 Overhead Walking Lunges. 5 rounds.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.

As with all lifting, you’ll find a natural weight that is suitable for you but I’ve given some basic recommendations below.

Recommended weights:

Males: Regular Sandbag - 25-45 kg (55-99lbs) Heavy Sandbag 45-75 kg (99-165lbs)
Females: Regular Sandbag - 10-25 kg (22-55lbs) Heavy Sandbag 25-45 kg (55-99lbs)

Constructing your own sandbags

There is no hard and fast rule for the construction of a sandbag except that it should be completely sealed to prevent leakage – this is normally easily done using some tape. I have sandbags that I’ve made using a holdall, a canvas duffel bag, a waterproof stuff-sack and even just the plastic bag that the sand came in. You can also purchase a custom made sandbag, especially designed for strength and conditioning. 

For everything you need to follow the workouts here, visit the Sandbag Fitness Store:

I’d recommend having a few different sized bags – a light (10-25kg), a medium (25-45kg) and a heavy (45kg+). This will give you a lot more options when training with them. They can be any shape you want them to be.

For more information on sandbag specific training, videos of all of the techniques described here and daily workouts check out Sandbag Fitness:

If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Why MMA Athletes Should Stop Bodybuilding

“…we have not spent the last 65 million or so years finely honing our physiology to watch Oprah. Like it or not, we are the product of a very long process of adaptation to a harsh physical existence, and the past couple centuries of comparative ease and plenty are not enough time to change our genome. We humans are at our best when our existence mirrors, or at least simulates, the one we are still genetically adapted to live. And that is the purpose of exercise.”

Mark Rippetoe

In my last article I discussed how Olympic lifting could be used as a useful form of resistance training for MMA Athletes. I spoke about how, when used correctly, it can produce tremendously powerful athletes and is therefore a very valuable training technique. In this article I will be discussing the prevalence of body building routines utilised in MMA, why you shouldn’t be training this way and how your strength and conditioning programme can be adapted to improve performance.

What is a body building routine?

The practice of body building is to improve aesthetic appearance – its primary goal is to make you look better. The routines used by body builders are typically characterised by both isolation exercises and spilt body part training days. There is also little distinction between the use of machine based exercises and free weights. Whilst there is some strength and power lifting work it is generally used for the primary goal of increasing muscle size.

As an MMA Athlete this should not be your focus. Your focus should be on increasing your athletic performance – strength, speed, power, agility and skill.

Why are so many of us following body building routines?

Chances are that most of us, at some point, have been following a body building routine. But if these routines aren’t designed to improve athletic performance then how has this happened?

Back in the seventies, when body building started to become really popular, the distinction between athletic performance and looking good became blurred (in the western world at least). The mainstream health and fitness industry adopted the practices of the body building world. Machines began to fill our gymnasiums and coaching slowly started to die out. If you’ve ever had a gym ‘induction’ where the instructor shows you how to turn on various pieces of equipment you’ll know what I mean.

Today most modern gymnasiums are littered with various bits of fairly useless machinery and generally zero coaching staff and this idea of idiot proof exercise is all too common. There has been a rise in popularity of so called ‘functional fitness’ in the last decade. Whilst this has helped to move people away from body building routines it should be noted that it’s not ideal. Many of these ‘functional fitness’ routines are no different from your average body building routine – except you’ll be doing it while balancing on a stability ball.

The programming in mainstream fitness is also typically designed to improve aesthetic appearance and not performance.

If you’ve read one of the fitness magazines recently you’ll appreciate that practically every article is about how you can look better without your shirt on. While this is a nice bonus you’ll look, and feel better, having your hand raised at the end of a fight.

What is an isolation exercise?

An isolation exercise is typically one that uses a single joint or an exercise in a reduced range-of-motion (ROM). Some examples would be bicep curls, tricep extensions or leg extensions. My opinion is that these types of exercises have no firm place in an athletic conditioning programme. Why? They bear little to no relation to basic human movement and regular practice creates neuro-muscular pathways that don’t support athletic improvement. There is an argument to support their inclusion for joint rehab but they should not form the backbone of the programme.

How can I improve?

It’s not entirely necessary to choose exercises that exactly resemble the movements that you will perform in training and competition but they must have relevance. Choose compound exercises that utilise multiple body parts through a full range-of-motion. For example,

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Presses
  • Cleans
  • Snatches
  • Pull Ups
  • TGU’s
  • Windmills
  • Lunges
  • Knees to elbows

These types of exercises, done in a variety of combinations and over a range of work outputs will improve athletic performance.

What is a split body part training day?

This refers to the practice of dividing your body into sections e.g. chest and triceps, back and biceps etc. For the athlete this makes no sense – your sport doesn’t require you to do that so why condition yourself for it. Try wrestling using only your back and biceps – not gonna happen.

How can I improve?

You should either base your programming on the basic movement patterns of the human body or a required training outcome e.g. power or agility.

The basic human movements are generally recognised as the following:

  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Bend
  • Twist

Most useful exercises and indeed MMA specific movements will fit into one or more of these patterns. Correct attention to increasing competence in all of them will therefore lead to improved athletic performance. You could do a lot worse than to ensure that you include a movement from each pattern in your strength and conditioning sessions.

What’s wrong with machine exercises?

Again, in keeping with our attention to matching our programme to our sport you should avoid using the majority of fixed resistance machines e.g. chest press, leg press, leg extension. Putting your body in the confines of a machine and applying force against a lever/pulley system is just not very functional. Working with external loads and your own bodyweight is a far more effective approach. Some work with uneven/odd objects/partners is also useful as it has a more direct relation to the demands of the sport.

How can I improve?

Remove machine based exercises from your programme. Replace them with free weights/external loads and bodyweight modalities like these:

  • Olympic Bars
  • Kettlebells
  • Sandbags
  • Dumbbells
  • Gymnastic Rings
  • Medicine Balls
  • Tornado Balls
  • Bands
  • Kegs
  • Pull Up Rigs
  • Partner Drills/Lifts

If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

Originally published on BritMMA

The Seven Basic Human Movement Patterns

In this article I’ll be discussing the concept of Planes of Motion and human movement patterns. We’ll look at how this theory can be used to make you a better athlete and fix weak points in your physical game. As always, take the time to try out some of the suggestions and draw your own conclusions.

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers”

                                                                                                        Anthony Robbins

How are Strength and Conditioning programmes constructed?

In my experience MMA strength and conditioning programmes are normally constructed in one of the following ways:

  • By following the training programme of another athlete or one recommended by a coach
  • By performing exercises ‘known’ to produce results
  • Choosing exercises that are similar to movements in MMA
  • Guesswork

These can all be very successful ways to formulate a programme but I believe that the most effective programmes are built around the individual. The purpose of this article is to introduce you to some different ways in which you may develop or adapt your own strength and conditioning programme.

Movement Planes and MMA

In Biomechanics we talk about movement planes (direction of movement) and how they relate to sport/human movement. Exercise, skills and daily tasks can all be categorised into one of three movement planes or a combination thereof. Why is this important? Well, if your strength and conditioning programme consists of movements through one plane and competition requires that you move in another plane then we can assume it may cause some problems due to lack of conditioning/function.

The movement planes are classed as Sagittal, Horizontal/Transverse and Frontal. The planes of motion are best thought of as an invisible wall that you would pass through during a certain movement (some people imagine a sheet of glass).

Including movements through all three planes is important as most athletic movements occur this way. Take a look at your current training programme – does it have movements/exercises that occur through multiple planes of motion (multi-planar)?

The Seven Basic Human Movements

Now that we are aware of the planes of motion we can also consider the concept of the seven basic human movements. It has been proposed that natural and functional human movement can be categorised into basic patterns. What are they?

  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Bend
  • Twist
  • Gait (walking)

You may have even followed programmes that touched on this concept – the push/pull routine in weight training is probably the most common example. The theory states that even complex movements can be categorised this way. So, if a person were competent in all seven movement patterns would they ultimately be a better athlete? It is certainly an interesting theory.

At low levels we could examine individual patterns for improvement but it is important to realise that nearly all athletic ability would require competence in multiple movement patterns. Indeed, it is a useful way to examine the complexity of an individual exercise or skill. If you’ve ever tried to master some of the Olympic lifts you’ll appreciate the following example:

Clean and Jerk (split) = Bend, Pull, Squat, Push, Lunge.

So, this theory also states that athletic ability can be improved by not only being competent at the individual movements but at combinations of them.

Weak Point Analysis and Correction

Following the concept of human movement patterns you can begin to analyse your strength and conditioning programme:

  • Do I regularly perform movements from each of the patterns?
  • Are there techniques/skills that I struggle to learn/perform? Can these be attributed to a movement pattern weakness?
  • Does my existing programme overly favour a particular movement pattern? How useful is this movement pattern in relation to the demands of MMA?

My advice would be to look at your existing strength and conditioning programme and ask yourself the questions above. Consider your own strength and weaknesses and use movement pattern analysis as a framework to make some changes if necessary. But remember, the analysis should always be based on you and your current goals.

If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

Originally published on BritMMA

Olympic Lifting for Mixed Martial Artists

The latest catchphrase in the fitness world is ‘functional training’. The term itself has been around for roughly five decades, but modern self-proclaimed ‘gurus’ have skewed it to their liking such that it now includes excessive use of unstable surfaces, wobble-blade thingamagiggies, stuffed animals, clown costumes and the occasional fluorescent dildo.”– Eric Cressey, Competitive Powerlifter

In the world of strength and conditioning for MMA there is much debate as to the value of lifting. Consequently we’ve been force fed a diet of functional fad exercises for the past decade or so. We’ve been told for years that weight training will slow us down and that muscle bound athletes ‘gas’ quickly. Whilst this is undoubtedly true of some programmes, this article will discuss the necessity of Olympic lifting for the MMA athlete and how you can integrate it into your strength and conditioning routine.

It’s worth noting that Olympic lifting can take a lifetime to master. Although I’m not trying to turn you into a lifter you need to learn the lifts correctly to avoid injury. Build some proficiency with the information listed here and get some coaching.

What is Olympic lifting?

The Olympic lifts are the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. These two lifts, done properly, will build massive amounts of explosive power. There are also a number of other supplementary exercises that, whilst they are not strictly Olympic lifts, will assist with the main lifts. This is typically where most people lose interest. “Two lifts, is that it?” is a common response. As an MMA athlete you don’t need to become a master lifter but focusing on fundamentals is vitally important. MMA is burdened by a whole host of ‘new and functional’ exercises that really have little to no value. Integrating the Olympic lifts is a simple way to build your fundamental power and strength base. And like technical skills training, ‘fundamentals create champions’.

What makes the Olympic lifts so good?

  • Both lifts are explosive in nature and work joints through a full range-of-motion (ROM).
  • They are ‘big bang’ exercises – that is, they accomplish lots of things in a short space of time. This is a good thing in terms of strength and conditioning.
  • They are highly technical. I know lots of coaches who see this as a negative point and argue that MMA athletes shouldn’t spend too much time learning weight lifting techniques. Whilst I agree when it comes to some lifts, the Olympic lifts have such an important transfer into athletic ability I think it is a worthwhile process. They will make you a better athlete when performed correctly so take the time to learn them.

How do I integrate them into my strength and conditioning programme?

If you have never done Olympic lifting before I’d generally recommend building a strength base with squats, deadlifts and presses first. Once you have a reasonable level of strength you can look into the preparatory exercises. These preparatory exercises will both prepare you for, and allow you to fix, certain parts of the Olympic lifts. You can also adapt the lifts into their power and hang variants. Power denotes that you will not be receiving the weight in a full squat. Hang involves pulling the weight from mid thigh instead of the ground.

This article will reference some external video resources from which has some pretty good resources for the beginner.

Remember, in all variations of the Olympic lifts you are trying to generate maximum power. Forget this point and you can forget any appreciable results. Don’t be one of those guys who say they do Olympic lifting when they really just lift weights.


Before lifting take some time to warm up, stretch and go through some lifts with a broom handle or Olympic bar. Focus on technique and full range-of-motion (ROM).

The Snatch

Before learning the Snatch I’d recommend some preparatory work with the Overhead Squat and the Quick Drop. Once you have built some proficiency with this you can then start practicing the Snatch.

Overhead Squats:

Quick Drop:


The Clean & Jerk

Before moving onto the Clean & Jerk I’d recommend some preparatory work with Front Squats and Split Jerks. Once you have built some proficiency with these you can then start practicing the Clean & Jerk.

Front Squats:

Split Jerks:

Clean & Jerk:

Sample Programme

Try the following programme if you are looking to introduce Olympic lifting into your current strength and conditioning routine. This will need to be integrated with any existing base strength work. Aim to take to complete these sessions on non-consecutive days. Please note that this is a beginner’s programme and is not periodised in any way. All numerical information is given as guidance only and specific programming should be sought dependant on your individual needs.

Week 1:

Session 1

Overhead Squats 3x5 (25-50% bodyweight, 120 seconds rest between sets)
Quick Drop 5x5 (technique)
Deadlift 5x5 (150-200% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)

Session 2

Front Squats 3x5 (75-150% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)
Overhead Press 5x5 (50-100% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)

Week 2:

Session 1

Overhead Squats 5x5 (25-50% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)
Quick Drop 5x5 (technique)
Deadlift 5x5 (150-200% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)

Session 2

Front Squats 5x5 (75-150% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)
Split Jerk 3x5 (25-75% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)

Week 3:

Session 1

Overhead Squats 10x1 (25-75% bodyweight, 120 seconds rest between sets)
Deadlift 5x5 (150-200% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)
Snatch practice 10x1 (25-50% bodyweight, 120 seconds rest between sets)

Session 2

Front squats 3x5 (75-150% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)
Clean 3x5 (50-100% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)
Split Jerk 10x1 (50-100% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)

Week 4:

Session 1

Snatch 10x1 (25-50% bodyweight, 120 seconds rest between sets)
Overhead Squats 10x1 (25-75% bodyweight, 120 seconds rest between sets)

Session 2

Clean & Jerk 3x5 (50-100% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)
Deadlift 5x5 (150-200% bodyweight, 120-240 seconds rest between sets)

If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

Originally published on BritMMA