Power is one of the most important physical attributes a fighter can possess. It can be the difference between a knockout victory or a loss – how many times have you seen a fighter behind on the judges scorecards only to see them win the contest with a knockout blow?
A powerful fighter is one to be respected!
There’s a lot of misconception in mixed martial arts and other combat sports that power training slows you down, makes you bulky and is generally not effective for fighters, but in this article we’re going to discuss how we can use Plyometric training in MMA to build explosive power, without sacrificing other abilities.
The main issue around power training is that most MMA coaches aren’t fitness experts – they’re MMA experts and as such they lead their athletes down the wrong path when it comes to strength and conditioning. This is more of a problem at an amateur level (professional athletes will hire dedicated strength and conditioning coaches), so in this post we’re going to look at what how we can improve power in mixed martial artists.
What is Power?
The first thing to understand is what power actually is. If you know what you’re training for, you can begin to programme more effectively for the sport – both to build on strengths and to improve any weaknesses that you may have. The purpose of training is improvement after all.
A lot of people confuse power with strength, but they’re actually quite different things. In lay man’s terms, power is generating force at speed (combining strength and speed).
Strength is simply the ability to move a load. Here’s a couple of real-life examples, so they make more sense…
An example of a power movement is a high jump – the athlete has to move a load (their body weight) off the ground quickly in order to clear a bar. This has to be done quickly, otherwise the jump wouldn’t be successful.
An example of a strength movement would be a heavy deadlift – the athlete doesn’t necessarily have to do this quickly – if the load is heavy enough he wouldn’t physically be capable of doing it quickly, but he has to use a lot of strength to lift the weight.
Now we know the difference between power and strength, we can begin to discuss how we train for one over the other. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on plyometric exercises and show how they can be used specifically for mixed martial arts.
Plyometrics for MMA
One of the most effective ways of building power is using ‘plyometrics’. These are power-based exercises that combine the following phases…
- Eccentric phase or landing phase. This is where the muscles being used ‘elongate’, building up a store of energy.
- Amortization phase, or transition phase, is the time between the concentric and eccentric phases. In effective plyometric movements this phase needs to be as short as possible in order to maximise force output.
- Concentric phase, or take-off phase, uses the stored energy to increase the force of the movement. This is where the muscle shortens rapidly, exerting most force.
Plyometrics are incredibly versatile and are used by coaches across a huge range of sports, especially ones that require forceful output. The cost-benefit is huge because technically, plyometrics don’t require much in the way of technique learning (compared to Olympic weightlifting) and also they don’t require huge amounts of weight, so the injury risk is significantly reduced.
Finally, thanks to the lower loads there isn’t the same amount of demand on the central nervous system as there is with heavy weight training. This means you can recover from your training more quickly than if you were doing a lot of very heavy lifting in your strength training.
Plyometric Exercises for MMA
There are four main movement patterns where plyometrics can benefit a mixed martial artist. These are…
- Push – to escape from a grapple and to move opponent around.
- Pull – to wrestle an opponent into position.
- Squat – benefits overall leg strength for kicking, movement and escape.
- Rotation – benefits upper body striking power.
Focussing your plyometric power training on these four movements originally will bring the most benefit in the short term, allowing you to build a powerful foundation for other plyometric exercises when you need to. They’ll also have an immediate transfer into your MMA game and provide the muscles with a stimulus from which to build.
Below is a good example of a plyometric exercise for each one. I’d suggest you combine them all in the same workout, performing 8-10 reps of each across 3-5 sets. Allow a sufficiently long rest period between sets (60-120 seconds).
Plyometric Push Up:
Floor Taps to Jumping Pull Ups
Dumbbell Jump Squats
If you do this alongside your standard strength and conditioning training, you’ll develop a more rounded fitness and increase your power rapidly.
Performing Plyometrics Safely
The training effect of introducing plyometrics into your strength and conditioning is dramatic and needs to be treated with respect.
You’re performing movements that your body may not be accustomed to, expecting rapid, explosive muscular contractions repeatedly. This also has an effect on the tendons – they absorb the load placed on the muscles and therefore need time to adapt to the new demands. With this in mind, only perform the plyometric exercises twice per week for the first three months, then increase the frequency and loads gradually from there.
A safe way of increasing the loads on the exercises is by wearing a weighted vest – this is a simple and comfortable way of increasing the weight used during the exercises, plus it is easily adjustable. You can increase or decrease the weight easily based on the exercise you are about to do.
Darren Mitchell is a Muay Thai enthusiast and writer for the Best Muay Thai blog. He has trained for several years at gyms all over the world alongside some world-renowned fighters and coaches.