Swimming for MMA

For information purposes only. Exercise at your own risk

Written by Kevin O’Hagan

Always consult a doctor before undertaking a new exercise routine. If perform incorrectly these exercises could result in injury or death. 

In this blog post we are going to look at the benefits of swimming as a training aid for the Mixed Martial Artist. Firstly, swimming can be a complete opposite to many other types of combat related exercise (i.e. running, skipping, padwork.).

It can make a nice diverse change in your training regime and also get you out of the gym and training hall environment. As they say, ‘A change is as good as a rest.’ The benefits of swimming are many. It is another great cardiovascular workout and a superb conditioner. If you study an Olympic swimmer none of them are six stone weaklings. Pushing your body against the force of the water is a sure way of building endurance and muscular power. 

For the MMA fighter swimming can be a good way to ease muscle stiffness and soreness after a heavy workout. The buoyancy of the water supports the joints and takes away any strain, plus there is no impact involved in the exercise, which is good news for a tired body. Days before a fight when all the hard training is done, swimming is a great way to keep the cardio system ticking over and also helps stretch out the muscles. Using swimming as pre fight day exercise also means you lessen the chances of any muscle pulls or strains. 

When I was in Japan for Pride, with James ‘The Colossus’ Thompson we regularly swam in the hotel pool last thing at night. It is a good method of unwinding. We also looked really fetching in the blue bathing hats the pool attendant insisted we wore! Many of the fighters found their way to the pool and enjoyed the benefits.

Swimming can also be an excellent form of exercise for re-habilitation from an injury. The water will support the injured body part and allow you to get some cardio training done. The limbs, back and neck can all profit from water. Also in between heavy training days in your normal weekly schedules, swimming will make a welcome change to running. It can also help you relax and give you time to think and ‘chill.’ Lets not forget though that swimming can also be an explosive cardio workout as well.

Most people when they go to the pool do not swim long or hard. The general public’s view of the swimming baths is they are a place of recreation or fun not for serious exercise unless of course you are a swimmer. Most pools will have time set aside for the serious swimmer, where you can do lane swimming free of thrashing limbs, plastic inflatables and polystyrene floats. This will give you the space you need for some serious work. I am not the world’s best swimmer, infact I can only swim breaststroke but I always treat swimming as another physical and mental challenge.

I once swam in the national ‘Swimathon’ for charity and swam the whole 200 length course breaststroke. I was in the water, 2 hours and 20 minutes. That is a long time especially without the toilet. That was a tough challenge! If you are a strong swimmer, get in the pool and do 30 minutes continuous swimming. This will be a good workout. Also add some underwater swimming, as this will help you develop strong lungpower when holding your breath. 

If you can swim a length of the pool underwater then you won’t have too much difficulty when you are ‘stacked up’ in the guard with your diaphragm constricted or when you are working to defend that chokehold. Other great exercises in the pool are ‘treading water’ and ‘water punching.’ 

Treading water 
Working your arms and legs continuously against the force of the water and staying afloat is a surefire muscle endurance workout. Aim to do a 4 or 5 minute round and feel what its like. It is not easy. 

Water punching 

I read in the autobiography of the great heavyweight boxing champion, Rocky Marciano that he used to practice fast, constant punching in the water. With his arms and shoulders submerged he punched against the waters pull. He developed tremendous power in punching. He was an awesome punching machine with a profolic KO record. His fight record was 49-0 with 43 KO’s. He knocked out 88 per cent of his opponents! I think there is something in this ‘water punching’, try it! 

  • Benefits of swimming for a MMA fighter: 
  • Good cardio/muscle endurance workout 
  • Total change of environment for fighter 
  • Good way to ease down pre fight training 
  • Good method of unwinding 
  • Helps ease muscle stiffness and soreness 
  • Aids rehabilitation and promotes recovery 

Safety points for training: 

Remember swimming is no different to any other fitness activity. Stretch out before hard swimming. Paying particular attention to the neck, shoulders and back. Warm up slowly with some steady paced swimming. Don’t just dive in and start blasting. This is a common mistake.

Doing this is no different to getting on a treadmill cold, cranking up the speed and doing a full out sprint. You will injure yourself. Don’t treat swimming any differently. Remember you sweat in water.

People do not always register this fact because the water cools you down constantly. After training drink plenty of fluid or you will become dehydrated. So in closing try and think of swimming as a major fitness exercise.

Do not underestimate its benefits. View swimming as a positive activity not just a bit of fun you may have with your kids or friends or something you only do once a year when you go on your holidays. Swimming should be part of the MMA fighters overall fitness regime. If you are not already incorporating it into your schedule, now is a good time to give it a go. Good luck. 

Kevin O’Hagan is a former MMA fighter and self defence expert.

For Martial Arts & Self Defense in Bristol, UK, please visit his website:

Editor’s Note

When I worked in a gym, back in the days when I was actually competing, I’d do a swim most nights.

MMA Workout for Swimming

  • 4 lengths (25m) of pool x 4 breast stroke
  • 4 lengths of pool freestyle
  • 4 lengths of the pool – doing ‘walking knees’ (walk the shallow-end 8 times if pool is deep)
  • 10 Low kicks with each leg*
  • Underwater shadow boxing – 3 x 3 min rounds

*Roundhouse Kicks are very difficult. Try side kicks to begin with

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Ankle Injuries (BJJ, Wrestling & MMA)

In this blog post we are going to look at the most common ankle injuries that can arise from both MMA training and competition. 

The foot is an incredibly complex mechanism, too complex in fact to discuss here so we’ll just cover the basic anatomy and try to highlight the structures that will cause the most problems. Supporting the 26 bones and 30 joints of the foot are a network of muscles, tendons and ligaments (soft tissues) which give the foot its shape by holding the bones in position. Although our feet take 1 million steps a year, walk a hundred thousand miles in a lifetime and can absorb 500 pounds of impact (road running) they are extremely structurally delicate which is why we have so many foot and ankle problems. 

Ankle Injuries 

As with all other joints discussed in this series, ankle injuries may be divided into 3 categories: 
· Single-event (acute) trauma 
· Acute-on-chronic injury 
· Multiple-repetition (or chronic) injuries. 

Single-Event (Acute) Trauma Ankle Injuries

The stability of your ankle joint is dependent upon the ability of the tibia and fibula (shin bones) to keep the talus (ankle bone) in place whilst the ankle moves back and forth. The ankle is more stable when your foot is flat on the floor or pulled back towards you (dorsiflexed) as the talus is more rigidly held in place by the tibia and fibula. However, when you point your toes (plantarflex) during a round kick (or when your foot becomes secured in an ankle lock) your ankle becomes unstable because the distance between the tibia and fibula becomes larger. This causes your ankle to rely on the ligaments to maintain the stability of the ankle. Since soft tissues are “softer” than bone, you are more vulnerable to a sprain when you are pointing your toes.

When your ankle is twisted during an ankle lock attempt the toes are usually pointing down which makes the ankle mechanically unstable placing the ligaments at risk of injury, that’s when you’re supposed to tap! The most commonly injured structure of the ankle is the Anterior Talo-Fibular Ligament (ATFL) which can account for approximately 85% of all ankle injuries. The ATFL may become sprained (damaged) in ankle submissions, during poor kicking technique and “going over” on the ankle.

All these movements have one thing in common, the foot is pointed down and turned in under force, this is technically known as an “inversion injury” and it occurs as the ankle is placed into a position of weakness. However sometimes during an inversion injury the ATFL will remain intact but the fibula can break or in extreme cases both ATFL and Fibula can break! Although this can be incredibly painful and will stop most of us, some fighters will continue to fight on with adrenalin driving them through the pain (pray you never meet this guy in competition)!

ATFL injuries can be graded by severity: 
Grade 1 is an overstretching of the ligament 
Grade 2 is a partial tear 
Grade 3 involves a complete rupture 

Treatment of Ankle Ligament Injuries

In the first 48-72 hours following an uncomplicated Grade 1 ligament injury it is important to follow the PRICE approach.

Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation should be applied by the individual. Ice packs can be applied for a period of twenty minutes every couple of hours and may help with the pain but pain-relieving medication may also be necessary.

The pain should subside over a few days allowing a gentle return to training without any restriction. However, if your pain is extreme and continues for over 48 hours, you should see your GP or Chartered Physiotherapist as you may have a Grade 2 sprain. 

In the case of a Grade 2 sprain, crutches should be used to protect the injured ankle and full weight bearing avoided. However, it is important not to be on the crutches for longer than necessary and as soon as the pain allows you should begin to gently put your weight through the ankle by walking. In the early stages of the injury, ultrasound treatment is effective in encouraging the healing process and the formation of scar tissue to repair the ligament. Once you are able walk on the ankle, more active rehabilitation can be started. 

A Grade 3 injury will require some sort of immobilisation (cast) and/or bracing to protect the area whilst healing, particularly if there has been an avulsion fracture (ligament ruptures and breaks a piece off bone with it!). When the bones around your ankle break, they can cause gross instability and this may result in a subluxation or even worse a dislocation.

If you think you have fractured, subluxed or dislocated your ankle; get to A&E; and get it X-rayed, assessed and dealt with ASAP! In the case of a dislocation, arteries may become damaged and cut off the blood supply to the foot, so if it looks discoloured and deformed it needs attention NOW! A loss of circulation may cause permanent damage to the foot so if even if you’re in doubt of the severity of the injury, get it seen to! Once it has been reduced (put back in place) and other injuries have been checked for, you should seek advice regarding your future rehabilitation from a Chartered Physiotherapist.

Basic rehabilitation principles and exercises
would be the same for this injury as in a Grade 2 tear but would obviously progress much slower over a greater period of time. 

Ankle Instability Post Injury If the stability of the ankle has been affected then strapping or bracing can be employed to reduce the risk of any further injury whilst undergoing your rehabilitation programme. Bracing provides pain relief by stimulating your nerve fibres which make you feel that your foot is more stable and secure whilst compressing your surrounding tissue making it actually feel better. Strapping the ankle can temporarily improve the stability of the ankle and be gradually reduced over time to allow a full return of function whilst building confidence for a return to full training. Each approach has its own part to play in the rehab process. 

Acute-on-Chronic Injury After an initial inversion injury the ATFL may become prone to reinjury if not rehabilitated fully. Following recurrent inversion injuries instability (giving way) may occur.

Ankle instability may suggest that you have torn some ligaments in your ankle and foot. The instability may worsen when you try to walk on uneven surfaces such or when you change direction suddenly during training. Some instability however is normal after a minor sprain, especially in the early phases of recovery. Persistent instability in the ankle is a sign that professional treatment is required. If you have “weak ankles” you should focus on proprioception, which is the ability to know where a body part is in space without looking at it. When proprioception is impaired following a ligament injury the joint may feel unstable which may increase the risk of re-injury. 

Proprioception training re-educates your body to control the position of an injured joint. It is best performed standing on the injured leg with the eyes closed and measure the amount of time you can remain stable. As you improve make it more difficult by standing on an unstable surface (eg. wobble board or trampette). Better proprioception will improve your kicks, throws, takedowns and counters and overall balance. Tip: Even if you are not injured train this aspect of your game; as I’ve stated before, I’ve never worked with an athlete whose proprioception was too good! 

Unstable Surface Training on a Wobble Board

Prevention of Ankle Ligament Injuries

The most effective method of preventing ankle sprains is by improving the muscular support around the ankle and the proprioception in that area. The muscular support in that area can be effectively improved through plyometric training. Plyometric exercises combine speed of movement with strength. The effect of the exercises is to improve the reaction time of the nervous system thus increasing muscle reaction times. As it is the muscles that control the placement and stability of the ankle and foot improving their reaction times enables the muscles to contract quicker to correct a twisted ankle before an injury occurs. However, these exercises can be very strenuous and put an injured area under a great deal of physiological stress so it is important that these exercises are approached with caution and they should be started very gently. 

Multiple-Repetition (or Chronic) Injuries 

One of the most common forms of chronic foot pain that occurs during training usually involves the heel (Calcaneus). The heel is the largest bone of your foot and it is connected to the Achilles tendon and the Plantar Fascia.

The Plantar Fascia helps keep the arch of your foot supported and may become inflamed (plantar fasciitis) when the foot becomes overstressed or the biomechanics of the foot become altered. Sometimes a bony heel spur will form at the tip of the calcaneus although these generally do not cause pain. Plantar fasciitis is usually sharp and occurs during your first few steps after sleeping or resting. This is because your foot and heel tissue (fascia) contract when you rest and the tight tissue is then stretched during full weight bearing, creating pain.

However, once the fascia has been stretched, the pain diminishes after a few steps but may return when overstressed. Although the initial pain from this condition is not debilitating the continued pain that is causes may go on the affect training, particularly roadwork, skipping and boxing training (due to the spring loaded position of the foot in the boxing stance). The onset of this condition is usually slow and insidious with no initial trauma.

The problem may originate from poor biomechanics and an increase in physiological stress associated with road running or inappropriate footwear. Treatment is usually aimed at stretching the plantar fascia, taping to unload the area and orthotics (shaped gel insoles) to absorb shock and improve the biomechanics of the foot. If professional advice is taken and followed treatment is usually successful, if left alone however, symptoms can persist for months to years! Other common injuries that may also occur in the lower leg include Achilles’ Tendonitis and Shin Splints. Both these conditions tend to be associated with biomechanical dysfunctions on the foot and can usually be dealt with in a similar way using stretching, strengthening exercises and orthotics (shaped gel insoles) to absorb shock and improve the biomechanics of the foot. 

Note: If you are suffering chronic long term problems with your feet or ankles you should seek the advice of a State Registered Chiropodist or Podiatrist that specialises in biomechanical dysfunction. These specialists will be able to advise you on specific exercises to improve your feet and also should be able to make a cast your feet to make insoles to improve your lower limb biomechanics. 

Rehabilitation of Chronic Ankle Injuries

One of the major goals of rehabilitation is to maintain your cardiovascular fitness levels, so for instance when you suffer a lower limb injury instead of roadwork, try aqua jogging with a flotation belt (running upright in a swimming pool without your feet touching the bottom of the pool). You, your coach/trainer and your physio should work together at devising alternative training programmes as soon as possible particularly if you are a competitive fighter. In addition to cardiovascular fitness, you may use the injury period as an opportunity to strengthen weaker areas whether they be physical, mental, technical or tactical. Your physical rehab plan should include exercises to restore normal strength using progressive resistance exercises that should involve the calves and lower leg muscles as well as the entire lower limb.

In addition in the later stages rehab should include eccentric as well as concentric exercise and plyometric (explosive movements) training followed by combat-specific drills (with an emphasis on proper technique), agility and proprioceptive training. Strapping and bracing may also be used as appropriate in the earlier stages of rehab. As I have stated in previous articles if you are bracing or strapping (with the exception of hand wraps) a joint you should not be full contact training or considering stepping into the competitive arena. It must also be appreciated that the power, speed and angles which occur during competition may far exceed the criteria for successful completion of rehabilitation exercise. To be ready for competition you must perform over and above what you are required to do in competition. 

Return to Training/Competition After a Chronic Injury

Depending on the severity of the injury, it may take several months of physical therapy for you return to full training or competition. The differing grades of ankle or foot injury makes for a wide range of recovery and rehab times. Ligament injuries often take months to rehabilitate and a fracture dislocation may continue to prevent return to full MMA competition even after six months of rehabilitation. For return to full training /competition two principal factors must be considered, firstly the risk of re-injury and secondly the ability to fight/perform at a satisfactory level. These factors are often intertwined.

When there is a risk of re-injury, the potential for further or permanent damage must also be considered. The criteria for return to competition after an ankle injury include restoration of normal strength, endurance, flexibility and proprioception. With repetitive injuries it is important to identify the specific activity that caused the initial injury so that activity can be avoided or training modified. Avoidance steps may include changing technique, training habits, and equipment, and the use of orthotic insoles or modified footwear during training and bracing/strapping in the early stages of rehab. 

This is just a brief outline of the foot and ankle injuries you may incur during MMA training and competition and a rough guide to treatment and rehabilitation principles. If you have any specific foot or ankle problems you will need to seek first hand advice and treatment from an experienced sports injuries Chartered Physiotherapist. 

This post is for the purpose of information only and it is not intended to diagnose or treat medical conditions and is not considered to be a substitute for individual medical assessment and advice.

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Tips for Starting Out in the Gym or Taking Up Exercise (Free Exercise Planner .pdf & Google Sheet)

If you fail to plan and prepare your new routine, then you are bound to fail!

Getting started and continuing an exercise programme can be a challenging yet rewarding undertaking. Fifty percent of those who begin an exercise programme will drop out with-in six months.

You can implement various techniques to improve your adherence to these new lifestyle changes. Determine where you are going to exercise. Some people find it more convenient to exercise at home. Others may find they have less distractions at an exercise facility. If you choose to exercise at a gym, pick one that is nearby since you may be less likely to exercise at a club that is further away.

Sod off Ted, I’m trying to exercise

You are more likely to stick with your programme if it is fun and convenient. Choose the most convenient time to exercise with the least distractions. Find activities that you enjoy. Your first few workouts should be brief and well within your abilities.

Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your exercise. Do not start out with a program your coach had you perform in high school or college. Individualize your program and begin back gradually.

When working out with a partner try to choose someone with a similar fitness level. As a beginner, you may work too hard if you exercise with an experienced partner. Studies have demonstrated you are less likely to continue your program if you exercise at higher intensities too soon. Likewise, long workouts are also associated with higher drop out rates.

Goal Setting for Exercise Process Vs Outcome Goals

Set realistic goals that contribute to long term lifestyle changes.

Set both process and outcome goals.

Goal setting
Goal Setting Gives You Something to Aim at

Process Goals

A process (or intrinsic) goal is one which is under your control and relates to the behaviour required to achieve your desired outcome.

For example, a process goal could be:

Exercise Monday, Wednesdays & Fridays at 7 P.M. for 30 minutes.

Outcome Goals

Outcome goals relate to the desired ‘outcome’. The final result that you want.

Examples of outcome goals include:

Losing 10 pounds by a specific date or jumping 1 inch higher on a vertical jump test by next season.

Make the goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Time-phased/bound.

A poor goal would be to write down “I want to lose weight”.

A better goal would be:

I want to lose 4 inches of my waist by December the 15th 2019.

Then break this down into process goals such as:

I will only eat between the hours of 11am and 8pm

I will go to the gym 3 times a week at 7pm.

Focus on achieving your behavior/process goals since you will have much more control in achieving this type of goal. Do not get discouraged if your short term outcome goals are not achieved by your initial deadline.

Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your plan if you discover a more effective means to attain your objectives or are not certain you can consistently achieve your behavioral goals.

Commit to Your Goals

Commit to your goals. Initially you may be very motivated to stick to your program. It is not unusual for your motivation to dip occasionally. Discipline and establishing a regular routine will help staying on track.

A good way to commit to your goals is to write them down and then sign at the bottom stating that you will take ‘ownership or your goals and commit to them completely’. If you’re feeling really brave, you can share a picture of your signed goals on social media.

Participate in physical activities with your spouse, family, or friends. Be creative. Every week take turns having family members choose their favorite family activity. Share your goals with those close to you or others that are likely to ask you about your progress. Ask them for their support. Having explained that you have set aside a particular time to exercise can potentially minimize future conflicts or misunderstandings.

Those close to you will have the opportunity to understand the importance of your goals and the time you have set aside for them. Write your goals on paper and post them where they are in view for you to see every day (e.g. refrigerator, mirror, date book, etc.). Some people may even find it helpful to sign a personal fitness contract with their personal trainer or friend. 

If you feel like not working out, agree to yourself to have a very short, light workout. Quite often, after getting ready and warming up, you will find enough motivation to push through a full workout.

You Don’t Need a Gym – Make Physical Activity a Lifestyle

You don’t necessarily need to go to the gym or to an exercise class. Perform a variety of exercises and activities. Engage in utilitarian activities such as walking to the store, walking the dog, or catching up on yard work. Try new activities you think you may enjoy.

Learn about these new activities by reading an instructional book, watching instructional videos or documentaries (this can be very motivating), by joining a training group, or hiring a personal trainer.

When walking, jogging, or cycling, vary exercise routes or trails. You might find it helpful to use diversions such as listening to music, watching television, or reading during exercises that you would otherwise find a bit boring.

If possible, utilize social support. Find an exercise partner, hire a personal trainer, or exercise in a group setting. A training partner or exercise instructor can provide feedback, assistance, and motivation.

Monitor your progress

It can be motivating to see your progress. Record your activity and progress in an exercise diary or log (like the one below). You can even record your diet in a journal or a food exchange check list. Consider purchasing an electronic monitoring gadget like a pedometer, heart rate monitor, or stop watch to track your progress.

If finances allow it, you could find an exercise professional who can monitor your progress for you. Regular fitness tests can objectively measure the effectiveness of your program and can possibly save you months or even years of hard work.

Example Fitness Tests that you can conduct yourself include:

  • Maximum number of press ups in 1 go
  • Maximum number of squats in 1 minute
  • Maximum number of burpees in 1 minute
  • 800m run on the treadmill – time to completion
  • 1000m row – time to completion

You should test your fitness at regular intervals, to identify areas of weakness and to monitor progression.

If progress is not significant, immediate changes can be made to your program. A fitness professional can help you decide the tests most compatible with your fitness goals and how often you should test.

Although some individuals may thrive on competition, many beginners may get discouraged when they compare their fitness levels and abilities with others. Comparing yourself to others may bring about either disappointment or conceit. Remember, it is not so important where you are today as it is where you will be tomorrow. Certainly you do not need to implement every strategy outlined in this article.

Anticipate Obstacles & Hurdles

Common obstacles include:

  • Being offered sweets & unhealthy food in work
  • People making passive-aggressive comments about being on a diet
  • Feeling too tired to go to the gym
  • Your training partner giving up
  • Struggling for time
  • Being demotivated by lack of progress
  • Friends inviting you to the pub

Make sure you have a strategy in place to cope with each of the above possibilities. Take ownership as well – don’t blame a friend or family member if you fail to adhere to your plan and reach your goals!

This video may help with the ownership thing:

Procrastination is the Killer of Action

Whilst planning is important, starting and building a habit is the main thing. It takes about 6 weeks to build a habit – it will get easier to stay motivated after 6 weeks!

You can start bodyweight exercises straight away – literally. Here’s an example workout

beginner bodyweight workout


Have a specific plan in terms of the process – where, when, how often etc.

Set specific process & outcome goals

Take ownership of your goals

Predict obstacles & hurdles that must be overcome & plan for them

If you can’t view the sheet properly – you can find it here – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vRfMXq28rZkgWv-s3b0TBwbbW6jicDbTC7EdhszC0m64JZ9x19SCRfrK7i2J7RSEredk_k3Fg2sg6Cy/pubhtml

or download as a pdf here

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Essential Fatty Acids Benefits For the Body & Human Brain

Two classifications of fat are – Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats, are solid at room temperature.

It used to be touted as standard that saturated fats are extremely damaging to general health, but in particular, heart health. This is because they increase the amount of cholesterol in the arteries.

vegetable oils unhealthy
Link to Study here

This does not appear to be the case with everyone however. Inflammation appears to be the pre-cursor to many diseases, including heart disease – for most individuals. The only way to confirm whether or not it is definitely safe for you to eat high levels of saturated fat, is to have genetic testing done (costs around £100) with a company like 23 and me (not an affiliate of ours by the way).

The actual process, whether or not it starts because of inflammation or high cholesterol is know as “atherosclerosis”. When this occurs the arteries become more and more blocked as more and more cholesterol is deposited.

It also used to be thought that unsaturated fats (mono- and polyunsaturated), have many positive health outcomes. However, it is now known that vegetable oils that are heated & not cold pressed for extraction, are actually damaging to health and highly toxic.

Another Sensational Headline About Nutrition

Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s), which cannot be made from scratch by body cells; nor can the cells convert one to the other. They must be provided by the diet. 

Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) have many very important functions, most notably as acting like hormones, regulating blood pressure, blood clot formation, blood lipids, the immune response, and the inflammation response to injury and infection. In addition, EFA’s also serve as structural parts of cell membranes, constitute a major part of the lipids of the brain and nerves, and are essential to normal growth and vision in infants and children. 

Omega-6 vs. Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

The omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, is found in many popular vegetable oils and is consumed in excess in our society. This could lead to significant health problems because a high consumption of linoleic acid can lead to an increase in the production of eicosanoids that are involved in inflammatory, cardiovascular, and immunological diseases. 

The omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, is not as abundant as linoleic acid but it is readily available in most health food stores. Unfortunately, because it is not as easy to locate as linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid is not consumed in large amounts in today’s society.

This omega-3 fat has very positive health outcomes including some of the following: 

  • Decreasing risk for coronary artery disease 
  • Decreasing hypertension 
  • Improving insulin sensitivity for individuals with Type 2 diabetes 
  • Reducing tenderness in joints with individuals with rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Assisting with proper development of the brain cerebral cortex 
  • Assisting with proper retina formation for proper vision 
  • Decreasing inflammatory disorders 
  • Protecting against stroke caused by plaque buildup and blood clots 
  • Lowering triglycerides and raising HDL levels 
  • Biochemistry of Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

The omega-6 fat, linoleic acid, is converted to arachadonic acid in the body. The omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid, is converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA, found primarily in cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackeral, are the byproducts of alpha-linolenic acid oxidation that produce the positive health outcomes mentioned previously. 


Omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids are best consumed in a ratio of 3:1 to maximize positive health benefits. Unfortunately, the ratio that exists in modern Western diets ranges from 10-30:1. The reason such a low ratio is important is because the omega-6 fatty acids compete with the omega-3 fatty acids for the same desaturation and elongation enzymes.

And because Western culture diets include so many omega-6 fats compared to omega-3 fats, very little omega-3 fats are converted into the healthy EPA and DHA compounds. Eat more fish (wild fish, not farmed) and less vegetable oils.

Phospholipid Omega 3 & the Human Brain

Phospholipid 3 may be a potential ‘cure’ to the faulty gene that causes degenerative brain diseases. You can read more on Dr Rhonda Patrick’s website.

I personally use Salmon Roe / Salmon eggs for brain health, as well as a high EPA omega 3 fish oil.

More info here


It is best if the body has more alpha-linolenic (omega-3) fatty acids in order to produce more EPA and DHA and less linoleic (omega-6) fatty acids, which produces arachadonic acid and overpowers the conversion of EPA and DHA. 

Eating cold-water fish 3-4 times per week and increasing the consumption of flaxseed oil is recommend. Beware of taking fish oil supplements as the research does not provide a clear message regarding their safety. Omega-3 fatty acids are among the most vulnerable of the lipids to damage by oxidation, and researchers are investigating whether individuals taking fish oil supplements may experience an increase in the potentially harmful oxidative reactions.

Supporters of taking fish oil supplements recommend taking between 3-10 grams per day for cardioprotective benefits. 

Foods with Essential Fatty Acids

Approximate EFA content in grams per 100 grams 

Omega-3 (g) 

Flax / Linseed oil 58 

Safflower oil 74 

Flax / Linseeds 15-30 

Grapeseed oil 68 

Walnut oil 11.5 

Sunflower oil 63 

Canola / Rapeseed oil 7 

Walnut oil 58 

Soybean oil 7 

Soybean oil 51 

Omega -6 (g) 

Wheatgerm oil 5 

Corn oil 50 

Sesame oil 43 

Canola / Rapeseed oil 20 

Please note that if vegetable oils are not cold pressed – they are not healthy, regardless of EFA content!

Disclaimer – for entertainment purposes only. Consult your doctor before changing your diet.

Read our Post About Exercise & High Blood Press by Clicking Here

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Mixed Martial Arts & Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)

Success in any sporting event is determined primarily by genetic endowment in combination with a training regime aimed at maximising trait potential.

Therefore, an individual’s athletic realisation and success is determined by the interaction of innate ability and environmental factors including training structure and nutritional strategies.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is one of the most demanding sports on the planet in terms of the mental and the physical toughness and ability required to compete at any level. Every competitor requires an extremely high level of physical and psychological conditioning. 

As the sport has evolved into a serious profession; training regimes have become increasingly more challenging and demanding on athletes’ muscles, joints, and both mental and physical powers of recovery.

Back when I really started to get into the UFC, top MMA fighters such as Tito Ortiz claim to train for up to eight hours a day, seven days a week (Tito claimed this on one of the videos that was made about his training fight-camp). Although good genetics, sound nutritional strategies and training periodisation will help, this would only be possible with an extremely low training intensity and freakish genetics; or with the assistance of illegal ergogenic aids. 

Today USADA has made it much more difficult to get away with taking PEDs, as Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar have found out! Back in the day, it’s claimed by many that all Pride & UFC fighters were on the ‘Mexican supplements’ (as Joe Rogan likes to call them!). However, it is claimed that many BJJ competitors are ‘juiced up to the eyeballs’.

As a consequence of this, many athletes have either chosen or been pushed in the direction of performance enhancing drugs, simply to maintain their ability to compete. Anabolic steroids, amphetamines and insulin are but a few of the cocktail of drugs that appear to have taken a strong hold within the realms of professional Mixed Martial Arts.

MMA, like many forms of sport; has become a mainstream form of entertainment. Millions of fans follow the sport and demand to see the highest quality of performance, athleticism and skill each time fighters enter the cage.

MMA fighters are under increasing pressure to be leaner, faster and stronger, for longer periods of time. It has come to a point at which this is only possible when athletes are assisted via illegal ergogenic aids. The drug problem is heightened by the fact that sports governing bodies either can not afford to drug test their athletes, or do not want to through fear of impairing athletic performance and entertainment.

It is believed by many that drugs are a big part of sport, and the recent scandals with THG and American baseball are only the tip of a substantial iceberg. MMA is certainly no different, as highlighted by the positive drug tests of Tim Sylvia and Josh Barnett. 

One of the most difficult aspects of MMA is its demands on all aspects of fitness and human athletic performance. Not only does a fighter have to be strong and powerful, but he has to be fit enough to maintain this power and strength for up to five rounds of five minutes.

This becomes problematic when one considers the fact that endurance training hinders adaptation to strength training and vice versa. It is extremely difficult to train and improve every aspect of fitness; recovery becomes extremely hard and muscles and energy systems struggle to adapt to several overloads at once.

This can be overcome to a certain extent by using periodisation, however using performance enhancing drugs can be seen as a much easier way overcome the problem. 

Anabolic Steroids in MMA

Anabolic steroids come in dozens of forms, each with its own specific properties that vary according to type and manufacturer.

All steroids have different side effects, or at least differing degrees of side effects and also different performance enhancing properties. Steroids can be distinguished, to some extent, by placing them into groups according to their effect upon the body. Very roughly speaking Androgens exert some kind of masculinising physical effect on the body.

This includes muscle growth, but often results in side effects such as increased aggression, water retention and hair growth. Anabolics primarily promote muscle growth, but can cause other side effects such as joint pain due to reduced water content in the joint capsule, and a reduced sex drive. Most steroids have both properties but the anabolic/androgenic ratio differs significantly. 

Which ever steroid/s a fighter will take will be, or at least should be very specific. A fighter’s physical and psychological profile, along with his/her goals and competitive schedule should be taken into account when contemplating a steroid cycle. Many MMA fighters will want to gain muscle mass, where as many others will want to increase strength as much as possible, without adding any body weight, or improve their cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Each steroid cycle undertaken by a user, takes into account a fighter’s periodisation of training.

For example, if a fighter has set aside six weeks to increase endurance while maintaining strength and power, then he/she may choose to undertake a cycle that includes Equipoise (EQ) whilst avoiding heavy androgenic steroids such as Dianabol which elevates blood pressure dramatically. 

As mentioned earlier each steroid has different potential benefits and different side effects. One of the biggest considerations for a person taking these drugs will be whether to use injectable or oral steroids. 

Oral steroids, are often used simply because they are easier to administer. However, these steroids, especially 17aa steroids, are extremely liver toxic (hepatotoxic).

After the tablet is consumed it travels through the body, to the liver. The liver detoxifies substances that the body takes in, and artificial hormones are no exception. This detoxifying process places undue stress upon the liver, which can result in cysts and tumors.

For this reason alone, fighters usually do not use oral steroids for longer than five weeks at a time. If a fighter insists on taking tablet form steroids, then there are several precautions that should be taken. Supplements such as alpha lipoic acid, milk thistle, selenium and green tea extract can help reduce any toxic damage caused by steroid consumption. However, drinking large amounts of water remains the most important factor in protecting the liver whilst taking oral steroids. Refraining from alcohol consumption, goes without saying. 

Due to liver toxicity and also because of the greater choice, most fighters who choose performance enhancing drugs will tend to use injectable steroids. Obviously, the dangerous aspect of using these drugs is the actual administration. If any oil gets into a person’s blood stream it can result in stroke, heart attack or brain embolism. In addition if the injection procedure is not sterile then infection can occur; an abscess will form and amputation of muscle may be necessary if it is not treated in time.

The danger of infection is heightened greatly with water based steroids such as Winstrol. Drug enhanced fighters, also have take care to not to let any air travel into the blood stream from the barrel of the syringe. This is also a potentially fatal occurrence. It is because of these dangers, that it is crucial that a fighter has done a lot of research before considering any steroids or any performance enhancing drugs. 

Probably the most well known and popular injectable steroid is Deca Durabolin or Deca Nandrolone; having reached fame thanks to the famous athletes that have been caught taking it. This drug may be favored by some MMA fighters because of its ability to reduce joint pain.

The drug causes additional synovial fluid to be secreted within the joint capsule, which reduces pain and gives lubrication to injured joints. This is of massive importance to all athletes, but especially in MMA where injuries are so frequent and training is so intense. 

On the downside however, the water retention that aids synovial fluid production also causes extra weight gain and increased blood pressure, leading to reduced endurance. This steroid is one of the few that does not convert to the hormone DHT and therefore does not cause hair loss, not important in fighting, but something drug using fighters may still want to consider.

Like most steroids there is a risk of gynaecomastia (development of breast tissue). However, Deca causes a proportional increase in (aromatises) progesterone (female hormone), so drugs such as Proviron or Armidex are required to prevent the side effects that a rise in progesterone can cause. Gynaecomastia is more often caused by the increased levels of oestrogen in the blood stream following the administration of androgenic steroids, and Nolvadex can be used to treat or prevent it.

Armidex and Proviron are also strong anti-oestrogens but are also very effective at combating progesterone induced gyno’. The use of Winstrol is also an effective method of controlling progesterone-induced gyno, as it is an anti-progestagenic. 

Heightened progesterone levels can also have a negative effect upon sexual function. ‘Deca-dick’ is frequently reported by steroid users. This can again be combated, to some extent by using the drug Proviron, although drug using fighters often choose to take Deca with Testosterone in order to maintain sex drive. Finally, Deca is also renowned for being extremely suppressive of endogenous testosterone production.

Therefore it is not something to be used without due consideration and research. This steroid could be used by a MMA fighter when he/she is looking to gain mass and strength, and is months away from a fight. Users should also consider that the drug can be detected from a urine test for up to two years following a cycle. 

One of the most popular drugs amongst MMA fighters is Trenbolone (Tren). This drug has a reputation for being very effective in increasing strength, power and aggression without a massive increase in bodyweight. When taken correctly, Tren is capable of producing small, easily-maintainable, quality gains. Because this steroid is highly anabolic, very little of the mass gained is due to water retention. Therefore a large portion of the gained mass is retained after discontinuation of the product. 

Tren can be taken alongside several strong androgenic steroids for mass gains. A fighter could stack it with drugs such as testosterone or Dianabol. These androgenic steroids help to produce gains in mass, where as Trenbolone acts synergistically causing severe strength gains maximise the overall increase in muscle mass and strength. 

Some MMA fighters may use Tren as it can help to reduce body fat, very important when trying to make weight. Body-fat percentage when cutting would drop regardless, simply because of the lean mass gain made while no extra body-fat is deposited. However studies have shown that Trenbolone can help reduce body fat independently of this. If taken alongside Clenbuterol body fat drops rapidly thanks to the increase in metabolic rate and the solid muscle mass gains. This results in a significant strength gain in relation to body weight, a crucial aspect of conditioning for fighting in the cage. 

Despite the fact that Tren is up to four times as anabolic as most testosterone esters, some users who inject it will still experience androgen related side effects such as increased acne and prostrate hypertrophy. Tren still activates the androgen receptor and therefore fighters who take it should anticipate a number of problems. Tren also enhances strength and muscle size by increasing satellite cell sensitivity to an increase in Insulin-like growth factor and Fibroblast growth factor. This results in much greater protein synthesis allowing larger amounts of nitrogen to be retained by the body, thus creating a more anabolic environment. 

The Trenbolone that circulates within the black market today is very different from the veterinary steroid Finajet, which was popular amongst body builders in the 1980s. Finajet contained Trenbolone acetate, which was a very fast acting form of this drug. The Tren that is used today by some MMA fighters, contains a much different ester which extends the activity of the drug for more than two weeks. This is an advantage to drug enhanced fighters, in that injections are less frequent, however, it is also a disadvantage as the drug can be detected in the body for longer after the last injection. 

Tren is a favorite amongst some MMA fighters because it produces massive strength gains, with minimal increases in body mass. However, other androgenic steroids such as Dianabol may be used by MMA fighters due to its short half life (can not be detected after a few days) and because of the mass gains it can produce. This steroid has been around for many decades and was used to great effect by Russian weight lifters back in the 1970s.

Dianabol, has a very strong anabolic and androgenic effect which manifests itself in an enormous buildup of strength and muscle mass in its users. The additional body weight consists of a true increase in tissue (hyper-trophy of muscle fibers) and, in particular, in a noticeable retention of fluids. 

Because Dianabol’s half life time is only four hours (approximately), dosages are split up throughout the day. Tablets normally come as 5mg, and it is normal to take two of these three or four times a day. Fighters usually take this drug during meal times as well, in order to avoid any stomach pains that have been associated with its administration. Dianabol is normally out of the blood stream and beyond detection after three days, but this depends on the manufacturer. The fighter, however, should not proceed under the assumption that a urine test will be negative since the elimination of the metabolites of the substance Methandrostenolone through the urine continues much longer. 

The reason why Dianabol works well for MMA fighters is that endogenous cortisone production is reduced by 50-70%. Thus, Dianabol considerably slows down the rate at which protein is broken down in the muscle cell and enhances recovery greatly. Recovery is a massive problem for MMA fighters who train for many intense hours. Any drug that can enhance recovery is a massive advantage in the cage-fighting game. 

Unfortunately however, Dianabol has many side effects and so dosages are often kept relatively low (less than 25mg a day). Since Dianabol is 17-alpha alkylated it causes a considerable strain on the liver, even if a small dosage is consumed. Fighters who take these drugs need to be aware of this and should have liver enzyme values checked at regular intervals. Another problem with Dianabol, is that it causes a rapid increase in body weight due to high water retention. High blood pressure and a faster heartbeat can also occur. Fighters may consume Nolvadex and Proviron to reduce water retention further, but the problem can not be eliminated completely. 

Dianabol is often taken at the start of a cycle since it is so fast acting. It is combined with injectable drugs, and Dianabol is simply the kick-start to get the cycle working as quickly as possible, whilst the injectable is taking effect. This drug promotes drastic protein synthesis, enhances glycogenolysis and stimulates strength in a very direct and fast-acting way. However, Dianabol is not ideal for MMA fighters in that it can actually reduce endurance due to increased bodyweight and blood pressure. Like Deca, Dianabol is usually taken during a strength or bulking stage of training and away from a competition. 

Testosterone – is another steroid that is popular amongst some MMA fighters. There are many different types or esters – prop, cyp, suspension and enanthate are just a few. They all have slightly different properties. Prop for example is very fast acting and as such would be useful for drug tested fighters as it does not remain detectable for long. However, one disadvantage for the user of this is that more frequent injections are required, and painful injection sites are not ideal during training. Another product called Sustanon tends to incorporate a number of different testosterone esters and therefore has the properties of all. 

Each Sostanon 250 ampule contains the following: 
Testosterone propionate 30 mg 
Testosterone phenylpropionate 60 mg 
Testosterone isocaproate 60 mg 
Testosterone decanoate 100 mg 

250 mgs. / 1 cc. vials or preloads. Sostanon 250 is one of the most widely used steroids and for good reason. It is precisely set up to give the fighter results for up to a month after injection because each of the testosterones that make up Sostanon 250 stay active in the body for differing time periods. It gives the fighter almost instant results that they can feel since it will hit \them about three hours after the first injection. The reason for this is the fast acting properties of the testosterone propionate that is in it. The testosterone phenylpropionate and Testosterone Isocaproate will typically stay active for about two to three weeks each and the Testosterone Decanoate stays active in the body for upto a month. 

Sostanon is highly anabolic as well as highly androgenic. This makes it a favorite of those trying to bulk up and gain size and weight. The typical side effects can include acne, water retention, excitation or increased aggressiveness, sleeplessness, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, hypertension, prolonged blood clotting time, increased libido. Females have reported: menstrual irregularities, post-menopausal bleeding, swelling of the breasts, hoarseness or deepening of the voice, enlargement of the clitoris, and water retention. Men have reported: cases of impotence, chronic priapism, epididymitis, inhibition of testicular function, oligospermia, and bladder irritability. 

TRT stands for Testosterone Replacement Therapy. TRT is basically a smaller dose of a steroid, such as Testosterone Enanthate, that raises testosterone levels to those seen in a healthy 20-30 year old male. Many people who are on TRT now, need it because they abused steroids in the past.

If you take steroids for extended periods of time, or on a regular basis – you will be unable to produce testosterone yourself as soon as you stop – or at least, you will produce significantly less than you should. This will mean you will have to take some kind of steroid for the rest of your life, unless you want the testosterone levels of a 5 year old!

This down-regulation of natural-testosterone production, and the very real risk of infection from injecting steroids from ‘underground labs’ (usually someone’s garage), are the 2 main reasons to stay away from steroids – unless you can afford a private doctor!

Anabolic Steroids Side Effects

The main problems however tend to be acne, hair loss, prostrate enlargement and testicular atrophy. Vitamin B5 is effective in acne treatment, DHT inhibitors will help with hair loss, Saw Palmetto (a herbal remedy) will help prevent prostrate trouble and HCG can be used to maintain testicle size. It is important to remember however that these supplements can help reduce side effects, but do not eliminate them completely. In addition, drugs such as HCG carry their own serious side effects, and it is not advisable to take one prescription drug to enhance performance, but three or four is even more dangerous! Some individuals have report flu like symptoms at the start of a cycle. These symptoms include a higher than normal fever, stomach aches, being tired, etc. however, these side effects tend to go away after a few days . 

Other effective steroids that MMA fighters have considered using are Anavar and Equipoise. Anavar is considered a weak steroid, but is renowned for producing gains in strength without water retention or many side effects. It is also effective at increasing muscular endurance in that small doses of this drug massively increase ATP and Creatine phosphate levels within the muscle cell, giving greater recovery and explosive power and strength. 

Equipoise is a veterinary steroid that is effective due to its ability to increase red blood cell count. Endurance can be massively increased by this highly anabolic drug. If a fighter chooses to take this drug, then, as with all cycles it must be followed with post-cycle-treatment. Drugs such as HCG and ‘Clomid’ need to be taken to increase endogenous testosterone production once more, and prevent gains from being lost. The dosages and timings of the administration of these drugs will depend on the cycle that was undertaken by the fighter. 

Another nasty side effect of taking steroids is they often convince the user to get terrible tattoos and share lion memes on social media

Quote from anonymous user

In conclusion it can be seen that although steroids may be effective at enhancing performance, they are extremely dangerous and their administration can result in instant death. There is no safe way of taking these drugs, as the only way to prevent side effects is to take even more drugs which can damage long term health even further. If longevity in the sport is your aim, they stay clean, and more importantly stay healthy. In my opinion, a fighter can take no pride from winning, if he/she is dependent on drugs in order to train and perform. 


Selective Androgenic Receptor Modulators (SARMs) are the new kid on the block in terms of PEDs. They are designed to specifically target receptors that build muscle & bone density; and it is claimed therefore, that they don’t have the same side effects as steroids. They are legal but banned by every sports organisation that I’m aware of.

SARMs can be purchased legally online. However, as the industry is very much unregulated at present, lots of the SARMs on the market contain no actual SARMs, or smaller quantities than stated on the label. Some have been found to contain steroids.

SARMs can suppress testosterone production from the testes, but less so than steroids. They can help prevent injuries by increasing bone strength and connective tissue. They also help to speed up recovery between MMA and S & C sessions. See our full article on MMA recovery here.

They are currently considered research chemicals and not suitable for human consumption – as nobody know the long term side effects.

SARMs are relatively weak compared to steroids, however they can be effectively used to maintain muscle mass, whilst in a calorie deficit – when for example, attempting to make weight for a fight.

They are still dangerous however and there are no long term studies to confirm there safety.

Click here to see a research paper on SARMs in terms of medicinal use (usually at small dosages!)

Click here to see a log about the SARM called ostarine

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for entertainment purposes only. Drew Griffiths completely condemns the use of steroids in sport. This article was produced upon the editor’s request and was constructed by the author solely through research, and not first hand experience. It is very dangerous to take any drugs without a prescription. Many of the substances named above are illegal and banned from sporting competitions. The use of Steroids or performance enhancing drugs to give yourself a sporting edge over other athletes is highly unsportsmanlike. 

For safer ways to enhance recovery – see our MMA Recovery article here

See our Targeted Ketogenic Diet Plan here

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Strength Training in Older Adults (Starting Exercise at 50+)

A phrase or remark used quite often when discussing certain forms of exercise is ‘I’m too old for that now’. This is not true, for most types of exercise at least, maybe for wrestling or bungee jumping, but not weight training

There is much interest in the aging process at present. The population of Britain is aging and as such so is the work force. In order that people are still able to undertake manual work into their 50s and 60s, the fitness industry and government should provide more information and incentives to older adults who have remained sedentary for years. One of themost obvious, and yet misunderstood aspects of the aging process is the undesirable change in body composition and physical appearance. Men and women add about 10 pounds of bodyweight every decade during the midlife years.

The typical response to this, is to diet. However, dieting without exercise does not have a very high record of success. This is thought to be due to the fact that about 25% of weight lost during low calorie dieting is muscle tissue, which is already in short supply among senior individuals.

Research shows that men and women lose more than five pounds of lean body mass (mostly muscle) every decade of life due to disuse. So the 10 pound per decade increase in bodyweight represents a 20 pound problem with respect to body composition.

This progressive loss of muscle tissue is largely responsible for a two to five percent decrease in resting metabolism. Dieting may exacerbate the problem by further reducing muscle tissue and metabolic rate. 

While adults should participate in aerobic and endurance activities, one study of middle aged runners, should that these individuals lost 5 pounds of muscle mass over a 10 year period in spite of their activity levels. However, more positive is that research has also shown that seniors adapt to resistance training virtually the same as younger individuals. Strength training is effective for adding muscle, losing fat, raising metabolic rate and increasing daily energy expenditure. A study conducted in Tuft University, USA, showed that after 12 weeks of strength training, for 30 minutes, 3 times a week, raised the resting metabolism of senior individuals (50 – 80) by 7%, and increased their daily energy expenditure by around 15%. They replaced muscle, reduced fat, and could eat about 350 more kcals a day in the process! 

In addition to replacing muscle tissue, research reveals that men and women of all ages can increase their bone mineral density through strength training. Another benefit of strength training is enhanced glucose metabolism, that may reduce the risk of adult onset diabetes.

Research has shown a 23% increase in glucose metabolism after 4 months of strength training. Another study by Koffler – 1992, showed a 56% increase in gastrointestinal transit speed after 3 months of strength training. This is thought to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Other benefits of strength training include alleviation of arthritic pain (Rish et al, 1992) lower resting blood (contrary to what many believe!) and improved blood cholesterl profiles (Hurley et al 1988). In fact, it is now accepted as fact, that weight training is an essential component of a senior individuals exercise regime.

So what type of resistance exercise Can Older People Do? 

Training Exercise: One exercise for each of the major muscle groups. One study reported excellent results from just three compound exercises – leg press, bench press and compound row. 

Training frequency: Two or three times per week. DeMichele et al (1996) found that two and three training sessions per week were equally as effective in terms of strength development, whilst Westcott and Guy (1996) found that training twice a week was 90% as effective as training 3 times a week in terms of body composition. 

Training Sets: Studies comparing one and three sets of exercise found no significant differences in terms of strength for the first three months of training. It is therefore suggested that senirs begin with performing one set of each exrcise. 

Training Resistance: Generally loads of 60 to 90% of maximal are required for muscular development. Training with 70 to 80% of maximum resistance is generally recommend for al. no injuries have yet been reported in seniors training at this intensity. 

Training Repititions: Most people can perform about 8 repetitions with their 80% maximum, and 12 repetitions with their 70% maximum. Therefore between 8 and 12 repititions is generally recommended. 

Training Progression: It is advisable to add a little weight whenever 12 repetitions can be completed in proper form adding about 5% or less is recommended. 

Training Speed: It is recommended that all individuals (unless training for sport), take two seconds fot the more demanding lifting phase (concentric) and four seconds for the less demanding lowering phase (eccentric). 

Training Technique: Seniors should always practice proper posture, position stability and back support. Older adults should breathe continuously to avoid unnecessary short term rises in blood pressure. It is recommended to exhale on the more demanding lifting phase and inhale on the lowering movement (eccentric). 

Should Elderly People Exercise with Weights?

Regular strength training in seniors has been shown to increase muscle mass by more than one pound per month, and increase resting metabolism by more than two percent per month, thereby reversing the degenerative processes associated with aging.

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Limiting Factors of Human Performance

For information purposes only. Exercise at your own risk

Please note – studies in the blog post are referenced by the scientist’s name and then the year in brackets. eg. Williams (1994) refers to a scientist called Williams, who carried out a relevant study in 1994. “et al” basically means “and colleagues” i.e. other scientists helped out.

From all areas of sport and exercise, there are many factors that contribute to a successful overall performance. According to Williams (1994):

‘physical performance is mainly a function of an individual’s size, shape, sex, and age’.

Although these factors stated by Williams play a large part in the overall performance of an athlete, success in sport at a performance level depends on more important aspects. 

110m hurdles

Since pioneering research carried out by Hill et al (1923) in the area of oxygen uptake and its effects on physical performance, much research has followed to examine the limiting factors of performance.

In recent years, there have been a number of researchers challenging the early studies of Hill et al, and more recent research, carried out mainly by Professor Noakes, has caused many people to reconsider the main limitations to physical performance. 

This post will examine the current theories and statements regarding the limiting factors of physical performance, focusing mainly on the affecting factors of oxygen uptake and muscle demand that affect physical performance. The second part of the paper will review the current research derived mainly from studies carried out by Bassett et al and Noakes to identify, and challenge, the current theory relating to the limiting factors of physical performance. 

Maximum Oxygen Uptake and Muscle Demand: 
Background and Current Theory 

The importance that the limiting factors of oxygen uptake and muscle demand have on performance was highlighted by Noakes (1987), who reported that :

‘improvements in VO2max that result from physical training or other interventions have been explained on the basis of either enhancing oxygen delivery to the tissues, or of peripheral adaptations including increased muscle capillarisation and an increased mitochondrial oxidative capacity’. 

NOAKES (1987)

Maximum oxygen uptake is defined as ‘the highest rate at which oxygen can be taken up and utilised by the body during severe exercise’ Bassett et al (2000). It is more commonly known as VO2max, and is frequently used to indicate the cardiorespiratory fitness of an individual. Due to this, there has been a lot of interest in identifying the physiological factors that limit VO2max ,and also determining the role that it has in endurance performance. Current research is split as to whether VO2max is the determining factor to endurance performance, with Noakes (1987) stating that ‘maximal oxygen uptake does not limit endurance performance’, and Bassett et al (2000) stating that ‘overwhelming research has shown that performance in endurance events is limited by oxygen delivery’. 

If we are to determine the role that maximum oxygen uptake and various muscle factors play in endurance performance, we need to understand its limiting factors and the part they play in the process. 

On this issue, Bassett et al (2000) stated that

‘the pathway for O2 from the atmosphere to the mitochondria contains a series of steps, each of which could represent a potential impediment to O2 flux’.

Through reading a plethora of papers on the limiting factors to oxygen uptake, there seems to be three variables of the oxygen transport process that are regularly discussed. 

1) The Pulmonary Diffusing Capacity

According to Bassett et al (2000), ‘in the average individual exercising at sea level, the lungs perform their job of saturating the arterial blood with O2 extremely well. Even during maximal work, the arterial O2 saturation remains around 95%’. Although untrained athletes work efficiently at sea level, Dempsey et al (1984) stated ‘elite athletes are more likely to undergo arterial O2 desaturation during maximal work compared to untrained individuals’. 

This occurs because trained individuals have a much higher maximal cardiac output than untrained individuals, 40 L-min – 1 compared to 25 L-min – 1 (Brooks et al 1996). On this issue, Dempsey et al (1984) stated ‘this leads to a decreased transit time of the red blood cells in the pulmonary capillary. Consequently, there may not be enough time to fully saturate the blood with O2 before it exits the pulmonary capillary’. 

According to Powers (1989), ‘this pulmonary limitation can be overcome by O2 enriched air’. Powers (1989) also stated that ‘exercise ability can be increased with supplemental O2 which increases the driving force for O2 diffusion into the blood’. 

The ability to increase exercise capacity in this manner shows the presence of a pulmonary limitation on performance. 

2) Maximum Cardiac Output

Early research carried out by Hill et al (1923) speculated that maximal cardiac output values of 30 – 40 L-min – 1 were possible in trained athletes. This research was based on knowledge of the Fick equation (see appendix I) and assumed values for VO2max arterial oxygen content, and mixed venous oxygen content. 

The affect cardiac output has on the VO2max of an athlete is one that has received many longitudinal studies aimed at identifying it as a imitator to performance. Saltin et al (1968) examined VO2max in sedentary individuals after 20 days of bed rest, and 50 days of training. The difference in VO2max between the deconditioned and trained status resulted mostly from a difference in cardiac output. These findings were echoed by Ekblom et al (1968) who carried out a similar study and found that 16 weeks of physical training increased VO2max from 3.15 to 3.68 L – min –1. This improvement in VO2 resulted from an 8.0% increase in cardiac output, and a 3.6% increase in a – VO2 difference.

To support the theory that a – VO2 difference is not a variable that determines VO2max, reported by Saltin et al (1968) , Cerretelli et al (1987) stated that ‘the oxygen content of arterial blood is approximately 200ml O2 –L-; in venous blood draining from maximally working muscles it falls to 20 – 30 ml O2’. This was also supported by Brooks et al (1996) who stated ‘in most healthy people living at sea-level, the oxygen capacity of blood is approximately 18 – 30ml in maximally working muscles’. These results show that during heavy exercise, there is little amounts of oxygen available to be taken out of the blood. 

To conclude his results, Cerretelli et al (1987) stated that ‘the dominant mechanism for the increase in VO2max with training must be an increase in blood flow’. This conclusion was supported by Bassett et al (2000), who stated that ‘it is estimated that 70 – 85% of the limitation in VO2max is linked to maximal cardiac output’. 

3) Oxygen Carrying Capacity

Another method of altering the O2 transport to working muscles is by increasing the overall oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. The oxygen carrying capacity of the blood is also a factor that will determine the maximum oxygen uptake of the athlete. This area is one which has received a lot of attention for the wrong reasons as induced erythrocythemia, commonly known as blood doping, has been a common way of enhancing physical performance in recent years. Athletes and sportsman have used this method to gain unfair advantage over opponents, and is a method which is often difficult to detect. 

According to Gledhill (1985), blood doping is ‘the practice of artificially increasing a persons volume of total red blood cells through removal, storage, and subsequent reinfusion’. This procedure has been shown to increase VO2max by 4.9% (Gledhill,1985 ).

In blood doping, blood is withdrawn and stored. After the persons blood volume and red blood cells rise to their normal levels, the stored red blood cells are reinfused, thus increasing the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity. Another form of adjusting the levels of red blood cells present in the blood is to take the drug erythropoietin, often known as EPO. By taking EPO, the production of red blood cells are increased, leading to the same benefits found by blood doping. The taking of this drug is also illegal, but easier to detect than blood doping. 

To conclude, it seems that there is a number of different techniques and strategies that can be adopted to manipulate the oxygen carrying capacity. Unfortunately, a lot of these techniques are illegal and give athletes unfair advantages over others. The ethical issue’s aside, there is evidence shown above that the manipulation of the oxygen carrying capacity is a major limitator to physical performance, particularly endurance events. This was also the conclusion of Bassett et al (2000), who stated that ‘the evidence that VO2max is limited by the cardiac output, the oxygen carrying capacity, and in some cases the pulmonary system, is undeniable’. 

Muscle Factors and Their Limitations Since the challenging of theories of Hill et al (1923) by Noakes (1987), we have become more aware of the possibility of various muscle factors being the major limiting factor to physical performance. Various theories and opinions raised in Noakes’s ‘Contemporary’ views have forced professionals to consider the differing effects that various muscle factors have on the overall performance. 

1) Mitochondrial Enzyme Levels 
There have been many studies carried out to identify what effect differing levels of Mitochondrial enzymes have in working muscles. Theory has stated that an increased level of mitochondrial enzymes will be able to extract more O2 from the blood and utilise it faster , but does this have an effect on overall VO2max? This theory was researched and subsequently supported by Holloszy et al (1984) who stated that ‘the increase in muscle mitochondria may allow a slightly greater extraction of O2 from the blood by the working muscles, thus contributing in a minor way to an increased VO2max’.


On this issue, Saltin et al (1977) found that ‘there is only a modest increase in VO2max (20 – 40%) despite a 2:2 fold increase in mitochondrial enzymes’. This is consistent with the view that VO2max is limited by oxygen delivery and not muscle mitochondria. This again was supported by Bassett et al (2000) who found that ‘VO2max is constrained by oxygen delivery and not by the mitochondria’s ability to consume oxygen’. 

2) Peripheral Diffusion Gradients 
In research carried out to analyse limiting factors to VO2max, Honig et al (1992) found that ‘ the principle site of resistance to O2 diffusion occurs between the surface of the red blood cell and the sarcolemma’.

Due to these results, they concluded that ‘O2 delivery is not the limiting factor, and simply increasing blood flow to isolated muscle is not sufficient to cause VO2 to increase’. This view was also shown by Bassett et al (1997), who stated that without a peripheral diffusion gradient, oxygen uptake will not increase’. Of the two main muscle limitators, peripheral diffusion gradients and mitochondrial enzyme levels, it is still unclear as to the extent that these muscle factors inhibit performance compared to oxygen transport. On this issue, Honig et al concluded that ‘VO2max is a distributed property, dependant on the interaction of O2 transport and mitochondrial O2 uptake. However, we cannot determine which of these two factors limits VO2max in the human performing maximal exertion’. 

Cellular Metabolism as a Limiting Factor 
Noakes (1987) has stated in his various research that ‘oxygen supply does not limit either VO2max or endurance performance’. Rather, the limiting factors are biomechanical. According to Brooks et al (1996), ‘limiting factors include decreases in the rate and force of myofibrillar cross-bridge cycle activity’.

Brooks et al (1996) also stated that

“other limiting factors may be calcium transport mechanisms or decreased myofibrillar ATPase activity”

This evidence shows that there are other physiological factors to discuss, in terms of performance limiters, other than oxygen delivery and muscle factors. 

Central or Peripheral Limitations 
This remains an area that has received much debate in regards to central factors being the major limiting factor rather than peripheral. Most of the modern day research has been published, and subsequently refuted with regards to improper technique or results. Early research was carried out by Saltin et al (1976), who conducted studies examining the effects on one-legged cycling performance on VO2max. 

The results highlighted a 23% increase compared to a 7% increase in the control leg. The authors concluded that ‘the disparity between legs was attributed to peripheral adaptations occurring within the trained skeletal muscle’. And ‘peripheral factors were dominant in limiting VO2max’. These results are similar to the previously stated study by Secher et al (1979), who found that the main limitation was down to peripheral factors. This area has not received as much research as that of the cardiorespiratory system because of the difficulty’s associated with testing central and peripheral factors, and the ease of testing all areas of the cardiorespiratory system. 

Critical Review of Limiting factors to Physical Performance 

‘Classical Vs Contemporary’ 
In recent years, the classical theories of Hill et al (1923) have come under scrutiny regarding their factual content and accuracy. The importance of this early research has been highlighted by Bassett et al (1997) who stated that ‘Hill et al were among the first to describe the concept of an upper limit to the body’s ability to consume oxygen’. This challenging of theory that has provided early understanding of the role of maximal oxygen uptake, has caused many researchers to review their current understanding of the limiting factors to physical performance. This contemporary view of limiting factors by Noakes is as follows. 

Noakes believed that exercise fatigue was not controlled by the muscles or heart, but by a ‘governer’ in the brain which guards against exhaustion and induces the muscles to cease functioning.

According to Noakes ( 1987) ‘the brain is in total control and regulates the amount of effort you put into exercise’. He concluded that ‘all the evidence shows that the brain will only allow you to use a small amount of muscle bulk – about 20% – after just 30 seconds. If you did keep going, you would produce too much heat, overstress the heart, and it could go into failure’. 

Since Noakes (1987) published his contemporary views on limiting factors, many researchers have either agreed with his views, or defended the original theories by Hill and Lupton (1923) that have provided the basic theory behind the majority of their own research. Through analysing the papers released, there seems to be key limiting factors that are being discussed. 

This section will analyse the evidence provided by a number of research papers to determine what factors determine physical performance, and to try to answer the key questions regularly asked in current research. 

1) Is the VO2 Plateau Proof of a Cardiorespiratory Limitation? 
The basis for this question is from the belief that maximal exercise performance is limited by the inability to provide working muscles with oxygen at a rate consistent with demand. This belief the major factor challenged by Noakes (1987) who stated that ‘one of the most fundamental beliefs in exercise physiology is that performance during maximum exercise of short duration is limited by the inability of the heart and lungs to provide oxygen at a rate sufficiently fast to fuel energy production by the active muscle mass’. 

This belief has originated from Hill et al (1923), and is one of the key theories that are to be challenged. 

One of the most common errors in the issue of the ‘plateau phenomenon’ is the belief that Hill et al (1923) published data claiming to show a plateau during a maximal oxygen consumption experiment. This is untrue, and the authors actually felt that there was no plateau present in the data. According to Noakes (1987), ‘the authors believed that there was no ‘plateau phenomenon’, and that humans reached a highest value of 4 L-min-1. The oxygen intake attains its maximum value, which in athletic individuals of about 75kg is strikingly constant of about 4L-min-1’. 

In response to this, Bassett et al (1997) stated that ‘even under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, a variable percentage (30 – 95%) of subjects which exhibit a plateau in VO2 at the end of a graded exercise test’. It seems that each author, Bassett and Noakes, has interpreted the data differently, and come to their own radically different conclusion. It seems that Noakes has reached this conclusion in error. On this issue Bassett et al (1997) stated that ‘Noakes chose to re-fit Hill’s velocity versus VO2 data using a linear equation. We are puzzled by this re-interpretation of A.V Hills data, since it appears to be biased towards the view that a plateau does not exist’. 

Post Hill et al, many studies have followed in this area, with many researchers prior to Noakes challenging the theory. 

Taylor et al (1955) during their study concluded that they were able to find a plateau in 108 of his subjects. This at the time seemed like proof of its existence, but the results collected were recommended to be ‘treated with circumspection’ according to Wyndhan (1959). A study carried out by Cumming et al (1972) found ‘only 43% showed the equivalent of a plateau phenomenon’. 

To conclude their study, the author stated that ‘the plateau is theoretically exact, in practice its much less so’. Similar results were collected by Freedson et al (1986) who found ‘less than 40% of 301 adults undergoing maximal exercise testing showed a plateau in oxygen consumption’. 

It seems that many researchers have experienced plateau’s in there subjects during maximal testing, but it seems that it is not a major variable in the issue of what limits maximal performance. If studies have recorded less than 50% of their subjects experienced a plateau in oxygen utilisation, there must be other variables that are limiting the performance. 

This view is also shown by Bassett et al (1997) who stated that

‘VO2max sets the upper limit for energy production endurance events, but does not determine the final performance’. 

Bassett 1997

This applies to physical performance conducted at sea-level, and there will be differing limitating factors in regards to performance at differing altitudes or climates. At higher altitudes, the decreased PO2 gradient between the alveolus and the pulmonary capillary can result in a pulmonary diffusion limitation (Bassett, 1997). 

2) Is the Cardiorespiratory System the Major Limitation? 
It seems that popular belief is that the cardiorespiratory system is the major limiting factor of physical performance. According to Wagner et al (1991), ‘ VO2max must be determined by the capability to deliver O2 to muscle mitochondria via the transport system, rather than by the properties of the muscles contractile machinery’. 

As already stated, the cardiac output of an athlete is a limiting factor as an increased cardiac output may not allow full saturation of the blood with O2.On this issue, Hill et al (1923) proposed that ‘maximal cardiac output was the primary factor explaining individual differences in VO2max’. This view was supported by research carried out by Lindhard (1984) who measured cardiac outputs of 20 L-min-1 in average subjects during exercise, and demonstrated the strong linear relationship between cardiac output and VO2’. Although a high cardiac output is a limiting factor, other than O2 enriched air, beta blockers are used to control it. 

Research in this area carried out by Tesch (1985) stated that ‘beta blockers can decrease maximal heart rate by 25 – 30%, reducing cardiac output by 15 – 20%’. This de-limitation is a successful way of improving the capacity to saturate the blood with oxygen, but is impractical as it is illegal in professional sport. 

Research carried out by Secher et al (1979) showed the limitations that the cardiorespiratory system has on performance. They had seven subjects cycle for 20 minutes, and for the first 10 minutes the subjects pedalled at approximately 68% of their leg VO2max. They then added arm-cranking while continuing to maintain the same leg power output with the legs. The results showed that the cardiac output was unable to supply the demands of the combined muscle mass, and still maintain blood pressure. 

The results were not supported by Bergh et al (1999) who stated that ‘adding maximal arm exercise to maximal leg exercise does not increase peak oxygen uptake more than expected’. 

This limitation of the cardiorespiratory system in contrast to the following evidence supporting the skeletal system to work efficiently during intense exercise has shown the main limitations that are present. 

According to Bassett et al (2000), ‘if isolated knee extensions are performed with one leg, the amount of active muscle mass is only 2 – 3kg. Under these conditions, the blood flow reaches 240mL per 100g tissue, and oxygen uptake can attain values 300 – 400 mL ; kg –1 min’. 

Bassett et al (2000), who reviewed the two studies, stated that ‘they demonstrate that the central cardiorespiratory system is the primary determinant of VO2max in the average individual performing large muscle group activities’. 

This conclusion was also found by Rowell et al (1986) who stated that ‘today, most physiologists believe that the capacity of the cardiorespiratory system to transport oxygen to the tissues is the principle determinant of VO2max’. 

I feel that through reading the plethora of research on the subject of what limits human performance, there does not seem to be a common theory adopted. There always seems to be, as Bassett stated of Noakes, ‘iconoclast’s’ who will seek to disrepute evidence as soon as it’s published. 

If I am to establish my own opinion on the issue, I will need to disregard a lot of the evidence that has been published by both Noakes and Bassett et al, as they seemed to lose the perspective of what they were aiming for. The continuing ‘rebuttals’ published by both authors seemed more about disproving the other, and less about actually proving what the key limitations are. 

I feel that the evidence that I have collected and presented has led me to believe that the main imitator to exercise performance is that of the cardiorespiratory system. Many studies have concluded with cardiac output and pulmonary diffusion being linked, and together being the main imitator. This is turn leads to another limitation of performance, in the form of mitochondrial enzyme levels. 

There is not one primary factor that alone limits performance, but there are many that affect in differing amounts. A comparison would be that of a ‘spider’s web’ effect were many factors together creating the overall product, and weakness in one area can affect the overall structure. 

I have shown evidence that states a higher level of mitochondrial enzymes present does not necessarily lead to increased efficiency of removing O2 from the blood, and preventing the build up of lactic acid. This was shown to be the case in studies that I have previously included, and shows that this cannot be included as a main limiting factor because of its dependency on other variables. 

I must state though that I believe Noakes should be credited in challenging the original theories of Hill et al and challenging fundamental principles, but I think that often he has manipulated findings and statements to fit his own contemporary views. 

This view was shared by Bergh et al (1999), who stated that ‘Noakes’s line of reasoning has not honoured the basic fundamental principles very well’. Bergh et al also stated that ‘his (Noakes) two papers demonstrate the consequences of violating those fundamental principles’. Therefore, neither his evaluation of classical versus contemporary viewpoints nor his rejection of what he calls the ‘cardiovascular/anaerobic’ models becomes convincing.

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Neck Bridges for MMA

Your spine if very precious and important! Don’t risk injuring it with neck bridges.

Bridges are traditionally used by wrestlers and boxers to develop strength in their neck. A strong neck can help to reduce the risk of concussion and also reduce the risk of an injury to the neck during competition.

Neck bridges certainly work for developing huge neck muscles, but they also compress the discs in the cervical spine. This can lead to acute, and/or chronic injuries to the neck including prolapsed (or herniated) discs – which can literally lead to constant pain for the rest of your life. No joke, if you ‘pop’ one of the discs in your neck, it can cause all type of nerve problems, often meaning that you lose strength in one of your arms.

Bas Rutten & Kurt angle had neck problems, that caused one of their arms to pretty much waste away due to nerve issues.

Bas Rutten's Tiny Arm
Bus Rutten’s Tiny Arm (relatively tiny!)
Herniated disc on the right of above image – Image Source

Using bands or even manual resistance (i.e. your own hand) can be a great alternative to neck bridges.

For example, you can simply place both hands on your forehead, and push back and forth (slowly) as you nod your head backwards and forwards against the resistance of your own hands. This can also work well with a band.

You can then repeat this exercise but with a lateral-flexion – i.e. moving your right ear towards your right shoulder and then your left ear towards your left shoulder.

Isometrics are also safer than neck bridges. Push against your hands or even a wall with your forehead for 20 seconds. Start with your head already against the wall, you shouldn’t move at all, just push against it without actually moving!

If you still really want to bridge, there are a few modifications which make it a bit safer. For example you could use a bench, or even a stability ball (this is still not ideal and still risky):

The other weird thing people do is bite on a towel and hang weights on it, and then flex and extend the neck. If you can afford the dentist and a gym, it might have some merit. Anthony Joshua is doing this below – it should be more slow and controlled, the weight is too heavy and he is risking an unneccessary injury:

The Iron Neck is probably the safest way to strengthen the neck:

Click here to see our blog post about the Iron Neck machine

Click here to read our complete guide to neck & spinal injuries

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Bompa Periodisation for MMA Strength & Conditioning

Always consult a doctor before undertaking a new exercise routine. If perform incorrectly these exercises could result in injury or death. 

Bompa periodisation

MMA has developed into one of the most technically and physically demanding sports on the planet. One of the greatest challenges that MMA places on its combatants; is the huge range and diversity of skills and fitness requirements that have to be studied and mastered in order to compete at the top level. Muay Thai, Freestyle Wrestling and Brazilian Ju Jitsu are just some of the disciplines that need to be addressed and practised, whilst speed, power, stamina, flexibility and strength are necessary physical proficiencies that form the foundation of every successful fighter. 

In order to accommodate and succeed in all aspects of MMA, a fighter should break down his training into a number of separate goals. A general base of fitness needs to be established, and then specific goals are set to reach peak performance at a set time.

It was outstanding athletics coach Arthur Lydiard that noted ‘Athletes tend to repeat basic training patterns over and over again, yet with each repetition of the basic plan they expect different (i.e. better) results’. Without a periodised training programme, fighters will reach a plateau relatively quickly. In addition, many sport scientist theorise that peak performance cannot be maintained and therefore should be in order to coincide with key competitions. 

long jump world record

The body does not adapt well to numerous overloads at once, and therefore the different aspects of physical fitness, such as strength, muscular endurance and V02Max training should have separate periods where they are emphasised. Motor learning is similar, in that the phases of learning are progressed through more quickly if the brain can focus on one or two things at a time.

Therefore, especially when an individual first enters the sport, it is best to separate technical training into stand up, wrestling, and ground fighting, and have periods of time when each is emphasised while the others are maintained. This is the foundation of periodised training. 

The organisation of training can be dated back to the ancient Olympics. However it was not until the early 1900s that specialists such as Murphy and Kotov suggested preparatory exercises and distinct phases. Research and further development into periodisation, took its next significant steps in the 1960s when Russian physiologist Leo Metveyev and Czechoslovakian sport scientist Tudor Bompa expanded and organized the periodization model. Since the 1960s, Bompa’s model has been tweaked and expanded upon by many sport scientists, but the basic fundamentals remain the same. 

In a non periodised training programme; all physical parameters contributing to sporting performance receive equal attention throughout the year. This approach is less efficient than a sensible periodised programme due to a number of factors: 

– lack of time in a single week to fully attend to all the parameters that influence performance 

– The development of some physiological parameters are interfered with by the concurrent development of others 

– Some components of performance can not be adequately developed before certain prerequisites are met. 

The complete periodisation of an MMA fighter’s routine would take at least a few days to put together. When you consider that every thing from striking power, core stability, nutrition and strength has to be periodised in relation to everything else. It gives me a headache just thinking about it! I’ll do my best to touch on strength training. 

The importance of strength training for MMA is not to build big muscles, since they are rarely equated with improvements in power. In fact strength should be built along side other important abilities such as reactive power and power endurance. Strength training must be structured into training phases leading into a competitive phase. If during fights, strength gains are not effectively utilised to produce peak performance, then the whole training has been useless regardless of muscle size. 

Gains in strength must lead to fight specific adaptations. A fighter requires the development of three main abilities: 

  • Power – refers to the state of applying force. When speed is integrated with maximum strength, power is the outcome. 
  • Reactive power – being able to repeat powerful movements in quick succession. For example, immediately throwing a jumping knee after falling to execute a double leg. 
  • Power endurance – the ability to throw hard strikes, and remain explosive throughout a fight. 

According to Tudor Bompa, strength training is time phased into five distinct sections. A typical periodised strength training plan would incorporate the following: 

Phase 1: Anatomical Adaptation 

Phase 2: Hypertrophy 

Phase 3: Maximal Strength 

Phase 4: Conversion Phase 

Phase 5: Transition 

Phase 1: Anatomical Adaptation 

The first phase is known as anatomical adaptation.

This phase forms the base of your strength. It is an important, but often neglected part of training. It is required after a medium to long term rest from training, or when beginning a strength based programme. Ligaments, tendons need to be overloaded extremely gradually, and the central nervous system needs to adapt to new weight lifting techniques before the muscle will become a limiting factor (rather than technique or ligament strength). The exercises in the phase will be general in nature, focusing on the often neglected qualities such as joint stability, strengthening connective tissues, correcting structural imbalances, and preparing for the more intense and specific training to follow. 

The length of time spent in this phase will depend on how long a fighter has rested from training and/or their training history. The novice fighter may spend 8 weeks in this phase, whilst others may spend as little as 2 to 3 weeks. When training for strength, intensity is fairly low, lifting weights of around 60% of 1 rep max, with high repetitions (between 8-15). 

The exercises incorporated in this phase will again depend on the fighter’s experience. Exercises such as deadlifts which put great stress on the core and require a fairly high level of technique, would not be recommended for those who have not trained with weight before. Similarly for those who have not weight trained before, it is recommended that repetitions are kept high, until correct technique and posture for each exercise is learnt accurately.

The length of the routine, including the number of sets will also depend upon the intensity and duration of other training undertaken (thai boxing, wrestling etc). Within the last 2 years, their has actually been an increasing body of evidence suggesting that training one set of an exercise to failure is just as effective in building strength as training with multiple sets. Although more research is required with elite athletes, this would suggest that a workout lasting as little as 30 minutes could be highly effective. 

The below programme is recommended for an individual with no experience of weight training. It consists mainly of compound and core exercises that will form a base of strength, core stability and technique for the rest of the programme. I have seen exercises such as deadlifts, squats and even variations of Olympic Lifts added into this phase. From my own personal experience I have found that due to a lack of core strength, and due to massive muscular imbalances in beginners, such exercises are rarely effective. Instead I have included exercises such as front squat and overhead squat which will predominantly stress and develop the core, and will prepare the body for the exercises to come. 

Remember to do ten minutes of cardio and mobility exercises before doing any weight training. As with every phase leave at least 1 day in between routines. 

Day 1 

Dumbell Bench Press 3 sets x 15 reps 

One arm Row 3 sets x 15 reps 

Single leg calf raise 2 x 20 

Leg Press 3 x 12 

Lunges 2 x 12 

Swiss ball crunches 2 x 15 

Plank 2 x Hold for 45 secs 

Side plank 2 x Hold for 45 secs 

Superman 4 x Hold for 20 secs 


Day 2 

Lat pull Down 2 x 15 

Swiss Ball Shoulder Press 2 x 12 

Dips 2 x 12 

Upright Row 2 x 12 

Back extensions 2 x 15 

Overhead squat 2 x 12 

Front squat 2 x 12 

Russian twists 2 x 20 

Cable wood chops 2 each side x 12 

Gluteal bridge 2 x Hold for 30 seconds 

Cuban Press 1 on each arm x 15 


Phase 2: Hypertrophy 

This phase may not be applicable to those fighting in specific weight categories, as the individual is likely to gain weight. This phase provides a solid foundation for building maximal strength, and provides greater muscle fibre mass, to increase the potential strength and power that can be attained. This phase is usually about 5 weeks long. Compound exercises should be emphasised in the weights room, with repetitions of 6 – 12. rest intervals should be varied; between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. In the following routine I have added squats, but with high repetitions. Before attempting heavy squats or deadlifts a fighter should first ensure that their posture is correct, that their core is strong and their flexibility is adequate. Common mistake include bowing of the knees and raising of the heels off the floor. Each exercise performed in this phase should be preceded with a warm up set of the same exercise; using a light weight for 15 + repetitions. 

Day 1 

Weighted Chin ups 3 x 10 

Barbell bench press 2 x 8 

Squats 3 x 12 

Barbell Row 2 x 10 

Multi directional lunges 2 x 12 

Leg extension 1 x 8 

Leg curls 1 x 10 

Hanging leg raises 2 x 12 

Swiss ball plank 2 x Hold for 30 secs 

Weighted crunches 2 x 12 

Day 2 

Dumbell Shoulder Press 3 x 10 

Weighted dips 3 x 10 

Upright row 2 x 8 

Seated bicep curls 2 x 12 

Front squat 3 x 10 

Dumbbell step ups 2 x 12 

Lateral raises 1 x 12 

Cuban Press 1 on each arm x 20 

Back extensions 2 x 15 

Cable wood chop 2 on each side x 10 

Swiss ball side crunch 1 on each side x 10 

Phase 3: Maximal Strength 

Maximal strength is often a limiting factor in power, and therefore is very important for an MMA fighter. Power = force x velocity, and training strength will increase the force that a fighter can potentially produce. Moreover, maximal strength and power is most often used during a fight and is therefore more specific to MMA than higher repetition training programmes. Each time a fighter shoots in for a double leg, and throws a flying knee, they are exerting their maximal force, rather than around 75% of maximum as with many bodybuilding protocols. 

Generally speaking, in this phase, the weights lifted should be 85% – 100% of 1 rep max, with repetitions from 1 to 6, and rest intervals 2 to 6 minutes long. However, I would not recommend doing 1 rep max exercises too often, and would never do them with isolation or core exercises. 

Remember to warm up and perform a warm up set before each exercise. Perform a number of warm up sets before completing a working set of deadlifts. I have separated the routine into 3 shorter workouts, to reduce the effect of fatigue on strength training. I would even be tempted to remove some of the isolation exercises such as calf raises, shrugs and French press is recovery effects other aspects of training. 

Day 1 

Weighted chin ups
1 set of 6 reps
1 set of 4 reps 

4 sets of:
6, 5, 4, 2, reps

One arm Row
2 sets on each arm of 6 reps

Weighted dips
2 sets of 8, 6 reps

French press 
2 sets of 8 reps 

Weighted crunches 2 sets of 8 reps

Hanging leg raises 2 sets of 10 reps

Swiss ball plank

2 sets
Hold for 1 minute 

Day 2 

Barbell Shoulder press
3 sets of:
6, 6, 4 reps

Full Squats
4 sets of 8, 8, 4, 2 reps

Partial Deadlifts
3 sets of 8, 6, 4 reps

Lateral raise 2 sets of 12 reps

High Pulls
3 sets of
6, 4, 2 reps 

Day 3 

Barbell Bench Press
3 sets of
8, 4, 2 reps

Incline close grip Bench Press 2 sets of
6, 4 reps

Barbell rear lunges
3 sets of 8, 6, 6 reps

3 sets of 8, 6, 4 reps

Standing calf raise
2 sets of 12, 8, 6 reps

Good mornings
2 sets
12, 8 reps

Cable wood chops
2 sets of 10 reps each side 

Phase 4: Conversion 

This phase is incorporated in order to convert all gains in strength, into more functional, sport specific abilities. Strength in the weights room forms a good base of strength and power, but in order for this to transfer directly to the cage, more specific exercises must be performed. In order to convert strength into more sport specific power, exercises such as Olympic lifts and plyometrics should be performed. Before undertaking these exercises, it is important that the fighter has a strong core, a high level of proprioception and flexibility. All of which should have been built in the previous three phases. 

Maximal strength training has taught the body to exert maximal effort against a maximal load. Power training will teach the body to exert maximal force against less resistance, and with greater speed. In addition, functional exercises will develop the specific coordination and neuromuscular pathways needed in order to perform take downs, strikes and other techniques with maximal speed and power. 

This is the phase of training where injury is most likely to occur. The fighter should warm up with at least 10 minutes of cardio, of an intensity of around 75% max heart rate. This will not only reduce the risk of injuries, but muscles have been shown to be more explosive and powerful when warm. Complete at least 2 warm up sets before each exercise. 

Day 1 

Power Clean

4 sets of
6, 4, 2, 2 reps

Push Press
3 sets of
6, 6, 4 reps

Squat – done at speed
3 sets of 8, 6, 6 reps

Plyometric press ups

2 sets of 8 reps 

Reverse lunges
2 sets of 10 reps

Hurdle Jumps
2 sets of 10 reps

Lateral Barrier Jumps

2 sets of 20 reps 

Weighted Swiss ball crunches

2 sets of 12 reps

Russian twists
2 sets of 20 reps

Day 2 

Weighted Towel Chin ups 3 sets of 6 reps 

Weighted jumps
3 sets of 6 reps 

Front squat
3 sets of 8 reps

Depth jumps
2 sets of 8 reps

Medicine ball chest pass 
3 sets of 10 reps

Push up depth jump

2 sets of 12 reps

High pulls
3 sets of 8, 6, 4 reps

Medicine Ball oblique Side throws
2 sets of 6 reps each side 

Good mornings
2 sets of 12 reps

Phase 5: Transition 

This phase is simply to recover from the previous training; to give muscles, joints and connective tissue a good rest. Light cardio, preferably none-impact such as cycling, and stretching is the only exercise that I would recommend here. This phase should last for 2 – 6 weeks depending on if any injuries have been incurred. 

Well; there you have it. This is a very general and basic example of a periodised programme. I fighter should work backwards from the date of his/her fight, and look to peak on that day. Training should be tapered so that the fighter is fully recovered and rested on the day of the fight. Training in the weights room should be adapted to fit your personal training programme.

Remember that even short training programmes with 1 set of each exercise can be very effective and is well worth doing.

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High Altitude Training – The Research

Live High, Train Low – MMA, Boxing & the Research of High Altitude Training

High Altitude Gives Power Athletes an Advantage- Beamon?s Long Jump at altitude, set a record that has stood for 23 years.

For information purposes only. Exercise at your own risk. 

After Tito Ortiz was “out-cardio’d” by Frank Shamrock, the story goes that Tito began to focus on his endurance and began training at high altitude in Big Bear, California.

But why? What is the advantage of training at high altitude?

When the Olympic Games were held in Mexico City in 1968, the results for the long and middle distance events were not particularly impressive.

The 1500m was won by Kino, in an Olympic record time, but Biwott won the 300m in a time 4% greater than the world record, Temu won the 10,000m in a time 7% greater than the world record, and Wolde’s winning time for the marathon was 8.5% longer than the world record.

From this athletes and sport scientists began to investigate in more depth, the effect of altitude upon performance, and also the physiological adaptations that take place during altitude training. 

Daniels and Oldbridge in 1970 studied the effect of intermittent altitude training on 3 and 1 mile running events. In accordance with other studies such as those carried out by Balke (1965) and Dill & Adams (1971), it was concluded that altitude training had a beneficial effect upon endurance performance.

In contrast however, studies conducted by Buskrik et al (1967) and Faulkner et al (1968) showed no effect of altitude training.

These studies were criticised for having low training intensities, and the short duration spent training at altitude. One of the best controlled of the earlier studies, was conducted by Adams et al (1975). A cross over , randomised design was adopted, within which 12 subjects completed 3 weeks training at sea level and 3 weeks at altitude. The study concluded that there was no effect on aerobic capacity after the altitude training. 

Davies & Sargeant (1974) adopted a less conventional protocol. They studied the effect of training for cycling, with one leg in normoxic (normal) conditions and the other under hypoxic (les oxygen) conditions. Both legs demonstrated an increased aerobic capacity, but, although the hypoxic leg had increased to a greater extent than the normoxic leg, the difference was insignificant.

In addition, in 1991 Klausen et al’s study upon cross country skiers showed no significant benefit of altitude training. This led to a statement in 1996 by Wolski et al that ‘at the present time, there is no evidence in the scientific literature to suggest that altitude training could benefit any type of athlete who is interested in improving sea level performance’. 

In 1997, Levine et al stepped into the frame with a more highly controlled and thorough experiment than those that had gone before. This study addressed many of the limitations of the previous studies including: control of the training, adequate number of subjects, balanced, randomised design and the subjects were given iron supplementation in an attempt to catalyse the theoretical increase in haemoglobin. 

The study had 3 groups. A ‘low-low’ group, within which subjects lived at a low altitude and trained at a low altitude; a high-low group, whereby subjects lived at high altitude and trained at low altitude; and a high-high group, with subjects both living and training at high altitude.

The subjects in the H-H and H-L groups showed increased levels of haemoglobin, increased aerobic capacity. The H-L maximal steady state group also demonstrated an increased value of maximal steady state v02, increased velocity at V02 max, and showed the greatest improvement in a 5km time trial. The only limitation of this study, is that non-elite athletes were used. 

Living High, Training Low (High-Low) Produced the greatest benefits in terms of fitness as measured by Vo2Max

The advantages of High altitude training include, increased haemoglobin, increased red blood cell mass, increased ventilatory capacity, and increased capillary density. 

Disadvantages include a risk of acute mountain sickness, decreased vo2max (when at altitude), decreased training intensity and decreased plasma volume. It would appear that the most effective way to train, is to do so at 1250 to 2500m above sea level, and live high and train low!

Since the Wim Hof method has been backed by science and proven to prevent mountain sickness, it would be interesting to see if the method could help altitude training create greater fitness benefits.

Click here to learn more about the Wim Hof method

altitude mask
£14.99 on Amazon.co.uk – worth the investment?

Altitude masks don’t reproduce the same effects or environment as altitude. They work by resisting and building respiratory muscles. Calling them “Altitude Masks” is a marketing technique.

do altitude masks work

Click here to see our Altitude mask blog post

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