If an athlete is training for a comp where they will fight in bouts consisting of three two-minute rounds, and will have around five bouts over two days, must they replicate this loading at some point in their lead-up training to ensure they’re really ready for this?
It really depends on the sport and the athlete. I wouldn’t simulate the fight 100 per cent in training in order to maintain the safety of the fighter. There’s always a risk of injury as well as getting burnt out if you replicate the same conditions of the fights, but at the same time, you can also benefit from it for obvious reasons. There’s a thin line when it comes to balancing things out. Personally, I wouldn’t get my fighters to spar at full intensity, but I’d have them replicate the load by doing multiple workouts a day and using exercises such as pad work.
Recovery between training sessions is key, but how is this best managed during a tournament, when time between bouts can vary? Again, should limited recovery be played with during training camps to help with this so it’s not a ‘shock’ to the body?
Even though it’s not my main area of focus, I would suggest that nutrition and hydration are key aspects in recovery. Obviously there are also the other basic things such as stretching and keeping warm. In the end, recovery comes down to the individual in my opinion — the athlete needs trial and error to work out what recovery process works best for them. In terms of limiting recovery during training, there will be periods where we do this during training camps in order to simulate what may happen in competition, but we never do it to the point where their risk of injury is increased. In my experience training combat sports athletes, typically they will enter the fight having overtrained — they rarely undertrain, unless they take an MMA fight on short notice, for example.
Generally, fighters build a base of strength and muscle before fight camp, then move on to focusing on conditioning and skills, honing in on the latter as the comp approaches and ‘tapering’ begins. Is that the generally recommended process?
Again, this depends on the type of athlete you’re dealing with. The further out from a fight you are, the more time you have to build maximal strength. With that being said, some sports don’t rely as much on strength — a boxer wouldn’t worry as much about strength as a wrestler, for example. In MMA, for example, we’ve seen many guys who were really strong guys but lacked the conditioning. If I were training these guys, I would focus just about the entire camp on conditioning, as I already know that they’re naturally strong guys. If you have multiple fights in a tournament setting, obviously conditioning will play a more important part than strength.
What is key to an effective pre-competition warm-up? Are there scientifically based principles to guide what a combat athlete should do?
I’ll start by telling you what not to do: you shouldn’t do static stretches, especially close to a fight. There’s been a lot of scientific research that suggests that static stretching has an adverse effect on things like your vertical jump, sprint performance, and pretty much anything based on power and maximal strength. I’m not talking about 10-second stretches, but anything that’s too extended should be limited, especially close to the event itself. This is one of the more common mistakes made by athletes — I guess people just aren’t aware of the research. Personally, I would not have any of my athletes do more than 30 seconds of static stretching, especially close to a fight. I would get them to do dynamic stretches instead; dynamic stretching will improve your range of movement in a more specific way — more similar to what’s going to happen in a fight.
Another thing I’ve been researching extensively is ‘post-activation potential’ or PAP. To implement this into a combat athlete’s warm-up, I’d get them to do a few explosive movements such as jump squats, as hard as they could. I’d keep the reps very low so as not to fatigue them — four-to-eight reps, depending on the athlete. This gets the nervous system going and also has a positive effect on the muscles. I’d do these relatively close to the fight; you have to remember that you’re not trying to get fatigued while doing these — it’s just to get that ‘activation’ going.
In terms of the warm-up duration, it really varies. I’ve competed in MMA and kickboxing all over the world, and you pick up subtleties everywhere. Personally, I used to do a heavy and strong warm-up, and make sure it’s done close to the start of the fight. I’d try to build up a sweat and definitely throw punches at full power. However, there are fighters out there who do the opposite by going relatively light in their warm-ups. I guess bottom line is that warming up is very individual — there’s not really any right or wrong, aside from perhaps the stuff I mentioned about stretching earlier.
Photo via Richard Howes/AIS
Andrew Raynor New Hampshire