Archive for the ‘Strength & Conditioning’ Category

Arthritis and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

by William Wayland ~ posted October 26th, 2015

We often document the benefits of Brazilian jiujitsu, but murmur in mention of some of the draw backs. While all sports carry risk of injury and overuse injuries, Brazilian jiujitsu in particular is known to be rough on the joints and I have heard much anecdotal evidence of finger and pain in particular in more experienced players. Below is a picture of Joao Miyao’s hands. Keep in mind he is just 24 years old.

What is Arthritis?

People are often confused as to what arthritis is and the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The difference mainly being one is wear and tear the other is a auto immune disease.

Osteoarthritis (also referred to as degenerative joint disease or wear-and-tear arthritis) is caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage. Cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones that form a joint. Cartilage loss can cause bone to rub on bone in a joint — a condition that is very painful. The ride along of this condition can be bone spurs, bony enlargements (Heberden’s nodes and Bouchard’s nodes). This is related to but not caused by aging. It appears that mechanical stress on joints underlies all osteoarthritis, with many and varied sources of mechanical stress, including misalignments of bones caused by congenital or pathogenic causes; mechanical injury all contribute to the condition. Oh and cracking you knuckles has no effect!

Im no Joao Miyao but I’ll never make it as a hand model either

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory type of arthritis. It is also classified as an autoimmune disease (i.e., immune cells attack the body’s own healthy tissues). The synovium (lining of the joint) is primarily affected by rheumatoid arthritis, but organs body-wide can be affected as well. Multiple joints are usually involved with rheumatoid arthritis.

Incidence in Jiujitsu

Speak to more senior members of school or gym and more than likely they will have stories pertaining to hand injuries, joint pain, mangled finger/toes, dislocations and more. Very little research has been done into BJJ and arthritis so numbers are hard to fathom. But BJJ’s nearest relative Judo has had plenty of research into the subject. In 1997 Strasser P et al did a study into “Traumatic finger polyarthrosis in judo athletes”  they found that “Extensive Judo seems to be a risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis of the finger joints due to chronic-repetitive micro- and substantial (macro-) injury.”

In 1984 Frey A, Müller W. found that “X-ray showed that all judokas examined have more or less severe osteoarthritis of the distal interphalangeal joints (DIP), whether Heberden nodes were present or not. At the same time, in most cases osteoarthrosis of the proximal interphalangeal joints (PIP) was found by X-ray and clinical examination. Osteoarthrosis of DIP and PIP in this young age group is due to overstress and injury to the joints involved.” It is the repeat injury, re-injury, micro trauma and over stress over a period of time that appears to accumulate and then manifest as arthritis. More than likely athletes who play a grip heavy game see a high incidence than those who don’t.

Those who play a heavy grip game risk injury of Proximal and Intermediate  Phalanges


Mitigation and treatment

Practical solutions to limiting and preventing arthritis are few in number, the ultimate solution being suspension of the activity but seriously when has injury ever stopped you grappling? So you have a few choices.

1. Introduce more no-gi training in order to give your grip a rest

2. Cycle play styles, avoid spider and other grip play that is rough on the distal and intermediate phalanges.

3. Stronger muscles can help stabilize the joint, improving range of motion and aid in pain reduction. That’s the goal of arthritis-oriented physical therapy, just be sure to work extensor and thumb strength too, as finger flexion is often over worked.

4. Some evidence suggests that hand flexibility may reduce arthritis risk

5. Taking NSAIDS (ibuprofen etc)

6. Some evidence suggests people with arthritis need longer warm-ups

Supplementary Solutions

As soon as joint pain is mentioned people are quick to ask for supplementation. Often supplement sellers pray on those in discomfort to shift shoddy produce or gimmicky devices. Often avoiding acitivity that causes problems is enough to help with recovery from osteoarthritis but often people want a quick fix.

Worth Trying (evidence for):

  • Omega 3 fish oils, There is evidence that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers taking long-chain n−3 fatty acids from sources such as fish have reduced pain compared to those receiving standard NSAIDs. Krill oilor omega 3 capsules comes highly recommended.
  • Curcumin, In vitro and animal studies have proven that curcumin has antioxidant, antiarthritic,  and anti-inflammatory properties. See

Maybe Worth trying (some evdience or good anecdotal evidence)

Best avoid (No evidence)

  • Powerbands and Magnet therapy research has shown that magnetic wrist straps are ineffective in the management of pain, stiffness and physical function in osteoarthritis
  • Glucosamine and or Chondroitin – A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal published in 2010 concluded: “Compared with placebo, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination do not reduce joint pain or have an impact on narrowing of joint space. Health authorities and health insurers should not cover the costs of these preparations, and new prescriptions to patients who have not received treatment should be discouraged.”

I hope that this has been a helpful insight into a fairly common issues, more than any other sport BJJ and our grappling brethern are at risk of can be a painful and in the long term debilitating condition.

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK Twitter. Facebook

Should my BJJ kid do S&C?

by William Wayland ~ posted September 30th, 2015

A question I often get asked by energetic BJJ parents is “should my Bjj kid do s&c?” as a parent who wants the best for your childs sporting career I can understand the desire to give them the best training in all aspects. Its great that you are interested in helping your child be and do better especially when we are very much beyond the flawed notion that strength training will stunt growth or damage growth plates. Strength and Conditoning for children has many health benefits, injury prevention benefits and psycho-social benefits much the same as adults.

Strength training for kids is safe but it comes with caveats.

I’ll go over the main points when concerning this question.

Children are not little adults.

Children are biologically and mentally different to adults, especially when it comes to exercise. It must be made very clear that simply adapting an adult training programme to suit a child will not only produce poor results, but will likely increase injury risk and dissatisfaction. Very rigid and structured exercise programs can be particularly tricky for children especially the younger they are. Children especially young ones derive much of their physical capacity and literacy from play and this can be challenging for adults to understand. Remember they started BJJ because they found it fun, so exercise needs to be engaging also. Where as children see exercise as fun adults can be pretty darn self flagellating with it, if you want drop out, don’t use exercise as punishment.

Biological age and chronological age can be wildly different

Childhood development is a very individual experience, children of the same chronological age can be significantly far apart in physical development. I’ve seen children of the same age who looked like they where 5 years apart physically and this discrepancy can impact participation. Early developers are often the favourites of coaches as they rapidly develop physical capacities their less developed training partners just don’t have. With this in mind their training needs will differ also. Children who have not gone through puberty produce testosterone and growth hormone in very small amounts so cannot recover from very intense training sessions.

So what type of training can children do?

Children are extremely pliable skill-wise and engage in bodyweight training pretty much at every opportunity (we used to call it play!) and they certainly can perform this type of exercise with high frequency, things like pull-ups, push-ups, climbing, crawling, tumbling. If you do teach them strength movements, ala squat, hinge, push, pull and carry keep everything simple, don’t progress them too fast and once puberty kicks in you can progress them to more serious training taking advantage of the hormonal changes. In short Basics Basics Basics, much like BJJ.

My usual age recommendation for very ‘structured’ S&C begins at 14 to 16 for most youth athletes, at this point they are often psychologically mature enough to knuckle down to more serious training. It is about this age I start to introduce more conventional strength training in the form of ‘heavier’ barbell work. Even during this period natural strength levels, training age and biology still play a factor.

Take Away Points

1. Strength and Conditioning for Children is safe when properly supported.

2. Much like training adults weight training needs to be properly implemented and coached.

3. Respect the biological age of the children, what they do should be age related not age determined. Biology, mental maturity, natural strength levels, training age (how long they have been training) and technical proficiency all play a role.

4. Properly designed program can improve performance and  health.

5. Technical competency should never ever be compromised.

6. If its stops being fun they’ll stop wanting to do it.

Below is 16 year old BJJ Blue belt and aspiring MMA athlete Cory, she has deadlift numbers that would make most adults jealous. A foundation of Boxing, Wrestling and BJJ has given her a solid foundation and a capacity to learn

@corydonttap getting her #sumodeadlift on back from her travels. #mmalife #PWRTHR #deadlift #wmma #mmafighter #womensmma

A video posted by William Wayland (@poweringthrough) on

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook


Lactate based GPP Circuits

by William Wayland ~ posted August 9th, 2015

Its not sexy but we all need GPP in our lives, often diving straight into a heavy strength training program especially after a serious competition season can wear on you scrambler. Ease yourself in and expand your base ready for your ‘offseason’.

Continuing from last week posts Aerobic GPP the next phase is Lactate based EDT training based on Cal Dietz GPP method which I’ve been experimenting with for a little while. After the aerobic phase we have hopefully built a base of general aerobic fitness. The intention is now to build lactate specific qualities but locally for improved sprint ability but also tax the body globally for continued aerobic training effect. Cal talks about this here starting at about 40 mins.  This part of a six week plan Aerobic, Lactic and Alactic. Let me just warn you this is HARD really hard. Most the athlete I’ve used this with have found it very difficult in the last minute. Don’t be a hero and ignore the listed loading. Do the work, like Dietz says this about being able to train harder and increase volume for when the heavier stuff comes.

Sample Session – Used with athletes below

 Bench and Ring Row – 5 Mins 10 rep each alternating (35-45% of 1RM)

  • 5 Mins mobility. Band Pull apart/spiderman with reach/Six Point Zenith

Right Leg and Left leg Step-up 5 Mins 10 rep each alternating (35-45%)

  • 5 Mins mobility. Band dislocation/Alternating half pigeon/half kneeling press (light)

Close Grip Push-up, Barbell Curl and OH sit-up 5 Mins 10 rep each alternating (35-45%)

  • Foam Rolling, band based stretching, iso holds.

In the video’s below MMA fighter Matt Hughes is going as quickly as possible will look to speed up over the next 2 weeks EDT style aiming for 2-3 sessions a week.

Bench and Ring Row 

Right Leg and Left leg Step-up

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook

Aerobic GPP Circuits

by William Wayland ~ posted July 27th, 2015

Its not sexy but we all need GPP in our lives, often diving straight into a heavy strength training program especially after a serious competition season can wear on you scrambler. Ease yourself in and expand your base ready for your ‘offseason’.

When we kick off a training cycle in will generally start with General Physical Preparedness. I like to think of it as the program before the program! This is period that should serve as break from “hard” training but provide stimulus and lay foundation for harder work to come.

What is GPP? Those of your familiar with training parlance may have heard the term before. Many often talk about it but what they often mean is ‘cardio’ or ‘conditioning’.

“GPP is the initial stage of training. It starts every cycle of training from the macro-, meso- and microcycle after restoration and recovery. It consists primarily of general preparatory and some specialized conditioning exercises to work all the major muscles and joints. This preparation prepares the athlete for the more intense training such as explosive plyometrics. This period is also used for rehabilitation of injured muscles and joints, strengthening or bringing up to par the lagging muscles and improvement of technique.” – Dr Michael Yessis

A simpler definition would be improving your quality of movement, fixing weakness that have cropped up during previous training camps and enhancing your ability to handle greater workloads. Now often GPP just means more undirected hardwork. Often taking the form of old school circuit training, running and pushing a sled till you puke.

What GPP should be used for is the capacity to do work when the harder training gets going, fixing imbalances and mobility and reinforcing movement quality, its important to note however the training is not really sports specific. Inspired by Cal Dietz I’ve been toying with Aerobic GPP circuits for a little while. These always come before we start our heavier lifting blocks. Instead of doing things like running or circuits, im increasingly preferring to keep my athletes lifting. Especially if like many of the MMA fighters the time we have together is very limited.

We take simple compound exercise pairings and put them together and have the athlete alternate between them for 5 minutes at about 50-60% loading going rep for rep. Each session the athlete will try and do more reps within the same amount of time or try for more reps within 30s chunks of the whole 5 minutes. Some of your might recognize this as EDT style training. Between 5 minute work block we can schedule 5 minute mobility and balancing work. Got tight shoulders mobilise those and strength your upper back. Got tight hips look to add a yoga flow or some bodyweight lunge and leg stretches.

Sample Session – Used with athletes below


 Bench and Squat – 5 Mins 1 rep each alternating (60% of 1RM)

  • 5 Mins mobility. Band Pull apart/spiderman with reach/Six Point Zenith

Pull-up and DB RDL 5 Mins 1 rep each alternating (60%)

  • 5 Mins mobility. Band dislocation/Alternating half pigeon/half kneeling press (light)

Close Grip Bench and Chin-ups 5 Mins 1 rep each alternating (60%)

  • Foam Rolling, band based stretching, iso holds.

In the video’s below MMA fighter Matt Hughes is going at pretty moderate tempo seeing as this is his first session performing this type of work and will look to speed up over the next 2 weeks aiming for 2-3 sessions a week.

Aerobic GPP circuit – Bench and Squat

Pull-up RDL

Close Grip Bench and Chins

Pairings should try and hit as many muscle groups as possible and work well as upperbody/lower splits and upper body, upper body split. Having lowerbody exercises paired would probably be too fatiguing and defeat the point of aerobic intent of this type of training. You could always try Sumo Deadlift/Weighted Pushups or Overhead Press/Barbell Rows. Hopefully now you have enough to build your own 2-3 week barbell based GPP program.

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook

Neck Training

by William Wayland ~ posted July 1st, 2015

This post was inspired after scrambles very own Matt Benyon asked me about neck training, very over due heres a few video’s I like and some rational behind good neck training.

Neck training often winds up being an after thought or a peripheral to squatting and dead-lifting. In contact sports however it may be as important as everything else.

A thick neck and cauliflower ears are often the hall marks of a top wrestler or grappler. Not only does it look gnarly but it also serves a functional purpose. Contact sports athletes need strong necks as “increasing athletes’ neck strength and reducing unanticipated impacts may decrease the risk of concussion associated with sport participation” . Additionally a strong jaw and solid clench can also limit trauma having the ability to bite down or clench on a mouthpiece with force prior to a collision to also limit concussion. There is some evidence also that tired neck muscle can effect locomotion and coordination so having a stronger more fatigue resistant neck musculature may make a difference. For more on this I suggest you checkout Mike Gittlesons neck training article for the NCAA here.

I’ve listed below a few favourite neck exercises that are really easy to implement either with a band a partner or a med ball, no goofy head harnesses honest! We often perform our neck exercises at the end of sessions. It does stand to reason however that if you have had a serious neck injury in the past consult with a physio or doctor before trying this stuff out!

With a Partner

With a Band

With a Swiss Ball

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook

Classic S&C Mistakes made by grapplers and MMA fighters

by William Wayland ~ posted May 27th, 2015

On your quest to supplement your BJJ and MMA with strength and conditioning for a stronger, better and healthier version of yourself you will find pitfalls and missteps along the way. However years of experience from strength coaches and athletes can help you in avoid all too common mistakes when it comes to strength and conditioning.

Copying ‘famous’ athletes training program or workouts.

Many athletes share clips on instagram and facebook of what they are doing which is a great insight and often very interesting. Much is made of the workouts of George St Pierre, Rhonda Rousey, Gabi Garcia or Andre Galvo they get a ton of re-shares on social media. But before you breakout the rings and Bulgarian bags consider that these instances, these brief glimpses into someone else’s training are merely snap shots. We have no context for the conditions that have led them to that particular exercise or work out. They key point is here is that you need a program that meets YOUR needs.

Following popular powerlifting programs

When many often set off on their quest for a good strength program they’ll often take to the internet. After a quick google you’ll probably wind up with a ton of recommendations. But more often than not you’ll find a powerlifting inspired lifting routine. Don’t get me wrong some of the more popular powerlifting ebook routines has been responsible for helping people get really strong and make consistent results. However the key flaw is in the intent of they programs, they are for getting better at the powerlifts. Regularly heavy lifting is extremely neurologically demanding and past a point yields diminishing returns (see point 4!). A program like this often won’t take in to account just how draining a full schedule of MMA or grappling practice can be. Lack of variability in intensity fails to account for those type of situations. You may end up getting hurt and no body wants that!

Listening to functional movement guru’s

Biggest driver of strength gain is progressive loading and you won’t find that in a yoga class or from swinging an expensive kettle bell in the shape of a skull. The notion of functional movement seems appealing as it creates a false dichotomy, the idea that anything else (usually some method they don’t like) is some how non-functional.  Often these people speak is flowery anatomical terms which sound pretty convincing and talk about neurophysiology of movement using nebulous concepts or confusing jargon, they are Depak Chopra’s of fitness. They also often violate basic strength training principles, such as progressive overload or argue for over emphasis on stability type training despite the efficacy for such training for healthy athletes not holding up under scrutiny. My other suspicion is that this stuff is the preserve of people who have never really learned to lift properly in the first place. Step off the bosu ball, put down your soy latte and go learn to front squat. If you are dysfunctional see a physio or a decent strength coach.

More is better blues

At over 2.5 x BW I don’t think Arnold Allen needs more Deadlift in his life

I love this term  and it relates to some extent the previous points, S&C super coach Vern Gambetta summed it up in a short blog post “Volume is a seductive trap. At younger training ages virtually anything an athlete does will make them better. The more they do, the better they get – up to a point. That point is something we recognize as the point of diminishing returns. But despite the diminishing returns it is very tempting to continue on that path because that is what got them to that point. This is where the more is better blues occurs in the form of stagnation, performance plateaus or injury. Now what? More is not better, better is better. The emphasis must shift to quality training and perfect effort.” As you adapt training emphasis must change, see how strong is strong enough? post from earlier this month.

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook

How strong is strong enough?

by William Wayland ~ posted May 1st, 2015

How Strong is strong enough for Jiujitsu and MMA? Strength addicts will say you can never have enough, smart athletes however need to know if pursuing more strength worth diminising returns and time cost. We are not trying to produce strongmen, powerlifters or olympic lifters. What we want is strong powerful combat athletes.

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook

Avoiding ACL injuries in female grapplers and MMA fighters.

by William Wayland ~ posted April 5th, 2015

“Female athletes endure two to eight times more anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, injuries than their male counterparts”

This quote is from a University of Akron study and doesn’t bode well for female athletes who apparently are at much greater risk than their male training partners of ACL injuries. Hopefully it does come as a message to take better care of your knees and approach injury prevention in the right way. Athletes such as Ronda Rousey, Julianna Pena, Zoila Gurgel, Cat Zingano have all suffered with ACL injuries at some point in their training careers. It also seems many in the female BJJ Blogosphere have also been hit with this particular injury, blogging about post op rehab in the process. And I am sure many of you reading this have ACL Injury stories too!

We are getting closer to finding an answer to what cause this apparent predisposition towards ACL tears in female athletes. Be it laxity, physiological, structural, but the main cause  in increasingly looks like the culprit being hormonal changes.  One recent study finding that “rise in estrogen during the follicular phase decreases lysyl oxidase activity in our engineered ligament model and if this occurs in vivo may decrease the stiffness of ligaments and contribute to the elevated rate of ACL rupture in women.”

With this hormonal joint laxity is the combined risk that comes with larger Q angles. Q angle is the angle at which the femur meets the tiba, in men the femur points largely straight down, in women it often points inwards. This can cause knee tracking issues and instability at the knees. Q angle is what causes nasty valgus collapse (inward caving of the knee) you sometimes see when people squat. According to Bret Contreras “proportionately wider hips, increased Q-angles, diminished hip strength, and in my opinion from being taught to “sit like a lady” (along with reinforcing that movement pattern repeatedly throughout their lives).” Stands to reason that many of the injuries I see are caused in scrambles and or during standing phases when risk of traumatic forces are at their highest.

Be able to make the Shapes for your sport

We are seeing an over swing towards mobility work at the moment which isn’t helping the situation. The female grappler is actively encouraged to get into activities like yoga, which can dis-inhibit protective mechanisms that provide protection again injuries that result from sudden force absorption. people are spending 20-30 minutes mobility work for joints that may not need it. If you play a combat sport consider which joints you mobilise carefully, make it flexible enough to make the shapes you need to for your sport (Comfort being stacked or throwing a de la riva) any more than this and your risk for injury gets higher.

My counter to some of these issues would be get strong, get stable.

Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings! And make them stronger

Martial artists have been stretching the heck out of their hamstrings since forever! And changing a culture of stretching is difficult when it is so ingrained. You have to ask the question “I may have range of motion, but am I strong with in that range of motion?”  What we want is hamstrings that are long ‘enough’ but also strong ‘enough’.

Eccentric strength and injury prevention are now being seen as a key component of training programs. Eccentric strength is the ability of muscle to yield under load, which makes the muscle more capable of absorbing force. You are basically teaching yourself to better apply the brakes. This is why eccentric posterior chain and hamstring work is such a crucial to prevention knee injuries. Below are a few exercise I regularly use with my clients. RDL’s, Zercher GM’s, Ball Curls and Nordic Curls all being great choices for hamstring strength.

Of particular note is the Nordic Hamstring curl or the Ghetto GHR which is increasingly seeing a lot of love in injury prevention programs. Mainly due to more research showing eccentric hamstring training have a huge effect on injury prevention.  Increasing strength of the hamstring muscles helps stabilized the knee by providing “backward” forces on the lower leg. The distal hamstrings help protect the ACL from being stretched and ruptured as the quadriceps muscles contract and pull the tibia forward (knee extension). For more on hamstring stiffness and ACL injuries check out Brian Schiff’s excellent blog post on the topic.

Ghetto GHR or partner nordic curl below shows, how simple it is to do and requires almost no equipment. Pretty simple to break out on the mats!

As more female athletes take up MMA and BJJ professionally and recreationally the rate of ACL injuries could well spike. Participation in a combat sports can be rough on the joints as we all know. Its the Job of the coach and the athlete to take steps to minimise risk.

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook

How specific does your grappling jiujitsu MMA strength training need to be?

by William Wayland ~ posted March 9th, 2015

Sick Threads Bro

The issue of specificity in training is one that seems to bother many practitioners, obviously I want to train in a fashion that will improve my sport, be it MMA, BJJ or other combat sports.

Loaded sports type drills (like weighted punching, barbell open guard playing) seem like the obvious solution to the specificity problem, but it is probable that by doing so the athlete will unconsciously develop compensatory movements in his/her technique in adjusting to the new weight or develop poor movement, other risks include injury from doing these types of things. The other swing is towards functional type training that doesn’t really do much to improve the following;

  • Force absorption and production
  • Power production and rapid force development.
  • Injury prevention.

In the video below I go over some of the basics of why we do S&C and how training should be informed by your training age and strength levels.

Although specificity is important when designing a training plan, most programs will include exercises of a general nature (e.g. power clean, squat, deadlift). These exercises may not relate too closely to the movement of any athletic event but they do give balanced development and provide a terrific strength base upon which more specific exercise programming can be built. My golfers squat, my MMA fighters squat when they start out, however when they peak for sport their end game training looks very different.

Further Reading

Is Sports Specific Strength Training a Myth in this post Mike Boyle talks about general specific being guided by what athletes shouldn’t do instead of the “best exercises for x sport” like many others.

If functional training interests you here is an easy guide on how to become one

Using weighted baseball bat doesn’t increase swing speed.

Weighted Golf Club Myth

Original Specificest Strength and Conditioning Video.

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook

Doping and why the fence sitting attitude to drugs doesn’t cut it

by William Wayland ~ posted February 11th, 2015

Huge debate has opened up across forums everywhere in the light of recent failed doping tests in the UFC. I’ve seen advocates, anti-dopers and even marijuana advocates weigh in on the debate, it seems everyone has an opinion. First admission must be that we have a drug problem in MMA, where our athletes perception of what they can achieve in the gym is skewed by unnatural athletes they admire, the top guys with rigorous training schedules who proceed to tell everyone they are natural. Go to a local MMA show and you’ll see plenty of amateur and semi pro’s who are all on the “juice” but when the precedence for the top organisation is ambivalence and failure be decisive what do you expect the trickle down to be?

Recent scandals with GOAT Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz and Hector Lombard, respect is rapidly lost for fighters and their host organisation. I often wonder what effect this has on other athletes and the apparently normalisation of doping in MMA. The UFC’s fence sitting is seriously at risk of tarnishing their product and endangering athlete safety especially when their is apparent lying and covering up. Its something I discuss with the fighters I train with a lot.

GSP himself has come out stating “I am not interested to compete if the sport is not clean, that is one of my major concerns.” It’s important that athletes at the top of the sport make such statements.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I find it hard to relate to pro doping coaches and athletes and their are plenty of them, at that moment you decided to dope our personal experience of training has diverged. Worse yet if you continue to base your athletes training or training/nutrition based opinion off doped experiences then I just cannot take you seriously. You are deceiving people and potentially encouraging athletes to engage in that behaviour too. We know all too well doped athletes who have competed well past their prime, the TRT that was rampant for a long time allowed, the like of Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson to stay in a sport they probably should quit far earlier.

People in my position as a strength coach know the difference in training stress that can be applied if someone natural vs doping, but often the athlete doesn’t and those who write their own programs and schedules will often try to mimic their heroes to potentially disastrous effect. When there are studies showing that steroid use made non exercisers stronger and gain lean mass without effort (7lbs in one study), plus growing evidence of permanent epigenetic change post use, meaning some positive change will stay with you even after coming off. It becomes hard to buy the “hardwork” required nonsense of those who do dope or are fence sitting on the issue, we all work hard! It’s what natural or not ‘successful’ athletes do!

Why anti doping? Why not just legalize it all?

To quote Ross Tucker for the excellent“As for the complete legalization of doping, that is a post or a series all of its own.  What I will say is that I’m not fond of the idea of watching sport when the result may be determined pharmacologically.  The problem is that drugs don’t affect people the same way.  Just as some people respond well to sleeping tablets, or pain killers, the effect of doping on performance is likely to be highly variable.  Now, if a drug improves performance by 0 to 5%, and the natural/physiological differences between athletes is 1 to 2%, then you have a situation where a drug can make a bigger difference than the normal differences between athletes.  It would be much like Formula 1 Motorsport, where the difference between cars is larger than the difference between driver ability.  The result is that the best (human, anyway) is often undiscernable. Then there is the matter of those who don’t wish to dope.  “

Lets face it most people don’t understand steroid usage for performance especially when contrasted to sports like athletics where the impacts of doping are obvious resulting in faster times and greater jumps or bodybuilding where the result is extreme hypertrophy. Sure doping won’t effect skill set, but it allows you to get through those 2 or 3 a day training schedules. You may say ‘its their body they can do what I want’ if you are an influencer just be aware of the ripple effect you have, the same goes with those who just say “everything should be allowed”. But in the case of sport like the UFC it is fighter safety of both the doping and opponents of doped athletes that are at risk. And that is the Key point the way we train in MMA and the way we approach drugs needs an enormous culture shift or this will keep happening. I am in favour of 2 or 4 year bans, enough for an athlete to really consider the risk of their doping activities. Some have called for lifetime bans this is probably too much as it takes an athletes livelihood away from them.

To Quote Vernon GambettaNo shades of gray regarding drugs, you cannot walk the line. You either are on the side of drugs or opposed to it. For me there is no place for performance-enhancing drugs in sport or anything that remotely resembles them.”

At the end of the day we want a sport that is clean, fair and safe. Being pro drugs or ambivalent about them is being pro rule breaking and you would let someone who was blatantly soccer kicking, head-butting and eye gouging get away with it.

This is an ongoing series of blog posts from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook

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