This is an ongoing series of articles from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through. If you have any questions about this post or S & C in general as it relates to MMA and BJJ then please leave a comment below!
I get a lot of emails from grappler’s and MMA fighters asking about training and planning questions. While I enjoy helping people out, one issue seems to reoccur, most people have no sort of long term plan! People just want to train and don’t give consideration to anything more than the week ahead or sometimes even beyond the next training day. While this bullish attitude is typical of MMA fighters, a lack of longer term planning restricts longer term development as an athlete. This is where periodisation comes into play.
Periodisation is effectively just long term planning and most self trained or semi knowledgeable will have a crack at it. They’ll go online drop £50 on supertraining and never get past the first chapter. Most sports science texts can seem impenetrable to the lay person (TLDR just wanna train! Attitude) and they’ll quickly revert back to whatever they were doing, because hey it was sort of working. A lot of periodisation for mma content on the web isn’t helpful either as most of the time these are rote answers straight out of sports science text books. These articles generally just list the phases of periodisation and how you train for each often with programs. Problem here is in objectivity, lack of context and lack of explanation about sequencing.
Periodisation in brief
Conventional periodisation is sequencing of training emphasis. It is a systematic and planned way for trying to improve our abilities over time. So for example you might that involves anatomical adaptation phase followed by hypertrophy followed by strength followed by power phase etc. These are usually formed in larger structures such as general preparatory phase (general off season training), specific preparatory phase (honing those physical capacities for certain goals) and competition phases (keeping abilities ticking over during the rigours of a sporting season) all these form macrocycles which can be divided into meso and smaller micro cycles which is formed from training days.
With language like that being bandied about you can understand why the lay person can be turned off.
These ideas usually constitute an annual plan or multi-year plan, but it comes with a major kick back. Most athletes have a planned regular competitive season, with competition dates set well in advance (Often years in elite sport!). This allows athletes and coaches to build a training structure around these long term periods and goals. Most of these original periodisation structures (often borrowed from the soviet union and eastern Europe) were originally formulated with weightlifters and track and field athletes in mind.
MMA fighters don’t have this luxury, fights are not set on fixed days way off in the future. MMA fighters generally know they have a fight 12-8 weeks in advance (longer with top level pros), at amateur levels this can be even shorter as fighters will take competitions with 4, 2 weeks notice sometimes less! Additionally there is no real off season for these fighters. In short this can prove chaotic for a strength and conditioning coach looking to constantly raise his or her athletes general physical qualities.
General Preparatory Holding Pattern
Mesocycles can generally be split into accumulation (general qualities to build a base), transmutation (fight specific qualities) and realisation (peaking). The Mesocycle Sequence below is fairly useful as it can be adapted as far out as 12 weeks or as few as 5-6 weeks.
Normally with a fighter we will work what I call persistent accumulation with regular deloading, to build general physical development. I liken this to a general preparatory holding pattern, when the fighter gets a date, we then bring them into land so to speak! We then flow into transmutation and realization. During this general preparation phase the fighter will work on raising general physical capacities but most importantly strength. Strength as I have said in the past is the “Boss” physical quality that establishes potential for the other physical qualities. I honestly believe it is heavily underworked in favour of conditioning. The greater your general physical preparation is the less strenuous pre fight “camp” is going to feel. I recall Martin Rooney stating that fighters should be nearly competition ready year round.
So when putting together a pre fight periodisation plan for a fighter often the curve ball comes when a fighter comes to me that I don’t work with on a regular basis and says “I have 12,8,6 weeks to go, what should I do?” This is basically a judgement call on the part of the S&C coach as to where to start. Leo Morton put together this excellent fast and frugal peak tree which I have adapted.
If a fighter comes to work with me between camps then we can make strength and building a base a priority.
Traditionally linear style periodised programs work capacities sequentially, but for our MMA fighter with 12 weeks to go. We cannot fit in aerobic, hypertrophy, strength power phases into a short space of time all the time while cutting weight. Aerobic periodisation in general isn’t an area for improvement unless testing indicates as much (Brendan Chaplin wrote an excellent piece here about the issue). Hypertrophy too can be knocked off unless if structural/functional hypertrophy is needed, this really should be worked on during our general preparatory phases. This leaves the need to work Strength, Power and Anaerobic conditioning (including strength and power endurance) in the run up to the fight. These qualities can then be concurrently worked, obviously with fight specific conditioning peaking right before the competitive event. Its worth noting that building a base relative strength and power outside of fight preparation is crucial, I often say the consistent long term work is in laying down the roots of strength so the power and other capacities can grow.
Occasionally you will have instances where a fighter will have to compete in rapid succession 6-4 or even 2 weeks between fights if they take one at extremely short notice. In a case of 2 weeks or less its hard to recommend any strength and conditioning, apart from light technical work. If 6-2 week span between fights it is general prudent to undertake maintenance to hang on to and keep the capacities you built in the run up to the first competition. It is simply too demanding to try and increase they qualities maintenance however is easier. This would be similar to the transmutation and realisation phase but with moderated volume.
More mature athletes and experienced athletes with greater training age may require more nuance in their programming, this takes both time and preparation for multiple events, so that a finer approach can be applied. The other option is to can hire a strength coach to do the planning for you leaving you free to focus on what’s important, training!
Don’t be daunted by trying to figure out a longer term plan for yourself or your athletes. Remember short term plans equal short term progress.