TrainForPain's guide to training basics
Good day. I've been criticizing here abit more then I should and have not provided many alternatives (which kinda makes it bad criticism) so I've compiled this guide as a remedy.
Without further ado, I bring you TrainForPain's (massive) guide to training basics for the martial artists' strength and power training. For those individuals who like to organize they're own training these are the principles I think are most important which you cannot progress optimally without. Some of those are often met by mostly random behavior and this is not optimal. I am not the worlds greatest writer and english is not my native language but I hope this comes through all right.
A bit of science is involved and things can get a bit messy since mma training is really diverse in nature. A bit of a background in very very basic anatomy is advisable. Remember that to organize your own training effectively a lot of learning is involved. Most people will probably not want to go through all that and for those I advice seeking out pre-made programs that might fit your needs.
1.Key lifts. Key lifts are those exercises who are most important for performance of your style and for where you are in your training currently. These should generally be both upper and lower body focused. Examples of good key lifts include the clean, squat, dumbbell snatch, press, row and ab-wheel. These will depend heavily on your current focus so don't be too shy to change them but don't change them like underwear. The key lifts should reflect what strength attribute you want to improve the most.
2.Schedule your progress. Your progress on the key lifts should not be left to chance. Set a date for improvement (easiest to measure is weight so increasing the weight on a given number of reps (not 1rm)) and go for it. For the complete beginner this date is “next time”. Basically if you are a beginner to weights you should increase your working weight each time you perform an exercise. If you can not, then something went wrong with planning.
Each training phase (which is one workout for the beginner) should have a training effect leading to increased performance (often termed supercompensation). This happens within a given timeframe (some days for most beginners) and them diminishes. If performance does not increase then either the recovery was too long, too short or not enough work was done in the training session.
Load > recovery > progress
The loading time can be anywhere from one session to a whole year or even an olympic cycle depending on training age. The popular power-lifting program westside is periodized on a monthly basis where there are three weeks of loading, one week deloading and then loading again now with more weights. These are often modified to include longer loading periods (still using monthly deloads) but the basic premise of scheduled progress still holds true.
3.Keep balance. From a balance perspective we are looking at doing equal work for each pair of exercises which are antagonistic movements. These pairs include horizontal push, horizontal press, vertical push, vertical press, hamstring dominant movements and quadriceps dominant movements. While somewhat of a simplification its still pretty accurate. Examples of exercise pairs include bench press/row, pullup/press and squat/deadlift. These should not be matched rep for rep and kilo for kilo. Rather the overall volume of work done with each should be roughly equal over your training career. Each week does not neccesarily have to be balanced, but overall it should be.
Take not here that if your non-weights training is off-balance the weight room should be the place to balance it out, for example if you do a lot of pushups in class they should be balanced with rows in the weight room.
4.Be 3D. The three dimensions I'm referring to here are extension (fx deadlift, clean, overhead squat), flexion (fx ab-wheel, barbell rollout) and uni-lateral movements (fx lunge, 1arm dumbbell snatch). The first two are usually well covered with most decent training programs but you see less of the unilateral stuff going on but that is still equally important.
5.“Work the core”. Training with regards to the back is a bit tricky. What you must realize is that usually the purpose of the core muscles is to prevent movement, not cause it. While the 6-pack muscle is able to perform a crunch, thats not really why its there. So exercises where an external force is seeking to cause movement in the spine and exericses with rotation in the hips/shoulders but not low-back are the best core-movements.
While training rotation movements of the spine can often be beneficial, one should carefully consider how much competition requires this movement pattern. Where movement in the back does happen its usually the thoracic spine and not the low back. The low back should generally not rotate, flex or hyperextent during high-force training (which is basically all training). Using i.p. Freely's example of the rubber spine its obvious that a lot of power is lost when the spine starts to bend and rotate.
Consider the case of throwing off a mounted opponent. Technique is beyond this article but basically its a unilateral back bridge performed explosively and power is transmitter either to the hips or through the hands to your opponent. An immovable spine transfers a higher percentage of your power to the technique.
Good exercises to work this stability aspect is most unilateral upperbody movements (1-arm dumbbell bench press), unevenly loaded lower-body movements (fx holding a heavy dumbbell at one shoulder while lunging, making sure no side bending of the back occurs) and rotations like woodchops (where rotation moment, not rotation movement is produced). Preventing flexion and extension in the back is accomplished by “regular” training like deadlifts and ab-wheels.
Using unstable surfaces for training is usually not a good idea. While it can be useful during rehabilitation after injury, its basically building a balance skill that is not needed for a fight. The most unstable surface you should train on is the surface you will fight on. Why waste time building balance on an unrealistic surface?
6.Maintain Excellent technique. Usually people need to first train the movement patterns they will use before any weights are added. Some sort of movement training, active flexibility and basic stability are required for most weight lifting exercises. Good flexibility in the hips and ankles along with great stability of the back are required for the squat for example. As a rule all exercises should use full range of motion unless otherwise required for a specific purpose (no, adding weight to the bar at the cost of ROM is NOT a specific purpose). Neutral back position (preventing movements = stability) is required for all exercises using force and compression of the spine. Almost no-one will be able to do a full squat off the bat with good technique and good depth.
Maintain a powerful brace in the abdominals at all times, especially during heavy-loading exercises such as squats and cleans. Essential for spine-health and helps prevent movements in the low back.
7.Combine explosive strength, speed strength, strength endurance and absolute strength. Notice how all those categories have the word “strength” in them. To develop these types of strengths you first need just “strength” or absolute strength. A rank beginner does not need special exercises for these attributes until he has a good base of strength.
For explosive strength, the olympic lifts, throws, jumps, sprints are good choices. For speed strength quick-lifts like the speed-squat are great. For strength endurance using a complex of different exercises for relatively high total reps (10 is high but anything goes) (fx deadlift-clean-frontsquat-push press complex) build good strength endurance. These are all built using the same principles above of progress, balance, stability and excellent technique.
9. Use a specific warmup for each exercise. Never jump straight to a working weight, its always safer to progress from an empty bar or light-weight (relatively) up to the working weights. The higher weight you use the more warmup sets you will need. Go a little by feel, some days you will need maybe more sets with the bar before adding weight, others 20kg jumps up to the working weight is fine. If working out after being static (sitting, standing still, cycling) for 20min or more, assume a longer warmup.
8.Periodize. When you get to this point where you plan different phases with a specific peak you either need something more then this article or to hire a coach to help you.
Another important note is that the importance of skills and attributes are dynamic through your career as a fighter. The stronger you are and the more weights you can use the more important does rotational strength become, because almost all techniques are based on rotation. Using the program of pro fighters and those who are far ahead of you in the training process is not ideal.
9. Do most of what is most important. This may seem obvious to most, but training your sport is always the most important factor of success. Not many people can get really good on strength alone and practicing your sport builds strength in a very specific way. Using additional strength training is meant to improve upon that strength, not replace it. If your training is not making you a better fighter its not working, whatever some hotshot couch (including me) says.
Putting it all together – Some sample programs.
Program 1: Complete beginner that has completed movement training (basically learning unloaded exericses and some proprioception training) and knows the basic exercises, all movements are key exercises:
Monday – Wednesday – Friday split
Workout 1: (remember specific warmups for each exercise)
Warmup: Overhead squats with empty bar (optional)
A: Squat 3x5
B: Bench press 2x5 > 1-hand bench press 1x5 with a bit less weight
C: 1-arm bent over row 3x5
D: Lunge with shoulder-mounted dumbbell 2x8
A: Deadlift 3x5
B: Pulldown/pullup 2x5 > switch grip 1x5
C: 1-arm dumbbell press 3x5
D1: Woodchoppers 3x10 with short rests
D2: Ab-wheels – go by feel, increase rom gradually
Notes: This is just a basic program thats balanced and contains core stability exercises. As a beginner program no specific speed or explosive work is performed and progress is by adding weight each time in the gym. All exercises are done 3 times every two weeks (121 first week and 212 second week). The workouts are relatively short (30-45min at most) because of the limited work capacity of the beginner.Exercises B and C can be supersetted for the more advanced among beginners.
Program 2: Intermediate that has stalled on the above programs. Key movements are the squat, 1-arm bench press and power-clean.
Again, a Monday - Wednesday – Friday split. Monday is squat-progress day. Wednesday is Bench-press progress day and Friday is power-clean progress day.
A: Squat 1x5 with new 5rm weight. Warmup to one max set.
B: Power clean 5x3
C: 1-arm dumbbell bench press 2x5 with lighter weights.
D1: Shoulder-mounted lunge. Use great speed and focus on technique. 2X10
D2: Pulldown/pullup 3x8 different grip each set.
A: 1-arm dumbbell bench press, 1x5 with new 5rm weight.
B: Squat 5x5
C: Power clean 2x5 with light weights
D1: 1-arm dumbbell snatch 8x3 reps/side using relatively small rests.
D2: 1-arm dumbbell press with a fast concentric (lifting) phase. Relatively low weights to allow more speed. 8x2
A: Power-clean 3reps with new 3rep max. Warmup to one set of three.
B: 1-arm dumbbell bench press 5x5
C: Squat 2x5 with lighter weights then wednesday.
D1: Woodchops 4x10, quick crispy movements exploding right off the start. An excellent brace is essential here.
D2: Cable 1-arm row 4x8
D3: Ab-wheels a few reps, going mostly by feel. (progress to barbell rollout after full-rom is achieved with the wheel)
Notes: Here the key exercises follow a basic sequence where they have load > recovery (active) > progress. Progress is scheduled once per week in the key exercises. However, progress should also be made in the non-key exercises, but in a less structured way. Here, a training diary is useful to prevent “oh, I've been snatching those 15's for 6 weeks now...” moments. If the plan works progress SHOULD be made every week on the key lifts but ATTEMPTED every week of the other lifts. Often these attemps will fail and change is needed only when no progress is made in the accessory lifts for a few weeks running.
Here we are also beginning to see some speed and explosive exercises as well as strength endurance being introduced to the mix. Here its all just thrown together almost random but allowing for balanceing and rotating needs. Later on usually one attribute will be prioritized and the others maintained for longer periods but this is not neccesary yet.
The nature of the beast is such that not everyone can use these samples as written so decreasing or increasing the amount or work that is done, some tweaking around is probably neccesary for most to get those weekly weight increases going. For those exercises to be done fast, progress is made once the same speed can be maintained with a higher weight, not when all reps can simply be completed with higher weight but at a lower speed.
The ab-wheel is hard to quantify so I usually keep it “unnumbered”. The key is progressing in ROM first before advancing to the rollouts, who are easier to quantify (by weight)
Rests between sets should be sort of “by feel”, but if you spend hours in the gym each time, you are probably resting too much.
Last words (for now):
What I hope this article accomplishes is simple. Its a guide towards further learning and hopefully will stimulate some thought on training, strength, life or whatever. The most benefit can be reaped for those who will read this article, not agree with it and find proof in logic and functional anatomy to refute it.
What this article is not is: Perfect, accurate or detailed
So read > think > criticize > ask me a question. This is not simple, nor should it be