Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Combat sports athletes are known for their dedication to conditioning with hours of footwork, mitt drills and sparring. Practice makes perfect, but without a solid strength component, a fighter won’t be all that formidable.
Many combat sport athletes are afraid to lift weights because they equate it with getting “bulky.” In their mind, adding bulky muscle mass makes them less fluid in the ring and more likely to get too large for their weight class.
The problem here is that strength training and bodybuilding are not the same thing. Strength training is simply the use of resistance to to get stronger. It doesn’t necessarily mean adding bulky muscle. Resistance can come in a number of forms including free weights, kettlebells, resistance bands, TRX and body weight. These are all tools, and no single tool is better than the other. It is how you utilize the tools and progressions to increase your strength.
When it comes to strength training for combat athletes, aesthetics is not the focus; function is. Combat sport athletes need to train in a manner that builds strength for wins in the ring or on the mat. Bodybuilding is all about proportioned, visual musculature. It’s about how you look, not how you move. Strength training for combat athletes is the opposite. It should focus on stability and function when fighting.
Conditioning is key, but combat sports athletes should set aside at least 2 or 3 days a week to focus on strength training, whether with a full-body approach or a split routine (push/pull & legs, upper body & lower body, back/biceps, chest/triceps, legs & shoulders).
Special attention should be paid to conditioning the posterior chain and core. Single-leg training with Deadlifts, Lunges or Bridges will help with stability. When working on the core, focus on Forearm Planks, Side Planks and rotational movements, not just hammering out Crunches. Rotational power and stability is especially important for striking movements.
You can get a look at how some combat sport stars integrate strength training into their routines in previous STACK features:
In the end, your strength training program should be designed to improve athletic performance, not aesthetics. Work closely with your coach, a strength and conditioning specialist and/or personal trainer to create the right program for you and your specific combat sport functional movements.