How to Build Unstoppable MMA Endurance

The purpose of this article is to provide you with a blueprint for creating a periodized training plan that will help you develop a level of endurance that will run your opponent into the ground. You’ll be introduced to concepts that if implemented, will allow you to design an evidence-based training program to improve MMA-specific endurance and performance, no matter if you’re fighting in 3, 4, 6, or 12 months, or anything in-between.

This article will require some heavy lifting on your part, but I promise that if you follow through on everything we talk about, you’ll have the key to designing your very own individualized fight plan, and this will help you reach your full potential as a fighter.

This article is divided into six parts. In Part 1 you’ll learn about the metabolic demands of MMA, and, how to train an energy system in Part 2. Part 3 will teach you how to avoid overtraining, and Part 4 will cover everything you need to know about periodization. Part five will cover performance testing, and in Part 6 of this article, you’ll be introduced to a four-step process for creating your very own personalized plan for building unstoppable endurance. Ok, let’s get in to the first part.

Part 1: The Metabolic Demands of MMA

In the human body, energy is stored in chemical form, in high-energy phosphate bonds. When three phosphate molecules bind to one adenosine molecule, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) is formed and energy is stored. As shown in the figure below, when the third phosphate bond is broken, ATP is converted to ADP (Adenosine di-phosphate) and energy is released; and it is this release of energy that powers muscular contraction.

ATP must be available for muscles to contract and it is always present in the muscle, but in very low concentration i.e. enough to allow for just a few seconds of normal physiological functioning. If the muscles are to continue contracting, ATP must be continuously re-synthesized.

The resynthesis of ATP can occur when a molecule of phosphocreatine (PCr) donates its phosphate to ADP to re-form ATP. But ATP can also be produced with oxygen by aerobic energy systems and without oxygen by anaerobic energy systems. Each of these systems, and their impact on MMA performance, is briefly reviewed below.

The ATP-PCr System

The ATP-PCr system (also called the phosphagen system, or the anaerobic alactic system) is the dominant energy system that maintains ATP generation in short-explosive activities like take-downs and rapid combinations.

It is important to remember that all of the energy systems are always working together, at the same time; there’s no switch that turns one system off, and another one on. For example, during a single 6 s maximal effort, about half of the ATP comes from the ATP-PCr system, a little less than half comes from anaerobic glycolysis, with the remainder comes from aerobic energy systems. As the duration of the maximal effort approaches 30 s, the amount of ATP coming from the ATP-PCr system falls, while the contributions from anaerobic glycolysis and aerobic energy systems increase.

The ATP-PCr system can affect your performance in the cage. This is because PCr is the immediate reserve for the resynthesis of ATP, and performing a single maximal effort like a take-down attempt will probably reduce PCr stores by half, and complete resupply probably requires more than 5 minutes of rest. As recovery time between actions in a bout of MMA does not normally exceed 60 s, even between rounds, the PCr stores in the muscle will only be partially restored before the next effort; this will result in a reduction in power output over repeated efforts, and a drop in your performance. As an aside, this might explain why some fighters start to gas-out after a sustained take-down attempt. On the flip side, all of this research suggests that your performance in the cage can be improved by training interventions that target PCr reshythesis. Knowing this, we’ve included those workouts in our programs. Don’t worry, we’ll get to those shortly!

Just a quick additional note, if you’re really interested in this material, or need to develop a training plan asap, then you might consider enrolling in one of the MMA Training Bible’s online courses, where Dr Gillis will take you through a step-by-step process for designing your very own periodized training plan. Learn more about the training courses here. Ok, let’s move on to the next energy system.

 Anaerobic Glycolysis

If high intensity activity is to continue beyond a few seconds, ATP must be generated another way. When the ATP-PCr system is depleted, anaerobic glycolysis picks up the slack. Just for your information, anaerobic glycolysis is also called lactic acid system, or fast glycolysis. Anaerobic glycolysis dominates energy production in maximal activities lasting up to a minute or so. In MMA, this system supports your ability to perform powerful sustained takedown attempts and combinations.

The important thing to remember about anaerobic glycolysis is that it really helps out during SINGLE sustained efforts, but not so much for repeated efforts. So, workouts targeting anaerobic glycolysis will likely improve single efforts in the cage (which is important for power endurance), but it will not improve your ability to repeatedly perform at a high intensity over the whole round, and over the fight. You’ll need a heavy dose of ATP from the aerobic energy system for this, so that’s what we’ll cover next.

Aerobic Energy Systems

Aerobic energy systems generate ATP at a slower rate than anaerobic energy systems, but can sustain efforts for much long periods. High intensity efforts supported by the ATP-PCr system and anaerobic glycolysis cannot be sustained for much longer than around 75 s, as this probably represents the cross-over point when aerobic energy systems begin to dominate ATP production during sustained efforts; this is shown in the figure below. The important thing to note in the figure below is that aerobic energy production is the dominant energy system in any bout that lasts longer than a minute and a half, or so.

Aerobic glycolysis supports activities in the 75 s to three-minute range, after which aerobic oxidative metabolism dominates energy production. The aerobic systems are essential in maintaining high-intensity efforts throughout the fight and for those activities relating to body-position around the cage. The better developed your aerobic system is, the less you’ll have to rely on anaerobic energy systems.

It’s important to note that the contribution of aerobic metabolism to total energy production during a single maximal effort is small, probably less than 10 %, but as maximal efforts are repeated, the contribution increases and you will approach the maximal amount of oxygen that your muscles can use (this is called your VO2max). As an aside, improving your VO2max will be associated with improved ability to perform repeated high intensity efforts, just like those required in MMA.

If you’re interested in learning more about the metabolic demands of MMA, consider reading this article. If you’re in a bit of a crunch and don’t have time to go through all of our free articles, consider enrolling in our training courses. Dr. Gillis and The MMA Training Bible will take you through a step-by-step process for building your very own individualized training plan.

Part 2: How to Train an Energy System

In this part I’ll teach you exactly why you must avoid low-intensity endurance training, and why you should focus on high intensity endurance training. You’ll learn how to target a specific energy system by changing the work-to-rest ratios, the work interval length, the rest period, and the type of exercise. I’ll show you exactly how to target the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, and a few other metabolic processes that will improve your performance in the cage; like metabolite buffering, PCr resynthesis, and increasing glycolytic enzymes.

High and low intensity training

First, let’s talk about why you should avoid low-intensity endurance training. As we now know, in order to improve your endurance in the cage, you must target the metabolic and physiological factors that limit your performance; this can be done with endurance training. There are two classifications of endurance training that you should be aware of:

  1. Low intensity endurance training (low power output, such as marathon running)
  2. High intensity endurance training (repeated high power outputs, like in MMA)

It is generally agreed that long duration endurance training will impede strength and power gains compared with higher intensity training. This is because low intensity endurance training causes your intermediate muscle fibres to become more oxidative (i.e. slow twitch), which may impair muscular growth along with your capacity to perform the strong and powerful movements that are required in MMA. This happens less with high-intensity interval training.

It is important to note that high-intensity interval training using intervals up to four to five minutes can also improve aerobic fitness (VO2max). This suggests that an interval length of five minutes is probably the upper limit of what you should include in your fight plan. But fighters also require a large anaerobic capacity to perform high intensity combinations. Anaerobic energy systems are best targeted using intervals that are much shorter in duration than aerobic intervals. For this reason, fighters and coaches in MMA should train both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems using a combination of long and short intervals, as discussed below.

How to target the aerobic systems

When your goal is to improve aerobic oxidation (which is the use of oxygen by your muscles) you should also target the systems that deliver oxygen to the muscle. To accomplish these goals, you need to make sure that your muscles are not impaired by metabolite accumulation or depletion of PCr, as these factors will impair your performance. To achieve this, you need to select lower power output exercises (i.e. running), take long rest intervals, and use work-to-rest ratios of 1:0.5 to 1:1.5. When your goal is to improve your ability to perform repeated high intensity efforts over a few minutes, the ability to remove (buffer) metabolites like lactic acid from the muscle and blood appears to be important. To target this, use rest periods that are shorter than work intervals. Typical workouts that target the above outcomes are shown below.

When your goal is to target the capacity of aerobic glycolysis, a typical workout might use work-to-rest ratios of 1:3 to 1:4, and have a work interval of around 2 minutes. But by reducing the amount of rest between work intervals in the 2-minute range, you can target other metabolic processes that are important in MMA. For example, the rate at which your body can resynthesize PCr will probably improve your ability to perform repeated high intensity efforts in the cage. PCr resynthesis appears to be improved using shorter rest intervals (i.e. 2 min on, 1 min off). Similarly, because the accumulation of H+ in the muscles and blood may impair MMA performance, it seems probable that increasing the removal of these metabolites via cellular buffering may also enhance your performance. It appears that 2-minute work intervals separated by short rest periods of 1 to 3 minutes may improve buffering.

 How to target the anaerobic systems

When your goal is to target the capacity of anaerobic glycolysis (which also targets the ATP-PCr system) a typical workout might use work-to-rest ratios of 1:5 to 1:6, and use intervals in the 30 s to 90 s range. You’ll also tend to use exercise movements that feature a higher power output (i.e. running whilst pushing a sled, or running with a weighted vest).

When your goal is to target the capacity of the ATP-PCr system, use work intervals that are less than 30 s, with work:rest ratio around 1:3. Further, hydrogen ion buffering appears to improve when 30 s sprints separated by 90 s of rest (8 sets). By increasing the amount of rest between work intervals in the 30 s range, you can also target other metabolic processes that are very important in MMA. For example, when your goal is to increase glycolytic enzymes, which may have a positive effect on anaerobic energy production and exercise performance, it appears that high intensity intervals in the range of 20 s to 30 s, separated by very long rest periods (10 to 15 minute) are good for this.

Shorter work intervals also target the ATP-PCr system; a typical workout might use work-to-rest ratios of 1:20. By reducing the amount of rest between work intervals in the 5 s to 10 s range, you can target other metabolic processes that are very important in MMA. For example, short sprints with little recovery between each has been shown to increase the removal of H+ via cellular buffering, which may enhance your performance in the cage.

Of course, the examples listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless workouts that can be used to target a particular energy system. If you enroll in The MMA Training Bible’s Step-By-Step Guide to Building Unstoppable Endurance, you’ll be provided with enough specific workouts to fill a 12 months training plan.

Part 3: How to Avoid Overtraining

Engaging in the workouts listed above will result in very fast metabolic and physiological gains, but you cannot train at these high intensities for very long, because it takes a long time to recover from each session, and will generally result in over-training.

Overtraining can end a fighter’s career before it starts, so it’s important to understand how your body responds to training, how to recognize the signs and symptoms of overtraining, and most importantly, how to lower your risk of overtraining and optimize your adaptation to training.

How your body responds to training

It doesn’t matter how fit you are, your power output will fall as you perform repeated bursts of high intensity effort in the cage. After this kind of fatigue sets in, it takes a while to fully recover. Depending on the intensity and type of workout that you completed, full tissue recovery can take up to a week. But in most cases, you will completely recover after a few days of rest and your body will be ready for another hard session.

If you follow an appropriately designed training plan that incorporates the right amount of rest, your body will recover from this kind of training-related fatigue and over time you will grow stronger; this is called supercompensation. This whole process of training-fatigue-recovery-supercompensation is shown below. It is often called the training effect, although some call it ‘the general adaptation syndrome’.

The important thing to remember here is that if you don’t take sufficient rest between workouts, or if you train too hard too often, you won’t recovery, and you’ll likely enter a state of overtraining. If you consistently avoid recovery your body will not undergo supercompensation and your performance will steadily decrease over time.

Overtraining is very common in MMA because the sport demands a high degree of technical ability in multiple disciplines. Not only this, but fighters must develop a high degree of strength, power, agility, aerobic endurance and anaerobic endurance. Add in work, study, social and family commitments, and you have a perfect recipe for overtraining.

Understanding the training effect and how your body responds to training is the first step in avoiding overtraining. The second step is about recognizing the signs and symptoms of overtraining, so let’s look at this next.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms

 There are two types of overtraining, one is called sympathetic overtraining and the other is called parasympathetic overtraining. If you want a full description of what each is, consider checking out this article. Sympathetic overtraining generally occurs first and is characterised by an increase in sympathetic activity during rest and exercise. With sympathetic overtraining, the signs and symptoms you need to watch out for include; an elevated resting heart rate (HR), a slow HR recovery after exercise, decreased appetite, loss of body mass, excessive sweating, and disturbed sleep pattern.

On the other side, parasympathetic overtraining generally occurs after sympathetic overtraining and is characterised by a decrease in sympathetic activity and an increase in parasympathetic activity. With parasympathetic overtraining, the signs and symptoms that you need to watch out for include; a lower resting HR along with a lower HR during light exercise, you may also fatigue sooner and might not be able to work as hard. You might also notice yourself getting sick easily and often. You may feel apathetic (having no interest, no feeling or no concern) or have a depressed mood, decreased self-esteem, emotional instability, restlessness, or irritability. Note that some of these psychological signs and symptoms may present with sympathetic overtraining as well.

How to lessen your potential for overtraining

 Unfortunately, Scientists have yet to find a reliable marker for monitoring overtraining. But don’t worry, there are some things you can do to lower your potential for overtraining. First, you’ve got to test yourself regularly using a physical and psychological testing battery (we’ll cover this below). This will help you monitor your performance and your adaptation to training. Second, you should use a daily training log to monitor your health (sleep, mood, resting HR, body weight), physical performance (training loads, soreness, fatigue) and nutrition (appetite). The MMA Training Bible has provided you with an example template of a training log, download it for free here (Training log template).

Separate from regular testing and keeping a training log, one of the biggest factors that influence your potential for overtraining is the organization of your day-to-day training plan; this is also referred to as periodization, and this is what we’re going to discuss next.

Part 4: Periodization in MMA

Periodization is perhaps the most important, yet most often neglected component of a fighters’ training plan. Periodization is the process of organizing your training plan over a period of time to help you manage your fatigue on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. It is hoped that this will reduce your potential for overtraining and optimize your performance in the cage on fight day.

Periodization is a blend of art and science. On the artistic side, it is a subjective organizational tool that helps you divide your training into specific periods that manipulate volume and intensity, so as to minimise fatigue and overtraining, and maximise your performance at some future date. On the Scientific side, numerous studies have shown that periodized training plans result in superior strength, power and endurance gains across genders, both in trained and untrained groups, and in young and old populations, compared to non-periodized training plans.

I hope you can see the importance of taking a structured approach to developing your fight plan. The MMA Training Bible does this by dividing a fighters training plan into smaller periods with very specific objectives that differ depending upon the phase of training that they are in. This approach (shown below) helps you manage your fatigue on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, which will optimise your adaptations to training and improve your performance on fight day.

The first thing to notice about the fight plan shown above is that it’s divided into a number of large phases: the general preparation phase, the fight-specific preparation phase, the fight camp, taper, and transition. Each of these big training phases is further divided into smaller sub-phases that are carefully organised to help you manage your fatigue on a monthly basis. Each sub-phase is further divided into training weeks, which help you manage your fatigue on a weekly basis. Training weeks are further divided into training days, which can be further divided into any number of training sessions. Below we’ll take a look at each phase in a bit more detail, but if you want to really study this concept, I suggest you check out this article.

Training phases

 You’re always going to structure your fight plan into a few large phases, no matter how many times you fight in one year, they are 1) The general preparation phase, 2) The fight-specific preparation phase, 3) The fight camp, 4) The taper, 5) The transition. Each phase has very specific objectives. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these phases.

 The main objective of the general preparation phase is to establish a high level of physical conditioning by using large volumes of general and non-specific MMA activities. This should include the development of high intensity aerobic endurance and a foundation of strength in a wide variety of activities. Any needed changes in body composition should also be addressed during this phase. The general preparation phase should be longer for beginner and intermediate fighters, and shorter for more advanced fighters (in some special cases, it can be eliminated altogether). Because the main emphasis is on increasing training volume, your level of fatigue will increase, so competitions should not be scheduled in this phase.

 Like the general preparation phase, the fight-specific phase aims to improve aerobic endurance and strength, but rather than using general exercises like running, cycling or rowing to achieve this, more fight-specific drills are incorporated. Training volume decreases throughout this phase, which allows for a gradual increase in training intensity. About mid-way through this phase, training intensity may surpass volume. As your training becomes more specific to MMA, you become more prepared to fight. In the later part of this phase, competitions can be used to provide feedback about a fighter’s exact level of preparedness, but competitions should only be entered when the fighter is capable of achieving their most important training objectives. If you’re going to do this, competitions and opponents should progressively increase in difficulty as the main fight gets closer. You’ve got to be careful to minimize the risk of injury when you’re entering heavy contact competitions during this phase. If you don’t want to, then non-contact submission wrestling/jiu-jitsu or boxing/kick-boxing competitions with protective gear might be a good idea. Both the general and fight-specific preparation phases are probably the most important because they establish your physical, technical, and psychological base for the fight camp. If you skip either one, or they are inappropriately designed, your ability to tolerate high intensity training during the fight camp will be compromise, along with your fighting performance.

The main goal of the fight camp is to bring together all of the performance factors that the fighter needs to compete successfully. At this stage the fighter should be focusing on psychological training and perfecting specific techniques and tactics that will be used in the fight. At the beginning of the fight camp, training volume increases for a short period, followed by a return to normal training volumes. This increase in training volume at the beginning of the fight camp allows the fighter to place a greater emphasis on fight specific technical and tactical preparation. This period of concentrated loading is placed at the beginning of the fight camp, approximately eight to 10 weeks before the fight, because some research has shown that training adaptations from very intense periods may take many weeks to present. Training intensity continues to increase throughout the remainder of the fight camp, reaching its highest level two to three weeks prior to a fight.

 In the last 8 to 14 days before your fight, a taper or unloading period should be used. The goal of a taper is to optimize your performance in the cage. This is achieved by reducing training volume while maintaining intensity for two weeks before your fight. The number of weekly training sessions should fall by about 20 %.

After your fight, a three to six week transition phase is necessary to remove the accumulated physiological and psychological fatigue that developed during the past few months of training. This phase is not an off-season, because fighters do not have an off-season, it’s a transition from one fight plan to the next.

Just to make things a little more clear for you, I’ve put together a figure showing how your training volume and intensity should change across a fight plan.


In this section, we’re going to move one level down, and talk about how to organize the sub-phases. Training sub-phases typically last about four weeks. But not all sub-phases are created equal. What really makes one training sub-phase different from another training sub-phase is its difficulty and the type of loading plan it uses. For more information on these concepts, check out this article. There are actually four different types of sub-phases that the MMA Training Bible uses to help you manage your fatigue on a month-to-month basis. They are: developmental sub-phases, shock sub-phases, the tapering sub-phase and the transition sub-phase. To make sure you get this, I want to give you an example of each, so let’s start with developmental sub-phases.

Developmental sub-phases should be used throughout your entire fight plan. They progress gradually in training difficulty over a sub-phase, like a staircase, and generally achieve their highest training difficulty just before a recovery week at the end. Here is an example of a developmental sub-phase using a 3:1 loading plan. Novice/beginner fighters should start with one loading week (low training difficulty) followed by one recovery week (i.e. a loading plan of 1:1), progressing to a 2:1, 3:1 or 4:1 loading plan with training difficulty increasing in a step-wise manner. More advanced fighters can begin the general preparatory phase with more demanding loading plans (starting at medium training difficulty, using a 3:1 or 4:1 loading plan) because they should have a sufficient base of endurance and strength from previous training.

Shock sub-phases feature a sharp increase in training difficulty over one to three weeks, followed by a recovery week. Sharply increasing training difficulty every once in a while, is a useful tool for breaking through plateaus in performance, which will occur after about three weeks of training with the same loads. The adaptations that result from the sudden increase in training difficulty can appear as quickly as 10 days, but it is important to remember that the higher the training stress, the longer time it takes to dissipate the fatigue and to undergo supercompensation. It’s probably safe to say that shock sub-phases should not be used within three weeks of a fight because any positive physiological adaptation that could be gained from them wouldn’t present until after your fight anyway. Also, shock sub-phases should not be planned back-to-back, as this will most probably result in overtraining. After you’ve completed your first shock sub-phase, you’ll likely plan to complete a few developmental sub-phase. Eventually, you’ll want to incorporate another shock sub-phase into your training. This time, your shock sub-phase should incorporate two training weeks that feature a sharp increase in training difficulty. Similarly, after you’ve completed your second shock sub-phase, you should complete a few developmental sub-phase. Eventually, you’ll want to incorporate another shock sub-phase into your training. This time, your shock sub-phase should incorporate three training weeks that feature a sharp increase in training difficulty. Beginners can first start to incorporate shock sub-phases at the end of the general preparatory period, after a base of endurance and strength has been developed. Intermediate/advanced fighters who have a solid base of strength can use them earlier in training. Ok, let’s move on to the taper sub-phase.

The taper sub-phase is pretty simple, you only use it before a fight, when you’re trying to peak. The taper sub-phase features a large drop in training difficulty over two weeks before the fight. Now let’s move on to the transition sub-phase.

The transition sub-phase is only used after your fight, and features a steady build-up of training difficulty over a few weeks. As a general rule, the longer the fight plan, the greater amount of time should be spent in transition; this can range from 3 to 6 weeks. The length of this sub-phase, and the training demand you choose will also depend on any injuries that you have incurred during training and/or the fight.

So, that is an overview of how and why the MMA Training Bible structures its training sub-phases the way it does. Let’s move on to discuss training weeks.

How to plan & sequence training weeks

In this section, we’re going to go down one step further and show you how to organize your training weeks. Although the training week is a small cycle (it is made up of the days of the week), it is probably the most important element of the entire fight plan because it lays out your day-to-day training schedule. It is also the most difficult to plan in advance because many unpredictable factors influence the number of days that you can train per week, from social and work/study commitments, to gym timetables and your level of fatigue. For this reason, you should not plan more than a few training weeks into the future.

There are four different types of training weeks that you should know about. They can be classified as developmental (DEV), shock (SHOCK), recovery (REC), or peaking (PEAK). It is relatively straight forward to assign these training weeks to the fight plan. I want to go into a bit of detail about each of these; let’s start with recovery training weeks.

Recovery training weeks are designed to dissipate fatigue and elevate your adaptation from previous shock training sub-phases. Recover training weeks absolutely essential in helping you avoid overtraining. If you’re a fighter and you’re not currently using a recovery training week, then you’re probably overtraining. The recovery week has a much lower training difficulty than other weeks. Recovery training weeks typically contain training sessions that have slightly longer warm-ups, lighter workloads, and they are typically shorter in length than the training sessions of other weeks. To reduce monotony, coaches can intersperse games or fun activities, or special events into recovery training weeks. For example, beginner/intermediate fighters may play a game of basketball, or advanced fighters may instruct technical classes for beginners.

Developmental training weeks are used throughout your fight plan. Their objective is to increase the level of your physiological adaptation to training, develop technical and tactical abilities, and improve performance factors such as strength and power or aerobic and anaerobic endurance, or agility.

Shock training weeks contain a planned increase in training difficulty, which can be achieved by increasing the number of sessions per week, increasing the difficulty of the exercises (i.e. by using higher power-output exercises), and/or by increasing the volume and intensity of each workout. The whole point of the shock training week is to cause a greater level of physiological adaptation, which will improve your performance if you allow it to, by for example, taking a recovery week after it.

Taper weeks are only included in the Taper sub-phase. A taper normally takes up the 2 weeks before your fight. During the first week of the tapering period, training frequency should be maintained at around 80 % of pre-taper values in order to maintain technical proficiency. Training difficulty will fall by 40 % to 60 % over the first week, and by another 10 % to 20 % in the second week of the taper. During the taper, the fighter should incorporate several short, but high intensity training sessions that use long rest intervals in order to dissipate fatigue. The high intensity training will also help to maintain physiological adaptations from previous training. Strength training should be reduced to one or two sessions, all other session should be very low intensity, focusing on tactical preparation. The final week of the taper should feature just a few (i.e. one or two) high intensity sessions early in the week.

Finally, the transition features a combination of recovery and developmental training weeks.

I understand that this stuff can get a little confusing. If you’re interested in putting together your own, individualized, periodized training plan but need a little help, consider signing up for The MMA Training Bible’s Step-By-Step Guide for Building Unstoppable Endurance. Otherwise, let’s move on to talk about performance testing.

Part 5: Performance Testing

Performance testing is a critical, but all too often overlooked aspect of training in mixed martial arts. An effective program of testing and monitoring can help fighters and coaches judge the effectiveness of a training plan and evaluate the potential for overtraining or undertraining. Various physical and psychological tests can be used to assess any number of performance factors, or to identify a fighter’s strengths and weaknesses, or to classify their skill status and ability level.  Below you’ll find an overview of some simple tests that the MMA Training Bible recommends. For a full description of each testing protocol, check out our article on performance testing.

The MMA Training Bible recommends that fighters regularly monitor their mood, as it can be a sensitive measure of overtraining. For example, feeling apathetic (having no interest, no feeling or no concern) or having a depressed mood, decreased self-esteem, feeling emotional instable, restless, or irritable are all associated with overtraining. The Brunel mood scale questionnaire (BRUMS) is a psychological tool that can help you measure your mood, and help to identify your potential for overtraining. There are several other psychological tools that The MMA Training Bible uses to help fighters and coaches monitor performance. Performance profiles, for example, can help you reflect on and become more aware of the performance qualities necessary for successful MMA performance; they can also help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in the areas of technical development, physical conditioning and psychological skills.

Fighters should also monitor flexibility. The sit-and-reach is probably the most widely used flexibility test. It provides an assessment of the flexibility of the hamstrings, hip and lower back, which are important for many MMA related movements.

Because MMA is a weight class sport, it is essential that fighters and coaches are familiar of the most common methods to assess body size and composition. Body size refers to things like your weight, height, body mass index (BMI) and the circumference of various limbs (i.e. chest, arms). Body composition refers to the distribution of fat and lean muscle tissue around your body.

MMA is a sport made up of explosive offensive and defensive techniques, many of which require a high degree of muscular power. There are many ways to assess muscular power, but the vertical jump is a simple assessment of lower body power, and the seated medicine ball toss can be used to simply assess upper body power.

MMA involves a lot of wrestling and grappling, which requires a high degree of muscular strength. Strength is simply the maximal force a muscle can generate, and unlike muscular power, time is not a factor. There are lots of different ways to measure muscular strength. On great way to assess upper body strength is using a bench press test, and a squat test for lower body strength.

MMA also involves a lot of sustained movements, like prolonged combination or submission attempts and defences that are largely influenced by the endurance capacity of your muscles. Muscular endurance is defined as the ability of a muscle or muscle group to repeatedly exert sub-maximal force against a resistance for a certain period. There are a lot of ways to measure muscle endurance, but the use of calisthenic-based assessments are both simple and effective. Calisthenic exercises are simple movements that require little equipment and technical expertise. These movements have long been utilized by athletes and coaches to assess muscular endurance in a field-based setting. Because calisthenic exercises are body-weight dependent, muscular endurance is assessed by the number of repetitions performed in a given time or until failure, or the according to the duration of time that a static contraction is held. The MMA Training Bible recommends the partial curl-up test and the push-up test as simple measures of muscular endurance.

MMA is a sport characterised by repeated high intensity, short-duration efforts, interspersed with brief recovery periods. Because this kind of activity is influenced by anaerobic and aerobic energy system you need to perform tests that assess both. One of the more established tests used to assess your ability to perform repeated high intensity anaerobic efforts like those required in the cage is the running-based anaerobic sprint test. Alternatively, the Balke 15 min track run is a test that can assess your aerobic fitness. The MMA Training Bible recommends you do both.

Finally, The MMA Training Bible recommends a sport-specific test that attempts to better replicate the demands of a typical bout of MMA. The ‘Fighters Drill’, along with all of the previously mentioned tests are described more fully, along with detailed data collection sheets, can be found in this article.

Part 6: A 4-Step Guide to Building Unstoppable Endurance

In the final part of this article you’ll be given the framework for creating your very own, individualized training plan. To give you an idea of what it will look like, below is an example of a 6-month training plan.

The MMA Training Bible uses a four-step process for designing any periodized training plan, including Step 1: Scheduling Training Phases; Step 2 – Forecast Training Volume and Intensity; Step 3: Plan Training Sub-Phases and Weeks; Step 4 – Program the Training Session.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, the first thing you must do is download and print off a blank version of the fight template. You can download your free copy here. Next, fill in the calendar month and week from now until your fight, as shown above in the example.

As mentioned above, step 1 involves schedule training phases. The first phase you should schedule is your transition, which should take up about 3 weeks after your fight. Next, schedule your taper, which should take up the 2 weeks before your fight. Your fight camp should take up the 8 weeks before that. The remaining time should be allocated to all of the fight specific phase in plans lasting 4 months or less, and divided evenly between the general preparatory phase and the fight specific phase for those plans lasting longer than 4 months.

Step 2 involves forecasting training volume and intensity across your fight plan.  In plans lasting four months or less, training volume starts low and increases gradually until reaching a peak half way through the fight-specific phase. In plans lasting more than 4 months, training volume should reach a peak by the end of the general prep phase, and decline throughout the fight-specific phase. In all plans, training volume should see a slight bump for two weeks during the early fight camp and slowly drop until the start of the taper. At this point, training volume should fall sharply and remain low throughout the taper. During the transition training volume slowly builds. Training intensity should progressively build and overtake training volume towards the end of the fight-specific phase in plans lasting less than 4 months, and midway through the fight-specific phase in plans lasting longer than 4 months. In all plans, training intensity should progressively increase until reaching a peak at the end of the taper, after which it should fall sharply and progressively build again during the transition.

Step 3 involves planning the training sub-phases and training weeks. The transition should last 3 to 6 weeks. The taper should incorporate 2 peaking weeks. The fight camp should last about 8 weeks and use a combination of SHOCK and developmental (DEV) sub-phases. The length of the fight-specific phase and the general prep phase (if present) depends upon the duration of your plan, but in both cases, they will include a combination of DEV and SHOCK sub-phases. Programming for step 3 is one of the more difficult aspects of developing a periodized fight plan. If you’re having difficulty, consider enrolling in the MMA Training Bible’s online training courses. Here, Dr. Gillis will take you through a step-by-step process for creating your very own periodized training plan. Check out the training page for more details.

The final step involves programming individual training sessions across your fight plan. The general prep phase should focus on building a strong base of aerobic fitness, the first half of which should target aerobic oxidative workouts, and aerobic oxidative/aerobic glycolytic and buffering type workouts in the second half. The fight specific phase should target anaerobic glycolytic and buffering type workouts. The fight camp should target ATP-PCr and buffering type workouts. Maintenance workouts should be incorporated at the end of the fight camp, and throughout the taper. Recovery workouts should be implemented throughout the transition. Again, if you’re having difficulty programming across your fight plan, consider enrolling in The MMA Training Bible’s Step-By-Step Guide for Building Unstoppable Endurance.


The purpose of this article was to provide you with a framework for designing an individualized training plan. In Part 1 you learned about the metabolic demands of MMA, and how to train an energy system in Part 2. Part 3 taught you how to avoid overtraining, and Part 4 covered everything you need to know about periodization. Part five covered performance testing, and in Part 6 of this article, you were introduced to a four-step process for creating your very own personalized plan for building unstoppable endurance. I hope you found it useful, and good luck in the cage!


Dr. Gillis

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