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. But it is important to realise that performance tests do have limitations. For example, a test cannot precisely identify a fighter’s potential, predict their future performance, or guarantee their success in the cage.
The purpose of this article is to encourage fighters and coaches in MMA to monitor key physical and psychological performance factors in MMA. The MMA Training Bible will teach you to conduct a number of simple sport-specific tests that will form the foundation of a testing program. The results of these tests, when compared over time, can help to identify whether a fighter is responding positively (i.e. supercompensation) or negatively (i.e. undertraining, under-recovery, overtraining) to training.
The first part of this article will review the fundamentals of performance testing and health screening. Subsequent parts will teach you how to conduct simple performance tests in the areas of: psychology skills (identifying strengths and weaknesses, assessing your mood state); body size and composition; muscular power, strength and endurance; anaerobic endurance; aerobic endurance; and sport specific testing. Let’s jump into Part 1.
Part 1: The fundamentals of testing
Effective testing is all about precision and repeatability; you must think like a scientist conducting an experiment. By applying a few fundamental principles of testing, you will greatly increase the accuracy of the tests that you run, and you will improve the overall effectiveness of your monitoring program.
Any test in MMA should assess a relevant performance factor, like anaerobic or aerobic fitness, muscular strength, power or endurance, or even psychological skills like aggression or focus. These tests should be carried out in a careful and repeatable way so that you can compare the results between different fighters, and/or within the same fighter over time. Testing should be conducted every few months and is best undertaken as a collaborative effort between the fighter, the entire coaching staff (i.e. head coach and trainers) and other relevant support staff.
There are a few things that you can do to reduce the error associated with testing and improve the overall effectiveness of your monitoring program listed below.
- Before testing, pre-screen fighters for health, medication and nutritional factors that may influence the results of the test. For example, make sure fighters refrain from consuming energy drinks before testing because they can raise heart rate and blood pressure, and influence psychological traits like anxiety. Inadequate hydration or diet (i.e. depleted muscle glycogen) may also influence testing results, so make sure fighters standardize their diets prior to testing (use a food log).
- Ensure the participant refrains from intense physical activity prior to testing so that they are not fatigued.
- Ensure participants are tested at the same time of day as their previous test, as things like body temperature and wakefulness change over the day and this can influence the result of your test.
- The more times you practice a test, especially complex tasks, the better you get. This is called the learning effect, and it can have a dramatic effect on the result of a test. So, before you record the final results of a test, you should have a fighter practice the test enough times to see a plateau in their performance. In this way you can reduce any learning effect by familiarizing the participant with the test before you start.
- Provide verbal encouragement during the test to ensure the fighter puts in a maximal effort
- Ensure testing equipment is working properly. Make a point of knowing everything there is to know about the equipment you are using.
- Practice your testing technique and standardize it in order to make sure that you are not introducing error into the test (i.e. stopping a watch too soon or too late).
With an understanding of these fundamental concepts, you are ready to start testing. Every testing session that you perform must begin with a health screening of the potential participant. Safety in exercise testing is paramount and it begins with screening the health and exercise history of the potential participant and then; if they are fit for testing, gaining their informed consent. This process of pre-screening and gaining consent protects the person that is being tested as well as the person running the tests, and it’s the first step in the whole testing process, so don’t skip it! You can download a copy of a physical activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q) here. As a side note, you should always have your doctor’s approval before going ahead with any sort of exercise testing – This is my disclaimer!
With all of this fundamental information out of the way, you are now ready to start going through the tests psychological tests next.
Part 2: Psychological tests
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.
The Brunel mood scale questionnaire (BRUMS) serves to describe current mood states using 24 mood descriptors, such as angry, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension, happiness and vigour. You assign a score to each descriptor using a 5-point scale (0 = not at all, 1 = a little, 2 = moderately, 3 = quite a bit, 4 = extremely). The questionnaire takes a few minutes to complete and can be used to monitor overtraining. Here’s what it looks like:
You can download and print off your version of the BRUMS here. Remember, the BRUMS is a list of words that describe feelings people have. Please read each one carefully and then circle the answer that best describes HOW YOU FEEL RIGHT NOW. Make sure you respond to every word. After you’re done, add the responses to each of the 32 questions according to the subscales on the right-hand side of the page and arrive at a final score for each subscale. The total score for each subscale is what you’re after. As the months go by, you can monitor how your mood changes and this can give you some indication as to whether you are overtraining.
There are a number of other psychological tools that The MMA Training Bible uses to help fighters and coaches monitor their 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. Let’s go through an example of how these profiles work. Below you’ll find a profile for technical development.
To use the profile, simply rate your current perception of your ability in each quality using a scale of 1 (lowest possible ability) to 10 (Professional ability) by shading in the pie sections to the appropriate level. It is advisable that both the coach and the fighter complete their OWN profile, then compare the results as a team, and identify the most important areas of improvement. These areas of improvement often become your training objectives, and should provide focus to your overall training plan. As a general rule, fighters and coaches should aim to fill out these profiles every month or so, or as needed.
The MMA Training Bible also uses Goal Setting strategies to help fighters and coaches gain a psychological advantage in the cage, but reviewing all tools of these in detail is beyond the scope of this article. Consider enrolling in the MMA Training Bible’s Step-By-Step Guide to Goal Setting if you’re interested incorporating all the tools mentioned here. Dr Gillis will teach you how to use performance profiles for Technical development, psychological skills, and conditioning, in addition to a formal goal setting process.
Part 3: Flexibility
Range of motion (ROM) is the degree of motion that occurs at a joint. It is influenced by connective tissue structure, activity level, age and gender, and it is very specific to the joint (i.e. ball/socket joints vs hinge joint).
The optimal level of flexibility changes with the sport i.e. gymnasts need more shoulder flexibility than cyclists. It is important to note that injury risk increases when an athlete leaves the optimal range of flexibility for their sport. Both hyper-flexibility and hypo-flexibility increase injury and imbalance in flexibility may also increase injury risk.
Flexibility is a measure of ROM with two components. Dynamic flexibility is the available range of movement during active movements and it requires voluntary muscle actions. Static flexibility is the range of possible movement about a joint during passive movement. In this section, you will assess dynamic flexibility with a sit-and-reach test. Here’s what it looks like:
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 activities. Below are the testing procedures for the sit-and-reach test.
Sit and reach protocol:
- Clients should perform a short warm-up prior to this test and include some stretches (i.e. modified hurdlers stretch). The participant should refrain from fast, jerky movements, which may increase the possibility of injury. The participant’s shoes should be removed.
- Place a measuring tape on the floor with a right-angle line (made with tape) at the 15-inch mark. The client sits with the measuring tape between the legs, with legs extended at right angles to the taped line on the floor. Heels of the feet should touch the edge of the right angle taped line (at the 15-inch mark) and be about 10 to 12 inches apart.
- The client should slowly reach forward with both hands as far as possible, holding this position for approximately 2 s. Be sure that the participant keeps the hands parallel and does not lead with one hand. Fingertips can be overlapped and should be in contact with the measuring tape.
- The score is the most distant point (cm or inches) reached with the fingertips. The best of two trials should be recorded. To assist with the best attempt, the client should exhale and drop the head between the arms when reaching. Testers should ensure that the knees of the participant stay extended; however, the participant’s knees should not be pressed down. The client should breathe normally during the test and should not hold his/her breath at any time.
Part 4: 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. 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.
This part of the article is meant to provide you with a simple overview of measures of body size and composition. Because a high level of skill and precision is required to accurately measure both, The MMA Training Bible recommends that you find a suitably trained individual to perform them for you. If you are interested in learning more about this field of science or perhaps gaining certification, refer to the official website of The International Society for Advanced Kinanthropometry. The remainder of this article will provide a simple overview of common measures of body size and composition.
Body size is an important factor that can determine performance in MMA. Typical measurements include body mass, the circumference of limbs, bone breadths and limb lengths. Circumference measures of the chest, waist, arms and legs are particularly useful in tracking muscular development across your fight plan.
In order to measure body mass, you’ll need access to weighing scales. When performing these measures, try to use the same scales every time and make sure they are calibrated appropriately. You should also allow for the weight of clothing by either removing it before hand, or weighing it separately and subtracting it from the total weight. As one litre of water weighs 1 kg, you’ll need to make sure that participants are not over or under hydrated when the measure is taken. To measure height (cm or m), use a simple measuring tape.
Another frequently used measure of body size is the body mass index (BMI), which can be easily calculated by dividing your body mass (kg) by your height (m2) (BMI = kg/m2). For example, a 70 kg individual with a height of 1.7 m (which equals 2.89 m2 [i.e. 1.7 m x 1.7 m = 2.89 m2]) would have a BMI of 24.2, which is considered ‘normal’. Keep in mind that BMI does not consider body composition, so it may not be the most appropriate measure for the athlete population.
Body circumference can be a useful measure to track both muscular hypertrophy (muscles getting bigger) and fat loss across during training. In order to measure limb circumference, you’ll need measuring tape. Try to use a narrow (< 7 mm wide), but flexible and tough tape that doesn’t stretch. It should probably be at least 1.5 m long and it should read centimetres (cm) and millimetres (mm). Gulick anthropometric tape will do the trick.
Below are examples of circumferences that are commonly measured, along with a brief description of how the measure is taken. For more information, refer to official manuals from The International Society for Advanced Kinanthropometry.
Body composition refers to the absolute amount of fat and non-fat tissue within the body. Fat mass is the total mass of all fat within the body and fat-free mass is the total mass of all tissues within the body, excluding fat. The percentage of body fat is the ratio of fat mass to fat-free mass.
There are many ways to have your body composition assessed and some are more complicated and expensive than others. For example, pinching the skin with skinfold callipers is a very common method that can be quite reliable if done by an experienced practitioner, although the best way to measure body fat is by using an expensive underwater hydrostatic weighing system. The MMA Training Bible advises you to have your body composition evaluated before and throughout your fight plan by a suitably trained practitioner.
Skin fold calipers are used to pinch folds of your skin. Calipers come in many formats, some more expensive than others; however, they require regular and careful calibration in order to ensure the accuracy of measurement. Here is an example of what they look like.
Below are examples of some of the more common skin fold measures that are taken, along with a brief description of how to precisely take the measure. For more information, refer to official manuals from The International Society for Advanced Kinanthropometry (ISAK, 2001).
Below you will find an example of a typical data collection sheet that can be used in conjunction with all of the previously described measures. Feel free to download your own copy of the accompanying data collection sheets, along with all of the measures previously described.
You might notice that the percentage of body fat is not listed in the table below. Although most people like to talk about the % body fat, many scientists feel that it is not as accurate a measure of body composition as the skin fold measure. This is because a rather complicated formula is required to calculate % body fat. If you want to see for yourself, check out the research by Durnin & Womersley (1977). If you’re looking for a useful summary measure of total body fat, then consider adding together all of the skinfold measures into one number, you can call it ‘the sum of 8 skin folds’, as we have in the table.
Part 5: Muscular Power
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 different ways to assess muscular power, but the best way is to use a piece of scientific equipment called an isokinetic dynamometer. If you don’t have access to one, we’re going to cover two simple tests that you can use. The first test assesses the power of your lower body muscles using a vertical jumping protocol. The second assesses upper body muscular power using a seated medicine ball toss. Both tests are covered below.
For the vertical jump test you will need a measuring tape, chalk or a marker, and a scale to measure body mass. First, the starting reaching height is recorded (shown in figure below). This is just the distance between the floor and the fingertip of an outstretched arm measured when the participant is standing next to a wall. The ending fingertip position will be identified on the wall by the chalk dust/tape (or other mark) left by the participant’s fingertip at the top of their jump (show in figure). Your vertical jump height is simply calculated by finding the difference between the maximum jump height (cm) the standing reach (cm).
Without a preparatory step or a counter-movement, the participant will stand with their feet shoulder width apart and perform a vertical jump by squatting down until the knees are bent to 90°, holding for a count of 3 seconds, and jumping as quickly and as powerfully as possible, with the goal of jumping as high as possible.
During the jump, the dominant arm should reach upward in an attempt to touch the highest point possible. A total of 3 attempts should be made, each separated by 30 s of rest.
Although recording the height of the jump is a pretty good measure of lower body power, you can also calculate the peak power of the vertical jump using a formula developed by Sayers et al., (1999);
Peak power (watts) = [60.7 x VJ height (cm)] + [45.3 x body mass (kg)] – 2055
Example calculation Peak power (watts) = [60.7 x 50 cm] + [45.3 x 75 kg] – 2055 Peak power (watts) =  + [3397.5] – 2055 Peak power (watts) = [6432.6] – 2055 Peak power (watts) = 4377.5 W
Peak power (watts) = [60.7 x 50 cm] + [45.3 x 75 kg] – 2055
Peak power (watts) =  + [3397.5] – 2055
Peak power (watts) = [6432.6] – 2055
Peak power (watts) = 4377.5 W
For the seated medicine ball throw, you’ll need a medicine ball with a set weight (i.e. 5kg). In this test The participant should sit down on the floor against a wall. They should be sat on and centred over a tape measure that touches the wall behind them. The tape measure should be centred between the feet, buttocks, and the upper part of the back and head. Participants should sit with their feet (at least heels) pressed on in floor.
Participants are to hold the medicine ball with both hands in front of the chest, fingers behind the ball, and elbows slightly raised (45°), then throw the ball forward as far as possible. During the initiation of the throw the head and back should not lose contact with the wall, and no rocking before the throw is allowed. Perform two attempts separated by 30s rest and document the throw distance up to 1 cm.
Part 6: Muscular Strength
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. One of the best ways is to use an expensive piece of equipment called a dynamometer; but this isn’t very practical, so we’re going to show you how to assess muscular strength using a few common pieces of gym equipment. The first test of strength we’ll discuss is the bench press test; the second test is the squat. Note that before you attempt these tests you should have a solid base of strength training with good technique in both lifts, and at least two suitably trained spotters.
To predict your maximal upper body strength, you could use the 5 and 3 repetition maximum (RM) bench press test. To do this test you’ll need a typical bench press set-up, 2 spotters and safety clamps, and a data collection sheet.
To run this test have the participant take a 15-minute self-organised general warm-up and then familiarize them with the bench press technique. The participant will then perform a specific warm-up with a light resistance that they can easily complete for 5 to 10 repetitions. Following this they are to take about 1-minute rest. Next, estimate a load that will allow the participant to complete 3 to 5 repetitions, and repeat until you’ve found the 3 to 5 RM. Note that the more attempts you make, the more fatigued you’ll be, and the less accurate your score.
Participants are always expected to hold a solid technique during the testing process – TECHNIQUE AND SAFETY BEFORE PERFORMANCE!!
When the weight is set on the bar and the participant lies on the bench, the spotter will spot the applicant from behind. A second tester will position him/herself close to the bench. The participant is expected to perform as many repetitions with the set weight as possible: The bar should move smoothly and touch the chest at its lowest point. The bar should move over the chest, not pressed out of the shoulder. The arms should be completely extended on the highest point but not overstretch and breathing should be continuous. The whole back should always have contact with the bench during the motion.
The spotter is to help the participant put the weight back on the cradle and supports the participant if the movement gets stuck. If the spotter is required to intervene, the respective repetition does not count and no further reps are to be attempted at this point in time.
Record the number of repetitions with each given weight; even if a 5 RM attempt ended up being 6 or 4 reps. You can also evaluate the form/technique of the press against the criteria mentioned above on a scale from 1 – 3 (1 = beginner, 3 = excellent).
To assess lower body strength, you can complete a 5 and 3 RM Squat test. You’ll need a standard squat rack set up; 3 spotters, safety clamps, and a data collection sheet.
To run this test, again have the participant take a 15-minute self-organised general warm-up and then familiarize them with the Squatting technique. The participant will then perform a specific warm-up with a light resistance that they can easily complete for 5 to 10 repetitions. Following this they are to take about 1-minute rest. Next, estimate a load that will allow the participant to complete 3 to 5 repetitions.
Again, participants are always expected to hold a solid technique during the testing process, so it bares repeating – TECHNIQUE AND SAFETY BEFORE PERFORMANCE!!
When the weight is set on the bar and the applicant is standing under the bar, the tester will spot the applicant from behind. The two other testers will position themselves to the left and right of the bar.
The participant is expected to perform as many repetitions with the set weight as possible. The bar should move smoothly through the entire movement. If not agreed otherwise with the participant, a full squat should be performed, i.e. with hips parallel to the knees. If only a half squat is performed (90° knee angle), this is to be noted on the evaluation sheet. The back of the applicant should always be straight or in a slight hollow back position. Breathing should be continuous. The spotter is to help the participant in putting the weight back on the cradle. The spotter will support the applicant if the movement get stuck. If the spotter is required to intervene, the respective repetition does not count and no further reps are to be attempted at this point in time.
Document the number of repetitions with each given weight, even if a 5 RM attempt ended up being 6 or 4 reps. Evaluate the form/technique of the squat against the criteria mentioned above on a scale from 1 – 3 (1 = beginner, 3 = excellent).
Part 7: Muscular Endurance
MMA 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 of time.
Tests of muscular endurance can be static or dynamic, use an absolute load or a percentage of a maximum voluntary contraction or 1 repetition maximum (1RM), and typically last 30 s to 90 s. Muscle endurance is specific to the muscle group tested, speed of the contraction, type of contraction (i.e. static or dynamic) and the joint angle assessed.
Muscle endurance can be assessed directly using electromyography (EMG), which measures the fall in muscle action potentials over prolonged or repeated contractions. Force transducers and strain gauges; when built into force plates or dynamometers, can indirectly assess muscle endurance by measuring the fall in force production over prolonged or repeated contractions. Many valid and reliable protocols exist for assessing muscular endurance using either of the above methods, but they require expensive equipment and are inaccessible to most athletes and coaches. For these reasons, it is desirable to have a range of inexpensive tests that can be administered with minimal equipment and technical training.
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 callisthenic 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. This section will teach you how to assess muscular endurance using the partial curl-up test and the push-up test. Here’s what they look like:
To complete the partial curl-up test you’ll need a stop-watch, metronome (not necessary), measuring tape, mat, marking tape. The curl-up test is designed to assess muscular endurance of the abdominal musculature. Performing a partial curl-up with the feet un-sported and the knees flexed appears to maximize abdominal activity and lessen low back strain compared to performing full sit-ups with foot bracing (Nieman, 2011). For this reason, we will use the partial curl-up test. The purpose of this test is to assess endurance of the abdominal musculature; here’s how you perform the test:
CURL-UP TESTING PROCEDURE
- Apply masking tape across a gym mat in two parallel lines, 10 cm apar
- Lay on your back, with the head resting on the mat, arms straight and fully extended at the sides and parallel to the trunk, palms of the hands in contact with the mat, and the middle fingertip of both hands at the 0-mark lin The knees should be bent at 90° angle. The heels must stay in contact with the mat. The test is performed with the shoes on.
- Set a metronome to a cadence of 50 beats per minute (equivalent to about 1 every 2 seconds). The participant performs as many consecutive curl-ups as possible, without pausing, at a rate of 25 per minute. During each curl-up, the upper spine should be curled up so that the middle fingertips of both hands reach the 10 cm m During the curl-up the palms and heels must remain in contact with the mat. Anchoring of the feet is not permitted. On the return, the shoulder blades and head must contact the mat, and the fingertips of both hands must touch the 0 mark.
- The test is terminated anytime at the participant’s discretion, or if theyare unable to maintain the proper curl-up technique over two consecutive repetition
To complete the push-up test, you’ll need a stop-watch. The purpose of the push-up test is to assess muscle endurance of the triceps, anterior deltoids and pectoralis major. There are separate testing protocols for males and females.
For males, assume a push-up position with the body rigid and straight, balanced on toes, head up, and hands under the shoulders.
PUSH-UP TESTING PROCEDURE
- A tester places a fist on the floor beneath the participant’s chest, who lowers himself until his chest touches the fist, keeping his back perfectly straight; he then raises himself to the starting position
- The most common performance error is not keeping the back rigid and straight throughout the entire push-up. Rest is allowed in the up position only. The score is the total number of push-ups to exhaustion
For females, everything is the same as for the males, except the test is performed from the bent-knee position with feet crossed, knees at 90°, and head up (notice the error in the picture, above). In addition, females should make sure their hands are slightly ahead of her shoulders in the up position, so that her hands are directly under her shoulders on the down position.
Part 8: Anaerobic and Aerobic Performance
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. Both tests are described in turn below.
To complete the running-based Anaerobic Sprint Test, you’ll need 35-m of track, two stopwatches, two assessors, and counter. The running-based anaerobic sprint test consists of 6 x 35 m sprints, with 10 s rest between each sprint. The first thing you must do is find a suitable straight-line course and mark off 35 m. After undertaking a suitable warm-up, you’re ready to begin the test. Note that one assessor ensures the participant takes only 10 s of rest between each sprint, and another assessor records the time of each 35-m sprint.
To quantify your ability to resist fatigue during the test, use the percentage decrement score (Sdec) (Girard et al., 2011), because a good repeated sprint ability is best described by a high average sprint performance. Use the below equation to calculate the Sdec.
Sdec (%) = ([Sprint 1 + S2 + S3 + S4 + S5 + S6] / [Sbest x 6] -1) = x 100
Below is an example that shows you how to perform these calculations. Note that the fastest sprint time that you achieve during the entire test, and the average sprinting time over all six sprints is also a good performance indicator that you should record.
Example of a good score:
Sprint 1 = 5.0s; S2 =4.9s; S3=5.0s; S4=5.2s; S5=5.2s; S6=5.2s
Sdec (%) = ([30.5/29.4] - 1) x 100
Sdec (%) = (1.04 - 1) x 100
Sdec (%) = 0.0374 x 100 = 3.74 %
Example of a poor score:
Sprint 1 = 5.0s; S2 =5.1s; S3=5.5s; S4=5.6s; S5=6.0s; S6=6.2s
Sdec (%) = ([33.4/30] - 1) x 100
Sdec (%) = (1.113 - 1) x 100
Sdec (%) = 0.113 x 100 = 11.3 %
The most common test of aerobic fitness is the laboratory-based incremental VO2max test. The participant performs the test at a predetermined cadence or at a specific work rate that increases at regular intervals, until they can no longer continue. Oxygen and Carbon dioxide, and many other variables are measured with expensive laboratory equipment. It is not possible to perform this test on yourself, but your local university may be able to accommodate you. If you do not have access to a laboratory, try the Balke test described below. The Balke test (Balke, 1963) is a 15-minute test of aerobic endurance. This is somewhat comparable in duration to a typical professional MMA bout (i.e 3 x 5 min rounds). In this test, the participant runs around a 400 m track for 15 minutes, the distance achieved in this time is record and used to estimate VO2max using the following formula:
VO2max = (((Total distance covered (m) / 15) – 133) x 0.172) + 33.3
Here is an example of how to figure out your VO2max using the formula:
Example of an excellent score (Completed 5000 m in 15 min)
VO2max = (((5000m / 15) – 133) x 0.172) + 33.3
VO2max = (((333.33) – 133) x 0.172) + 33.3
VO2max = ((200.33) x 0.172) + 33.3
VO2max = (34.45) + 33.3
VO2max = 67.75 ml/kg/min
Example of an excellent score (Completed 3050 m in 15 min)
VO2max = (((3050m / 15) – 133) x 0.172) + 33.3
VO2max = (((203.33) – 133) x 0.172) + 33.3
VO2max = ((70.33) x 0.172) + 33.3
VO2max = (12.096) + 33.3
VO2max = 45.396 ml/kg/min
As a reference, most elite male wrestlers and judokas have a VO2max between 50 and 60 mL·kg·min-1 (Callan et al., 2000; Franchini et al., 2011; Horswill 1992). But you should remember that although wrestling and judo share some technical similarities with MMA, the matches are much shorter in duration. For example, a typically international wrestling match can last up to 6 minutes (3 periods of 1 or 2 minutes), while judo matches can last up to 10 minutes. A typical MMA match can approach and often exceed 15 minutes (three to five, five minute rounds). This suggests that fighters in MMA require a larger VO2max than their wrestling and judo peers.
Part 9: Sport-Specific Testing: The Fighter’s Drill
The fighters drill attempts to replicate the demands of a typical bout of MMA by having fighters repeat four MMA drills back-to-back, in a self-paced manner, for three, five minute rounds, with one-minute rest between each round. You will require a large area, preferably a cage, one 40 kg grappling dummy, stop watch, a counter, and two experienced pad holders.
The fighter will always start in the centre of the cage, facing towards drill 1, in a fighting stance. They will make their way through the four drills back-to-back, in a self-paced manner, for 5 minutes (round 1), then rest for 60 s. Two additional 5 minute rounds will follow the same sequence with 60 s of rest between each round. The test will last 17 minutes (3 x 5 minute rounds, with 2 x 60 s of rest after rounds 1 and 2).
Performance will be assessed by the total number of drills completed during each 5-minute round, and over the entire test. Heart rate (beats/min) can also be recorded throughout the entire test.
The 4 sport specific drills are listed below:
Drill 1. Striking combinations: The fighter will start from the centre of the cage, in a fighting stance, facing an experienced pad holder. At their own pace they will approach the pad holder and perform a jab-cross-hook-cross combination, followed by a jab-cross-switch-kick combination.
Drill 2. Take-down: After drill 1, the fighter immediately returns to the centre of the cage in their fighting stance, facing towards drill 2. At their own pace they will perform a penetration step and pick up a 45 kg grappling dummy that is balanced in a standing position about 1 m from the cage wall. After picking up the dummy, it is carried and pinned against the cage (or wall). Whilst maintaining a body hold, the fighter then performs a suplex that sends the grappling dummy to the ground.
Drill 3. Ground based striking & submission: After drill 2, the fighter immediately returns to the centre of the cage in their fighting stance and faces towards drill 3. At their own pace, they mount the grounded grappling dummy and perform 5 x punching strikes to the head region and an arm-bar submission on right limb. They immediately re-mount the grappling dummy and perform 5 x elbow strikes to the head region, then perform arm-bar submission attempt on the left limb.
Drill 4. Maximal effort striking: After drill 3 the fighter immediately returns to the centre of the cage in their fighting stance, facing towards drill 4. They start the drill at their own pace by performing 3 x rear-hand maximal punches followed by 3 x rear leg maximal kicks.
Below is an example of how the data from the fighter’s drill can be collected.
The purpose of this article was to encourage fighters and coaches in MMA to monitor key physical and psychological performance factors in MMA. The first part of this article reviewed the fundamentals of performance testing and health screening. Subsequent parts provided instruction for conducting simple performance tests in the areas of: psychology skills (identifying strengths and weaknesses, assessing your mood state); body size and composition; muscular power, strength and endurance; anaerobic endurance; aerobic endurance; and sport specific testing. The results of these tests, when compared over time, can help to identify whether a fighter is responding positively (i.e. supercompensation) or negatively (i.e. undertraining, under-recovery, overtraining) to training.
If you found this article useful, please share it with your coaches and training partners, and like us on social media! We’d also love to hear about your results, so please leave a comment below.
Baechle & Earle (2008), Essentials of strength and conditioning, Human Kinetics, Champaign Il,USA.
Balke B, 1963, A simple field test for the assessment of physical fitness. Civil Aeromedical Research Institute Report, 63-18. Oklahoma City: Federal Aviation Agency
Bosco C, Luthanen P, Komi PV. (1983). A simple method for measurement of mechanical power in jumping. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 50(2):273-82.
Butler & Hardy Sport Psychologist 6:253-264 (1992)
Callan et al., 2000, Physiological profiles of elite freestyle wrestlers, J Strength Cond Res, 14, 162-169;
Cormie P, McGuigan MR, Newton RU. (2011). Developing maximal neuromuscular power: Part 2 – Training considerations for improving power production. Sports Med, 41(2), 125-146.
del Vecchio et al., A review of time motion analysis and combat development in mixed martial arts matches at regional level tournaments. Percept mot skills. 2011, 112(2), 639-648
Durnin & Womersley (1977). Body fat assessed from total body density and its estimation from skinfold thickness. Br J Nutr, 32, 77.
Franchini et al., 2011, Physiological profiles of elite judo athletes, Sports Med, 41, 147-166;
Girard et al., Repeated sprint ability – part 1. Sports Med. 2011, 41(8), 673-694
Horswill, Applied Physiology of amateur wrestling, Sports Med, 14, 114-13;
Lubans DR, Morgan P, Callister R, Plotnikoff RC, Eather N, et al., (2011). Test-retest reliability of a battery of field-based health-related fitness measures for adolescents. Journal of Sports Science 29(7):685-93.
Mackenzie (2005), 101 performance evaluation tests, electronic word PLC, London.
McDougal JD, Wenger HA, Green HJ. (1991). Physiological Testing of the High-Performance Athlete (2nd ed). Human Kinetics: Champaign Ill.
Mirzaei et al., 2009, Physiological profile of elite Iranian junior freestyle wrestlers, J Strength Cond Res, 23, 2339-2344
Nieman, D. (2011). Exercise Testing and Prescription: A Health-Related Approach (7th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw Hill.
Plowman SA, Smith DL. (2011). Exercise Physiology: For Health, Fitness, and Performance (3rd ed.). China: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Sayers et al., (1999). Cross-validation of three jump power equations. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 31(4); 572-77.
Westerblad H, Allen DG, Lannergren J. (2002) Muscle fatigue: lactic acid or inorganic phosphate the major cause? News Physiol Sci 17:17-21.
Westin, Greenless & Thelwell Int Rev Sport Ex Psyc DOI:10.1080/1750984X.2012.674543 (2012)
Whitehead PN, Schilling BK, Peterson DD, Weiss LW. (2012). Possible new modalities for the Navy physical readiness test. Military Medicine. 177(11):1417-25.
International Standards for Anthropometric Assessment (2001) published by The International Society for the advancement of Kinanthropometry (ISAK)