Welcome to The MMA Training Bible’s Guide to periodization. In this article you will learn about what is perhaps the most important aspect of your entire training plan: Periodization. You’ll learn how to structure (or periodize) your training plan over any length of time, and get the most out of your effort. This will help you manage your fatigue on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, which will reduce your potential for overtraining, and optimize your performance in the cage.
In this article you will learn about the most essential training theories that you need to know; the training effect, periodization theory. And I’m going to teach you how to use this information to periodize your training for MMA, and I truly feel that if you take this information on board you will walk away with a crystal clear picture of how your training plan should be organised. You’ll be able to take control of your fight plan, and you’ll be supported by the latest scientific research. I’m not going to lie, this will require some heavy lifting. The concepts discussed in this article are complex. If you’re getting frustrated working through this material on your own, consider teaming up with me in one of our online courses, and I’ll take you through the process of developing a training plan that is individually suited to you, step-by-step. Check out our wide variety of online courses here.
If you’re a fighter or coach and you decide to pass over this material and you don’t learn the essential theories that are the foundation of MMA training and to success on fight day, I think that you will waste some time, some energy, and maybe even some money doing the wrong type of training; or worse, I’ve actually seen some fighters burn-out, or give up and quit, or get injured after following inappropriately designed training plans.
So, if you don’t want to realize your full potential as a fighter, you don’t want to optimize your performance in the cage, or you don’t want to learn how to take control of your training plan, then just avoid learning about periodization, and don’t read this article.
So, why learn periodization theory? To succeed in MMA, you need to know what to do (i.e. endurance, resistance, agility, skill training, flexibility) and you need to know how and when to do it. You need to know the steps to take to organize your entire fight plan. You need to know when you should train hard to ensure that you adapt and grow stronger, but you also need to know when you should have a rest day, or a rest week, to avoid overtraining and burn-out.
To know what do and when to do it, you need to understand periodization i.e. how the objectives of a training session should fit in with the objective of a training week, which fall in line with the objectives of the overall fight plan at that particular phase of training.
To understand how to organize your training, you must first understand periodization theory, which considers how you respond to a particular type of workout (training effect), and how the volume and intensity of training should change to meet your needs over your entire fight plan, and over your whole fight career (periodization theory).
You need to understand how your body responds to training, so that you can use the right training loads at the right time, and this needs to match up with your fight schedule, so that you can build yourself up to your highest level of preparedness, and peak for your fight.
This article will be divided into 5 parts.
Part 1: Periodization demystified: you learned that periodization is an art, but it’s also a science. You also learned that there are a number of ways that your performance can improve by using periodization, and I showed you what a periodized fight schedule looks like.
Part 2: How to plan and sequence your training phases: you learned all about the big phases; the general prep phase, the fight-specific phase, the fight camp, the taper, and the transition. You learned that if you arrange your training in the order we showed you to, you can avoid over-training, dissipate your fatigue, and cause a peak in your performance for your fight.
Part 3: How to plan and sequence your training sub-phases: you learned how to organize the sub-phases of the fight plan. You also learned about the key concepts of training difficulty, and loading plan. And I showed you the 4 different types of sub-phases that you can use when periodizing your fight plan: the developmental sub-phase, the shock sub-phase, the taper sub-phase, and the transition sub-phase. And I gave you a practical example of how to incorporate that information into your training plan right now.
Part 4: How to plan and sequence your training weeks: you learned all about the training weeks, you learned about the four different types; the recovery weeks, the developmental weeks, the shock weeks and the peaking weeks. And I showed you how to progress your training weeks. We also expanded on your practical example.
Part 5: How to plan a training session: you learned how to structure a training session, including the introduction, warm-up, main body and cool-down.
This is article series is going to require some heavy lifting on your part (mental, not physical), but I promise that if you can master this information, you’ll have the key to designing your optimal fight plan, and this will help you reach your full potential as a fighter. Now, let’s get on with it.
Part 1: Periodization demystified
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 (1, 2).
Periodization theories assume that your adaptation to training is predictable (i.e. how long it takes you to supercompensate; read more on your adaptation to training here). This assumption allows coaches to plan the difficulty of a fighters training well into the future (1-3). Unfortunately this assumption is flawed. In fact, it is very difficult to predict how an individual will respond to a training plan. This is because we are all unique, and there are many factors that influence our adaptation to training, from our genetics and training history, to daily variations in our biological and psychological state. For these reasons, it is very difficult to predict how you will respond to a given training plan. This does not mean that periodization is useless; it just means that there is no single, pre-determined periodized training structure that you should be following, because you are unique.
For this reason, coaches and fighters in mixed martial arts (MMA) should feel free to develop creative training approaches based on their own knowledge and experience, incorporating Science whenever possible. This is where the MMA Training Bible comes in; our goal is to provide you with the knowledge to take control of your training plan, and teach you how to run the experiments on yourself that will optimise your performance on fight day.
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 (5, 6).
There are a few areas in particular where scientific research can help you develop a periodized training plan. For example, MMA is characterised by repeated high intensity efforts that rely on a high degree of muscular power and an/aerobic endurance. As it turns out, these performance factors are best developed in distinct phases. For example, muscular power is optimised after you have first developed a solid base of strength, and anaerobic endurance is optimised after a solid base of aerobic endurance has been developed (1). This information is very useful to fighters and coaches in MMA because it tells them the type of training they should be doing at various phases their preparation.
If you’re interested, you can read more about how to train your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems here.
As previously mentioned, it is very difficult to predict your physiological adaptation to training. This is another area where you can use research to get the most out of your efforts in the gym. Specifically, Sports Science can help you choose and run the exercise tests that form the foundation of a performance monitoring program. Performance testing and monitoring is not just for sport scientists and elite athletes; it’s for everyone, it’s a lot simpler than you think, and there are lots of reasons why you must set up your own performance monitoring program immediately! For example, with an appropriately designed monitoring program, you will be able to: better judge the effectiveness of your training plan; optimise your overall physical and mental preparation for fight day; assess how your body is responding to training and help evaluate the potential for overtraining or undertraining; identify strengths and weaknesses and create training objective; and classify your skill status and ability level. If you’re interested in developing your own performance monitoring program, consider enrolling in the MMA Training Bible’s Step-By-Step Guide to Building Unstoppable Endurance.
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 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.
I want to give you an overview of how the fight schedule is organized now, but I’m not going to go into too much detail at this point because we’re really going to get into the details in future parts of this article. Here is a figure of what a fight plan looks like.
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 (just as a side note, your fight is always scheduled right after the taper). Each big phase has very specific objectives that we will cover in a future article. You’re always going to structure your fight plan into a few large phases, no matter how many times you fight in one year.
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.
In future parts of this article, The MMA Training Bible will teach you how to create your own individualized periodized training plan using the basic structure of the fight plan outlined above. You’ll learn how to periodize your training over any length of time, and get the most out of your efforts in the gym. This will help you manage your fatigue on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, which will reduce your potential for overtraining, and optimize your performance in the cage.
If you’re interested in this article or other great topics from The MMA Training Bible, please sign up to our email list on the main blog page and you’ll get an email whenever we post a new article. Also, don’t forget to share this article with your training partners.
In this part, you learned that periodization is an art, but it’s also a science. You also learned that there are a number of ways that your performance can improve by using periodization, and you should have a good idea of what a periodized fight schedule looks like.
Part 1 take-home message
In this part, you learned that periodization is an art, but it’s also a science. You also learned that there are a number of ways that your performance can improve by using periodization, and you should have a good idea of what a periodized fight schedule looks like.
Part 1 references and further study
- Bompa & Haff Periodization 5th ed Champaign ILL USA (2009)
- Issurin, Sports Med 40(3): 189-206 (2010)
- Kiely, Int J Sports Physiol Performance 7(3):242-250 (2012)
- Rhea & Alderman, Res Quarterly Ex Sport 75:413-422 (2004)
- Steinacker et al., Med Sci Sports Exerc 30:1158-1163 (1998)
Part 2: How to plan and sequence training phases
In the last part you learned that periodization is simply the process of organizing your training in a way that helps you to manage your fatigue on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. You also learned that periodization is an art, but it’s also a science, and if used correctly, it can help you lower your potential for overtraining and optimizing your performance on fight day.
In this part, we’re going to break down the structure of this fight schedule. The first thing to notice about the fight plan that we reviewed in Part 1 is that it’s divided into a number of large phases, each of which is further divided into smaller sub-phases that are carefully sequenced 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.
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:
- The general preparation phase
- The fight-specific preparation phase
- The fight camp
- The taper
- The transition
Each phase has very specific objectives. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these phases.
General preparation phase
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 (1, 3).
Any needed changes in body composition should also be addressed during this phase (2). 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 (1).
Fight-specific preparation 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 (1, 3). About mid-way through this phase, training intensity may surpass volume (2).
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. As an alternative to official inter-clubs and competitions, a coach can also scheduling team training sessions with other local gyms.
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 (1). 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 (4). 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 (5). 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 % (two out of 10, or one out of five training sessions) (1). Now, here is the important thing: because your fatigue recovers faster than your fitness is lost from detraining, a taper will result in a performance improvement; this is what a peak is (5). With all of this extra rest, you’ll feel a greater sense of vigour, your mood will improve, and your sense of fatigue and perception of effort in everything that you do will fall (1, 5). This is how you peak for a fight, or anything else, it’s a similar process across all sports. The taper is also the period when you implement any special preparations, such as a weight cutting strategy, or specific training, such as targeting relaxation, confidence building and motivation, or review last minute tactical elements.
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 (1).
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. This period must feature activity, or else detraining will occur. You can avoid this by using primarily low intensity activity (2) and active rest with minimal technical or tactical focus. If you do this right, you can minimize detraining and carry some of your physical adaptations from the last training plan into the next training plan (1). But before you start a new fight plan, you should be fully recovered from the last one. If a new fight plan is initiated without full recovery, performance will be impaired in future fights, and your risk of injury will increase.
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.
I hope you enjoyed Part 2 and found it useful, lets review the take-home message below.
Part 2 tke home messages
In this pat you learned all about the big phases of the fight plan; the general prep phase, the fight-specific phase, the fight camp, the taper, and the transition. You learned that if you arrange your training in this way, you can avoid overtraining, dissipate your fatigue, and cause a peak in your performance for your fight. And you learned how training volume and training intensity should change across your fight plan.
Part 2 references and further study
- Bompa & Haff Periodization 5th ed Champaign ILL USA (2009)
- Kibler & Chandler, Am J Sports Med 27(3):424-432 (1994)
- Plisk & Stone Strength Cond 25:19-37 (2003)
- Siff & Verkhoshansky Supertraining Denver, CO: Supertraining International (1999).
- Mujika, Scand J Med Sci Sports 20(Suppl. 2):24-31 (2010)
Part 3: Sub-phases
Welcome to Part 3 of the MMA Training Bible’s article series on periodization. In Part 1 you learned that periodization is the process of organizing your training into different phases to the end of managing fatigue, lowering your potential for overtraining, and optimizing your performance on fight day. In Part 2, you learned all about the big phases; the general prep phase, the fight-specific phase, the fight camp, the taper, and the transition. You learned that if you arrange your training in the order I showed you to, you can avoid overtraining, dissipate your fatigue, and cause a peak in your performance before your fight.
In Part 3 we’re going to move one level down, and talk about how to organize the sub-phases. Just in case you’ve forgotten what the whole fight schedule looks like, here it is again (you should be able to draw this from memory by now).
As you can see, training phases are divided into 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 (1, 3).
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of these terms before because I will explain them. Just as a side note, these are two simple concepts that you must grasp before moving on. Let’s first talk about the concept of training difficulty.
Training difficulty just describes how difficult your training weeks are, and of course that will influence how difficult the whole training sub-phase is. On the left hand side of the figure above, you can see that training difficulty is classified as either ‘very high’, ‘high’, ‘medium’, ‘low’, ‘very low’, or ‘no training’ (1).
By referring to the total training difficulty of a training week or training sub-phase, rather than the volume and intensity, you better describe the true difficulty of training. This is because training volume and intensity don’t really account for the type of exercise that you’re performing, which can really influence the difficulty of a training session. For example, performing 10 take-downs at 100 % intensity is more physically demanding than performing 10 jabs at 100 % intensity, even though the training intensity and training volume are the same between these two workouts.
If you want to equate training difficulty between these sessions, you need to increase the volume of the jab workout, or decrease the volume in the take-down workout. For this reason, The MMA Training Bible uses the term ‘training difficulty’ to describe the difficulty of training weeks and training sub-phases, rather than volume and intensity. Ok, so that’s concept #1, let’s move on to Concept #2: ‘Loading plan’.
The loading plan just describes how the training difficulty changes across the weeks of a sub-phase. For example, the sub-phase on the left hand side of the above figure uses a loading plan of 1:1; meaning, one difficult week is followed by one less difficult week (i.e. recovery week). The middle sub-phases uses a loading plan of 2:1, with two weeks of increasingly difficult training, followed by one recovery week. Lastly, the sub-phase shown on the right side of the figure uses a 3:1 loading plan, which features three weeks of increasingly difficult training, followed by one recovery week. Pretty simple right?
So now you know why training sub-phases are not all created equal (i.e. because they differ in their training difficulty and the loading plan). And that makes sense because you know that you can’t train at the same difficulty all the time; some sub-phases will be easy, some are going to be hard, and some are going to be very hard; this is a very important concept in periodization.
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, all year round. 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 (1, 3).
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.
It should be noted that more recovery time is required as the number of progressive loading steps increases (1). If you find that a previously planned sub-phase is loaded too high, just add another recovery week. So that’s a developmental sub-phase, let’s have a look at the shock sub-phase.
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 (2).
The adaptations that result from the sudden increase in training difficulty can appear as quickly as 10 days (2), 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; some researchers have even suggested that performance gains may not occur sooner than 4 to 12 weeks after a period of very intense training (1); but I’m not convinced, I haven’t seen these studies, if you have, please let me know.
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.
I want to give you an example of how to build in shock sub-phase. In the below figure, you will notice that a developmental sub-phase is used prior to a shock sub-phase. The big difference between the two sub-phases is found in week 7, when there is a sharp increase in training difficulty (that’s what makes this sub-phase a ‘shock’ sub-phase).
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. This is shown in the figure below.
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. This is shown in the figure below.
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. And we’re nearly at the end of this session, but before we end, I want to recap with the take-home messages.
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.
Also, if you're finding this article useful, so to might your training partners and coaches, so please share it.
Part 3 take home messages
Part 3 showed you how to organize the sub-phases of a periodized fight plan. You learned that training sub-phases are described by their training difficulty and the type of loading plan they employ. You learned that there are four different types of sub-phases; developmental sub-phases, shock sub-phases, the tapering sub-phase and the transition sub-phase. You also learned a little bit about how to organize training sub-phases across your fight plan.
Part 3 references and further study
- Bompa & Haff Periodization 5th ed Champaign ILL USA (2009)
- Hickson et al., Med Sci Sports Exerc 13(1):17-20 (1981)
- Plisk & Stone Strength Cond 25:19-37 (2003)
Part 4: How to plan & sequence training weeks
In Part 1 of the series, you learned that periodization is the process of organizing your training into different phases to the end of managing fatigue, lowering your potential for overtraining, and optimizing your performance on fight day. In Part 2, you learned all about the big phases; the general preparation phase, the fight-specific preparation phase, the fight camp, the taper, and the transition. Part 3 moved one level down and showed you how to organize the sub-phases. In Part 4 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) (1). 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
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 (Remember, you can decrease the difficulty of any training week by lowering the intensity, volume, or number of training sessions, or some combination of each).
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
These 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
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 (otherwise, you could increase your chances of overtraining!).
Taper (peaking) weeks
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 (1). 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 (1).
During the taper, the fighter should incorporate several short, but high intensity training sessions (not more than two or three) 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 (1). The final week of the taper should feature just a few (i.e. one or two) high intensity sessions early in the week.
Transition training weeks
The transition features a combination of recovery and developmental training weeks.
Example of how to schedule training weeks
Ok, I want to give you an example of how to schedule these training weeks into your fight plan.
In the above figure, you can see a developmental sub-phase followed by a shock sub-phase. The developmental sub-phase will only use developmental training weeks. These weeks should feature a very smooth and gradual progress in training difficulty across the sub-phase, followed by one recover week with a training difficulty that is lower than the first developmental training week.
The subsequent shock sub-phase will use a combination of developmental and shock training weeks. In this example, one developmental training week (week 5) is followed by two shock weeks (weeks 6 and 7). Note the sharp increase in training difficulty as this fighter moves from week 5 to week 6 (this is what makes it a shock training week). In this example, two shock training weeks are used back-to-back (weeks 6 and 7). This is an advanced technique that will induce a period of overreaching; hence, a very low difficulty recovery week is required in week 8.
In the above example, you can see how to incorporate peaking weeks in the taper sub-phase, and developmental training weeks in the transition sub-phase. The most important thing to note about the peaking weeks of the taper sub-phase is that they feature a drop in training difficulty as the fight draws nearer. The training weeks of the transition sub-phase start with a very low level of training difficulty and gradually progress gradually, with the aim of preparing the fighter for the start of the next fight plan.
How many training sessions per week should I complete?
Beginners can generally tolerate two to three MMA specific sessions per week, additional endurance, strength/power or agility training sessions can be added thereafter, and may even have a positive influence on a fighter’s technical development, as there is a strong relationship between strength and technical ability (3).
Highly trained fighters can tolerate more sessions per day and per week, and can train at a higher intensity in each session compared to beginners, as shown in the table below (2)
You should aim to progressively increase the number of weekly training sessions you complete, because this will result in a greater training stimulus (and adaptation), but additional sessions should only be added if the you can tolerate the current training load (MMA specific training).
Also, each new session must start with a low training difficulty and fulfill a specific purpose; for example, if you need to build power, that should be the focus, or if you must to develop agility, that’s the goal.
It is important to remember that every fighter must have their own individually designed training week; you can’t just copy my examples and expect to use them for yourself because they are made for individuals with very specific needs. If you study go through the material I’m giving you, you should be able to put your own training plan together, but if you need coaching, check out our online video training.
So that is an overview of how and why the MMA Training Bible structures its training weeks the way it does. And we’re nearly at the end of this part, but before we end, I want to recap with the take-home messages.
Part 4 take home messages
In Part 4, you learned that there are four different types of training weeks (recovery, developmental, shock, peaking) and you learned how to plan and sequence them across your fight plan.
Part 4 references and further study
- Bompa & Haff Periodization 5th ed Champaign ILL USA Human Kinetics (2009)
- Baechle & Earle 2nd ed Champaign IL, USA: Human Kinetics (2000)
- Stone, Stone & Sands, Principles and Practice of resistance training Champaign Il Human Kinetics (2007)
Part 5: How to plan a training session
As a reminder, in Part 1 you learned that periodization is the process of organizing your training into different phases to the end of managing fatigue, lowering your potential for overtraining, and optimizing your performance on fight day. In Part 2, you learned all about the big phases of the fight plan; the general preparation phase, the fight-specific preparation phase, the fight camp, the taper (i.e. peaking phase), and the transition. Part 3 moved one level down and showed you how to organize the sub-phases, and Part 4 showed you how to organize the training weeks. In Part 5 we’re going to show you how to plan a training session.
Every training session that you complete should follow a specific structure and include an introduction, warm-up, main body, and cool-down. Each of these sections will be described in turn below.
The introduction should communicate the objectives of the training session, with an explanation of why these objectives are important, how they fit in to the overall fight plan, and how the training session will achieve the specific objectives.
For example, an aerobic endurance session may focus on building capacity in the aerobic energy system (aerobic oxidation). Aerobic energy metabolism supports activity lasting longer than 3 minutes, but it is also aids recovery between high intensity efforts and allows a fighter to maintain a high pace throughout the entire fight. The fighter will target aerobic oxidation using high intensity running-based intervals and work-to-rest ratios of 1:0.5 to 1:1.5 in the 3 to 5 minute range. For more information on the metabolic demands of MMA, check out this article.
The next part of the session is the warm-up. A warm-up has the effect of physically and mentally preparing the fighter for the main body of the session.
As a basic rule, a warm-up should include a general warm-up and a specific warm-up. The general warm-up includes activities like running, skipping, or cycling etc., and is completed at a low intensity for five to 10 minutes (reduce time for beginners, increase time for advanced fighters), or until you sweat. Following this, 10 to 15 minutes of specific activities should be undertaken. This phase of the warm-up should include the specific skills or techniques that will be used in the main body of the training session.
As a quick but important side note, there are different types of warm-ups that you should do for different types of workouts. Here is an example of a few general warm-ups that you can do for low, moderate and high intensity workouts.
The next part of the training session is the main body. This should focus on just two or three objectives that are linked to the goals of the training week, sub-phase and overall phase of the training plan. As a general rule, fighters should move from non-fatiguing to fatiguing activities during a training session.
Fighters must not be fatigued when learning new skills, as this will reduce the likelihood of mastering it. For example, after completing a general and specific warm-up, the fighter can learn and practice a new skill or tactical element, then perform an agility drill, and move on to strength/power and endurance objectives (although one training session should not include all of these elements – it’s just an example hierarchy!).
Of course, this order can also be manipulated according to the objective. For example, a coach who wishes to test their athlete under pressure could purposefully fatigue them before they engage in a technical element, as this could occur in a fight. Also, placing strength exercise before agility/power drills may improve performance in highly trained athletes. This is because previous excitation of the nervous system may produce an increase in muscle force and rate of force development during subsequent muscle contractions in a phenomenon called post-activation potentiation.
After the main body of the training session is completed, a cool-down should be undertaken. The optimal method to remove lactate appears to be to undertake a cool-down for 20 minutes at a pace that is slightly higher than your self-selected comfortable pace; however, this may delay glycogen resupply in the muscle (2).
Make sure you stretch after your workout, and not before, because stretching before your workout may reduce your strength and power output during the workout. For more information on stretching, check out the article and video on ‘maximizing your flexibility with minimal stretching’. And that’s really it for the structure of a training session.
How many training sessions should I complete per day?
I want to shift gears now and talk about a question that I get asked a lot, ‘How many training session per day should I have?’
For beginner/intermediate fighters, one is probably appropriate. But more advanced fighters should aim to split their daily training load into at least two small sessions per day, as this will result in greater improvements compared with performing one long session (1).
Those fighters with time available during the day should perform skill-based sessions in the morning when they are fresh, followed by an agility, endurance or resistance workout later in the day, preferably separated by as many hours as possible.
Before I conclude, there is one other thing that I want to mention. It’s about training logs. Regular monitoring of training sessions, and other measures including your resting heart rate, mood status, and sleep patterns, can provide information about your response to training and can help you avoid overtraining (read this article series for more information on overtraining). A training log is very useful for shedding light on these and other factors. The training log is a very simple, but essential tool that you can use to track your daily responses to training; it provides a large amount of information that can give a coach great insight into the fighter’s response to the training plan. The analysis of training logs, along with data collected from specialized tests and performance results will allow the coach to help the fighter maximise gains. To keep things simple, I’ve given you a word doc. version of a simple training log that you can print off and use to monitor your day to day training (training-log-template).
Part 5 take home messages
In Part 5 you learned about the components of an effective training i.e. introduction, warm-up, main body, and cool-down. You also learned about how many sessions you should plan for in a day, and the importance of using a training log.
Part 5 references and further study
- Hakkinen & Kallinen, Electromyogr Clin Neurophysiol 34:117-124 (1994)
- Plowman & Smith, Exercise Physiology for health, fitness and performance 3rd Ed, Baltimore, MD. Lippincott Williams & Wilkinson (2011)
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Dr Jason Gillis