Periodisation of training for the Combat Athlete


Last issue we addressed how to do train your cardiovascular system for maximum effectiveness in your sport. This issue we look at where to put this kind of training in to your training season.

One of the biggest mistakes combat athletes make is in the programming of their training. Often peaking at the wrong time, way before competition, or putting in the wrong kind of training at the wrong time in their training year.

You may know the best exercises to do, but putting them together in the right order, doing them in the right time and at the correct intensity is the true challenge we face. This is where the Strength and Conditioning coach comes in.

The first thing I ask a fighter who approaches me for training is when his/her fight is. This allows me to put together a long-term, or in some cases- a short term plan for their training leading up to that fight. The magic is to have them peaking bang on competition time. This is best achieved by Periodisation, or the cycling of training for maximum effectiveness and motivation, whilst lessening the chance of injury and plateaus in performance.

Open your mind.

The concept of periodisation is not revolutionary, it just hasn’t been taken on by the combat community that well. Many fighters prefer to keep their training the same all year round, sticking to what they know- with exercises they comfortable in, with a slight taper-off leading up to competition time.

If this sounds like you….read on, as I have what may be the magic bullet in your training arsenal!

Fighters from the Eastern pioneered periodisation in the 1960’s, with Russian physiologists Leo Metveyev and Czechoslovakian sport scientist Tudor Bampa leading the way for the rest of the world to follow. Periodisation models have changed since then, but the fundamentals are the same- train each variable: Hypertrophy, Strength, Power and Power Endurance separately and in a pre-determined order .

You cannot train all variables at the same time and expect significant gains in performance. We have to train each one individually to prevent exhaustion or over-training. I see over-training all the time, its not pretty. If you’re tired, not sleeping well, lethargic, injured or not performing well- you are most likely over-training.


The phases

Having trained under JC Santana from the Institute of Human Performance, Florida, I use the IHPCombat Periodisation model. Using this model we see there are four phases, ideally lasting 4 weeks each:

Conditioning phase: develops a foundation for your later cycles. Often fighters are not used to the movements involved in my training, so I use this phase to get them conditioned and fit, whilst learning the functional exercises we’ll be using in later cycles.

Hypertrophy and Strength phases: are joined together as most fighters will not want to add more muscular weight due to meeting weight for fights. If a fighter want to add more muscle, these two phases can be separated to spend more time on each aspect. Here the loads will be heavy, whilst still using the functional exercises we learned in the previous phase.

Power phase: uses traditional lifts such as squats and bench press to increase power output. Moderately heavy loads are lifted explosively with recovery.

Power endurance phase: my favourite of all the phases, this is the last of the phases as it often requires a bucket to be sick! Here the strength and power we built up in the last phases is kept up whilst taking the fighters cardiovascular system to an in-fight specific level. Here we use moderately heavy loads without recovery.

How do we put this together?

In the ideal world we would have 16 weeks to train before a fight, giving us plenty of time to spend in each phase, but this is not always the case. Often I only have 8-9 weeks to work with a fighter leading up to a fight, so we have to shorten certain phases according to the individual.

This was the case with MMA fighter Oli Thompson, training for his bout against Thomsas Czerwinski at ZT Fight Night.

10-week Periodisation Block: Oli Thompson- Heavyweight MMA fighter.

General conditioning: Increase functional capacity: 2 weeks

Hypertrophy and strength: Increase muscle mass and strength: 2 weeks

Power: Increase power: 3 weeks

Power endurance: Increase fatigue resistance: 3 weeks

In this case, Oli who comes from years of Strongman training already had a good solid base of strength and power, and did not want to gain any more muscle, so we put more emphasis on his Power and Power endurance.

As you can see the periodisation model can be adapted according to the individual needs of the fighter. Only the order of the cycles stays the same.

As a fighter, if you spend some time in your programming of training, you will set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. It will allow you to train year-round, with little loss of motivation, less injuries and peak performance when needed.

Next article we will cover the first block of periodisation: General conditioning.



Top MMA Strength & Conditioning coach based in the UK, Christian owns and operates Combat Ready Training (CRT), offering Strength & Conditioning for the Combat Athlete.Based at ZT Fight Skool, Hove- CRT specialises in pre-contest preparation and off-season conditioning.Trained under JC Santana of the Institute of Human Performance, Christian is emerging as one of the top Combat Strength & Conditioning coaches in the UK. See: 
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