Over the last few years we have been pelted with thousands of posts, articles, books and lectures on “sport specific training”. I want to take a minute to hash out some of my ideas on this subject. Of course, a lot of “my ideas” come from studying other people’s theories and putting them to practice. (“Theory To Practice” I even stole that from Keith Norris. Theory To Practice ) after all, we are the sum of all the people who influence us and our experiences.
The basis for doing extra-curricular training is to somehow make ourselves super-human; to gain an edge over our opponent through scientifically superior methods. We are striving to work “smarter not harder”.
There is always room to improve our physical strengths, coordination, endurance and skill set. I’m not opposed to finding new ways of doing this, in fact, this is my mission for the most part; to find the fastest and most efficient ways to improve and build a fighter from the ground up.
I often use examples of my music days and how my journey to become proficient at lead guitar playing parallels my search for skill building methods in martial arts. An example would be doing specific exercises to strengthen your fingers without playing any actual music or practicing scales and arpeggios over and over to improve your speed.
Of course we have to prepare in so many ways to train our muscles, nerves, bones and brains to be ready to fight but we need balance in our schedule. We lift weights and run miles, ride the Aerodyne and roll our shins; anything to build the machine! We use tools like punching bags and focus mitts to drill one particular combination at a time which we need to gain the muscle memory to pull it off in the ring but nothing beats sparing and fighting to make you a better fighter and get you into fight shape.
Next I’ll give you 3 reasons why doing “sport specific training is a good idea and 3 reasons why its not. Make sure to weigh these variables as you put together your training camp.
3 Reasons why it IS a good idea to incorporate “sport specific training”:
1. Overuse injuries: If you are punching bags or jumping and kicking pads for thousands of reps or in the case of a sport like football hitting the tackle dummy a billion times, the chance for repetitive stress injuries goes up substantially.
2. Pre-hab: Doing loaded stop and start as well as rotation and anti-rotation type training not to mention strength training can prepare you for unexpected, violent movements and lessen the damage caused by these events. You can also correct imbalances like those caused by being in your stance for hours and turning your punches and kicks out always the same way.
3. The over-load principle: Doing something like adding weight to the body, hands and feet while shadow boxing as well as wearing an elevation mask or doing under-water running can add load to your cardiovascular system training and cause an over-compensation effect to give you an advantage in endurance.
Here are some great trainers who have worked out fantastic programs to improve the fitness of fighters:
3 Reasons why its not a good idea:
1. Time limitations: You have a limit to the amount of time in a day so training your skills as part of your conditioning work will kill the proverbial “two birds”. If you have 5 hours per day to train, BJJ, Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling you aint got time to do no Crossfit!
2. Risk of injury: Any strength or power lifting exercise has the potential to cause injury. Even doing ladder drills or aqua fit can have their hazards! The lead up to a fight is fraught with perils and you have already won that contest if you make it to the ring.
3. The best reason: Nothing approximates the sport like the sport and nothing prepares you to do a particular movement like actually doing it.
I’m going out on a limb here and assume that every fighter would want to have powerful punches, kicks and take downs; that on the ground they would want unbeatable submissions and un moveable positions. The process that any athlete uses to go about increasing the power of anything from a right cross to a power-snatch, a paddle stroke to a high jump is the same. When asked how to get “power” in a punch my coach Hon Lee gave this very concise formula which can be used in any sport but is essential to the fighting arts:
1. Technique: Absolutely every technique we use must be mastered before we try putting any force behind it. Take an Olympic lifter for example, imagine violently throwing 300? Pounds over your head without knowing how to properly execute the movement! The process that most lifters work through consists of going over the steps of the lift many times, sometimes for months, with only a broomstick. Throwing a punch is also risky but for different reasons, still, the process is very similar. How many times do you practice a punch, first in the mirror, then on the bags and pads before the coach lets you spar with actual people? Make sure that every aspect of the technique is perfect, the turn of the foot, the torque in the hips.
2. Flow: The next step in the process is to make the technique flow. Weather you are throwing one punch or a combination; weather you are pulling a triangle or using it as a set-up for an arm-bar, you need to learn how to seamlessly flow through the movements keeping your defence tight. The smoothness of your movement also adds to your momentum which leads us nicely to the next step.
“We want to move efficiently because it gives you higher performance, its energy-concervative and ultimately its safer. If you want to move often and more frequently you’ve got to be efficient with your movement to maintain safety and maintain that quality. That’s why these skills, techniques and efficiency principals are so important.” Clifton Harsky
3. Speed: A car travelling at 100k will do a lot more damage to a person than a bus travelling at 3k. Likewise, a fighter who has speed in their hands will cause much more havoc than a slow one, even if they are bigger. As long as we keep the technique sound and flow from one to another, adding some speed will automatically generate the power for step 4!
4. If you followed the last three steps you have already arrived here! Power is some thing we shouldn’t be trying to do, it comes as a result of using you body with the most efficiency, hitting the target with accuracy and committing to our technique without reluctance.
In my observations of hundreds of people training in the fighting arts I see similar patterns recurring often related to this. One of these is the way a fighter will slowly revert to instinctive reactions like pulling away from danger. If you think of fighting like placing your hand on a hot stove; holding the hand to the fire goes against our base human drive and we will do anything to remove it from pain. In order to have success in a fight we have to put our face, head and body into a dangerous situation in order to be in position to do damage to our opponent. I see this withdrawal in every fighter as the sparing heats up. In a class setting I am always aware of that and pull the students back to basic movements and get them to focus on technique, timing, distance and posture. Does this sound exactly like what a strength trainer would do?
Any athlete that thinks that they are too advanced to revisit the basics will never advance!
In this old video Kurt shows a basic footwork drill with head movement and jab added. This is the first and most important drill in stand-up fighting and it is the basis of your shadow boxing practice. The foot work translates well to wrestling and MMA. Start out using the stick drill then move on to shadow box then add some random combinations.
The way we train our fighters at Carlson Gracie MMA is to have footwork, head movement and jab working constantly to keep the opponent busy while we strategize and look for openings and weaknesses from the corner. I call this “auto-pilot”
If a fighter does not have these 3 things absolutely mastered, they are not ready for the ring.
The three components of “auto-pilot” are :
2. Head movement
The left hook is a power punch based more on torque than pure horse power. What I mean is, the power for this punch comes from the turn of the body, the shifting weight and the pull from the head moving from one side to the other. There is no arm power needed to knock someone out with a hook! Keeping your punches and combinations tight and clean, leaving no openings for your opponent to sneak in will give you more success and less damage. As for the fist itself, You have a couple options. There are some fighters who prefer to hold the fist palm down but I was taught to hold it “hammer style”. The idea being that you are trying to catch the tip of his chin with your fist to get the leverage to crank the button. As with all punches, the more you throw your head into the motion, the more power you will generate and at the same time, you give him a moving target.
The basic elements of the punch are:
1. Plant the back foot in the fighting stance. (do not let it turn whatsoever)
2. Shift the weight towards the back foot.
3. Turn the front foot on it’s ball.
4. let the turn move through the entire body.
5. At the last second, bring the hand away from the face and the arm in a “hook” shape or at a right angle, while the shoulder replaces it to cover your chin.
6. Bring it back to the face, returning to your stance.
We continue with the primer on the basic punches. Today we talk about the #2 punch or “Right Cross”.
This punch is statistically the best knock out technique because of the leverage, reach and accuracy. You could probably get more raw torque with a hook or over hand but if your opponent’s hands are up you will most likely hit an arm or glove wear as, the two punch lines straight and is designed to connect to the button.
The main points for throwing a good right hand are:
1. Push and turn off the back foot until the leg is straight and the heel is pointing outward.
2. Translate that turn through the entire body until the right shoulder is pointed at your opponent’s chin, the left shoulder is completely turned the other way.
3. At the last second, the hand leaves the face, pushing straight from the cheek to connect to the opponent’s chin. The right shoulder replaces the hand to protect the chin.
4. Get the hand back to the face as quick as possible.