This is a vast topic that needs to be understood from several angles if you are going to get the most out of your overall fight training program. Often when we think of power in combat sports we are referring to how hard you can throw, punch and kick. This is part of the equation but not the whole story. This is really the physics aspect of power. I will deal mainly with that aspect of power in this article.
Another aspect of power related to MMA, is one that you will hear from fight commentators frequently, and that refers to having power over (or overpowering) an opponent. In that context, power might not relate to the force of strikes, but to the clever use of tactics used to thwart an opponents advances. It can be offence or defence based. It could mean smothering an opponent or holding him down – hence the ‘over’ aspect of overpowering. So instead of the physics definition of power, it may just mean a sustained onslaught over several rounds that eventually breaks down the other fighter. A third way of looking at power in mixed martial arts is the psychological aspect. This works in 2 directions. Firstly, your own self confidence, and secondly how you project mentally towards your opponent and gain power over him almost hypnotically. This can occur months before a fight and during it too. Tables can be turned at any point. This is a key component of fighting strategy. Having mental power over your opponent will always give you an edge.
MMA Power Training – the Physics
Contrary to popular myth and misinformation, power is not actually about explosive force exclusively. Power is just the work you perform divided by the time it takes to do it. Going the distance and winning by a points decision is no less powerful than winning with a knockout punch in under ten seconds. But if you are looking to develop explosive force then there are some training techniques that will greatly increase your rate of force production when it comes to throwing knockout punches, kicks and devastating throw downs.
The Lesson of the Bullet
If I were to throw a bullet at you as hard as possible, aiming for your stomach, it wouldn’t even hurt. However, if it came flying out of the barrel of a gun, you could be dead. What is the difference? Force. Force = mass x acceleration. The bullet I threw at you weighs no more than the one that exited the gun. It was travelling much faster though. So if you want to develop maximum instantaneous power (I.e. get a lot work done in the shortest amount of time) with strikes, you have to look at how much mass you are throwing at your opponent, and how fast it is heading towards him.
Strength without Technique = (Almost) Zero (effective) Power
If you know anything about punching, you will appreciate that the fist is the messenger boy, not the king himself. The fist carries the mass (the message) of the rest of the body (the king). So the first thing you must do if you want to get your MMA power training on the right track is get your technique sorted. All the mass and strength in the world won’t help if the fist can’t channel it. So you need to know the mechanics of how to throw a knockout punch first.
MMA Power Training Techniques
Let’s assume you know what you are doing with technique. What methods can you implement in your training to increase your physical power? First – you could raise your mass. That would mean packing on some muscle. You could just get fatter, but I wouldn’t advise you to do that as fat has no power generating capacity. The bigger you are, the more potential force you can generate. But bodybuilders – the biggest guys on the planet – usually make terrible fighters. This is because the other component – speed – is missing. Take a look at fight coach Ross Enamait’s video below to see how he combines strength and power training into one:
Train with Explosive Reps
The lesson here then, is that in all your gym work, you must try and power up the weights with maximum acceleration. This doesn’t mean cheating. It means using a weight that doesn’t allow cheating. It has to be heavy enough to not fly out of your hands at the top of a rep. But it must not be too heavy that you can’t move it with any appreciable speed. Although, even when training heavy, say in the 4-6 rep range, you still must mentally attempt to move that weight as fast as you can. Doing this sends messages to your central nervous system (CNS), that it needs to fire up more muscle fibres on each rep.
Stretch Bands and Chains
If you are working with lighter weights then there are a couple of tricks that you should start using to increase the rate of force production, without the barbells flying out of your hands. For example, if you were bench pressing at about 60% of your one rep maximum, you could use stretch bands and / or chains attached to each end of the bar.
As you reach the end of a rep, extra resistance is applied as you accelerate. This forces you to use even more energy to finish the rep. It also stops the weights from moving too fast, even though you are mentally trying to get them to do so. So if you are not using this technique in your weight training then you should start to as it will have a massive carry over into your punching power.
Bodyweight Exercises for MMA Power Training
Another brilliant method to use in MMA power training, is explosive bodyweight exercises. If you use these the right way, within a few short weeks, you will notice a huge improvement in your overall strength and rate of force production.
Increasing Grappling Power with Bodyweight Movements
We will start by having a look at how to increase explosive grappling power. This is an often overlooked subject when dealing with MMA power training, as people tend to concentrate on striking. But being able to pull on a lock with great power, will have your opponents tapping out in no time. It can also help you resist submissions.
The best way to increase grappling power using bodyweight movements, is via pull ups and chins. The reason this will give you a massive edge over an opponent is because a lot of people out there have low relative strength. That means that unlike the ant, that can lift its own bodyweight 6 times over, some guys can’t even do one pull up, let alone several with explosive power.
You need to get off the lat pull down machine for starters. Leave that piece of rubbish alone. It is a complete waste of time and energy for the combat athlete. Next, you need to start pulling up your own weight if you cannot do so already. If you can’t do one pull up, then begin by stepping up on a bench and first holding yourself in the top position for as long as possible, and then as your strength fails, lower as slowly as you can. Try for 6-8 sets of that twice a week, until you can manage your own body weight.
To develop explosive grappling power, you need to get to the point where you can do at least 6 pull ups with a close palms facing grip. Once you get to this point, you want to do sets of three reps, as fast on the up portion as you can, and then lower under control. Aim for about 8 sets of 3 reps each, with about 30 seconds rest in between each set. After these sets, try and perform 2 more sets, for as many reps as you can, with 2-3 minutes rest in between. Train pull ups twice a week. You will soon get strong. World heavy weight boxer, David Haye, can do 30 pull ups straight. And he is a big guy. That is an indication of great relative strength. Smaller guys should be able to do a lot more. I can knock out about 20 and I weigh 210lbs. So no excuses. If you can’t do 10 straight off, you are either too weak, too fat, or both.
Increasing Punching Power with Bodyweight Exercises
There are some great old school techniques that have been largely forgotten about nowadays, which have tremendous carry over to punching power. In MMA, power training in all its forms, needs to have fight application benefits. These push up variations apply to any punch, be it a left hook, straight right, uppercut, jab etc.
Medicine Ball Plyometric Push Ups
There are a ton of variations of these. However, the basic idea is to perform press ups on medicine balls explosively. They can be done:
- two hands at once on one ball (triceps strength emphasis)
- two hands at once on two balls (chest and shoulder emphasis)
- one hand switching
- two hands switching in and out
- switching hands forward and backwards on to balls or on to floor
- any of the above variations with claps at top of movement
The important thing to remember on each rep is to explode up. Using med balls in this way is actually better for the mixed martial artist than standard bench pressing as you have no worries about choosing the right weight, and what to do if the bar moves too fast. Your own bodyweight and gravity takes care of all that.
In addition, you greatly strengthen all the supporting connective tissue and stabiliser muscles that are neglected for the most part when you’ve got your backside positioned on a nice comfy gym bench. Working with med balls this way exposes a lot of weaknesses in the body, especially those areas that are responsible for delivering the last stage of a punch – the forearms and wrists. You need to persevere with them if you find them hard at first. Training like this not only toughens you up but you will also find that you become a heck of a lot stronger on your standard pressing movements with barbells and dumbbells.
Push Up Variations for use in MMA Power Training
Where do I start with this one!? Literally thousands of useful variations of the classic push up can be drawn upon to radically increase punching power for the MMA athlete. Just a side note here. Do you know why Brazil produces some of the best combat athletes on the planet? It’s not only the BJJ tradition. It is also the fact that they are poor and have little access to expensive equipment. I’ve seen guys on the beach in Rio doing things with their bodyweight I just have never seen before. They are forced to invent exercises and this provides them with a brilliant tool box of training tricks.
Here are some of the best push up variations you can do:
- classic one arm ‘rocky’ push up
- standard width grip with claps
- narrow grip explosive with or without clap
- extra wide grip with static hold and explosive rise
- switch grip push up (going from wide to narrow to normal etc)
- push up on fists with all the above variants
- push ups on fingers
- body swivel push ups in circle
- forward thrust push ups
- reverse thrust push up (moving whole body backward explosively)
Incorporate push ups into your workout schedule. I think the best way to get the most power carry over from them is to:
- begin the set at the lowest position
- power up as high as you can with whatever variation you have chosen
- continue with as many reps as you can until your speed drops off
So if you reach 7 reps and it’s just not getting you off the floor for example, stop there. Rest a couple of minutes and go for it again. Try and give it 4 or 5 good sets. The final sets will be lower in reps as your strength fades. Just try and beat your own performance the next workout. Regularly switch variations to keep fresh. You could perform these sets at the end of a standard weights session or before. It doesn’t matter. Either way you are going to get more powerful punches as a result.
Take a look around the web. There are hundreds of variations. The essential thing is to do them explosively when MMA power training.