Even though you cannot dispute that the programs of popular bodybuilders build muscle, there are plenty of unidentified specifics involved that makes identifying the very best system to develop muscle and strength for MMA very difficult. Depending on weight division you compete in, gaining size may or may not be a priority. But let us assume that most of you reading this do want to get bigger and stronger. How can we determine what actually works? Where are the facts? And what will work for you individually?
If you were to sit down and interview leading competing pro bodybuilders, such as Troy Alves, Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman, for example, you would have to know:
- What kind of training splits in their bodybuilding and strength training program have they put into use?
- How did the quicker developing athletes lift weight? Did they train slow and under strict control, explosively,or utilizing a mixture of both when training?
- Did they implement many machine, free weight, bodyweight etc., exercises?
You see, it is obvious most of the current top bodybuilders are big and pretty strong. But what we don’t always appreciate is if any of them developed much quicker using a particular system than the others. If there is a muscle mass program out there which generates those gains in strength and size more effectively compared to all of the other ways of working out with free weights or machines, then we will be in a position to say for certain that there does undoubtedly exist a superior route to increase muscle size and definition. However, the solutions to these problems can be discovered. They are generally spread far and wide as you may assume:
- Qualified professional instructors who have documented the development of the athletes they train.
- Figures and results from a range of Powerlifting and weightlifting governing bodies.
- Highland Games and Strongman tournament results as well as the athletes training journals.
For the MMA fighter, trying to piece all this together is impossible. There is simply too much data to process (if you can actually get your hands on it that is). So what is the next best thing? It would be to study what the tope strength coaches have studied over the years. In other words, stand on the shoulders of giants in the strength game and you will get the answers. Empirical, set in stone facts that cannot be denied.
As far as strength gains go, the verdict is that you need to follow some kind of conjugate periodization program, similar to the Westside System popularised by Louie Simmons, Dave Tate, and Joe DeFranco. DeFranco has tons of experience adapting this system to all sorts of athletes, including mixed martial artists. The system is pretty basic and bruta, and I need not go into the specifics here. Suffice to say, if you want to get stronger faster than any other method out there, this is the way to go. It relies on science and sheer force of will. There are 3 basic ways of working with the weights, which boil down to 3 intensity ranges based on percentages of your one rep maximum (1RM) on any given lift:
- Dynamic or Velocity Training: utilize about 50-55% of your 1RM. Sets entail 2-6 repetitions where the weight is moved as quickly as you can then brought all the way down under full control.
- Repetition Training: 65-85% of 1RM. Made use of predominantly to generate more muscle mass. Repetitions per set – approximately 8-12, with a slow and steady lowering of the load.
- Maximum Strength Attempt: very low reps (1-3) at 70-100% of 1RM. It is wise to utilize mainly compound multi-joint movements like the One Leg 45 Degree Leg Press. It may be used with single joint isolation exercises too, however work to keep excellent technique while you implement every single rep.
To put the above all together in a typical training week for the MMA fighter would look something like this:
- Monday: Maximum Effort Upper Body Work. Use compound movements such as weighted pull ups, bench presses and overhead presses etc. Pick a push and a pull movement.
- Tuesday: Maximum Effort Lower Body Work: choose things that challenge the movements you perform in combat. So zercher squats are better than back squats. Unilateral leg work will help too. Keep the reps a bit higher than what the powerlifters use. So stay in the 5 -8 rep range rather than 1-3 reps.
- Thursday: Upper Body Speed And Repetition Work. Choose one movement at about 50% of (1RM) and do 8 sets of 3 extremely fast reps. You could do bench press, chins, upright rows, heavy sandbag throws, barrel tosses, tire flips etc. Then move on to bodybuilder type work for chest back and shoulders. About 12 sets in total ought to do it.
- Saturday: You could do a total body conditioning day here or concentrate on legs and abs in the higher rep ranges. Use all sorts of jumps, jump squats, med ball slams, rope pulls, one leg squats. Perform all exercises at a fast pace, stopping a couple of reps short of muscular failure. Sets and reps depends on your level of conditioning. But aim for between 9 to 12 reps for the lower body, the same for core exercises and about 6 to 8 for anything involving the upper body as this has already been hit twice during the week. Keep the upper body reps over 12 as you went heavy on the Monday and moderate on the Thursday. It is more of a muscle endurance / speed day for upper body on Saturday.
Of course, the days are not set in stone. Just give your various body parts at least 48 hours in between sessions.