We’ve teamed up with the JackedPack.com crew to bring you the science behind heavy weight training for mixed martial arts. “Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody wanna lift this heavy ass weight. I DO IT THOUGH!”. These are the words that our nation’s first President and renowned diesel, George Washington, screamed at his men before crossing the Delaware River in order to surprise British-led forces in the American Revolutionary War. Actually, this is a catch phrase of Ronnie Coleman, eight-time Mr. Olympia. (It’s not impossible to believe that G-Dub also said something similar). While Big Ron was talking specifically about bodybuilding, lifting heavy weight is an integral component of almost any athlete’s training regimen that can help them become better at their sport, especially combat sports. It also doesn’t hurt that lifting big weight will make you more jacked and naturally make you more appealing to the ladies. Said differently, more plates = more dates. The development of functional power and strength is vital to the combat sports athlete, and the best way to achieve this level of power is by lifting heavy. What does training heavy to do the body? Why you should train heavy? How to integrate this type of training into your combat sports training regimen? Read more below…
Why Train Heavy?
Look around at some of the biggest and most badass dudes in sports (and bodybuilding) and you’ll find one thing they all have in common: they are ridiculously strong and most of them lift pretty damn heavy. Going back to Big Ron, the dude not only had legs the size of small Sequoia trees, but he also put up some insane numbers that even accomplished powerlifters would celebrate: an 800+ lb squat & deadlift and a 600+ bench press. Brock Lesnar is a well-known gym rat who routinely crushed 400+ for reps on bench; Ray Lewis is rumored to just eat dumbbells and barbells because he’s that badass. Legend has it that former 100-meter world record holder Ben Johnson used to hit his max squat (600+) less than 15 minutes before the race to fire up his nervous system. Doesn’t hurt that he was also popping D-bols like they were candy, but that’s a different story. Dude could run really fast in part because he was insanely strong. The list goes on & on for athletes across numerous sports.
So why does lifting heavy weight make you a better athlete? To start, you have to understand that moving big weights requires you to call on your “fast twitch” muscle fibers. These diesels produce the most force and are primarily involved in higher intensity/shorter duration events (sprinting, jumping, lifting heavy weights). These bad boys have the greatest potential to get HUGE and it is therefore critical to train them hard if you want to get big and move fast (something we think most of us would like to do).
Before we go too much further, let’s define heavy. By heavy we mean anything less than 8 reps. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever go above 8 reps, just that you are most likely to get strong and jacked if you focus on compound exercises with sets of 3-8 reps. This rep range is ideal for athletes looking to build up strength and add size simultaneously. If you want to go for the occasional pump that Arnold championed, go for it (we do it pretty frequently after we’ve hit the heavy stuff). Just don’t make it the mainstay of your program if your goal is to become a ridiculously strong athlete.
Why MMA Athletes Should Train Heavy
While we recommend that athletes in most sports train heavy for a number of the aforementioned reasons, we especially recommend MMA athletes and other combat sports athletes to crank heavy weights on the reg. As mentioned above, training heavy is going to recruit and train the muscle fibers that produce the most force. If being able to punch and kick like the legendary Frank Dux played by none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 80’s classic “Bloodsport” is something you might be interested in, then you’ll want to train heavy. Want to turn would be armbars into mangled opponents? Start hitting some heavy ass weights! Seriously though, building up increased power in your legs and core will enable you to do virtually everything better in MMA; from throwing more powerful punches and kicks and shooting like a champion, to resisting takedowns and submissions.
How to Integrate Heavy Lifting Into MMA Training
Obviously the most important aspect of your training is going to be practicing MMA and not lifting weights. When time permits you to do both, you should make it a priority to get in at least 2-3 sessions of heavy lifting per week. How often you hit the sanctuary (aka the gym) for heavy lifting sessions is highly dependent on how much additional stress you are putting on your body with additional training (MMA, running, etc.). If you are spending a ton of hours in the cage each week, maybe cut it down to just 2 sessions instead of 3-4. You don’t want to overtrain by putting too much stress on the body, so just be smart about how often you hit those weights and make sure you are taking the proper steps to recover from your training ( proper diet, rest, and supplementation: post-workout shakes with whey protein, creatine, BCAAs, and glutamine!).
We know that MMA fighters must watch their weight carefully, and they must also maintain incredible flexibility for grappling. If you are worried that heavy, explosive lifting will negatively affect your speed, flexibility and agility, think again. Many professional bodybuilders have no problem performing splits, as well as many diesel (but nimble) football players that can run sub 4.5 second 40 yard dashes. The big compound movements require flexibility. Squats, power cleans, and deadlifts all require excellent mobility, especially in the hips. Having more flexibility helps increase strength by increasing the range of motion your muscle fibers have to be able to generate power from. Think of all the awkward positions in your ground game and how being able to summon explosive strength from a deep squat are related. If you are concerned about putting on mass, stick to the lower rep range for higher weight, which is ideal for increasing strength instead of the higher rep ranges for building mass. As long as you maintain flexibility during your training, the only effects will be positive strength increases & some additional testosterone. In the words of Big Ron- “YEAH BUDDY!”
While we won’t go into specific workout routines in this article, you can maximize your strength, size, and explosive power by focusing on the following:
1) Hitting heavy compound lifts for low to moderate reps (3-8) – Squats, deadlifts, power cleans (never do more than 5 reps), bench, military press, rows, & pull-ups.
2) Lifting light weights very explosively (40-60% 1RM for 1-5 reps) – think power cleans, squat jumps, bench press throws to name a few.
3) Sprinting (anything less than 100 meters is best for developing explosive power)
4) Plyometrics (squat jumps, split squat jumps, tuck jumps, bounding, etc)
5) Med ball exercises (overhead throws, push press, med ball slams, etc
Legend has it that King Leonidas used to psyche himself up to decimate Persian armies by hitting a heavy set of back squats with freshly slaughtered boar carcasses on the end of a wooden stick before he laid down the hammer. We aren’t suggesting you do anything similar, but we do recommend putting in some quality time at the Sanctuary if you want to make some gains in the cage. And of course let’s not forget the other perk of lifting heavy…more plates = more dates!
‘til next time, stay HUGE friends,
-Evan Clark, NSCA-CPT, Alex Lewis, & Papa Swole (Ryan Ramsauer)
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