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Kelly Tekin is the Strength and Conditioning coach to many MMA athletes. Most notably the current Light Heavyweight Title holder Jon "Bones" Jones.
The goal of any athlete or coach is improvement in performance. The most common goal of an MMA athlete is to increase speed and explosiveness. Heredity tends to play a substantial role, but regardless of genetic makeup, any athlete can get faster and more explosive with the proper training. There are a number of ways to increase speed and power, and they all include training specifically the Fast Twitch (Type II) muscle fibers.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FAST TWITCH AND SLOW TWITCH MUSCLE FIBERS
There are two major types of muscle fibers in the body. Slow Twitch (Type I) muscle fibers are the fibers that, like their name, fire slowly. They are very efficient in using oxygen to generate energy over a long period of time. They are known for their endurance, as they do not fatigue easily.
Fast Twitch (Type II) muscle fibers are fibers that fire much more quickly than slow twitch fibers. Because these fibers fire so quickly, they are capable of producing a great amount of power. Fast Twitch fibers are recruited in fast, short bursts of power.
Most people have about 50% slow twitch and 50% fast twitch muscle fibers in their bodies. However, an avid marathon runner may be predominately Slow Twitch, whereas an Olympic 100 Meter sprinter may be predominately Fast Twitch.
It is indisputable that an MMA athlete must train both fiber types. From a strength and conditioning standpoint, an MMA athlete will be successful if he or she has the endurance to fight for three to five rounds. This endurance comes from training the slow twitch fibers. The necessary bursts of power in the fight, come from training the fast twitch fibers. This article will focus on fast twitch muscle fiber training.
TRIPLE EXTENSION MOVEMENTS
The explosive exercises known as the Triple Extension Movements include lifts such as the notorious Power Clean or the Clean and Jerk. These athletic movements are called triple extension movements, because when executed correctly, the athlete should obtain extension of three joints (the ankles, knees, and hips). The importance of these exercises to the athlete’s physical development has been well documented. Triple extension power movements are essential for every athlete in order to train the fast twitch fibers. These exercises increase speed, power and strength.
The triple extension movements are not recommended for beginning athletes. Just like any other exercise in the gym, it is extremely important to perfect the form of each of these movements before performing the exercise with a heavy weight. Performing these lifts improperly can lead to injury.
Plyometric training is another form of explosive physical training used to enhance power output, force production, and velocity that has become very popular among MMA coaches and athletes. A plyometric exercise is characterized by an intense eccentric contraction of the muscle fiber immediately followed by a rapid concentric contraction of that muscle fiber. This action produces a forceful, explosive movement. Some individuals have experienced a plyometric movement in the doctor’s office. When a patient sits on the end of a table and the doctor lightly taps under the knee cap, the leg jerks upward. The tap causes a sudden stretch of the tendon that connects to the quadricep muscles. Small receptors in the quads create a stretch reflex which makes the quads respond by explosively contracting.
Plyometric exercises evoke the elastic properties of the muscle fiber and connective tissue, which allow the muscle to store energy during the deceleration phase and release that energy during the acceleration phase. The end result is muscle being trained under tensions greater than those achieved by conventional slow-speed resistance training exercises. High-intensity plyometrics can also enhance neural stimulation to a level that will significantly increase maximal muscle strength. The jump squat, lateral bounds and depth jumps are fabulous plyometric exercises for MMA athletes.
Band training, if done properly, is an excellent way to train the Fast Twitch fibers. Most any movement that you can think to do with a band is excellent for a fighter, however the movement must be done quickly. The athlete should perform the repetitions as quickly as possible. When an athlete performs the repetitions very quickly, he is primarily training that fiber to fire faster. This is more specifically referred to as quickness training. An example of a good band exercise is an alternating row.
STATIC STRETCHING PRE-TRAINING OR PRE-COMPETITION
Research indicates that static (slow, controlled) stretching pre-training induces a significant decrease in motor unit activation five minutes after stretching and a reduction in strength and power that will persist for 60 minutes. Pre-training stretching influences neural mechanisms that will without doubt negatively affect muscular performance. This is why slow, static stretching before training or competition is a bad idea. When warming up, dynamic stretching is most effective for explosiveness. Dynamic stretches are those that use speed of movement to bring about a stretch. Some of these include running with high knees, arm circles, hip extensions and walking lunges. Athletes can save static stretching for after training or competition.
There is not one workout program that is better than another. The true key to success is variation. This was demonstrated by Dr. Hans Selye, who first coined the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). The GAS suggests the athlete start with a program that will shock the muscles. For example, the athlete could add two new explosive lifts into the training program on conditioning days, by performing three sets of three repetitions on each of the new exercises. The athlete would do this for four to six weeks. This is the amount of time the muscle needs to adapt to the training program. Once the muscle adapts, it is time to change the exercises or the repetitions, shocking the muscles all over again. This prevents the athlete from reaching a plateau. If an athlete plateaus, he will stop noting strength, speed, power increases or improvements in endurance.
Strength and conditioning success in MMA is comprised of three major areas. First, the athlete should train both the slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers. The slow twitch fibers can be thought of as the endurance fibers while the fast twitch fibers produce speed, power and explosiveness. In order to execute the greatest amount of power and explosiveness, dynamic stretching should be implemented pre-training or pre-competition and static stretching should be performed at the end of a training session or a fight. Lastly, the athlete should vary the training program. A program that is consistently changed and refined at the right times will lead to greater results and keep the athlete from getting bored or reaching plateaus.