Arnold Deadlifting

Getting Strong for Your Fight – Planning your Training with Periodization

by Tom Reynolds on November 15, 2010

If you’re reading this article, you probably know just how difficult it is to prepare for mixed martial arts competition.   As with anything that is misunderstood, there are misconceptions are all over the place.  On top of the massive amount of technical knowledge that a fighter has to accumulate, the priorities for a fighter are the development of their energy systems (emphasizing the anaerobic system: followed by their power endurance.  Remember,  strength and speed create power.

Power endurance is the ability to repeat an action like a punch or a sprawl with force, quickly.   This ability is clearly important.  A person can’t simply rely on a quick knockout.  Periodization is a systematic method that can be used very effectively to develop power endurance and the characteristics that come with it.

Why Periodization?

If a fighter has an idea of when he may be fighting, Periodization is arguably the the best plan of action available.  It has been noted in a myriad of studies that Periodization is the most or among the most effective training systems (Stone 1981, Willoughby 1993, Kraemer 1997, Fleck 1999, Bompa 2004, Baylor University 2009 to name a few).  It provides an extremely effective method to develop a powerful, injury-free body that should remain that way up until the fight.

Periodization is basically structuring or cycling your training in a particular order to achieve certain goals.  A person utilizing Periodization goes through, on average, five phases of training until their competition.  Sometimes the goals in each phase are based on time (i.e. X amount of weeks) or a result (i.e. a certain body fat %, a certain bodyweight, or a certain amount of weight lifted).  It should all be targeted towards the end goal.

Brief History

Although planning training cycles has been around since ancient Greek times in the Olympic Games, it didn’t truly become organized until Hans Seyle brought attention to this method in the 1950s.  Then, most importantly, the Russians Bompa and Metveyev brought this form of training to a new level a decade later and introduced it to Russia’s professional and Olympic athletes.  Bompa and Metveyev were largely responsible for the rapid spread of periodization across the world.

Basics of Periodization

This is based on Tudor Bompa’s model which is considered to be the most respected and effective.  In his model, he has five phases in sequential order with the competition at the end to allow the athlete to peak.

Understand that each phase has an individual focus.  Other important elements should be added at a low intensity once or twice per week.  I don’t recommend, for example, avoiding plyometrics altogether in the hypertrophy phase.  Also, the recommendations for training time, rest, etc… are strictly recommendations.  You’re going to have to get in tune with your own body to know whether or not you need to take another week off or spend some more time in a given phase.  And (incoming disclaimer) contact your physician before you try any workout plan.

Phase I – Adaptation

The adaptation phase is essentially the foundation phase.  It is the most ignored and, at the same time, most important phase of them all.  The adaption phase is the warm-up leading to the main workout.  It is here to prevent injuries and strengthen the tendons and ligaments through progressive adaptation.

Muscles become stronger at a faster pace relative to the strength of connective tissue in our body.  One of the most common training methods for this phase is doing bodyweight circuits (Push-ups straight to pull-ups straight to squats, etc…). Whether you’re a professional or beginner, this phase is a necessity if you have taken a break for more than two weeks.

Training intensity should be very high towards the end of this phase.  You will notice that, in spite of the heavier intensity, your recovery time post workout will be drastically shorter.  This adaptation is your sign that you’re ready to move to the next phase.

Beginners: 5-10 Weeks, 7-10 Stations, 2-3 Times per Week

Advanced: 2-5 Weeks, 9-13 Stations, 3-5 Times per Week

Phase II – Hypertrophy

This phase is completely based on your body composition post-Adaptation phase.  If you are a scrawny ectomorph, put your time in and educate yourself about proper nutrition for muscle gain.  Aim at gaining two pounds of lean mass per week.  If you are a tubby endomorph, you may want to skip this phase all together.

We want to refine the muscle to improve proportions and also ensure that you are at the most advantageous weight for a cut.  Just because two people weigh in at the same weight, doesn’t mean that they are fighting anywhere near the same weight.  Don’t make the mistake of coming in under weight or deciding to cut 35 pounds the day before. Use the guidelines below as exactly that, a guideline.  They aren’t set in stone, but I feel that they will serve you well.

Move to Phase III if*:

(In order of significance)

  1. Total body weight is at or 15% above weigh-in weight
  2. Your body fat % is at or above 12%
  3. Number of weeks completed

*(Assuming 24 hour weigh-ins)

“The key is cumulative effect of exhaustion over the total number of sets, not just exhaustion per set.  Utilize supersets, assisted reps, etc…” – Tudor Bompa, 2004.

Just as with the rest of these phases, stick to split and full body workouts consisting almost entirely of compound movements (movements with more than one joint like the bench and squat).

Beginners: 4-6 Weeks, 2-3 Times per Week

Advanced: 2-4 Weeks, 3-5 Times per Week

Break Time Before Phase III

TAKE A WEEK OFF. You’ve earned it.  Very low intensity this week.

Your body needs some time to catch up, adapt, and recover so that your gains will be felt. This is CRITICAL regardless of whether you did Phase II or not.

Phase III – Strength

The work that we put into the previous two phases is really going to come together here.  This phase is where we start to develop our holding power with isometric strength and our pushing and pulling ability with isotonic strength (eccentric and concentric contractions).  You’re using isometric strength when you’re holding the Muay Thai clinch or locking your partner down with your arms in side mount.  Every time you strike or pull you’re using the more common concentric and eccentric strength.  Neither should be ignored.

Example first half of a workout:

Dumbbell Bench 6 sets of 4, Heavy Bag Squeeze (Wrap arms and legs around a hanging heavy bag, and squeeze hard) 5 sets of 45 seconds, Barbell Row 6 sets of 4, and so on….

We’ll utilize full body workouts mixing in isometric and standard strength exercises, and you typically want to stay in the 3-8 rep range.

Spend about two to five weeks in this phase or until you feel that your strength is adequate.  The goal in this phase is to get as strong as possible while maintaining you’re weight at 15% above weigh-in.  If you’re above or below that percentage, cut or bulk accordingly.

Phase IV – Power Endurance

This is the phase where we convert Strength => Power => Power Endurance

We want to use our standard complex lifts from the previous weeks, but use them in the form complexes.

Here is a great article on complexes: Article on T-Nation

We also want add in more plyometrics and speed training.

I recommend two or three days of power endurance training and one day of strength training.

During this phase, your calorie balance should cause you to lose at most two pounds per week until you are roughly 5 to 7% heavier than weigh-in weight (assuming 24 hour weigh-in).

This is where injuries are most likely to occur so take a break if you feel like you need it and make sure to warm-up and cool down adequately!

Spend about two to five weeks in the power endurance phase or until you feel that you’re meeting your goals there.  Remember to listen to your body, especially here.  If you think you may need to take a little break, take one.

Phase V – Taper

This phase is the most straightforward of them all.  You begin this phase within the last two weeks before your fight.  Intensity and training load is dropped significantly and everything is done with full speed.  Your focus should be on muscular recovery and making weight.

The last five days involve no weight lifting.  You’re simply focusing on making weight and the other aspects of preparation for the fight.

Some Notes on the Basics for any workout:

  • Plan your rest periods and don’t miss them.  If you want to save your joints and prevent over training, you have to plan for your off days and off weeks.
  • In order to avoid injuries, remember to warm-up and stretch dynamically for at least 10 minutes before any workout, and cool down after your workouts.
  • Educate yourself on proper water intake and nutrition.  There are resources everywhere on those.

For more in-depth reading, this is the two best book I’ve ever read on Periodization:

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  • Ron Dubbs

    Dude, good article.

    would expect this type of article to be in a book not free.

  • Eric

    I posted this one a lot time ago on the old site. It took some time. I appreciate it Ron and I’m glad you liked it.

  • James

    you give a guidline of how long each phase is for all phases but Phase 4…about how long should this one be?

  • Eric

    Phase 4 is the phase to be careful with. See how far you are out from your competition and make sure you’re going to have a one to two week buffer for phase 5.

    Phase 4 is ideally 2 to 5 weeks depending on your goals and where your endurance is already at. The less power endurance/conditioning you have, the longer you’re going to need to spend in it.

    Hope this helps.

  • Setanta College

    Brilliant introduction Eric. We recently ran a blog post on Workable Periodization for MMA
    However, it is great to have come across this article as we can now forward this to our social media followers as a decent intro.

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