While you might not have any aspirations to fight in the UFC (or fight at all,) it’s interesting to look inside the training camps of elite fighters.
At the very least, seeing how these guys (and girls) train really makes you appreciate the hard work, time, and effort required to compete at the top of their game.
In this page, I’ll go over the structure of training camps, the main training principles, and nutrition basics.
The big question you hear leading up to a fight is “how is athlete X’s training camp going?”
“Training Camp” format
The most common set-up for a mixed martial artist is to run training camps leading up to each fight. This gives them a consistent way to schedule their year.
Typically, someone fights 3-4 times per year, giving them 3-4 months between fights. The 8-12 weeks leading up to the fight will consist of multiple daily training sessions, all part of the “training camp.”
Take the training camps out, and what you’re left with is 1-4 weeks after each fight which can be used for rest and/or generalized training post-fight (barring any injury suspensions.)
Some fighters such as GSP are high-level athletes who stay in shape year round. Others are notorious for packing on lots of weight and then having trouble with their weight cuts once the fight arrives. But having a specific training camp leading up to a fight is the most common practice.
Training Principles and Concepts
As with most sports, MMA training consists of two main parts – skills training and physical conditioning.
Skills training is about learning new techniques and improving your existing skills. We’re talking about how well a fighter performs their art/discipline.
Usually this consists of Technique drills, Sparring, and Rolling.
Technique drills involve practicing certain moves over and over until they are perfect and are stored in your “muscle memory.” Examples would be spending an entire workout practicing double leg takedowns or throwing a jab.
Sparring and rolling are one-on-one practice fights. Rolling is when you practice grappling, and sparring is typically for striking or MMA.
(Note that sparring and rolling could be considered to combine cardio and skill training into one workout.)
To get through a fight, the fighters must be in peak physical condition. This aspect of training is usually composed of Strength Training and Cardio/Conditioning.
Strength Training is all about weight lifting and calisthenics. It’s about building up one’s strength so they can have greater control over their opponent in the cage.
Cardio/Conditioning is more along the lines of circuit training, barbell complexes, running, and swimming. The goal is to improve the fighter’s “gas tank” so they can keep fighting for long periods of time without slowing down.
Fighters must balance skill, strength, and cardio to be successful.
(You want to learn more and train yourself? Check out RossTraining.com for more info.)
A Look Inside Pro Fight Training!
Here are some videos showing how some of the pro fighters train. (I’m showing the ones that I believe to be a realistic look at training, rather than videos made to scare or psych out their opponents.)
Rich Franklin (Youtube video link)
This workout is for conditioning via circuit training, with all muscle groups worked. It is 45-60 minutes long with no rest. I see a mix of bodyweight exercises and weight lifting (free weights and machines.) Note that the goal is not strength training, it’s conditioning for muscular endurance. The goal is for Rich to be able to work his body for a long time without quitting. It’s an old school workout from an old school coach.
Vitor Belfort (Youtube video link)
Here you see a mix of training methods: weight lifting, skipping rope, sparring, hitting the mitts, calisthenics, sledge hammer chops, and more. This is actually a great overview of the training methods many fighters use today.
GSP (Youtube video link)
This video walks you through the lifts GSP does.
GSP (Youtube video link)
In this video, GSP talks about training. It kind of gives you a look inside his mind and shows that you have to train smart, not just hard.
The Role of Nutrition
Nutrition has been getting more press lately, which is a good thing. Remember, the sport is young, so we’re not yet seeing too many fighters who are top-notch in all aspects of skills, fitness, and nutrition, but that is changing.
GSP, quite possibly the fittest athlete in MMA, works with Dr. John Berardi, creator of Precision Nutrition. This gives GSP a complete nutrition plan to keep him in great shape every day of the year.
Mike Dolce has been getting a lot of press as well, thanks to the Dolce Diet. The Dolce Diet is a manual he created specifically for fighters getting ready to weigh-in. It is based on his own experience, but it has proven successful when used on notable fighters such as Thiago Alves and Quinton Jackson (notable in this case because they consistently have weight control issues.)
Now that you have seen how fighters train, you can move on to the final page of the fan guide.
Continue to Part 8: Final Thoughts >>
MMA Fan Guide Navigation:
- Part 1: An Introduction
- Part 2: The Fight Setup
- Part 3: Fighting Styles and Disciplines
- Part 4: Rules of the Game
- Part 5: Judging and Scoring Systems
- Part 6: Weight Classes and Cutting Weight
- Part 7: How Fighters Train
- Part 8: Final Thoughts