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The MMA Training Chronicles – Episode 1 - "Gazellasaurus Rex"

August 26, 2010 06:52 AM

So it's Monday night and we've just finished a brutal MMA strength and conditioning session at Champions MMA in Lakeland,FL. Several of the usual suspects are there and we are relaxing in the endorphin haze discussing the deep questions and comments that come in the "manly bonding," time after a shared near death training experience. You know – the regular commentary that goes something like this:

"How come I beat you in the sprints today? Man – you were running like Betty White!"

"Pshaw – That's because I'm double your bodyweight. You should outrun me!"

"Well actually it's because his Mohawk gives him special mystical powers."

Then out of nowhere Pro MMA fighter Josh Baccallao swoops in and drops the philosophical pearl of the day. "Hey some people are built like gazelles, they run. And some people are built a Tyrannosauraus Rex – meant to jump on prey. I'm personally trying to be a Gazellasaurus Rex. Run like a gazelle but have tank-demolishing power like a T-Rex."

Stunned silence ensues at the "down from the mountain wisdom," and out and out hilarity of that gem. In fact I am now considering adding a guest, "Gazellasaurus Rex," blog to my site because of the profundity of this slightly cracked comment.

I had also been looking for a unique and funny way to shed some light to the general public on the way we're training MMA fighters and this turned on the light bulb. So what will follow is a series of articles that will showcase the actual training routines, the fighters themselves (and obviously their new nicknames) and some of the theory, practice and reasoning behind what we're doing.

So let's meet Josh, now officially the Gazellasaurus Rex. Actually if there were a true animal to fit him, that would be it. Six feet tall and about 160lbs. Usually about a 400lb stiff-leg deadlift, 600lb rack pulls, 100lb one arm dumbbell presses, squats bodyweight for almost 50 reps, carries my 210lb stone around, swings my big sledgehammer. Can do the 12:12 Challenge workout (20 swings, 20 sprawls, repeat then 5x non-stop), with a 40kg kettlebell in 6:02. That's smoking fast. Runs like a gazelle, hits and grapples like a rhino. Cardio like you wouldn't believe and in fact he's often the subject of "experiments," from me to see how hard a human's cardio can be pushed.

Josh is also one of those guys whom I enjoy coaching. No complaints and will do anything you ask. "So you want me to carry this sandbag around which now has a live badger in it while dragging this sled attached to me by a nose ring and you're going to run behind me and hit me with a baseball bat while I do it? Okay – sure."

Well it might not be quite that bad, but it ain't far off.

He's also polite, generally a nice guy, soft spoken and cannot be killed by conventional weapons. Much like many of the really tough people I've met. No show, all go and as you can see an interesting sense of humor. Remember his name - you'll be seeing him in the UFC one day soon.

So how are we training him? Well some basic points first. Generally two hard strength and conditioning sessions with me a week for one hour or less. Doesn't sound like much? You're right, but there are reasons for that. First is that he averages one to two sessions a day, six days per week in Jujitsu, boxing, and full on MMA. Each of those also contains a conditioning element whether by design (intense conditioning with a class) or default (boxing for 20 rounds, etc.) What we do is harder and higher intensity but shorter in duration (then a two hour practice but not the individual conditioning rounds). It's not smart to ask more from him from a recovery standpoint and it doesn't produce any more results. It just expends more energy. Technical work is ultra important for fighters. So is strength and conditioning, but you don't a lot of it to get benefit.

We always start/warm up with neck work. This is important, just do it. Each session usually has 1-3 heavy lifts, usually for 1-5 sets of 1-5 reps. We rotate exercises, sets and reps according to personal structure, fatigue, injury, need, etc. Over the course of a week we work at least one heavy squat, pull, push, and row/chin movement. We also have specific movements and conditioning tests that we always come back to so we ensure real, consistent progress. We also have some "twists," in the workouts we cycle through to give greater demand as well as test and build other areas like strength while in deep fatigue, etc. We also work in specific heavy abdominal movements, grip movements, strongman movements and rehab/prehab as needed.

Each session contains (almost universally) a minimum of 20 minutes intense aerobic/anaerobic conditioning. MMA has standardized three, five-minute rounds (five for championship fights), but the truth is you cannot predict what will happen in those rounds and you are not ready unless you can go hard for longer than those times. This is broken up in lots of different patterns but always more than standard 3x5.

Here's the workout completed on this auspicious night:
  • Neck – 50 reps each (rear, front, left and right) weighted raises
  • Box Squat – (Barbell) 3 to 5 sets to 10 rep max. (Higher than normal reps, but part of a changing cycle and getting used to the box depth).
  • Chest Supported Rows – 5 sets to 3 rep max. (One of several versions we use).
  • 5 Sets gripper to max and max reps
  • 3 Sets Powerwheel Pikes
Now on to the really hard part – The 21 minutes of straight conditioning. This particular workout emphasized the kettlebell swing and sprints, each done for one minute, every third minute the exercise changes. So here's what we did:

"Minute by Minute"

1) KB Swing
2) Sprint
3) Battling Ropes
4) Swing
5) Sprint
6) Sledgehammer
7) Swing
8) Sprint
9) Sandbag Carry
10) Swing
11) Sprint
12) 30 sec pushup/30 sec squat jumps
13) Swing
14) Sprint
15) Sprawl
16) Swing
17) Sprint
18) Sandbag Squat
19) Swing
20) Sprint
21) Battling Ropes

This is done non-stop and you can see why there is an endorphin haze in which strange philosophy may come to light afterward. The whole workout took 45 minutes. You can also see obvious themes that will repeat often in the coming articles (like the swing). Each time you'll get a fuller picture of the training and a new fighter. Until then this will help get you started on becoming a "Gazellasaurus Rex."