Top 4 Strength and Conditioning Mistakes Made By Fighters

Aaron Luther of Island Athlete

Fighting utilizes a broad spectrum of energy domains and training methods. It is important for each fighter to understand what his or her goals are and what should be focused on during a training cycle. Having your coaches work together as a team will make training more efficient and beneficial, but if you do not have a full team of coaches here are some of the most common mistakes I see made by fighters.

1) Working Out instead of Training

According to Mark Rippetoe, “Working out is done for the effect it produces during the workout or right after”. Training is performed for the purpose of causing specific stresses in order to achieve a desired adaptation. As a fighter, you should know exactly what your training attributes are, and what to improve and what to maintain- each program is unique to the individual. A fight specific training program should include all aspects of training, on and off the mat. It should carefully balance strength, recovery, high intensity sparring, and mobility.

2) Waiting Until Training Camp To Prepare 

"If you're a fighter, you should be ready to fight all the time. This whole 8-week camp standard just gives guys an excuse to get out of shape,” says Martin Rooney. A periodized and progressive training program should be followed throughout the year with a fight specific peaking cycle done 6-8 week out from the fight. Our fighters progressively work on “base” fitness until a month before a fight. Then we start tapering the training to fit the fighter’s specific needs including fine-tuning the diet for weigh-in.

3) Not Separating Skill Work from Conditioning

Each training session should serve a specific purpose. Strength and Conditioning training is “efficient, gym-based training which hits the specific fitness demands of the sport or event”, states Rob Shaul.  “Technical Practice” he continues, “involves developing the technical skills for the specific sport or activity”. For MMA these include stand up technique, takedown proficiency, and grappling skills. When working on technique, the sessions should be purposeful and methodical allowing clean and precise repetitions. Technique sessions are not the time for high intensity sparring.

4) Not Programming Recovery

This one seems obvious, but most athletes do not allow for proper recovery leading to overtraining. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association overtraining can lead to a host of issues including increased fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, and rhabdomyolysis, which can cause death.  While recovery varies greatly by individual, we recommend getting at least two days a week and a full week of active recovery a month. We use durability exercises such as soft tissue work and stabilizer strengthening movements during our Transition Weeks or “unload” weeks to prepare the athlete for the upcoming cycle. The focus of the week is to stay active yet decrease the workload, intensity, and duration of the training.


1) Rippetoe, Mark. (2011). “The Biggest Fallacy of All”. T-Nation  (2014). “The Important Distinction Between Exercising and Training”. Huffington Post

2) Rooney, Martin. Kahn, Bryan. (2010). “11 Myths of Warrior Training”. T-Nation

3) Shaul, Rob. (2012). The Fitness “Mountain”. Military Athlete Programming Manual, 5-6.

4) Bishop, P.A., Jones, E. and Woods, A.K. (2008). Recovery from training: A brief review. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, 22, 1015–1024.

About the Author

Aaron Luther holds certifications from Atomic Athlete and CrossFit and is a professional member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He has studied under and attended seminars by some of the top strength coaches in the nation and is currently working on his CSCS. His gym, Island Athlete, focuses on outside performance and uses detailed programming and periodization to get athletes to elite levels.

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