Combat Ready: What makes an MMA fighter? Part 4

In the previous installment we looked at endurance across different time frames, and how to get some idea of what energy system you should be directing most of your efforts towards in training. I also touched on the management of fatigue, discussing why it is impossible to train ALL energy systems/abilities hard, all the time, and introduced Periodisation as a means to get round this problem.

In Blog 5 and 6, I’ll be going into more detail, introducing you to the different types of periodisation and different approaches to “solving” the fatigue management puzzle; but first I need to cover the special terms that will be used in future articles.

 The SAID Principle.

“SAID” stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. This means that your body will adapt in a very precise and predictable manner to any stimulus that you expose it to. In short, you become what you train.

Coaches must pay particular attention to 2 applications of the SAID principle: the specificity of neural patterns (sports skills like being able to throw a decent cross) and the specificity of bio-motor qualities (general abilities, like limit strength, power, speed strength and so on).

When training to improve fine motor skills the work done must be identical to the skill itself. When training to improve general sporting abilities the bio-motor qualities trained must be similar to those utilised in the sport.  Training for sport, therefore, becomes a matter of training the underlying bio-motor qualities and integrating them into the requisite skills either simultaneously or at a later date.

Single Factor Theory of training.

Probably 99% of ordinary people in gyms are currently training according to single factor training theory. Single factor theory treats fitness and fatigue as existing to the exclusion of each other. For example, if you are tired and have sore muscles following a training session you should wait until you feel better and have fully recovered before training again. This fits in with supercompensation theory, which dictates that after training your fitness decreases slightly (because you are tired) and then rises back up again to a point just above where it was prior to the workout. At this point, you train again with a slightly greater load and push up your fitness a little further and so on. Fitness goes up at every session, given adequate recovery time.

Dual Factor Theory of training.

Dual factor theory looks at fitness, fatigue, and preparedness as being separate but not exclusive to one another. In dual factor theory, “Fitness” is your long-term ability; it changes slowly and is not related to fatigue.

“Preparedness” is your immediate ability i.e. what can you do RIGHT NOW and it is influenced by fatigue.

According to dual factor theory, you can train to the point of extreme fatigue, and have a terrible state of preparedness but still be making improvements in long-term fitness. In other words, you DO NOT have to fully recover between workouts all the time and nor should you.

Dual factor training requires periods of stimulating (high) loads, retaining (moderate) and detraining (low) loads in the long term but it removes the need for an athlete to time each individual workout in accordance with fatigue levels. Instead, fatigue is accumulated over time and then allowed to dissipate when it is necessary to show a performance gain.  The massive advantage of dual factor theory is that it allows the athlete to build different abilities at different times, but still have them all “peak” at one point in time. This means that they do not have to be training all of the required abilities, all the time, and instead can time the training of different abilities such that you have maximal preparedness exactly when you need it – on fight night! It also means that you can do much more work on a particular ability at a particular time, and hence make greater gains in the ability, than if you were trying to “spread” your available fatigue (remember the “Training Economy” in Blog 4?) around all the different abilities all the time.

A quick Example of single factor Vs dual factor approaches.

Say you have identified 4 abilities that you need to improve; could be speed strength, endurance, alactic system capacity, aerobic system power or any others. For the sake of a simple example assume also that you can fully recover from 4 moderate training sessions a week in total. The obvious thing to do is to do 1 session for each ability, to evenly distribute your recovery ability amongst the 4 abilities each week. So you end up with a stress input of “1” for each ability, and a recovery cost of “1” for each ability. You train everything once per week and recover fully in between each session. This sounds fine.

But what happens when your body has adapted to that level of stress? What happens when a stress input of “1” is no longer enough to force your body to adapt? You stop making improvements. How are you going to do more work and improve that ability? You can’t – you’ve already “spent” all your fatigue! So you end up just maintaining all your abilities. This is what happens to almost every fighter who tries to train all abilities, all the time. Eventually, they stagnate.

Instead, you could schedule a period of emphasis on ability 1, then a period of emphasis on ability 2 and 3, then a period of emphasis on ability 4. During each period of emphasis, you could either do a little work on other abilities (concurrent periodisation) or no work at all on those abilities (block periodisation).  The amount of work you directed towards a particular ability in each week, would dictate how long it would take to recover preparedness in that ability subsequently. So if you doubled the work, you could expect it to take almost twice as long to fully recover. That delay in the ability reaching a high level of preparedness is key!  It means you can work extremely hard on one ability, then, whilst you are “waiting” for the gains to be realised, you can be working hard on another ability and so on. If you correctly time these periods of work and the amount of fatigue incurred then you can have all abilities at a high level of preparedness at one particular time. The downside is that you won’t have them all at a high level, all the time.

This is the essence of “peaking” for a Fight.  

In the next installment, I’ll continue to introduce Periodisation terminology and explain its application to S and C for fighters. In the meantime, if you have any questions pop over to the Facebook page at and drop me a PM.

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