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Mixing Weight Lifting with MMA, Muay Thai or your in-season sports routine

Posted Aug 25 2008 3:09pm
Do you play sports at a fairly competitive and lift weights as well? Most people choose one or the other and focus solely on that, which is a big mistake. In all sports, you must be conditioned, skilled and strong. Weight lifting must be mixed with sports training. Often this is easier said than done, as practicing your sport and staying in shape for it take a lot of time and energy.

When I was young, I would only lift weights for several months of the year. I would get big, strong and fat. Then rugby season would come along, and I would show up for practice big, strong, and fat! It would take six weeks to get into game shape, and by then the season would almost be over. Now, during the season I would pretty much stop lifting and just play and practice rugby. My conditioning would become excellent, and my weight would go down nicely, but is was always too late. I couldn't make the top level competitive teams because I was never in shape at the right time. Then, by the time I was in shape I had lost a lot of the strength that had been built in the off season. In hind sight, the solution to this problem is very simple. Lift weights and run (preferably hill sprints ) in the off season. Then, lift weights less aggressively during the season.

Now my sport of choice of is Muay Thai , and the solution is less obvious. The problem with MMA , Thai Boxing or any fighting sport is that there is no off season, so you have to mix strength training with sports training (the same principles apply to a seasonal sport during the in-season). You must always be practicing and training for your sport of choice, but all that training is very draining. Now mix into this the issue of strength. If you meet an opponent of equal skill and conditioning, strength is going to play a huge factor. This is especially true in the grappling sports.

So the question becomes, how do you mix in strength training with your practice and your conditioning work? This is a question that I grapple with regularly so I will throw out some ideas and let you the reader make your own decision.

If you practice three days a week, you can always lift the other three days (lift one day, practice the next). If you train every day you can lift before or after practice. I prefer to lift before practice, going heavy and doing the major lifts like squats , deadlifts , cleans, etc. Is it draining? Yes, but I only do this three days a week. The other four days of the week I do lighter workouts so I don't burn-out.

The other question is, should an athlete during the in-season train heavy with low reps or lighter with high reps? Personally, I believe in heavy lifting with low reps because it causes less muscle soreness and is more sports specific. People say you should lift for strength endurance but that is wrong. You should lift for explosive power ! If you need muscle endurance, do the movement you need endurance for instead. Doing tons of reps with weight will not simulate the movement in sports. Back to my point. I think you should lift heavy. Pavel Tsatsouline goes into this in detail in his book Power to the People .

The only major exception I have to this is circuit training or complexes (4-6 exercises in a row with same barbell). Circuit training is a great way to improve conditioning, burn fat, and maintain muscle at the same time. It is not great for building strength, but the above benefits are enough to include it in your training. I use Kettlebells or a 95 lbs barbell for circuits.

To make this simple, a typical in-season or combat sports athlete's schedule might look like this:

Day 1:

Lift weights, 1 hour heavy

Practice 1.5 hours

Day 2:

Conditioning work (running, body weight circuit, etc)

Day 3:

Lift weights, 1 hour heavy

Practice 1.5 hours

Day 4:

Conditioning work (running, body weight circuit, etc)

Day 5:

Lift weights, 1 hour heavy

Practice 1.5 hours (if it is a game day, play the game first then lift)

Day 6:

Hard circuit training or complex workout

Day 7:

Very light exercise, a long walk or mobility workout

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to mix weight training with your sport. I know it is something I am always questioning and re-working so expect to see more articles on this topic.
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