Strength vs. Endurance for MMA

Like many of you, I’ve had some drunken grappling matches with my buddies.

They used to happen in University quite a bit but not so much anymore…

For me, it usually happened after a night that included serious amounts of Vodka.

I don’t know what it was but maybe the spirit of Fedor got into me that made me feel unstoppable.

Before I had any skills, I would use my general athleticism and strength to fight.

But there’s one opponent that you might’ve come across that was difficult to deal with…

It was the guy who didn’t look like he was in too good of shape, but he had big hands, a powerful grip and he was just plain strong.

The strong guys would always be a challenge regardless of their level of skill.

They could tie you up, squeeze you and just nullify anything you tried to do with pure brute strength.

If you’ve grappled one of these bears you know exactly what I’m talking about (or maybe you’re one of them).

This is a simple example of what is the most important characteristic to build as a Mixed Martial Artist.

Strength.

Pure. Brute. Strength.

But what are most guys doing?

Endless circuits, intervals and CrossFit.

Sure, strength training isn’t as romantic as high intensity training where you’re hammering a tire or swinging a KBell.

And I’m not saying that circuits, intervals, or CrossFit are completely useless and ineffective.

They are necessary to any complete MMA strength and conditioning program.

However I AM saying that the foundation, that important slab of concrete that is poured FIRST when building a house, is the key to everything else.

Want to be powerful?

Get strong first.

Want to be agile?

Get strong, my friend.

Want endless cardio?

Strength is the foundation.

Just think of this simple example:

If you can Bench press 150 pounds, and there is a 150 pound guy laying on top of you, trying to push him off will take all of your strength and you won’t have as much strength with each subsequent attempt.

But if you can Bench press 200 pounds, you’ll be able to do 8-12 repetitions before you start to fatigue.

And that first attempt will be a lot more powerful vs. if you could bench 150.

As this example clearly shows, strength is the foundation to both endurance AND power.

One of the things that makes proper strength training so unpopular is the fact that you have to REST between sets.

This is because there’s so much hype and misinformation surrounding what effective MMA training really is.

To get strong, you have to lift a heavy weight, let your body and nervous system recover, then repeat, over and over.

Not the most glamorous way to train and it might *feel* like it’s not as effective as Tabata’s, but it will make all the difference in the world.

Do this often enough and following the right program and you’ll be the guy that people hate pairing up with because they feel like they can’t move you and gas themselves out trying.

But that’s the problem – most guys go by feel – if it feels hard then it must be good.

Sorry, that’s just not the case.

Physiology is much more complex than ‘the hardest worker is in the best shape’.

And therein lies your opportunity.

Most guys think this and follow this path.

But as an insider, you know better, or if you didn’t, now you do.

The reality is that ‘Hard Work + Smart Work = Optimal Results’.

If you’re ready to work hard – then get the plan to help you work smart:

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JM
JM
9 years ago

I have to totally disagree with you here about the importance of power. Technique will win over raw strength any day of the week, especially if accompanied by a speed advantage. If you try to meet strength with strength and they are stronger than you, then duh, of course you’re going to lose. Advantages in strength and power are only relevant when technique and/or speed is equal or complimentary (and thus neutralizes). That being said, the current rules of UFC and a lot of other MMA organizations emphasize points for moves that often utilize strength more than technique but that don’t finish fights, like single and double-leg takedowns. So while you might win some MMA fights with superior strength-based moves, you won’t build a reputation as a finisher. (I realize those require technique, but much less than a kneebar or counter left hook, it’s a matter of degree.) In street-fighting,… Read more »

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  JM

JM – I agree that technique is huge, however in this post I didn’t talk about technique at all.

It’s all a fine line – someone who’s technique is just slightly better but who’s in poor shape will get beat by someone slightly less skilled but in superior shape everytime.

My main point is that you want to focus on training strength first, then move your efforts towards endurance when you’ve created a good base level of strength.

Obviously you need to attack everything, but without a base level of strength, endurance training alone lacking this base will provide limited gains for a sport like MMA.

Dominic
Dominic
9 years ago

Hi Eric,

I am just a normal 41yr old Joe on the streets of South Africa that likes to keep in shape. But you know the old nemesis.. motivation! i have had this internal debate about strength vs. endurance since joining a new private gym that focuses on strength. like you said, it didn,t feel right because it wasn’t hard. you just solved my dilemma and i will be back in the gym tomorrow! thank you for your willingness to share all your knowledge! it’s appreciated even in “darkest” Africa!!!

Keep going from strength to strength!!!

mike
mike
9 years ago

One question for you eric in relation to your ultimate MMA program….If I am training in boxing 3 times a week and not intending to compete in MMA would your program be of benefit to me?? or would another routine perhaps that you have put together be of more use

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  mike

See answer above… 🙂

Francis
Francis
9 years ago

Really interesting!! That is so important to know something like that when you train as a mixed martial artist! Thank you Eric, you’re the best!

Bruce
Bruce
9 years ago

Hi Eric, I have been following you for about a month now, and have learned much in this time. As a martial artist and full time professional instructor the need to keep up with new innovations is paramount to the teaching ability of any instructor who really cares about the development of his or her students Having spent many hours searching through the maze of web, print and film for years and seeing nothing new, or just fancy workouts designed purely to get people in to the gym for another QUICK FIX weight loss program, finally a new hope that is interesting and informative is before me on the screen. In traditionally based martial arts, Kata etc, it seems the need for endurance is what counts, the real meaning being lost for the purpose of practicing Kata. The reality of a REAL FIGHT is the longer you fight the more… Read more »

JD"The Coach"
9 years ago

Eric will you be at the Business Fight Summit in Vegas in December?
I really get a lot of next level stuff here.

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  JD"The Coach"

I hadn’t heard of it until you mentioned it – looks awesome but I don’t think I’ll be making it then.

DEON SPALDING
DEON SPALDING
9 years ago

I THINK THAT ENDURANCE IS THE KING BECAUSE IN A FIGHT IF I CAN TAKE UR FIRST COUPLE PUNCHES THATS AS HARD AS UR GOING TO HIT ME AND THEN ITS WHO CAN GO THE LONGEST BESIDES INVOLVING TECHNIQUE.

Francis
Francis
9 years ago
Reply to  DEON SPALDING

I’ve found the monkey on the highest tree!

alan west
alan west
9 years ago

i love this program everything you need to know is in this program i been using it for a year wow love it but was wierd for me at first to follow the less is more thing thank you so much eric. Also good win last weekend

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  alan west

Hey Alan thanks for leaving your feedback about the Ultimate MMA program. Glad you’ve gotten great results with it!

You’re not the only one who had to get used to training less – I’ve gotten many emails over the years from guys who were worried that they’d get weak or out of shape only working out 2-3 days/week compared to 4-6 days previous to getting my program.

After they stuck to it though they’ve never looked back, much like you!

Joe Garrigan
Joe Garrigan
9 years ago

Ill vouch that rolling with the strong guy in the room( no joke seriously wrestlers )is a rough roll even if youre a bit more technical than them . It’s is funny when you get the guys who spend lot of time under the bench though thinking because they bench more thats all they need. Farm lifestyle balances things out look at hughes.

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  Joe Garrigan

Good old farm boy Hughes is the poster boy for strength – but he didn’t just throw bales of hay around he lifted some serious weights too.

JD" The Coach"
9 years ago

Great Point,

Well said Mr. Wong that is why people will always have trouble with the wrestlers. Look at Mark Kerr, Mark Coleman, Matt Hughes all base there strengths on strength. In my opinion as a wrestler we generally lack the flexibility that come from the general martial arts but will always wear the crown in strength and conditioning.

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  JD" The Coach"

There are a variety of reasons why good wrestlers generally make good mixed martial artists and one of them is definitely strength.

Compare the strength of an amateur 18 year old wrestler and an amateur (or pro) 18 year old kickboxer, boxer, or jiu-jitsu player and you can see a major difference.

dragonmamma/naomi
dragonmamma/naomi
9 years ago

Well, I’m really happy to hear this, because even though I force myself to do circuit and cardio training, the strength training is what I love the most. Even though I was happy with my 5k victory, I’d STILL rather be the chick in the gym who can do pull-ups and lift the most weight.

Now, if only I could do something about my old lady reflexes…

Franco Crincoli
Franco Crincoli
9 years ago

Nothing better than the feeling of being strong. This is why you don’t just follow a STRENGTH or CONDITIONING program for any sport. you follow a STRENGTH & CONDITIONING program. Your conditioning doesn’t matter if your not strong and your strength doesn’t matter is your not in good condition. They definitely go hand in hand however if I had to choose one over the other i’d rather be the strong guy because strength, scientifically, is the basis of the most important characteristic — power. Particularly for MMA. a good technical fighter with no strength or power is useless. I don’t care which way you look at it. Thanks for sticking up for the lot of us who still believe in brute strength.

Eric
9 years ago

Yeah there seems to be a growing mass of guys who don’t think strength is of much importance (to their detriment).

Maybe it’s because Joe Rogan says the word ‘cardio’ every 5 minutes and every UFC ‘insider’ show puts on display circuits and conditioning more often than strength..

Aaron Dedrick
Aaron Dedrick
9 years ago

PS. Eric’s book, “Ultimate MMA” is fantastic. Definitely worth your money and a “must-have” for every MMA enthusiast.

tia
tia
9 years ago

good post. i agree strength is the foundation that leads to gains in every other aspect of what it is to be fit. strength does not just mean throwing big weights around, or only lifting with weights, to have strength is to have power, endurance, flexibility, intensity and moving some heavy weight too 😉

Aaron Dedrick
Aaron Dedrick
9 years ago

“BANG ON” Eric. Strength is king and is the foundation for everything else. Great post.

George
9 years ago

Absolutely agree. I train number of martial artists and even though they are technically very good most cannot even pull themselves up, let alone throw off a heavy opponent.

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  George

The thing is that most martial arts frown upon the use of strength and I agree that using strength can slow down the ability to learn techniques properly… but once techniques are learned, strength as an added element to slick technique is super effective!

mike
mike
9 years ago

Hey Eric great advice and I could not agree more hence look at how guys like rampage, wanderli silva, dan henderson just to name a few have gotten so successful.

My comment/question is would you say following a regime such as 5×5 for strength or mark ripptoe is effective for me for the next 2 months then in january i can grab your book and start from there ( i will be using my christmas cash to get your program book). Do you follow or provide a maximal strength routine in your book? thanks man and if better suited for you I am not opposed to an individual email response if you can or would like

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  mike

Hey Mike – the 5×5 / Rippetoe routines will be fine to follow until January… They’ll help you build a good foundation for the more dynamic elements of my Ultimate MMA program.

Maximal strength is built in my program, like I said, it’s a cornerstone for optimal MMA performance, so yes, maximal strength will increase following my program.

btw – comments on the blog are the best way to get a timely response! 🙂

mike
mike
9 years ago
Reply to  Eric

One question for you eric in relation to your ultimate MMA program….If I am training in boxing 3 times a week and not intending to compete in MMA would your program be of benefit to me?? or would another routine perhaps that you have put together be of more use

Eric
9 years ago
Reply to  mike

Hey Mike,

I am currently training boxing 2-3 days/week as well… The Ultimate MMA program will work very well for boxing, especially if you follow the 2 days/week template – because you’ll get stronger and more powerful on top of the conditioning, since most boxers only work on conditioning it is a big advantage.