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Oli Thompson, MMA Strength and Conditioning Leeds, Leeds MMA Conditioning Coach

Oli Thompson vs Ben Smith

The following interview was conducted by Josh Beaty with James Smith, Jamie Hale, Liam Taku Bauer, and Michael Frye.

JBeaty: What is your take on the notion that the combat athlete has no need for training in the weight room since there are no weights in the ring?

JHale: I doubt if there are very many MMA coaches who still believe that non-sense. There are numerous research studies as well as mounds of anecdotal evidence that support the need for weight training to optimize athletes performance.

If there are MMA coaches or athletes who still need to be convinced I would suggest they speak to numerous (successful) coaches and look into the scientific data. To be honest if I am speaking with a coach and he or she really believes they don’t need wt training to maximize their athlete’s strength or conditioning I probably wouldn’t waste my breath.

JSmith: Such a notion is ignorant to the 10th power. While the role of resistance training must not be limited to that which can be accomplished in the weight room, anyone would be naïve to think that the entirety of a fighter’s training must be limited to the mat, ring, cage, and so forth.

Taku: I think that this is a ridiculous notion. There are always exceptions to the rule but for most athletes I feel there is a need for strength training with resistance provided by implements other then ones bodyweight. Like all other factors the individual’s strength must be assessed and then training prioritized accordingly.

MFry: I disagree with that 100%. I feel that there is a place for weight room training for combat athletes. It’s up to the coaches and athletes to determine what that training is based on the needs for their athletes. People need to remember that bodyweight training and conditioning only takes you so far.

JBeaty: Since we know jogging/running long distance is NOT the optimal way to train a fighter of any sort, what are your favorite methods of getting your fighters in prime shape?

JSmith: Aside from more specific forms of training/conditioning that include all fight/skill related maneuvers- loaded and unloaded, I strongly suggest the integration of movement complexes that consist of various combinations of loaded and unloaded calisthenics, rope climbs, plyometric exercises, implement throws (med ball, kettlebell, sand bag, etc), weight lifts, sprints, sled pulls/drags, and so on. These complexes must be performed at intensities, durations, and mechanical similarities which approximate contest/round length, type/discipline, etc in order that the training has a profound effect on the improvement of the sportsman’s contest results.

Managing the dosage and duration of training is of the utmost importance. It is imperative to plan the training such that the sportsman is primed for contest day and to ensure that one form of training does not negatively impact or compete with another.

JHale: there might be some role for this type training in MMA athletes. Depends on their goals, conditioning levels, their fighting style and the time limits placed on their bouts. With my athletes we use low intensity aerobic training sparingly. I don’t think it hurts the athlete if done in moderation. I think excessive aerobic activity can be detrimental as it can have negative affects on a wide array of other motor qualities.

Yet, many people will say hey this guy or that guy runs 3 miles per day and they have great endurance (what type endurance). This individual might have great endurance despite of not because of. On a final note, as with everything it depends.

Taku: My favorite methods for getting my fighters in prime shape are different interval training protocols. I will design a wide variety of interval protocols based on where we are in the fighter’s preparation plan. Some of these will use basic equipment such as versa-climbers, Air-dynes, rowing machines, U.B.E.s etc. I make them more specific as the fighter approaches his/her peaking phase.

MFry: I like to do lots of rope climbing for upper body endurance, stadium stair running, kettlebells, sandbags, versa-climber / Airdyne, and dumbbell complexes. Now for weight loss and pre-fight conditioning I will do long distance running however when the fight is scheduled I switch to the exercises above and sprint training.

JBeaty: Do you have one specific gnarly drill that readers may not be familiar with?

JHale: Actually I have a few but for simplicities sake I will suggest one drill that is great for anaerobic endurance, agility and quickness endurance. This is SPP (special physical preparedness) drill.
4 Corner Shadow Box and Shoot / Sprawl
Athlete (or coach) picks out a three or four punch combination, throws combination while facing a corner of the ring, pivots and throws facing another corner, once the combos have been thrown facing all four corners the athlete sprawls gets up then shoots.

Concentrate on good technique and total work. This drill is usually done for 3-4 minutes, 3-5 rounds. I have many of these drills I use as well as numerous non wtted, and wtted GPP movements.

JSmith: Probably not- important to note is that the likelihood of a ‘new’ drill existing is minimal and the concept of familiarity is a largely confining notion. Logic suggests that the remainder of that which may be pioneered lies in the planning and organization of the training. The farther the sportsman gets from practicing the sport itself the less the training has a direct impact on the improvement of sport mastery. For this reason, I do not place a great deal of relevance on specific conditioning drills; but rather, the optimal stimulation of the sportsman.

Taku: Using my interval plan as a base I will create more dynamic mini-circuits using Med-balls, weighted vest etc. As an example, during a 90 second work interval we may switch between 3 30 second bouts of different total body, Med-ball movements. These are killers.

MFry: – It’s not a drill but a great exercise circuit that really pushes your muscular endurance to new levels. Here is how it works. Perform a power clean using 35-40% of your one rep max for one rep ever 6 seconds. We will do this for 2-3 minutes depending on where we are in our schedule. It’s a great workout that we do 2-3 times a week for 8 weeks. You should give it a try Jamie. I think you will enjoy it.

JBeaty: Of all the combative athletes you’ve worked with, what are the biggest mistakes that seem to be made in their training and preparation?

JHale: Copying the training regimens of their heroes and assuming if a workout makes you tired it is effective at promoting the desired results. Those are a couple of many, but probably the two most common.

JSmith: The biggest training errors and this is surely not limited to combat athletes, typically come as a result of an insufficient understanding of sport science. This is not to be confused with exercise science or exercise physiology; but rather the science of sport. Any particular training flaw or careless coaching action will almost always come as a result of lacking a sufficient enough understanding of the science of sport. This includes the physiological effects of training, biomechanics, bioenergetics, and so on.

Taku: The most common mistakes I encounter are;
1.Overtraining during the peaking phase of training.
2.Poor nutritional habits which lead to making weight using less then optimal means.
3.Poor stress management skills which just cause general energy leaks that can really decrease performance.

MFry: The two biggest mistakes I see are not training the right way (conditioning) and poor nutrition. It drives me crazy sometimes to see fighters who have loads of potential waste it with poor training and nutritional habits. Some times it’s not the athletes fault but their coaches

JBeaty: Is their one thing all winners seem to have in common?

JHale: I have seen winners come in all shapes and sizes (concerning personalities and physical qualities). I think there is a wide array of physical traits among fighters under A class level, but less variation as athletes become A class fighters. Most A class fighters are able to take criticism, posses’ strong work ethic, and realize the importance of a properly designed strength and conditioning program (this includes proper nutrition).

Smith: I’m not sure that I comfortable limiting my answer to one quality; but, if I must then I will state that every winner possesses an unrelenting will to achieve their objective.

Taku: The ability to persist. Winners will keep their eye on the prize and can adjust themselves in the moment, reevaluating their plan of attack while staying focused on their goal.

MFry: A strong mental belief that they are going to win. They say sports are 90% mental and in the fight game it can be closer to the truth. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t think you’re going to win, you won’t…If you’re a fighter or combat athlete and want to be at the top of your game I would recommend adding mental training to your current training regimen.

JBeaty: Some coaches advocate committing there fighters to attaining a 3xbodywieght deadlift, 2.5 bodyweight bench, and 2.5 bodyweight squat? What do you think about this guideline?

JHale: I think if these coaches are training fighters their in the wrong sport. There is absolutely no correlation with these numbers and fighting ability. At the same time I am not implying that fighters shouldn’t work on the development of maximum strength. Keep this in mind if big gym numbers are your main objective fighting is not for you as this will generally decrease Max strength. For big gym numbers eat a bunch; make sure you plenty of protein and wt train. Forget about training seriously for mma as the volume and nervous system fatigue will probably inhibit Max Strength gains.

JSmith: I would suspect that none of these coaches are responsible for producing a single world or nationally ranked fighter

Taku: I find this guideline somewhat irrelevant. Each athlete is unique. I constantly evaluate their training to help them refine what their goals should be. If we are improving in the desired areas then I know the plan is working. I have not found a direct correlation with specific poundage’s and success. But, strength is a key component and must be optimized.

MFry: I don’t follow these guidelines. I work with a lot of big athletes and if you’re a fighter, who weights 300lbs you’re then asking them to deadlift 900, bench 750, and squat 750. I don’t know too many athletes who can do this so no I don’t follow them.

JBeaty: How concerned are you with a fighters “weightroom numbers”?

JHale: Depends on the fighter. If they feel really strong and powerful in the ring there weight room numbers are probably decent (of course this is relative and depends what you are comparing to). I have seen other fighters who have relatively good wt room numbers, but appear weak in the ring. This could be due to a number of reasons. In general, power (work divided by time- Rate of force development) seems to be more important than Max strength. In most combat situations there is insufficient time availability to display Max strength. I haven’t seen any thing that suggests weight room numbers alone correlate with success as a fighter.

JSmith: The degree to which I may or may not be concerned with strength as it is demonstrated in the weight room is directly related to the preparedness of the sportsman. Certain fighters would do well to perform a higher volume of weight training while others already possess a high enough level of the non-specific strength which comes as a result of lifting weights.

Taku: Following off the last question one may think that I am not concerned with a fighter’s weight room numbers. Actually I am concerned only in that I see progress in the areas I feel need it. We will have target goals and I want to achieve them. My experience shows that I can expect a certain percentage increase in strength within a certain amount of time. If the numbers do not move in the right direction in a reasonable time frame I must look closely at our plan and make sure all aspects are optimized. With the above being said, I do not have any magic numbers that I expect from everyone.

MFry: I’m not concerned with them and don’t put any valve to weight room numbers as what was asked previous. Here is a list of the things I track.
•Pre-workout heart rate
•Pre-workout bodyweight
•Post exercise heart rate.
•Recovery time between exercises
•weight used

J Beaty: If there was one lift that separated the men from the boys in the ring what would that be? (Considering both has equal levels of conditioning)

JHale: There is no magic lift. Numerous factors come into play. In general, my athletes perform primarily compound movements. If a particular lift seems to be injurious to an athlete we strike that movement and use a substitute. No matter how good a movement has the potential to be if it is injurious it is probably not the best choice.

JSmith: Allow me to first state that it is unlikely that strength in a certain lift would ever distinguish the winner from the loser. Having said this, I have always felt that the ‘strongest’ individuals are those who posses great back strength. Accordingly, a fighter who possesses great pulling strength is certainly at an advantage when in the clinch, throwing, grappling, etc.

Taku: I honestly don’t have one lift that I feel is key to an individual’s success. I have many favorites such as Clean Deadlifts and Overhead Squats. I train my athletes to achieve balanced strength throughout their entire body. Each athlete will require different prescriptions at different times depending on their individual needs.

MFry: POWER CLEANs, power cleans, power cleans. Great total body exercise.

J Beaty: How much time and effort is divided on separate goals such as maximal strength, conditioning, etc?

JHale: Depends on strength and weaknesses, training goal, and experience levels. In beginners increasing max strength generally enhances other motor qualities assuming that weight gain is not too rapid (generally decreases relative strength which decreases movement abilities). Intermediate and advanced trainees generally have much wider responses to training programs.

JSmith: This is entirely dependent on the sportsman’s preparedness, the contest schedule, the discipline being trained, and so on. One universal rule in my view, however, (specifically in regards to fighters) is that the training of maximal strength via non-specific means (in the weight room) must greatly diminish, if not cease, approximately 3-6 weeks prior to a contest.

The training of maximal strength yields high stress to the central nervous system (CNS). This presents too high a strain to the human organism when combined with the increased volume of fight specific training that must be included as a contest approaches. The CNS is the largest branch of the nervous system. When the CNS becomes excessively depressed the remainder of the nervous system (autonomic) is also likely to weaken. As a result, the regulation, control, and monitoring of muscle, sense, and organ function may become impaired. Restless sleep, illness/immune dysfunction/weakening, fatigue, and impaired motor function are not desirable qualities for any sportsman.

Taku: Again this question can only truly be answered in a case by case basis. If we look at Tudor Bompa’s Training Factors Pyramid we see that the base is GPP. All fighters need to have an excellent GPP base. We then customize training according to all their personal factors. These may include but are not limited to age, state of health, injury status, etc. My goals is to create highly conditioned fighters with enough strength, stamina and flexibility to get the job done with gas left in the tank and come out as injury free as possible.

MFry: Prior to a fight being scheduled I spend a lot of time working on maximum strength. Like I said we will do long distance aerobic running and we get our anaerobic work during grappling classes; it’s only when we get the call for a fight that we switch to power endurance training and anaerobic conditioning. I would say pre fight we are 80-20 aerobic – anaerobic and after a fight is planned we switch to 90-10 anaerobic – aerobic.

James Smith is a student of former Soviet and Eastern Bloc training methodologies and is engaged in the constant pursuit to further his own physical conditioning and coaching abilities. James has worked with athletes who participate in American football, track and field, basketball, baseball, wrestling as well as MMA, US Navy SEALs, US Army Special Forces Trainees, US Navy Divers, Australian SAS trainees, and Federal Air Marshals. Current professional commitments:
•Strength coach for the West Valley Eagles Football Program (Cottonwood CA)
•Physical Education Advisor- West Valley High School (Cottonwood CA)
•Founder of
•Power Development Inc Gym Owner (Anderson CA)
•Writer and Q and A staff member for Elite Fitness Systems (

Jamie Hale is Sports Conditioning Coach, author, gym owner, fitness and nutrition consultant. He has contributed to numerous exercise and sports publications (nationally and internationally). He has authored four books. He is currently working on his fifth book titled Protein Essentials: what every athlete needs to know. Jamie is a member of the World Marital Arts Hall of Fame in recognition of his conditioning work with Martial Artists. He is considered by most in the industry as a specialist in agility and sledgehammer training. Also known for his ability to get bodybuilders lean and dry as bone for competition. To learn more abut Jamie visit his website at

TAKU is a highly motivated and disciplined fitness professional who has been dedicated to the pursuit, acquisition, and application of current, reliable knowledge in the field of exercise science and related disciplines since 1987. The creator of the legendary TAKU’s Intervals, he specializes in designing comprehensive conditioning programs for professional and elite amateur athletes as well as individuals of all fitness levels. TAKU was the strength and conditioning coach and fitness consultant to the women’s Junior Middleweight boxing champion of the world. He is also a frequent lecturer and guest speaker at seminars around the country for fitness enthusiasts, professional fighters, martial artists, police, and elite tactical officers.

Michael Fry is the owner of Grapplers Gym and Grapplers Gym is the home for advanced fitness and conditioning for today’s combat athletes

Josh Beaty is a Performance Coach based in Laguna Beach California.

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Valentine Rawat
Personal Trainer · S&C Coach · Official Trainer to Sky1 Obese A Year to Save My Life & SkyLiving FAT: The Fight of My Life I'm a father and a husband, and my girls are my inspiration to be better, do better & continually help others achieve better of themselves.

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