Kenny Florian: The truth behind overtraining and injuries in MMA
The UFC just celebrated it’s 20th anniversary and it has been quite an amazing run for the organization and the fighters who have been a part of that history. The growth of the sport of mma has been impressive and the technical level amongst fighters seems to rise year after year. However, 20 years is still quite young and us coaches and fighters still have a lot to learn.
Injuries have been a major part of the sport in recent years. Part of that is attributed to the aggressive nature of the training and the competition itself but another part of it is attributed to poor training practices. Many fighters are over training and not listening to their bodies which is leading to bodies getting broken down again and again. I believe our approach during "off season" training is the major culprit for these problems.
For fighters I suggest the following, listen to your body whisper before you hear it scream.
First let us identify what "overtraining" means. Overtraining is when an athlete is doing too much work for a set period of time which is affecting his/her performance in training and competition. Muscle pain, fatigue (mental and physical), insomnia unusually high heart rate, fat retention and lack of motivation can all be signs of "overtraining". It can be a difficult thing to recognize for both fighters and coaches. Having a bad day at the gym doesn’t automatically mean overtraining. Both fighter and coach needs to be aware of what is "typical" in a fighter’s performance and be truly honest which each other when diagnosing the problem. Sometimes a fighter’s body is still adjusting to a new training routine and is trying to get over that hump. Other times it could be stress or a personal issue affecting a fighter in a negative way. Either way, a watchful set of eyes amongst the coaching staff and honesty from the athlete can be a great way to combat overtraining.
A coach and fighter must be aware of heart rate numbers for various aspects of MMA training. If a fighter has an unusually high heart rate when compared to previous numbers then it could be a sign of overtraining. We can use a heart monitor for virtually everything besides grappling work. It can be difficult to keep straps on the chest or wrist for too long without compromising the data or possibly injuring the athletes involved when rolling on the mat but for things like track work, conditioning and pad work for example, it is all doable. The key is finding a baseline heart-rate based on age and activity level of the athlete. From there a coach then record heart rates for various activities and see how a fighter’s heart responds after pad work for example over the course of a couple weeks to find out what is "normal" for that fighter.
A major problem I see is when a fighter decides to take too much time off after a fight. If a fighter is coming off of a fight and is healthy, he or she needs to get back to training 7-10 days after the last event. A 7-10 day break after a fight helps to reset the fighter physically and mentally from the tough training camp. If a fighter is still dealing with an injury after a fight then he/she must rest or at the very least avoid training that will make a small injury turn into a serious one. Taking too much time off will, often lead to unnecessary weight gain where the fighter now has to battle back hard to get the weight under control again. This excess weight on the fighter can also lead to improper mechanics in technique and those incorrect movement patterns can eventually lead to strains, pulls and tears in the body. This extra weight also adds unnecessary stress on the fighter mentally and physically. This is another reason why proper nutrition is so important. I ate gluten free for my training camps and made sure to get the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to reduce the inflammation in my body and have optimal performance.
I believe that when a fighter just gets back to camp it is imperative that they take care of their body by having a knowledgable strength and conditioning coach who can put them through a good prehab routine along with some strength exercises. Prehab to me means getting a good set of exercises that will keep the body moving like a well oiled machine. This means doing exercises and movements which will keep the body healthy and strong. Every athlete in the world has certain weaknesses in their body. Identifying and addressing the problem areas will help to keep a fighter as injury free as possible. Getting right into an intense training regiment this close after a fight would only lead to overtraining and injuries.
Many times I see fighters go right into a difficult strength and conditioning program. I even see a lot of fighters go right back into heavy sparring. Your brain and body needs a break and fighters need to take care of their bodies. I always used my time after fights to learn new techniques so drilling was a huge part of what I did after fights. It was easy on my body, fun to learn new things and more importantly gave me new weapons to play with. Things like shadow boxing and light pad work is a great way to get the body moving again without breaking it down. If 5 minute rounds are typical during intense training camp, try 3 minute rounds instead with less power. Keeping proper movement and technique is good enough until peak training begins.
Triathletes can be a great model for MMA fighters. They have to be great at a few very different disciplines like swimming, running and cycling. Their nutrition has to be excellent all the time. They have to measure their intensities throughout their training with great precision to improve their performance. This means that they aren’t doing triathlons every week to improve their times. They vary their training and slowly increase the workout and training volume according to their competition dates. They even slow things down again just prior to an event to allow their body to heal and be ready to compete on event day. As a former fighter, coach, analyst and fan, I want to see every fighter compete at their best every time out. This isn’t always possible but it should be our goal to study the science of MMA and truly start to streamline this process so that this sport can get even better. For fighters I suggest the following, listen to your body whisper before you hear it scream.