Better Striking For MMA

Increase your overall punching performance and endurance by utilizing these 3 simple workouts.

By Jason Van Veldhuysen

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You don’t have to look much further than Anderson Silva’s dismantling of Forrest Griffin to see a clear example of what superior striking can do in MMA. But the ability to control entire fights in the striking range, or use effective striking to set up opponents for techniques that favor your overall strategy, doesn’t come easily. Increasing the efficiency of your punching motion is key to giving you the fluidity necessary to raise your striking performance to the next level.

But how do you organize your training to get the maximum benefit and integration of skills for MMA? Part of the answer is style based—it depends on your strengths and what type of fighter you are. A former wrestler like Johny Hendricks will likely take a different approach than a former pro boxer and kickboxer like Anderson Silva. It’s also important to take into account the opponent you are preparing for and where you are headed with your skillset long term. All things being equal, the old saying, “what you put in is what you get out” still applies.

Raise your efficiency, raise your level
Punching is primarily an anaerobic activity—it is an explosive action. From a physiological standpoint, the minute you start throwing punches, you only have a maximum of 15-20 seconds of high quality output before the effectiveness of your punches takes a serious decline. On the heavy bag, a high level amateur boxer can throw about 200 punches per 3-minute round (assuming active footwork and head movement), and depending on the focus of the round, a high level pro can hit upwards of 300 punches per round. Here, we’ll outline a few of these concepts and learn how to apply them in the gym. You don’t have to take the words as gospel, feel free to apply the concepts and make modifications to the specifics as needed.

Maximize your work
Once a fighter learns proper striking technique, the most significant component impacting progress over the long run is the striking work rate. Striking work rate can be broken down into two components:

1) The total number of punches thrown over time or during a given period of time. This aspect of work rate improves technique, speed, and efficiency.

2) The quality of striking, i.e. how hard, fast, and accurate those strikes are.

Your work rate for striking is where quality meets quantity, and is one of the biggest training assets that an MMA fighter can absorb from traditional western boxing. Because MMA training encompasses so many disciplines, it’s imperative that your time spent striking is of the highest quality—there isn’t a moment to waste. Follow the steps outlined below and I am confident they will take your striking to another level.

1.) Train for a high volume of punches to increase efficiency and improve technique

2.) Train for speed endurance and high quality speed to emulate the intensity of combat

3.) Integrate the improvements into your MMA game.

Step three will be taken care of through ‘business as usual’ MMA training. Just ensure that you apply your techniques at full speed and maintain a high work rate. Other than intentional breaks and rest cycles built into your training, your goal is to maintain the new level of output attained through your striking ramp-up.

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Workout 1 – High Volume Punching
The purpose of high volume punching is to educate your muscles to punch properly and efficiently. Studies of elite distance runners in the 1980s showed that runners with higher biomechanical efficiency were able to keep pace with, and even beat counterparts who possessed a higher VO2 max. Simply stated, better technique equals more speed, power, and endurance for a given amount of work, and there is no better way to improve your punching technique than by high volume punching. Through repetition, you are training your muscles and nervous system to “groove” a particular motion. Your body adapts to this motion over time so that it requires fewer resources to execute. Kinetic linking of your whole body and punch trajectory slowly becomes refined. If your striking is not where you want it to be, then take one workout of the week and dedicate it to high volume punching. A good mark for an MMA fighter to shoot for is somewhere between 3000 and 3500 punches in a given workout, including shadowboxing, the heavy bag, and other optional tools such as mitt work and the double-end bag. You don’t need to count each punch yourself—instead you can estimate it based on a few drills and the number of sets you perform.

How to do it:

Stand in front of the heavy bag and throw long range, high quality punches non-stop for one minute. They don’t have to be at an all out pace, just hard and fast enough that you could go a few seconds over the minute before requiring rest. If you don’t make it through the minute, then it’s a clear sign your punch technique and efficiency needs work. How many punches did you count? My guess is that you hit somewhere between 200 and 250 punches. Take a break for 30 seconds and repeat.

Repeat this drill for as many time as it takes to clock 3000 or more punches. Your output per minute will decrease as the time goes on. To remain on the safe side, aim for 20 sets of 1 minute. As the rounds go on you can lengthen the rest up to 1 minute if that helps to maintain your quality of striking. Your main goal is to throw between 3000-3500 punches in this workout.

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Workout 2 – Speed Endurance
Outside of busy and active sparring, speed endurance is the best way to prepare for a fight, as it most closely resembles the pace of a high pressure fight. The rest periods will be short between punch combinations.

How to do it:

For one workout of the week, choose a few 5-8 punch combinations that you have practiced and can throw effectively, then step to the heavy bag or get yourself ready for an intense shadowboxing session. Set your timer for the desired length of time—ideally 5 minutes to simulate a full round. Once the bell goes, throw one of your combinations with full speed and power. As soon as you are finished throwing, move laterally left or right and give yourself just enough time to take one breath, then reset into striking position and throw again at full speed and power. Continue at this pace for the length of the round. Push your output at a high pace to the best of your ability.

Workout 3 – High Quality Speed
This type of training focuses on increasing your maximum speed and power in single bursts of activity. Think of it as the equivalent of the 40-yard dash in football. The goal is to release all-out explosive combinations, where speed, power, and precision harmonize. You are essentially pushing your punch capacity for a single burst of activity.

How to do it:

For one workout of the week choose a few combinations ranging between 5-8 punches and throw them with maximum speed and power. The difference here is that your recovery time between combinations will be longer than the speed endurance workout so you can fully recover. After you throw your combinations, you will move around laterally and relax your whole body. Take anywhere from a 10-15 second break before throwing your next combo. Remember, each release of your combo has to be at maximum speed and power—don’t hold anything back.


Conclusion

The overall focus of this program is to bring your striking to a new level. Your chain is only as strong as its weakest link. By focusing on striking for a set period of time, you will not only enhance this aspect of your game, but you will learn better integration and transition of your other skills. My recommendation is to follow this program for one month. Do each workout once a week for four weeks, totaling 12 striking-focused workouts. Once you have completed one month of training, you can re-assess your striking. As your MMA training progresses, strive to keep your striking at the highest quality, and remember—don’t waste a single punch.

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