Why We Train

Several recent posts have commented on the
interference of strength training with other
martial arts skill training. This topic
raises the question, "Why do we train?".

Strength training and conditioning work in
general is important for MMA for reasons I am
sure you are aware of. In the most basic of
comparisons, it is said that when two
fighters of equal skill engage, the winner
will be the "stronger" of the two. As stated
here, strength would probably be seen by most
readers as meaning physical strength. I
would like to re-examine the various
definitions of strength and how they apply to

First, physical strength is the easiest to
comprehend. When lifting weights for our
training, the absolute value of "numbers" and
easily measurable increments which weight-
lifting provides gives us feedback on the
level of our physical strength. We lift "X"
more this month than last, so we are "Y"%
stronger! The reassuring nature of
quantifiable feedback is both the most
beneficial feature and the biggest drawback
to weightlifting when training for MMA. We
depend on those numbers to tell us that our
training has been effective, however, those
numbers are only a very small part of the
equation when evaluating a strength routine
for MMA improvement. The incremental nature
of weightlifting provides, in traditional
terminology, "progressive resistance" which
allows us to gain strength in a safe,
controlled manner. These methods of lifting
have been studied thoroughly and subjects do
increase the amount of weight they can lift
after a period of time using this method.

The drawback to progressive resistance
training for MMA purposes affects the trainee
on the psychological level. When preparing
to perform the next workout, the trainee
already knows just what type of challenge he
will face, and just how hard it will be.
After all, last workout he lifted just 5 lbs.
less than that, so it's pretty easy to
predict how things will feel, etc. during the
next session. It is this incremental
"lethargy" which reduces the psychological
preparation for exertion to a low level, as
compared to preparing for the start of a MMA
match. At some point in our training, we
should ask for more "involvement" from our
most powerful muscle: our brain! A complete
strength training program which ignores the
need for mental training will only partially
fill our requirements as MMA trainees. We
must include as part of the program a series
of psychological "workouts" designed to
stress our ability to prepare ourselves for
extremely hard tasks.

It is the need for psychological duress that
gives us the "exotic" workouts which I have
recently mentioned in several posts. These
workouts do not follow a regular cycle, nor
are they useful in a periodized structure.
Any attempt to place restriction or structure
on them reduces their effectiveness for the
intended purpose. Although these routines
often leave the trainee sore and depleted
somewhat more than a traditional routine, the
occasional use of these routines to build
psychological strength more than offsets the
extra soreness. Recovery from these workouts
is usually slower than normal, so the
available frequency of these routines is
certainly not as high as a traditional
lifting workout. The neuro-physiologic
stress imposed by a set of 100 reps, for
instance, is far greater than doing 5 sets of
20. The mind must stay with the effort for a
much greater period of time, and produce good
form by concentration as well as push the
trainee toward finishing the set. This is
but one example of the use of weightlifting
to exercise your mind along with your body.

The psychological stress imposed by these exotic
routines simulates the preparation for the unexpected
demands of a MMA match. The fighter who looks across
the ring/cage at his opponent prepares himself for one
goal: victory. The lifter who begins an exotic
routine, in which he has no "incremental build-up" by
which to judge the upcoming effort, grabs the bar with
the same single-minded purpose. I propose to you that
most traditional weightlifting trainees never approach
this level of "psyche" or commitment when performing a
routine. The comfort of a well-established lifting
program removes the element of the unexpected and the
thrill of a huge challenge: necessary components for
training the mind to support the body in efforts which
are greater than an incrementally small type.

I believe that most of us at the forum would rather
achieve the ability to mentally draw upon reserves
,which are not normally tapped, than to write in our
journal that our new 1RM is 5lbs. more this week. This
is how weightlifting truly translates into useful MMA
training! Unless we are entering a powerlifting
contest, we should be concerned with how our weight
training program improves our martial arts ability, not
just with how many pounds we are lifting. It is for
this purpose that I recommend that everyone who has
basic weight training experience occasionally use an
exotic routine to tune their mental abilities along
with their physical abilities. Give it a try and
report back. Thank you for your attention.

I wish you all the best of luck with achieving your
goals in training. Hope this helps.



Lee, I agree 100%

Function over fashion.


Excellent post, as always. I have a few comments, although I won't rehash stuff that we talked about from the other thread:

Such mental challenges are hardly peculiar to exotic strength and conditioning training. Tough sparring sessions also bring out the same sort of qualities - can I reach deep and get the purple belt off mount just one more time?

Also, I find that _all_ endurance work - even of the predictable and periodized variety - allows us to reach deeper into our mental reserves than does strength or hypertrophy training. I also believe that localized muscular endurance (particularly of the upper body) is the mostly unsung hero of S&C goals. Many trainees do very little serious endurance work (20 reps being considered an exotic upper limit). I have a lot of respect for your viewpoint here, but I wonder whether you're confounding two variables: endurance and mental ability. Maybe the chief benefit from those 100s is physiological, and one would be better sticking to them (or 50s, or 75s - who knows? if we had 8 fingers we'd be talking about sets of 64!) for 6 weeks, rather than returning to the usual hypertrophy/strength pattern that many people stick to.


I'm on shaky ground with this one - if anyone has good arguments for or against this idea, let me know:

Some authors have claimed that certain types of training (say, maximum endurance and maximum strength) are not compatible with each other in the short term. That is, you're better off doing maximum strength for 6 weeks, followed by maximum endurance for 6 weeks, rather than trying to train them both at once. If (big if) you believe this, it might make sense to harmonize the exotic workouts with the rest of your plan - for
example, make the 100's the big scary climax to a 6-week endurance cycle, rather than chucking them into the middle of 6 weeks of 5x5s.

That might sound like I'm missing the point. I'm not. I'm impressed with the idea of "confronting the unknown" and accepting a great mental challenge, but I'd like to maximize the physical (as well as the mental) benefits of performing an exotic routine and minimize the interference that it might have with my other goals.

Of course, some people believe that the idea that exercise types can interfere with each other is either bunk, or irrelevant (as we're not looking for pure maximum strength or pure endurance, anyhow). They may in fact be right, which renders this point moot.

As I stated above, the predictable, incremental
challenge presented during the course of a regular
training cycle does not approximate the challenge of
the "unknown", where more variables are introduced. It
is for this reason that the "exotic" routine provides
far greater effect.

I totally agree that weight training is not the only
area where the mental reserves can be activated to
assist us in dire moments. My point is that the
relatively static environment of a structured weight
lifting program does not provide the necessary elements
of severe challenge. The example of the grappling
session, attempting to escape mount, illustrates a
situation with far more variables and the need to
process information while under extreme physical
duress. It is this ability to push ourselves very hard
physically, while maintaining precise mental focus,
that improves our "game" as MMA trainees. I often
compared rock climbing to MMA for the same reasons.

I am not confusing the physiological benefits of these
routines with the mental benefits. I simply stated
that these routines provide far greater mental benefit
than any more structured program could. The
physiologic benefits are easier to explain. We have
used 100 rep sets for upper body exercises, and they
can be compared to the conditioning effect attained
through difficult bodyweight exercises. However, it is
the mental arena where these routines stand alone above
typical weight training routines. As I said before,
atttempts to "schedule" or "structure" these routines
destroys the exact element that makes them so effective
for their purpose. Scheduling an exotic workout gives
one the opportunity to anticipate the effort, and
"psyche" up accordingly.

I pose the same question once again. Which is more
important to you: Increasing your 1RM by X lbs., or
having the ability (at a moment's notice) to activate
your "survival" instinct as it applies to a dire
physical challenge. Of course, you are free to train
any way you like. However, you will miss the boat if
you try to "control" something that is purposely meant
to be a random event.



i train cuz the chicks dig it! :)

Why do I train in MA and workout? Incase I ever get ahold of this guy or someone like him.

Gee, I really was thinking we'd get a little dialog
going on this topic....... Oh, well.....

man i'd love to get my hands on that pedophile. i'd cut his nuts off then feed it to the chickens.

What I really want to get at here is how many of us
think that our lifting/conditioning program can be used
more effectively to improve our mental control over our
perceived "limitations" and "fears". These exotic
lifting routines force you to work hard under
unfamiliar circumstances, and you only know how hard
each set will be as you do it. Therefore, you must
simply commit yourself to "winning" over the weight
in a situation where you have no way to estimate the
amount of effort you will have to produce. I believe
the mind is relatively untapped as far as our ability
to push ourselves effectively, and these routines are
just the beginning of where I intend to go with this



when i was little i had always wanted to be real strong and look like bolo yeung

As another example, the www.maxercise.com sandbag
workout that has recently circulated on the forum is
far more than merely an alternate form of weight to
lift. When you approach this type of routine, do you
picture in your mind the "real" grappling that is
occurring as you perform the various manuevers with the
sandbags? Do you feel the utility of these motions and
how close they can become (in your mind) to the real
thing? When you train with a "martial sense" of
motion and power, your mind works much harder than it
does during a standard set of weightlifting. Your body
begins to "feel" the truth of what you are doing with
it, and you are training the psychological link to real

The next time you pick up that sandbag, picture
yourself hoisting an opponent for a huge throw! Use
the same commitment and focus that you would use for
the real thing and see how your training is affected!

More on this topic later. I'm not quite ready to give
up on this. I've wanted to discuss this stuff on the
forum for a while, and here we go!



The next time you do a bench press and begin to fail,
picture Tank Abbott on your chest about to start
raining down punches on your face. You might be
able to "escape mount" and finish the set
successfully. Same "imagery" works for other
exercises as well. Tap into your mind for applicable
moments which would cause you to harness extra
incentive. Once you practice this method for a while,
you are better prepared to "turn IT on and off"!



Please make sure that this thread makes the archives!!


I have to admit, I like the last couple comments that you posted more than the first couple. I know that intense mental training has its place, but when I think of my family and friends, especially my wife and sons, there is nothing on Earth that could possibly make me give up. As Scott Sonnon wrote on his TE forum, "It's not what you fight with, but what you fight FOR that lends you Unconditional Victory."

When I feel like I'm really struggling with weights or I'm being beaten up sparring, I think of my family. When I think of myself, even if I'm facing Tank Abbot, I'm just not as strong. Some people may be different, but I tend to place more value on those around me than on myself. The hard part is seeing how much your tribe really NEEDS you to be successful. I know other people have found success with similar imagery while facing the notorious 20 Rep Squat, and Scrapper has said that it's even worked with overweight women chinning their own bodyweight.

Besides, if I picture Tank beating me I might revert back to my Fred Ettish Fetal Style Kung Fu.


Thank you for your comments. I feel that you took my
earlier posts too literally, rather than seeing that I
have said the same thing in many different ways on all
my posts here. As a family man, I agree that thoughts
of family and "tribe" are by far the greatest
motivators that exist. However, if you examine some of
the other responses on this thread, you will find that
some of those responding may not understand my point if
I based it entirely on that sense of community. In my
attempt to reach a larger audience with this topic, I
have described many different aspects of this
phenomenon and how they can be applied to MMA training.

I stand firm in believing that the repetitive "comfort"
that comes from progressive weight routines prevents us
at times from tapping into the reserves which allow
superior performance. We know almost exactly what
effort we will need to provide to finish the work.
With anticipation and apprehension minimalized, some of
the valuable environmental conditions which can
supercharge a training session are lost. Police train
on the firearms range with sirens blaring and
recordings of people screaming, etc. in order to
introduce a higher level of stress and uncertainty into
a "session at the range", producing a much more
valuable experience because of the added elements. We
can incorporate the same strategy when MMA training,
by introducing typical elements of stress into the mix.

Your point regarding Sonnon's Knuckledragger mentality
and its application is well taken. I hope that you
understand that although it is possibly the greatest
motivator, one must be able to understand what it means
to them in order to effectively draw upon that stimulus
for training use. I attempted to point out that each
trainee must find the essence of what drives them and
learn to switch that quality on and off at will. This
process is unique for every trainee, even if they end
up reaching the same conclusions. Even when
incorporating the Knuckledragger philosophy into the
imagery process, one must innately "feel" the power
that this lends, not merely picture an event involving
tribal need. Once the primal connection is made, then
primitive drive IS the best motivator. Achieving the
realization of that fact, however, is a different road
for each individual. Overall, what we are after is a
comprehensive training experience. Training for
numbers alone is a waste of time if one can also
achieve concurrent psychological enhancement!




Thank you for your input. It is gratifying to see that
the importance of this topic has not been
underestimated by soem folks here. I am amazed at the
number of martial artists I have run across in my
experiences who follow training routines that foster a
sense of "comfort" by familiarity, which leads to a
relaxation of exactly the mental "edge" we always want
to have as martial artists. If we do not actively
pursue methods of improving our training routine's
effectiveness, then the development of our attributes
is hampered or destroyed. I have known several guys
who always did certain exercises because they were
"good" at them. While their performance was impressive
while they were in their "zone", they had enveloped
themselves in a cocoon of comfort and familiarity.
Situations requiring them to work against new stressors
usually brought about performances which were below
what could be predicted from their overall condition,
etc. They were not prepared to face the unknown with
HEART! (thanks, Scrapper) Instead, they faced the
unknown with fear and apprehension. This situation
goes right to the core of what martial arts training
should be about. Why do we not focus attention on the
development of qualities which will benefit us most?

The answer lies in our human nature and modern society.
We have been "softened" and "defanged" by rules, laws,
public opinion, etc. in order to achieve a homogenous
society. The primal drive and primitive combatative
attitudes have been declared unfit for society. We
must never forget the true essence of combat!
Any loss of this concept results in a dilution of what
we hope to achieve. The Gracies draw the line of
distinction between "martial art" and "martial skill".
What this means is that there are some that "play" at
this stuff, and some that understand what it is truly
about. Train like you mean it, and the real thing will
be a closer approximation of your training experience.
Train with a schoolbook mentality, purposeful but
lacking in vision, and you will be overwhelmed by the
brutality of the real thing. After all, the goal of
all this training is to improve! Why set parameters
for what parts of you can improve while the rest
remain dormant? Use this philosophy to drive all
aspects of your life and you will reap benefits. The
world still respects the alpha-male (& female),
although society attempts to take away their innate
power. The choice is yours.



Good stuff Lee.

I only get the groove of an exercise when I envision what it's for (i.e. deadlifts for picking someone up, or dumbell presses for striking, etc.).

When I deadlift, I envision standing over my opponent in a gi-match, trying to pass his fredson guard by grabbing his gi and lifting him. In this sense, I'm "in combat" with the weight.

I know I'm not in the "groove" of an exercise if I'm not envisioning my opponent. If I'm thinking "are my glutes activated?", or "are my triceps working?", I know I'm doing it incorrectly.

Interestingly, I do the opposite when I'm actually in training: when I'm throwing knees from close quarters, I imagine the constant explosiveness required from a deadlift. When I'm throwing someone from the clinch, I imagine the hip action required in a power clean.

whoa, a blast from the past!

Where are these old threads coming from. Deeded are
you jerking them out of cyberspace somehow?