As a longtime coach of combat athletes and also a researcher, I’ve found myself frequently frustrated over the years with a certain trend among MMA coaches. A lot of coaches out there believe MMA is a free-for-all when it comes to conditioning because it is a relatively unstudied sport. While any good coach can use existing science to support a sound theory, highly specific research is always a welcome tool for the coach’s arsenal.
It’s a good day whenever a study comes along that validates your own theories as an MMA coach – not only because it always helps to have more science on hand, but also because the young sport of MMA is getting the attention it deserves. One area that has long needed research for MMA, and is oft neglected by coaches and athletes, is the importance of mobility work for combat athletes. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning was among the first of its kind to look at the injury prevention needs of MMA fighters.
In the study, researchers used the functional movement screen (FMS) to determine the mobility and balance weaknesses in fighters. While they acknowledged that the FMS itself might be understudied for MMA, they provided support for the strength of FMS across a wide variety of sports, and indicated that the movements covered in the test related to many performed in MMA. With the relative lack of good mobility work in MMA, a mobility screen certainly couldn’t hurt.
As an MMA coach, my one reservation has been that the mobility work for the fighters is typically added on top of their present routines on four days of the week. So if the athletes did MMA training and strength and conditioning work already, they were advised not to change it. This is a good thing because it mimics the real world in which a fighter isn’t going to halt everything to perform mobility work. However, the downside is that many fighters are close to overtraining (if not overtraining) for much of their careers.
However, in this study, the intervention was proved effective. The researchers were looking for a score higher than fourteen on the FMS and any asymmetries between muscle groups. A score above fourteen means reduced risk of injury, whereas below or at fourteen means an eleven times greater chance of injury. Athletes who have a score above fourteen but also have asymmetries between muscle groups are three times more likely to be injured.
Before the intervention, the average score for all participants was 13.25. After just four weeks, the score for the intervention group climbed to 15.17, out of the danger zone, and again up to 15.33 for week eight, showing a sharper rise during the first month.
Assuming the standard FMS is an effective screen for fighters, it turns out that mobility and symmetry work (no, not in the bodybuilding sense), are excellent ways for fighters to prevent injuries. Of particular note, work on the shoulders and hips seemed to be critical. Adding this work into a fighter’s routine can help improve performance and the length of his or her career.
1. Jamie G Bodden, et. al., “The Effect of an Intervention Program on Functional Movement Screen Test Scores in Mixed Martial Arts Athletes,”Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a480bf
Photo courtesy of David Brown Photography.