Tensile Strength in MMA
Increasing Tensile Strength in MMA
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a brutal sport that tests every system of the human body and is one of the most demanding feats of mind-over-matter. The sport is made of practitioners from a variety of martial arts and combat sports backgrounds, hence the name mixed martial arts, with the most popular backgrounds of the athletes being a conglomeration of skill sets in derivatives of Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, boxing, and Muay Thai. Davies & Durall (2017) found that while the sport of MMA has grown substantially over the years, there is limited quality information on training methodologies, recovery methods, injury prevention, and treatment.
As a former practitioner and mildly competitive athlete in the sport, I can greatly attest to the lack of quality of information on how to train and recover for the sport, as well as attesting to some of the most common physical and mental injuries that can arise. Joints and connective tissues are cranked, stretched, and forcefully strained in many of the standing and ground grappling aspects of the sport. Repeated jumping and bounding from the ground to throw forceful kicks or rapid blocks create a need for resilient and responsive tensile tissues. The high-level isometric contractions in holds create another form of need for tensile strength to tap an opponent out, or to survive the fight until a shrimp-out or other form of release can occur.
The complexity of the sport’s demand for quick and multiplanar movements is unmatched to any other athletic feat with a myriad of areas to cover for training and treatments. It is precisely the ability to move quickly and diversely in the sport that could make or break a person. One major area of study that needs to be addressed due to the severity of impact and stress on joints and soft tissues, is that of tensile strength and biotensegrity. These terms will be used interchangeably throughout as there is a crossover of the structure that should not be ignored, and with the recognition of the required reactive movements necessary for the sport, better training and recovery can be delivered. I will address some simple recommendations to both aid prevention of injury, as well as to help facilitate recovery of the incredibly important connective tissue of the tensile/biotensegrity structures.
Levin et al. (2017) make a direct point of how the old-school approaches of biomechanical and movement analysis and approaches to training are flawed and with critical thinking around the following statement, it is evident that a more complex method of training for athlete preparedness, injury prevention, and rehabilitation, must be considered and is where the concept of training protocols around tensile strength and biotensegrity come into play:
“To reiterate, the notion of fulcrums is part of lever theory and the standard biomechanical approach to examining the forces and torques involved in joint motion…but as levers inherently generate bending moments and potentially damaging stress concentrations…it is likely that the stresses would cause material fatigue if they appeared in developing tissues”
Essentially what can be derived from the statement is that training movements across multiple planes to mimic a sport’s actions and reactions is of utmost importance as we ‘do work’ as a unit with one area having an effect on several other joints and tissues. This is the generalized principle behind biotensegrity. A simple analogy of a room filled with balloons and one popping then the whole ‘structure’ reshaping and conforming is to help visually shape the argument for consideration to train such a dynamic sport for the structural dynamic demands. The connective tissues are what hold things together and these tissues need to be resilient to the high-stress imposed demands of MMA with some of the proposed methods to be implemented in training and rehabilitation. From a rehabilitation standpoint, it may be paramount to understand the biotensegrity system to still promote sport-specific movements, but that the exercises are done through a temporary shorter range of motion when under load (Wilke et al., 2019). The tissues involved in tensile strength discussed here are that of deep and superficial fascia, ligaments, and tendons. Structure follows function and function follows structure-these are interchangeable depending on context and both may need to be addressed equally from a mechanical to biological standpoint.
General Recommendations for Tensile Strength
Prevention and Rehabilitation Strategies-Training
Using undulating periodization methods with basic movement patterns i.e. variations of squats, lunges, deadlifts, pulls, and pushes using less cerebral training tools like barbells and dumbbells while using sport-specific multiplanar movements for all energy system work to compliment fascial lines using tools like medicine balls, bands, sandbags. A deload week at week 4 (Sandoval, 2019) is recommended with this only consisting of light sport-specific movement and/or training i.e. shadow boxing/kickboxing, or non-straining yoga, no sparring or high-impact work. A variety of forms of load management are paramount and often overlooked in the sport and far too much ego is involved in the training to recovery protocols which is even more detrimental to connective tissue as it takes longer to really recover than does most musculoskeletal injuries. It is also far too often that “high-load functional training” in everything supersedes good movement and the basics of max strength moves and is why the recommendations are as they are below. In terms of training, a similar model would still be used but with no high-impact work, the use of shorter ranges of motion when under load, and more use of machines over complex dynamic movements.
Day One: Max Strength and Aerobic Work (low impact day)
Day Two: Sport-Specific Power Drills and Alactic Work (high impact day)
Day Three: Strength/Power Circuits and Glycolytic Work (low and high impact day)
Prevention and Rehabilitation Strategies-Nutrition
A vitamin C-rich diet, high in various forms of produce, high ORAC fruits, complex starchy carbohydrates pre, and post-training sessions would be recommended. A focus on the quality of food versus deficits and weight cutting until needed.
During the rehabilitation phase, starchy carbohydrates can be replaced with more produce to mitigate weight/fat gain with less training and to support the mechanisms for connective tissue recovery.
Prevention Phase: Creatine supplementation, supplemental vitamin C, EPA/DHA capsule supplementation, 1-2g/kg of protein/day, EAA/AA supplementation peri-workout.
Rehabilitation Phase: Supplemental vitamin C, Type 1 and 2 collagen, hyaluronic acid (Stecco, et al., 2011), and chondroitin. 1-2g/kg of protein/day.
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Davies G.J., & Durall C. (2017). Mixed martial arts. Shamus E, & Shamus J(Eds.), Sports Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation, 2e. McGraw-Hill. https://accessphysiotherapy-mhmedical-com.ezproxylocal.library.nova.edu/content.aspx?bookid=1965§ionid=158356565
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Wilke, J., Hespanhol, L., & Behrens, M. (2019). Is it all about the fascia? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of extramuscular connective tissue lesions in muscle strain injury. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 7(12), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1177/2325967119888500
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