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Effects of original physical training program on changes in body composition, upper limb peak power and aerobic performance of a mixed martial arts fighter.


An increase in the popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) in recent years has caused a growing interest in issues related to its training process, as well as control of physical preparation of representatives of this sport. Mixed martial arts are characterized by a variety of techniques typical of an array of various combat sports (among others: boxing, wrestling, karate, judo, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu), and the course of the fight itself, is characterized by varying degrees of intensity and changes in fighting conditions. Despite the growing popularity of the sport, there is little research exemplifying the physiological profile of MMA fighters. To our knowledge, only three studies [1-3] attempted to describe the physiological profile of an MMA fighter and the construction of his body. The authors of these studies have shown that the physiological profile of an MMA fighter is similar to competitors training judo and wrestling [1]. The studied MMA fighters were also characterized by high aerobic endurance performance, however, their anaerobic performance was comparable to the level of representatives of other combat sports [2]. At the same time, MMA fighters have lower body fatness than traditional martial arts fighters [3]. An MMA fight usually consists of three 5-minute rounds with a 1-minute break [2], and in the course of combat, the fighter performs dynamic moves of a quick and forceful nature. Thus, an MMA fighter must have high aerobic as well as anaerobic potential (phosphagenic and glycolytic energy system) both of the upper and lower limbs [2,4,5].

The fundamental problem of mixed martial arts is its lack of a unified athlete training system, as well as a rational long-term training plan. For this reason, it is necessary to develop methods of training specific to MMA in order to optimally prepare the fighter for sports combat. Few scientific studies have shown [2,4,6] that training programs implemented by athletes do not always lead to improved aerobic and anaerobic fitness indicators. Amtmann [6] clearly indicates that MMA fighters are in need of adequate instructions and proper training conducted by an experienced specialist, as the training sessions implemented by them are not adequately balanced in relation to the requirements of the sport. In planning MMA training, as in other combat sports, improvement of technical and tactical training should be taken into consideration, as well as the development of muscle strength and power, speed and endurance. For this reason, it is necessary to develop methods of training specific to MMA in order to optimally prepare the fighter for fights. The aim of the study was to evaluate the effects of the original 11-week training program on body composition, upper limb power and aerobic performance of an MMA fighter.


The study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects. The fighter was informed about the purpose and course of study, and submitted written consent to participate in the research. The fighter submitted a valid note stating that he had undergone sportsmedical examination, which was the condition for accession to the stress test. Stress tests were carried out under the supervision of a sports medicine physician.

Stress tests and anthropometric measurements were taken at the beginning and end of the fight preparatory period, which was contracted for three, 5-minute rounds. The period of preparation for the fight lasted 11 weeks.

The fighter performed two stress tests in each study series: the Wingate Test for upper limbs (peak power of the upper limbs) and the graded test until volitional exhaustion (measurement of maximal minute oxygen consumption and appointment of the second ventilatory threshold). The tests were carried out with a 1 -day break, and the first to be performed was the Wingate Test. Furthermore, before and after the graded test, the level of lactate concentration was measured. During the 11-week training period, the applied training measures were registered.

Subject profile

The study was carried out on the first Polish player Mixed Martial Arts to fight in the American Ultimate Fighting Championship organization. Currently, the player belongs to the Pro Challenge MMA fighting organization in middleweight category. The winner of 21 fights, including 12 by knockout, 6 by submission, three by the judges' decision. Before the training program, the fighter's body height was 178 cm, body mass 88.8 kg, and body fat mass 13.2 kg.

Anthropometric measurements

The anthropometric measurements assessed body height (BH), body mass (BM), fat mass (FM) and lean body mass (LBM). Body mass and composition were determined using the Jawon Medical, IOI model 353 (Korea) bioimpedance body composition analyzer, and body height was measured using the Martin (USA) type anthropometer with 1 mm accuracy.

Graded test

The V[O.sub.2]max and the second ventilatory threshold (VT2) were established in the test, which was performed on a motorized treadmill (Saturn 250/100R, h/p/Cosmos, Germany). The exercise began with a 4-minute warm-up performed at the speed of 8 kmx[h.sup.-1] km and a 1[degrees] inclination. Next, the running speed was increased by 1,0 kmx[h.sup.-1] every 2 minutes. When the heart rate became close to the maximal rate, the speed was maintained and the load was increased by enlarging (every minute) the inclination of the treadmill by 1[degrees]. The test was performed until the fighter's refusal to continue because of extreme fatigue.

The following indicators were registered by the ergospriometer (919 Medikro, Finland) during the test: pulmonary ventilation, percentage of carbon dioxide in exhaled air, minute oxygen uptake, minute production of carbon dioxide, respiratory quotient, and the respiratory equivalent for carbon dioxide. Heart rate (HR) was measured by a pulsometer (S- 610i, Polar, Finland).

In order to determine VT2, changes in respiratory indicators with increasing intensity were analyzed. VT2 designation criteria were as follows: a) the percentage of C[O.sub.2] in the exhaled air reached the maximum value, and then reduced, b) the respiratory equivalent ratio of carbon dioxide obtained a minimum value and began to increase, c) after exceeding VT2, a nonlinear increase in pulmonary ventilation was noticed [7,8]. The highest recorded value of V[O.sub.2] was considered as V[O.sub.2]max.

Based on the results of the first graded test, three training zones in which running training of the fighter was organized were determined: below the second ventilatory threshold (sub-threshold zone), above this threshold (above-threshold zone) and near-threshold zone ([HR.sub.VT2] [+ or -] 3 beatsxmin-1).

Biochemical analysis

Blood for biochemical tests was taken from the fingertip before the graded test as well as 3 and 20 minutes after its completion. The plasma obtained after centrifugation of the whole blood lactate concentration was determined ([La.sup.*]) by colorimetric enzymatic assay (Lactate PAP, BioMerieux) using a spectrophotometer (Spekol 11, Carl Zeiss Jena, Germany).

Wingate Test for upper limbs

The purpose of the test was to measure the peak power of the upper limbs. The Wingate Test, 20-second version [9], was performed with a 4.5% load of body mass. Prior to the test, the subject performed a 5-minute warm-up on a cycle-ergometer with a load of 1.5 kg, the tempo during the warm-up was 60 rpm. After the second and forth minute of the warm-up, the subject performed two 3-second maximal accelerations and then returned to the tempo of 60 rev/min. The main test was performed two minutes after the warm-up. The aim of the subject was to obtain maximum pedaling tempo and maintain it as long as possible. The test was performed on a specially adapted ergometer (Monark 834E, Sweden) equipped with a device measuring the duration of each rotation and connected to a computer. The ergometer was placed on a special stand in such a manner that the axis of bottom bracket was at the height of the subjects shoulders, who was in a sitting position. The ergometer pedals were replaced with handles for the upper limbs. The distance between the chest and the handles were set so that the elbow was in slight deflection during maximum range. For the time of the test, the subject's trunk was stabilized. The software (MCE, JBA, Poland) allowed to measure the following indicators: mean power (MP), total work (TW), peak power (PP), time of attaining peak power (TOPP) and the time of maintaining peak power (TMPP).

Characteristics of implemented training session

Training load analysis was performed on the basis of the logs registered by the subject and coach. The intensity of each workout was monitored using a heart rate monitor (Suunto Ambit). The training load was determined by the method of training load registration, taking measures applied in martial arts into account [10-13]. In the present study, data on the characteristics of the different training loads is listed as totals in separate 7-day micro-cycles, during which twelve training session occurred (Table 1). The characteristics of the intensity range were applied utilizing Sozariski and Sledziewski's proposal [11], and Laskowski's [13] with our own modifications, which are shown in Table 2. Individual training measures were divided according to: a) type of preparation (information area), b) exercise type: comprehensive, targeted and special, c) work intensity (energy system). A detailed presentation of the implemented training is shown in Tables 3, 4 and 5.


Realization of the training program favorably influenced both the changes in body composition as well as the fighter's exercise performance. When maintaining a constant body mass, the sessions increased lean body mass by 1.5 kg (up to 77.1 kg) and decreased fat mass in the body by 1.4 kg (up to 11.8 kg). After a period of preparation, the graded test allowed to observe prolongation of the running time and at the same time, the fighter completed the test at a higher speed. The level of V[O.sub.2]max improved, and the intensity of work when exceeding VT2 increased from 73.7% to 85.9% V[O.sub.2]max. After completing the training program, higher lactate concentration after the test (3 min) was reported prior to the graded test (before training: 9.99 mmolx[L.sup.-1], after 12.96 mmolx[L.sup.-1]) as well as an improvement in lactate elimination tempo ([DELTA]La before the workout 4.63 mmolx[L.sup.-1], after 5.61 mmolx[L.sup.-1]). After training, the values of the peak power of the upper limbs relative to body mass were increased. Time of attaining PP shortened and the time of maintaining PP extended. Detailed changes in physiological parameters under the influence of training are shown in Table 6.


In available literature, there are no studies on the analysis of training loads or assessment of the effects of their implementation in athletes training MMA. In the present study, for the first time, changes in aerobic or anaerobic performance of a fighter specializing in mixed martial arts was evaluated using the original tailored sports training program. The purpose of the observations was to determine the effectiveness of the developed physical training program specific for MMA on body composition, upper limb peak power and the level of indicators characterizing aerobic endurance performance (V[O.sub.2]max, VT2).

A characteristic feature of the training program was increasing the inclusion of running training, implemented as separate training units. During the training period, workouts of near-and above-threshold intensity dominated in the final weeks of the preparation period. The largest volume of running training carried out at below-threshold intensity occurred during the initial period of observation. The time devoted to special exercise while reducing the share of comprehensive training preparation was also extended. The initial preparatory period was dominated by aerobic exercises. In subsequent weeks, the amount of mixed-energy exercises was increased. At the end of the preparatory period, inclusion of lactic as well as alactic anaerobic training efforts was increased. In periodization of the training process for the studied fighter, at the final stage of preparation, the time devoted to special exercises involving anaerobic metabillism while reducing the share of comprehensive preparation training was extended. As a result, the implemented training was effective: an improvement in upper limb peak power was noted and the levels of V[O.sub.2]max and VT2 increased. The fighter also started to tolerate higher lactate concentrations and the tempo of the lactate removal rate improved.

Prior to training, the studied middle-weight fighter's percentage of body fat was 14.9%, and after training it was reduced to 13.2%. In their study, Marinho et al. [14] attempted to determine the anthropometric profile of a mixed martial arts fighter. The average body mass of the fighters totaled 82.1 [+ or -] 10.9 kg, while the fat content was 11.87 [+ or -] 5.11%. Nonetheless, the authors drew attention to the need to reduce body fat. These data indicate that the fighter studied in our research should continue the training program in order to further reduce adipose tissue. Franchini [15] showed that high levels of body fat negatively affect sport performance of fighters training sports which have relevance to the locomotion of the athlete. For the studied fighter, an increase in lean body mass while maintaining a constant total body mass was also observed. Maciejczyk et al. [16] demonstrated that an increase in total body mass resulting from an increase in lean body mass may also adversely affect endurance performance of the organism.

In the sports practice, Wingate Test results are most commonly used for assessment, but also for conducting comparisons of fighters' anaerobic potential. High anaerobic performance in athletes training martial arts influences the effectiveness of offensive as well as defensive actions [17]. Published scientific studies conducted on martial arts fighters show the expediency of conducting the Wingate Test on the lower limbs [18]. Taking into account the specificity of mixed martial arts sports, it is advisable to carry out measurements of anaerobic power of the upper limbs. For the studied fighter, the peak anaerobic power obtained during the Wingate Test performed on the upper limbs amounted to 7.8 Wx[kg.sup.-1] in the first, and 8.1 Wx[kg.sup.-1] in the second series of tests. Similar results were obtained by Polish fighters belonging to the national team: 8.0 [+ or -] 0.9 Wx[kg.sup.-1]; better results were obtained by Greco-Italian wrestlers 9.7 [+ or -] 1.0 Wx[kg.sup.-1] [19].

Due to the specific nature of competition in this discipline, the body of the fighter should have the ability to function in conditions of severe disturbances of homeostasis, manifested, among others, in high levels of post-workout lactate concentration and post-exercise rapid elimination ability, which facilitates a high level of aerobic potential [17]. Improvement in the fighter's V[O.sub.2]max under the influence of the implemented training program was noted, and its level after the workout was over 58 mLx[kg.sup.-1]x[min.sup.-1], which shows aerobic preparation of the fighter comparable to data presented by other MMA fighters (55.5-60 mLx[kg.sup.-1]. [min.sup.-1]) [1,2]. In other similar sports disciplines, the average maximal oxygen consumption stands at 40.8 mLx[kg.sup.-1]x[min.sup.-1] (judokas) [18], 53.8 mLx[kg.sup.-1]x[min.sup.-1] (judokas) [20], and 63,8 [+ or -] 4,8 mLx[kg.sup.-1]x[min.sup.-1] (boxers) [21].

MMA fighters should have a high lactate tolerance, a large buffering capacity of hydrogen ions [2] and a fast tempo of lactate elimination. The level of acidosis in athletes, to a large extent, depends on the specifics of the sports training, mainly speed training and endurance, involving anaerobic systems, which plays a key role in the initial part of the fight [22]. Other authors also connect the high level of acidosis after the efforts at maximum intensity with of the initial amount of muscle glycogen [23,24]. In MMA fighters, high lactate concentrations ranging from 8.1 to 19.7 mmolx[L.sup.-1] are noted after training [4]. The level of lactate after maximal exercise in the Greco-Italian wrestlers reached 18.0 [+ or -] 2.7 mmolx[L.sup.-1] [19]. For the studied fighter, the maximum lactate levels were 9.99 mmolx[L.sup.-1] in the first series and 12.96 mmolx[L.sup.-1] in the second series of the test, which is one of the positive effects of implemented training program.

Determining threshold load is important in the control of sports training because it allows to deter mine the optimal intensity of the training, causing the desired metabolic reactions of the system, and lead to increased physical endurance and strength [21]. For the fighter in this study, improvement of the monitored indicators at the second ventilatory threshold was noticed. The reason for this could be the realization of the running workout of near-threshold intensity, which during the 11-week observation period equaled 242 km. One of the basic elements of training program was the inclusion of running training. In the present study, training units during which efforts of near-threshold intensity took place throughout the period of observation even though the largest share was observed in the middle of the preparatory period.


The designed and implemented training program resulted in favorable changes in body composition of the studied fighter. After the training period, improvement in peak power of the upper limbs as well as aerobic power and effectiveness of elimination lactate were noted. Physiological measurements have therefore confirmed the effectiveness of this training method.


Declaration of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.


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Lukasz Tota (1) (A,B,D,E), Tomasz Drwal (2) (A,B), Marcin Maciejczyk (1) (A,D,E,F), Zbigniew Szygula (1) (B,F), Wanda Pilch (1) (D,E), Tomasz Palka (1) (A,B), Grzegorz Lech (3) (E)

(1) Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University School of Physical Education, Krakow, Poland

(2) MMA Fighter, Ultimate Fighting Championship, Pro MMA Challange

(3) Institute of Sport, University School of Physical Education, Krakow, Poland

Accepted: June 16, 2014

Published: June 26, 2014

Address for correspondence:

Lukasz Tota

University School of Physical Education

Institute of Biomedical Sciences

Jana Pawla II 78,

31-571 Krakow, Poland

+4812 6485222;

Tomasz Drwal:

Marcin Maciejczyk:

Zbigniew Szygula:

Wanda Pilch:

Palka Tomasz:

Grzegorz Lech:
Table 1. General diagram of micro-cycle structure


Monday      Tuesday     Wednesday    Thursday
Training    Training                 Training

session 1   session 1                session 1
Training    Training    Biological   Training
session 2   session 2   renewal      session 2
Training    Training                 Training
session 3   session 3                session 3

Friday      Saturday     Sunday

session 1
Training    Biological
session 2   renewal      Free
session 3

Table 2. Characteristics of intensity
ranges in the registration of training loads

Range of      Energy system     Percentage   Duration (min:s)
intensity                       of maximal

1                aerobic           > 80           3:00 <
2           aerobic-anaerobic     81-90         1:30-2:59
3           anaerobic-lactic      91-100        0,11-1:29
4           anaerobic-alactic                     < 0,10

Table 3. Analysis of fighter's completed
training loads--information area

                   Micro-    1      2      3      4      5      6
Information area   cycle

Comprehensive      [min]    200    250    250    300    200    550
                    [%]     71,4   72,5   78,1   75,0   83,3   78,6
Targeted           [min]     70     80     60     60     30    120
                    [%]     25,0   23,2   18,8   15,0   12,5   17,1
Special            [min]     10     15     20     40     10     30
                    [%]     3,6    4,3    6,3    10,0   4,2    4,3
Total [mini                 280    345    320    400    240    700

                   Micro-    7      8      9      10     11
Information area   cycle

Comprehensive      [min]    200    180    200    150    100
                    [%]     83,3   58,1   50,0   50,0   35,7
Targeted           [min]     20     30    100     50     30
                    [%]     8,3    9,7    25,0   16,7   10,7
Special            [min]     20    100    100    100    150
                    [%]     8,3    32,3   25,0   33,3   53,6
Total [mini                 240    310    400    300    280

Table 4. Analysis of fighter's
implemented training loads--energy area

                     Micro-    1      2      3      4      5      6
Energy system
Aerobic               [km]    220    300    300    300    200    500
                      [%]     78,6   87,0   88,2   75,0   83,3   71,4
Aerobic--anaerobic    [km]     40     20     25     50     20    150
                      [%]     14,3   5,8    7,4    12,5   8,3    21,4
Anaerobic lactic      [km]     15     20     10     30     5      30
                      [%]     5,4    5,8    2,9    7,5    2,1    4,3
Anaerobic alactic     [km]     5      5      5      20     15     20
                      [%]     1,8    1,4    1,5    5,0    6,3    2,9

                     Micro-    7      8      9      10     11
Energy system
Aerobic               [km]    180    150    200    140     80
                      [%]     75,0   48,4   50,0   46,7   28,6
Aerobic--anaerobic    [km]     20    100    100    100    120
                      [%]     8,3    32,3   25,0   33,3   42,9
Anaerobic lactic      [km]     20     30     60     30     40
                      [%]     8,3    9,7    15,0   10,0   14,3
Anaerobic alactic     [km]     20     30     40     30     40
                      [%]     8,3    9,7    10,0   10,0   14,3

Table 5: Analysis of fighters completed running training load

Intensity         Micro-    1      2      3      4      5      6

Below-threshold   [kml      50     55     50     40     10     41
                  [%]      62,5   84,6   50,0   55,6   22,2   50,6
Near-threshold    [kml      25     10     40     27     30     15
                  [%]      31,3   15,4   40,0   37,5   66,7   18,5
Above-threshold   [km]      5      0      10     5      5      25
                  [%]      6,3    0,0    10,0   6,9    11,1   30,9
Total [km]                  80     65    100     72     45     81

Intensity         Micro-    7      8      9      10     11    Total
                  cycle                                       [km]

Below-threshold   [kml      5      10     10     10     10     291
                  [%]      13,2   18,2   28,6   22,2   19,2
Near-threshold    [kml      25     20     15     15     20     242
                  [%]      65,8   36,4   42,9   33,3   38,5
Above-threshold   [km]      8      25     10     20     22     133
                  [%]      21,1   45,5   28,6   44,4   42,3
Total [km]                  38     55     35     45     52     668

Table 6. Level of selected indicators
characterizing the anaerobic and aerobic

                                           before     after

MP               [W]                         619       630
                 [Wx[kg.sup.-1]]             6.9       7.1
TW               [kJ]                       12.27     13.30
PP               [W]                         692       720
                 [Wx[kg.sup.-1]]            7.79      8.10
TOPP             [s]                        4.91      4.00
TMPP             [s]                        5.80      6.80
t                (min)               VT2    16.00     18.00
                                     max    22.00      23
v                (kmx[h.sup.-1])     VT2   14.0+10   15.0+10
                                     max   15.0+40   16.0+40
HR               (bx[mins.up.-1])    VT2     164       168
                                     max     182       182
V[O.sub.2]       (Lx[min.sup.-1])    VT2    3.74      4.47
                                     max    5.07       5.2
V[O.sub.2]       (mLx[min.sup.-1]x   VT2    42.1      50.2
                   [kg.sup.-1])      max    57.1      58.4
%HRmax VT2       (%)                         90        92
%V[O.sub.2]max   (%)                        73.7      85.9
Distance         [m]                        4136      4707
[La.sub.0]       (mmolx[L.sup.-1])          1.23      1.65
[La.sub.3]       (mmolx[L.sup.-1])          9.99      12.96
[La.sub.20]      (mmolx[L.sup.-1])          5.36      7.35
[DELTA] La       (mmolx[L.sup.-1])          4.63      5.61

before, after - laboratory tests performed before and
immediately after the original 11-week physical training
program, MP - mean power [W, Wx[kg.sup.-1]]; TW - total
work [kJ]; PP - peak power [W, Wx[kg.sup.-1]]; TOPP - time
of attaining peak power [s]; TMPP - time of maintaining
peak power [s], t - time in the graded test, HR - heart
rate; V[O.sub.2] - maximal minute oxygen consumption
(Lx[min.sup.-1]) and relative to body mass
La - blood lactate: 0 - output, 3' - in the third minute,
after completion of the graded test, 20' in the twentieth
minute after the test, [DELTA] - difference
[La.sub.3]-[La.sub.20]), VT2 - second ventilatory threshold
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Title Annotation:CASE STUDY
Author:Tota, Lukasz; Drwal, Tomasz; Maciejczyk, Marcin; Szygula, Zbigniew; Pilch, Wanda; Palka, Tomasz; Lec
Publication:Medicina Sportiva
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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