5 for fighting, My Strength KPI’s for combat athletes

5 for fighting posts will about 5 exercises or ideas I use regularly with combat (and non combat athletes). This post is about KPI’s in the biggest lifts I employ.

Strength Key Performance Indicators are way stones or development marks in an athletes strength profile. These usually represent a few lifts that cover the basic movement patterns, are highly tractable and act as performance indicators throughout a careers. For instance a common trivium we see is Squats, Power Clean and Bench. I’ve always believed Dan John’s strength standards fairly reasonable http://danjohn.net/wp-content/uploads/Strength-Standards.xlsx below are indicators I prefer to use.

Front Squat

I back squat many of my athletes, especially if it comes with strong personal preference for the lift. Many also cannot front squat due to shoulder/wrist problems. However front squats require more abdominal involvement less lower back stress and lower CNS fatigue, yet most of the same stimulus. More over they can be restorative to over flexed grapplers by encouraging a neutral spine and good thoracic positioning, all things a lot of combat athletes can be quite bad at. Its not common to see these poor habits reoccur when they backsquat (goodmorning) reps because they are tired from last nights wrestling session. Additionally from  a technical perspective the front squat is self limiting. A failed back squat often ends with a squished athlete where as a failed front squat means the bar just gets dropped. So safety gives some argument for preferential use points to front squat, this is especially important when you have a room full of trainees who may not have you to spot them every time. To quote Strength and Conditioning Research

  “Comparing back and front squats, both Contreras et al. (2015b) and Yavuz et al. (2015) found that front and back squats displayed equal levels of muscle activity (with the same relative loads).”
If the systemic effect of two lifts is the same but one is somewhat safer than the other it does’nt take a genius to realise which you should be doing.



Weighted N-Grip Chin-up

Conventional pullups seem to place more stress on the lats (some studies document similar activation) chin-ups hit the biceps and generally gets used as learning movement for overhead pulling as it comes more naturally. Neutral grip pull ups make athletes tap into their upper back musculature, I’m going to use a dirty word here, it FEELS like its working mid back musculature more. For those that need added scapular stability neutral grip lowering offers intensive means of getting the upper back long and strong, versus the half baked lowering we see on regular pull-ups and chin-ups. I find often the athlete has better head positioning also, there is no chin reaching at the top. Weighted chins being ideal for grapplers it add grip, brachioradialis and brachialis work (especially with thick grips) without having to sweat it over excessive extra grip work.


Bench Press
The current whipping boy of strength programs for some reason bench press gets a lot of hate, regularly beaten up by the ‘functional’ training bullies. Provided its balanced with overhead press and ring pushing work which allows for better scapular movement. The bench press is an excellent exercise to create an overload on the upper body muscles to improve strength. In terms of overload not many upper body pressing movements allow for heavy loading of eccentric component of the press, except maybe floor press. Dips often place too much stress on anterior shoulder and forget overloading anything overhead especially for fighters. The other issue is a cultural one athletes like benching, they’ll

If an athlete can achieve parity on the above with 1.5 x BW for men and 1.2 x BW for women for all three, I generally consider that very strong, the only occasional concession is that is ok for FS to be above the bench and pull-ups but never below!

Romanian Deadlift
Is a pet lift I have spent a lot of my time exploring both personally and with my athletes. Any exercise that adds a stretch reflex to the deadlift is a winner in my book. The main reason I really like this lift is the fact that I can apply both effective Isometric, Eccentric and oscillatory means to the RDL where its difficult and or risky to do this to the conventional deadlift. Mark Ripptoe argues “It offers a completely different way of strengthening the posterior chain than you would find with any other pullling exercise. It’s its own exercise, not DL variation.” Much like the front squat I find the Romanian deadlift can be restorative when applied well mainly because Its a truer hip hinge than the conventional deadlift. Because it is a top down lift I find athletes set themselves better which leads to better execution. Romain deadlift is however an exercise you should never max out on. If an athlete can perform 2 x BW for men and 1.5 x BW for women for reps I’m generally pretty happy.

Weighted Rollouts

For the longest time I’ve tried to find ‘heavy’ core exercises and find a lot of what passes as core work simply too easy for fighters who are given a plethora of corework by eager combat sports coaches. Power lives in the transverse plane and anything that stops the ribcage flipping open like a bin lid is going aid is transfer from feet to hands. I took their addition for more seriously after reading this

Carl Valle had this to say;“Abdominal rollouts are a total body exercise, and it’s hard to imagine any motion without involvement of the shoulders and hip joints. I believe building up the ability to roll and hinge is a great way to make the tissues rugged and durable. I am not aware of the research to confirm that it reduces injury, but exposure to stress is the only way to be able to tolerate stress. I know anti-fragile is popular now, but Friedrich Nietzche first explained the value of what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. If something poses a risk to injury, that mechanism is likely the antidote and a submaximal dose may be a cure for the injury. “

I find athletes that can own rollouts, need not worry too much about talk of serapes, lateral slings and dynamic core stability. I generally use a progression as follow hand walkouts > Kneeling rollouts with band assist > Kneeling Rollouts > Standing to a wall or band assist > standing > weighted rollouts.

Why so important? We’ll those of you who regularly read my blog will be familiar with triphasic training and simply put these methods are the easiest measurable basic lifts I can apply triphasic training methods too. Or more importantly the application of stress! Regardless of what loading or tempo scheme you use all these movements can be loaded heavily when the athlete is ready.

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