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TweetThe Russian Conjugate System of Periodization Applied to MMA Fight Training
By James Smith
The Russian Conjugate System of Periodization, in its simplest terms, entails training various motor qualities simultaneously. In contrast, the Western model of Linear Periodization defines a procedure wherein different motor qualities are periodically trained in sequence, over time. The deficiency associated with the linear style of periodization is that as one progresses from one motor skill to the next, the skill which was developed in the previous period suffers a detraining effect.
A Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competition is an example of the Conjugate system at work in real time. Throughout the course of a fight the fighter draws upon the following motor skills: strength (reactive, explosive, limit, etc…), agility, speed, power, anaerobic endurance, etc. These motor qualities are not called upon one at a time, but simultaneously as the dynamics of a round change rapidly. Therefore it stands to reason that the fighter must train these skills simultaneously throughout the course of the training year.
All things being equal there are three distinct training modalities associated with fight preparation: (1) Strength training by means of external resistance (2) skill training by means of grappling, striking, takedowns, submissions, etc. And (3) anaerobic/aerobic conditioning by means of interval sprints, plyometrics, sled dragging, timed rounds, etc… The challenge is to simultaneously incorporate these different training modalities, into a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly training program.
Perhaps the best application of this, in the U.S., is the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus Ohio. Westside Barbell is host to some of the strongest powerlifters in the world. Louie Simmons, owner of Westside Barbell and renowned powerlifting coach, has converted the Conjugate System from Olympic Weightlifting to Powerlifting. The Westside Method is comprised of a Max Effort Day for Bench, a Max Effort Day for Squat/Deadlift (DL), a Dynamic Effort Day for Bench, and a Dynamic Effort Day for Squat/DL. The Max/Dynamic Effort methodology was defined by Vladimir Zatsiorsky, a world renowned strength scientist and author, who determined that there are three distinct methods for developing maximal tension within skeletal muscle fibers. These are:
1. Lifting weights at high to maximal (max) percentages of one’s one rep max (i.e. Max Effort-strength speed).
2. Lifting sub-maximal weights explosively (i.e. Dynamic Effort-speed strength).
3. Lifting sub-maximal weights to concentric muscle failure (i.e. Repetition Method-strength endurance/lactic acid tolerance training-assistance/supplementary exercises).
On paper the Max and Dynamic Effort training days, bar weight only, look like this:
*Note: There should be 72hrs between Max and Dynamic Effort training days for the same lift, and it is advisable NOT to schedule Max Effort days back to back.
1. Core movement (1 exercise for a max 1-3 reps)
2. Supplementary movement (1 exercise heavy for low reps or repetition method)
3. Assistance work (2-4 exercises repetition method)
1. Speed movement Bench Day: Bench 8 sets of 3 reps @ approximately 50- 60%
One rep max (1RM) *30-60s rest between sets
Squat/DL day: Box Squat 10 sets of 2 reps @ approximately
2. Supplementary movement (same as max day)
3. Assistance work (same as max day)
Scientific research has shown that continually lifting weights above 90% 1RM, on the same lift, yields an over training effect on the central nervous system (CNS) after approximately 3-6 weeks (Linear). By consistently rotating Max Effort lifts (Conjugate) the CNS is able to adapt to the high intensity work load, thereby allowing the continual usage of weights in excess of 90%1RM. This also applies to skill work and conditioning. By consistently rotating high intensity motor skill work the fighter is able train sport specific skill work/conditioning at max intensities throughout the training year.
The Conjugate/Westside Methods are excellent models for any power development sport/activity and has tremendous applicability towards MMA fight training.
So how does one apply the Conjugate Method to fight training?
Core movements are lifts that specifically develop the muscles and mechanics involved with executing the competition lift. In powerlifting these are the bench, squat, and deadlift.
Speed movements are lifts that either replicate or approximate the competition lifts yet are performed with sub-maximal weights lifted explosively.
Supplementary movements are lifts that specifically target the prime movers of a given competition lift.
Assistance work targets the secondary and stabilizer muscles to the competition lifts.
When applying the Conjugate Method to MMA fight training the fighter simply substitutes the core, speed, supplementary, and assistance lifts with lifts or other skill work that are specific to fighting.
Exercise selection is critical, and strictly dependant upon what style of fighting is being trained. For instance, a Muy Thai fighter requires different motor skills than a Brazilian jiujutsu (BJJ) fighter. Whereas Shoot fighting encompasses many motor qualities (i.e., striking, takedowns, grappling, submissions), it would require more motor skill work than a Muy Thai or BJJ fighter alone.
Depending upon what fight style is being trained, the fighter must be able to justify each and every exercises/motor skills being performed with regards to the motor quality being developed. For example, a fighter competing in BJJ tournaments is not required to strike; therefore, there is no need for bag work or exercises that specifically develop striking/kicking ability. Whereas, a Muy Thai fighter is not required to know submissions, there is no need for mat work or exercises that specifically develop ground based grappling/submissions.
All fighters, regardless of style, require a high level of general physical preparedness (GPP). However, special physical preparedness (SPP) is highly dependant upon which fighting style is being trained. For instance, a Muy Thai fighter may have a high level of conditioning specific to Muy Thai, but if that same fighter entered a No Holds Barred (NHB) tournament he would quickly realize that ground fighting requires a completely different type of specific conditioning.
Special consideration must be given to scheduling different training sessions in one
24 hr period. Depending upon the level of intensity and duration, resistance training, skill work, and conditioning can be extremely taxing on the CNS. MMA training involves many different motor qualities and, in many instances, training protocols dictate multiple training sessions throughout a 24hr period. Recuperation is of paramount importance when engaged in multiple daily training sessions, and 4-6hrs between high intensity training sessions is advisable.
I cannot stress enough that training must be specific to each individual fighter. Even though two fighters may train the same fighting system, each fighter will have different strengths and weaknesses that are specific unto themselves.
Below are several variables to consider when utilizing the Conjugate Method to design your own strength and conditioning program. Remember that the Conjugate Method allows for high intensity training year round. By constantly rotating Maximal Effort work (i.e., lifting, fighting, conditioning above 90% work capacity) the CNS is able to positively respond to the repeated high intensity training.
1. Choose exercises that specifically target the specific motor skill/skills that are inherent to your chosen fighting system.
2. Apply specific loading parameters (sets, reps, load)
3. Give special attention to your weaknesses.
4. Incorporate the variables listed above into the WESTSIDE METHOD!
1. Train the motor skills that are specific to your chosen fighting system.
2. Give special attention to your weaknesses.
1. Do not engage in extended bouts of aerobic endurance training. You are a fighter not a tri-athlete.
2. Utilize interval training (i.e., high intensity bouts followed by moderate to low intensity bouts)
3. Design work- to- rest ratios that closely approximate actual fight time in a competition.
4. Give special attention to your weaknesses.
Train your weaknesses, and you will become strong!
Throughout Olympic History the strength athletes of the former Soviet Union and Eastern-Bloc Countries have dominated the competitive scene on the international level.
It is no small coincidence that many of the pioneers of strength science have Russian origins. Utilize the Russian Conjugate Method and strive for sporting excellence!
For an in depth analysis of the Conjugate system I highly recommend the following texts: Tom Myslinski’s Thesis Paper, Science and Practice of Strength Training (Zatsiorsky), Supertraining (Siff/Verkoshansky), articles by Louie Simmons and the translated Russian texts by Verkoshanksy, Roman, Laputin and Oleshko to name a few. These references can be found at EliteFitnessSystems.com, a tremendous website, and host, in my opinion, to some of the brightest minds in the power development sports.
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