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Secrets of an Effective Strike

This is an excerpt from Delavier's Mixed Martial Arts Anatomy by Frederic Delavier & Michael Gundill.

From powerful blows to explosive kicks, go inside the action and impact of one of the world's most popular, grueling, and challenging sports with
Delavier's Mixed Martial Arts Anatomy.

Secrets of an Effective Strike

To be effective, a broad strike happens in three phases:

  1. A rapid but short muscle contractioninitiates the most violent movement possible.
  2. Muscle relaxationcauses the arm or thigh to gain speed and range of motion without hindrance from antagonistic muscles (biceps and upper back muscles that slow down a punch or hamstrings and gluteals that slow down a kick).
  3. Contracting the muscle againjust before impact produces the critical force that will do the most damage possible.

Practical Consequences of Strength Training

In strength training, it is difficult to reproduce this three-part sequence using only one technique to increase intensity. So that you do not hinder the transfer of your increased strength and power, it is a good idea to combine several techniques to increase intensity. Do not restrict yourself to working only with heavy weights. Even though using increasing amounts of resistance is an effective way to increase the strength of your blows, it is not a perfect strategy. Since there is no intermediate relaxation phase, ultimately, heavy weights will interfere with the motor learning for your strikes.

This imperfection explains why scientific research shows that working exclusively with heavy weights ends up decreasing the speed of a fighter's strikes after 12 to 18 weeks (Siff, 1999, Supertraining). This is why you should not depend solely on heavy training to achieve progress.

How Can You Improve the Qualities Required for an Effective Strike?

Only by judiciously combining these various techniques to increase intensity will you improve the three phases that make a strike effective:

  1. Heavy weightsincrease strength and therefore the effectiveness of the strike initially and on impact.
  2. Stop-and-go work using elastic bandsincreases the speed with which your strength propagates through the muscle.
  3. Explosive training with average weights increases the speed of muscle relaxation.

Ideally, you should end the explosive contraction phase by actually hitting something so you can maintain the sequence and end by contracting the muscle again. In fact, when you practice explosive technique with weights or just by doing shadow boxing, your own antagonistic muscles stop your fist or your foot. These two techniques actually work against the contraction-relaxation cycle just described. They are also counter-productive in regard to the final phase where the muscle contracts again just before impact. In fact, contracting the antagonistic muscles to stop your punch actually teaches you not to hit as hard as possible upon impact.

To reduce the degree to which strength training causes neuromuscular disturbance in your strikes, it is a good idea to end your workouts by spending a few minutes hitting a punching bag.

Working With a Half Pyramid

A set of strength training exercises is designed around a half pyramid. You should start with modest resistance and a high number of repetitions (25, for example, that are easy to do) to warm up the muscles, joints, and cardiorespiratory system thoroughly. For the second set, you should increase the weight so you can easily do 15 repetitions. These two warm-up sets help to precondition your muscles.

Then the serious work begins: Add resistance until you reach the upper range of the target number of repetitions that you set as a function of your goals. As you keep doing sets, gradually increase the resistance to make the exercise harder. The number of repetitions will decrease as you continue. When the weight is so heavy that you can no longer reach the lower range of your target number of repetitions, it is time to move on to another exercise.

In bodybuilding, it is common to decrease the weight in the last set so that you can do 15 to 20 more repetitions to get the muscles pumped up as much as possible. But getting pumped up would be a catastrophe for a fighter, so it is wise to train using the half pyramid model (you only increase the weight) rather the pyramid model (where you increase the weight and then decrease it).

Read more from Delavier's Mixed Martial Arts Anatomy by Frederic Delavier and Michael Gundill.

More Excerpts From Delavier's Mixed Martial Arts Anatomy