23 July 2016

Mental Strength in Combat Athletes

How important is mental strength in a combat athlete?

The will to win is everything, how many times have we seen champions beaten by less skilful opponents because the underdog has the hunger, the drive, he just wants it more!

This is important not just within the fight but in the training and discipline required leading up to it.

Each athlete has their own motivation for doing what they do and without it they’d struggle to get to the gym but once there how can we harness that motivation to make them mentally stronger than they thought possible?

I’m talking about the ability to push yourself to your absolute physical limit; on that last rep, the extra mile, when every fibre of your body is telling you to stop, even the voice in your head is saying you can end the pain… just quit. This point will come in competition too; do you hold on and take a breath or keep working. Fights are won and lost here. This we can train.

Coach JC Santana calls this your house of pain. How far you can push your body in competition.

Build a strong house and welcome in your opponent. In this way conditioning and the mental toughness that comes with it become another weapon with which to fight.


What role does the strength and conditioning coach play in developing it?

A S&C coach should be able to replicate and overload the energy systems used in the athlete’s chosen sport. Furthermore they should be able to do so in a controlled and measurable way.

A shark tank or similar sparring scenario can be used effectively for conditioning fighters but it makes it difficult to quantify the athlete’s performance whilst also exposing him to risk.

On the other hand a functional metabolic circuit (such as the one below) can hit the energy systems used in competition and also replicate key movements under pressure whilst concentrating on the quality of that movement. The fighter’s ability to push themselves is being tested, just knowing this will get them to work harder and seeing the results in black and white is the pay off for him.

After working with someone for a while I’ll know their abilities better than they do in many respects.

An athlete’s physical capability is often far more than the mental limits they have set themselves.

The more elite the athlete the smaller this gap.

A good coach will walk this line, taking the athlete up to their mental limit and getting them to push it that inch further, taking them somewhere they haven’t been before.


Where should this be in my training?

In the weights room long term development of the strength and power (whist maintaining or improving movement quality) should come first. In general, conditioning sessions should never replace a skill session but their addition, up to twice a week, will see a direct crossover to the fighter’s mat fitness and mental fortitude.

On the run up to a fight priority’s change. While heavy sparing decreases to reduce the risk of injury, conditioning sessions should increase alongside technique and tactical work ensuring the fighter is in the best shape mentally and physically come fight night.

Remember to challenge yourself with your training, do this and you will see an increase mental toughness and fortitude. When there’s space to pause and breathe push on.

The following circuit offers the fighter plenty of opportunities to stop and pause. His performance outcome (time to complete circuit) will depend on him not taking them.


MMA functional metabolic circuit #1

Complete an appropriate warm up before attempting

-Hurdle jump over and under x10

-Punch bag swing x20

-Punch bag shoot x8

-Medicine ball crossover push up x20

-TRX balance knee drive x15per leg

-Battle rope (low alternate movement) x60per arm


See if you can complete this challenge circuit in under 5mins per set with 1min rest in between for 3 sets. You may want to extend your rest period until your recovery improves. Repeat once per week and watch your times tumble.


Coach Dom Kinsey

(Pictured - grapplers, sub-north event)

Related Articles

Training Soreness in Combat Sports

I recently consulted for Liam Wandi on the subject of relieving and training around DOMS. Here&rsquo...

View Details