Written by Sonia De Rose 

BA Sports Science and Exercise

Masters High Performance Sport


February, 2019

So, you’re a combat sport athlete and you want to get better. You put in the hours and train like a machine. But somehow – all those incremental gains are becoming harder to find.

The concept of strength and conditioning is rarely addressed in non-elite sport, and it is missing even more women’s sport. Strength is often only suggested after an injury or when training has stalled completely. Occasionally offered as an optional extra to a training program, it often it does not fit neatly into the regime suggested by your sensei/coach/trainer and is left to your own discretion.

I am a high-performance strength coach and I want to share with you the “why”.

Sport Activity Vs Prescriptive Conditioning

Combat sport athletes improve their functional strength every time they train. Dynamic movement loads the muscles and joints – creating a force on the tendon and produces a suitable response from the nervous system. This ongoing body weight activity creates a stress and the body adapts to this stress. This response is known as super compensation. Improvements are usually seen in muscular endurance and tensile force production on the tendon. These results are frequently greater in the beginning of your training cycle, and often neuromuscular, the CNS (central nervous system) signals the muscles faster and longer.


After this initial adaption occurs there may be a plateau or reduced rate of improvement. Our body is incredibly efficient at doing “just enough” to achieve its desired outcomes. To continue improving, and external stress must be added to training. There are many forms of stress to the body, cognitive, reactive, physical etc. Whatever your program – it should always bear the hallmark of being suitable for your goals.


GPP (General Physical Preparedness)

  • A good engine - your cardiovascular base meets and exceeds the demands of your sport.

  • A good core - you can execute movements from a solid platform (a great analogy is you cannot shoot a cannon from a shaky boat)

  • Optimal range of motion- you are able to use your entire limb length to produce activity and force with no limitations.


If you look at these 3 key points you will recognise that they are fundamental to every sport.


SPP (Sport Specific Preparedness)

  • Power – the ability to produce force rapidly

  • Speed – acceleration and endurance

  • Reactivity – Muscular and Neural response to activity and challenges


Your combat sport will always give you the platform for the bulk of your training but adding a great S & C program will bring many additional benefits.

Programs can be as simple or complex as you want them to be. Recovery, rest and de-loading should also be mapped into your schedule. Making this work achievable and measurable is consistent to all athletes. More is not always more.

To reach your full athletic potential you must have goals (major and minor) so you recognise your progress and understand the sense of flow that comes with the optimal preparation. If you can tick the boxes of your strength and conditioning program, with all the manipulated training variables, you will feel confident to address and obstacles you encounter on the mat. Introducing load (weight) and complex movements progressively in the gym, enable us to see consistent improvements. This biological feedback enhances our self-efficacy. Gym diligence affects our mindset and cements the trust in our own ability.

De-loading has its place in best process. To commit to a full training schedule, the de-load week/days factor as importantly as the work week/days. The body responds to training demands by cell stress, muscle damage and cognitive loading. Every part of your body works to perform as you require. To recover from this, we need time to repair and undo some of the damage. Sleep, nutrition and active recovery methods and integral to this. But days off are also important. The body adapts and super compensates when given opportunity or permission. When it is not – it faces injury, burnout or loss of adaptation. There really is no upside to over training.

Active recovery is also great to reset. Taking a day off to go for a hike, swim or ride a horse (examples only) is not just good for you physiologically but psychologically you will feel fresher and more fulfilled when you return to training. This extrinsic stimulus also adds to our body awareness plays an important part in skill acquisition, muscle memory deep in the primary motor cortex.


Keeping your mind in a learning state (the brain likes to be challenged just as much as the body) and having a consistent (not static) approach to training will produce a better athletic development and keep you moving longer. Sacrifice, humility and attention to detail are the traits of every good athlete I have ever worked with. That and an unwavering desire to improve.



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