Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book Review: Fit to Fight

By Jason Ferruggia
208 pages, April 2008

Jason Ferruggia's Fit to Fight is a strength and conditioning book aimed at MMA fighters. It's meant to be a complete guide to the right way for a combat athlete to trainer. Let's see how it does.

The first chapter outlines the characteristics of a successful MMA fighter - strength, speed, flexibility and mobility, skill, mental toughness, and anaerobic endurance. The last one is especially interesting. The book is pretty firmly anti-aerobic training for combat athlete. No jogging! Hill sprints are fine, dragging sleds is even better, jogging and distance work is out. I largely agree, so no problem there - if you want to make me run a mile you'll have to chase me that far.

Assessments - tests of flexibility, strength, and mobility are next up. These include overhead squats, flexibility tests, and strength. The strength tests are interesting, and include both a prescribed method and a suggested goal. The goals are presented as optimal, not minimum requirements! It's suggested you do these every 8-10 weeks to see how your workout is progressing. Here are the tests and goals:
- Box Squat 1RM (Goal 2 * bodyweight)
- Vertical Jump (Goal 33")
- Chinup 1RM (Goal bodyweight + 0.5 * bodyweight)
- Chinup Reps (Goal bodyweight x 12)
- Pushup Reps (Goal bodyweight x 60)
- Plank Time (Goal 180 seconds)

All seem pretty reasonable - high, but doable.

Next injury prevention and pre-hab exercises are covered. This includes a warmup, and bodyweight mobility drills. All are clearly explained, and are sufficient for an MMA athlete looking to learn a solid basic program for this sort of work.

Conditioning work is next. It's mostly bodyweight exercises - mountain climbers, squats, jumps, lunges, bear crawls, etc. done in circuits. He includes a wide selection, two example circuits, and an easy-to-follow explanation of how to put a new circuit together. But sprinting intervals are described, and several barbell complexes are also covered.

Strongman training. There is a big emphasis on the importance of strongman training for the MMA athlete, both for strength (low-rep, heavy work) and endurance (higher-rep conditioning work). Sandbags (including a DIY sandbag), sled drags, tire flips, sledgehammer swinging (into a sandbag, that's new to me), water-filled keg training, ropes, and other similar exercises are covered. It's thorough, and although not exhaustive it's comprehensive and an excellent start. Because MMA involves so much grappling and uneven loading, it's important to train to handle it...and strongman training plays a big part of the workouts here.

Strength training is next. The workouts are built on a modified Westside Barbell template - conjugate periodization. Workouts are broken out into maximum-effort days (to develop limit strength), repetition method days (to develop endurance and muscular size), and speed/strongman days (to develop speed/power and endurance). A lot of exercises are covered, each with one or more pictures and text to describe them. Almost all require only a plate-loading barbell or one or two dumbbells, plus a bench or power rack. No machines, except for two apparatuses - a 45-degree back raise (which is really optional) and a Glute-Ham Raise (also optional, but less so). Some call for blast straps, as well, and one (face pulls) for cables, but they're merely nice to have. He gives you sufficient exercises for just the barbell and dumbbells. The book does fall down a bit here, though - the pictures aren't terribly effective at conveying technique, and the text could be clearer. But the exercise choices are excellent - get-ups, deadlifts, squats, bench presses, blast-strap pushups, glute-ham raises, hang cleans, swings, Russian twists, towel's a gold mine of useful basic training for an MMA fighter.

The workouts themselves close this section. They're excellent, combining a logical progression of exercises and appropriate rep ranges for the goals. They are done 3 days a week, Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and are built to drop into a skill-centered (MMA-training day centered) training program. However, they are divided into phases without much explanation made about how to use those phases. How to set the weights is glossed over, as well. This information isn't terribly hard to find, but it would have been better if it was explicitly covered. If you're such a beginner that you're starting here, not just coming here after other workouts failed, you need a little more guidance. It's really not clear if each phase is a week, or if you're meant to do each phase for several weeks. Looking at them, it's certainly doable to have each Phase be a week, and then cycle them though, but it's not clear if that's the intention or not.

The nutrition section is pretty good. It emphasizes multiple small meals a day, a healthy amount of protein and fat and carbs, lots of fruit and vegetables, and a reliance on whole foods over processed foods and supplements. It's a good guide. But it has two faults. One is that it lumps saturated fats in with trans fats as "bad for you." They aren't, and even fairly conventional advice is that you'll 1/3 of your daily fat calories to be from saturated fat. They aren't an enemy to be avoided. The second is that it retains the old complex vs. simple carbs fallacy. That's largely been thrown away because the chemical complexity of carbohydrates doesn't usefully describe how your body processes them. So it becomes a distinction without a difference. The information it contains on cutting weight safely and re-hydrating after weigh-in but before a fight is excellent, and matches advice I'd been given by very knowledgeable pros.

The section on supplementation is good - it clears a lot of cruft out, and emphasizes whole foods and using protein, creatine, and vitamins as a supplement. There is no magic pill, and the author makes that very clear.

A few math errors creep in here or there - for example, a 200 pound athlete eating 18 calories a day is rated at eating 3960 calories, which calculates backwards to a 220 athlete. The same 200 pounder is used for post-workout drink calculations - earlier the book says 0.25g of protein and 0.50g of carbs per pound of bodyweight, and then later says a 200 pound athlete would need 40 grams of protein and 80 grams of carbs post-workout. Small errors, but easily spotted on a read-through.

Content: 4 out of 5. A complete guide to MMA training and nutrition, but it lacks some details you'd want for executing the lifts, and some of the nutritional advice is a bit outdated.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Well presented and easy to read. The pictures of techniques aren't very easy to follow, however, especially the jumping and explosive lifts.

Overall: If you're into MMA, this book is well worth reading. It's got a solid training program and good nutritional advice, and it would be a fine basis for a training program. I'd recommend it to any MMA athlete or would-be MMA athlete over a less MMA-centered program. If you're not into MMA, it's still interesting and can be a fun way to train without training "like everyone else."

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