Jon deadlifting an easy 315# on a de-load week, this past Saturday.

As many of you know, my gym is adjacent to a mixed martial arts school. So, you would think that there’s a constant flow of fighters strolling through the doors. And while there are some, it’s not nearly as many as you think…  You see, there’s a common term thrown around in the MMA game: The eight week train-up.

You see it all the time on the popular MMA websites and tv shows- so and so are in their camp for this fight or that, and the younger generation is reading this stuff and taking it as a literal “eight weeks” of training. But it’s really just the final eight weeks of extreme focus. It usually means that they are cutting themselves off from the distractions of the outside world for the time being. For many of them it means not seeing their family, friends, and co-workers. It’s a time to dial in and get ready for war.

This isn’t just a problem in our gym, as I’ve witnessed this in many gyms across the country. I know that with time, as the leaders of our MMA gym step up and set a good example, that the younger generation will follow suit. Luckily for them, one guy here is really stepping up and training all year round before dialing it in for the final few weeks- Jonathan Hughes.

The cool thing (well, cool for demonstration purposes) is that Jon didn’t strength train consistently at all during his amateur career, and only trained for eight weeks for his pro debut. He got away with it as an amateur, racking up a pretty good record in the process. However, he got his ass handed to him in his pro debut against a superior grappler, Mike Pope. Can I guarantee that he would have won with consistent strength training? Nope- but I can guarantee he would have performed a lot better.

Here’s what Jon looked like pre-strength training:

Not so beast mode...

If you ask him, he strength trained.  But, going to Gold’s and doing bench press and bicep curls doesn’t count in my book.

Right after those pictures were taken he started training with me three days a week, every week.  After just a few months he finally started to look like an athlete (pictures taken 03/13/13):

That's more like it...

Fighting should have been the least of his problems in the before pictures… He actually thought he was a stud, even claims he “got girls,” but we have been unable to confirm anything of the sorts.

Pick up any real book on strength training with an example program in it.  I’ll bet you it’s twelve weeks.  Maximum Strength, Fit to Fight, Supreme Strength, even P90X- I might not care for it, but that Horton guy knows that you need at least twelve weeks to make a marked improvement.  And that’s just the foundation.

Real programming should have “bigger picture” goals for different phases.  For Jon, his first few weeks of training were just for hypertrophy.  After a little hypertrophy, we maintained that muscle gain through a proper diet and got him strong as hell in the gym.  He made considerable gains on all of his lifts, including a 200# + increase on his deadlift in the first eight weeks.  With that new found muscle and strength we’ve thrown back in the conditioning.

This, with solid technique work on the mats and in the cage, makes up the recipe for for a killer.

Here’s what Jon looks like right now (pictures taken 05/04/13… 8 months of solid training), before a water cut, ripped to shreds (13 more pounds will come off his frame this week before weigh-ins):


We had a hard time getting these pictures with a straight face- but that about sums up the environment of the gym on a Saturday morning when these pictures were taken this week…

He has always dieted for fights on top of his BJJ, Muay Thai, and MMA training- and yet, he has never looked like this.  This is the new Jon.  All he did was add on strength training and made it a HABIT over the last 6 months.  He trained with a goal.  He trained with purpose.

So now that we’ve laid the framework, we are in the process of dialing it in for his May 11th fight.  I can’t guarantee you that he’ll win, but I can guarantee you that he’s the best athlete he’s ever been, he’s more motivated than I’ve ever seen him, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work he has put in.


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Chris Merritt
Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA
Chris Merritt
About the author

Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA
4 Responses
  1. Scott

    That is frickin awesome! After 2 months, I have a noticed a huge improvement, but can’t wait to see my results afer 6 months! You are the mans Chris!

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