Progressing the Squat for MMA

I want to first start off by apologizing for my absence from the blog the last few weeks.  As some of you may know, I had been training up Dustin Pague for his UFC bout with Jared Papazian back on June 8th (which he won by first round submission).  However, he was immediately called up to fight again on June 22nd, with only one week of notice!  While the second fight resulted in an extremely close split decision loss to Ken Stone, the UFC is eager to use Dustin again on August 11th at UFC 150 in Denver.  Three fights in 9 weeks!  This is seriously unheard of, and it is a huge blessing considering that he and his wife, Jaci, are expecting their first child in December.

So what does this have to do with the blog you may be asking?  Well, a lot actually.  Every time that Dustin gets the call to fight with the UFC, we arrive to wherever that destination may be a week ahead of time (recently it has been Ft. Lauderdale, Atlantic City, and now Denver).  So, this will be my third week away in 9 weeks.  I’m not complaining- well, I’m actually living out a dream, but this also means that I go into overdrive at our gym to make sure that all of our systems are run smoothly while we are away.  We only opened our doors in late October, so it has been a wild ride to say the least.  However, after the last few weeks of all this chaos with travelling, I’m happy to know that we have an amazing team behind us, and I have no worries for how the gym will do while I am away.  It really is my child, and it has consumed me for the past few months…

With that being said, it’s time to get back on track, writing, filming, interacting, hosting, etc…  So sit back, relax, watch, read and enjoy!

First things first, in case you missed them we have two new train-up teaser videos for UFC 150.  We have been having a blast filming these before every fight.  What you see in the videos is how we really are.  Work hard, laugh hard, and the results speak for themselves.  We took this fight on three weeks notice, and with it being at elevation, our main focus has been on hypoxia training, utilizing the Training Mask often and HIIT.  Oh, but with this being Beyond Strength Performance and all, of course he’s still moving some serious weight.  I must warn you though, Dustin makes this stuff look easy, but many people panic from just a light jump-rope session with the mask…  Check it!

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Best,

Chris

 

And now for our feature presentation:

I’ve been noticing a lot of chaos in the programming of some MMA fighters lately.  I don’t just mean amateurs either- I’ve witnessed some really odd choices in exercise selection, set and rep schemes, and overall delivery of some pretty big name fighters’ strength and conditioning out there.  Some may argue that when the cameras are on, athletes and coaches veer from what they really do to prepare, keeping their ways under lock.  Well, this may be true, but I fear that that’s just not the case.

There’s nothing new under the sun, just new tweaks on the same stuff that’s always worked- and the basics STILL work.  The problem is, too many people want to try the “newest” and “coolest” fads out there rather than put the work in on the basics.  What the MMA community needs is more consistency.  Fighters are athletes, so why aren’t many of them progressing like one?

I train fighters, a lot of them.  In the past few years that I have been doing this, I have found that some guys have managed to get a little ways into the sport, at least on the regional scene without worrying too much about strength and conditioning off the mat.  But as soon as they meet that first opponent on a higher level, it’s too little too late.

I am going to start to touch base on some of the basics over my next few posts here.  This stuff might not be flashy, but I’m willing to bet a lot of money that most of you could use a little remedial work.  Get the basics down now… thank me later.

Oh, and you’re not an MMA fighter?  Read on, I’m willing to bet that you’ll pick up a thing or two as well…

 

The Squat

The squat is one of the most basic human movements, and yet it is one of the most commonly butchered exercises in the weight room. You might be amazed at how much progress you can make by using the following basic movements.

i. Goblet- The goblet squat is, in my opinion, the simplest place to start learning how to squat. Starting with the kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position, feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and the toes pointed slightly outward, sit back on your heels and drop your hips between your legs with a vertical spine (minimal forward lean). Your elbows will let you know when you’ve reached the bottom of the lift as they will be touching your inner thighs. In the beginning stages, drive your elbows outward against your thighs to teach yourself to drive your knees out and “spread the floor” to initiate the concentric phase of the lift. Squeeze the gluteal muscles and lock the hips to finish the lift.

If you watch any of the train-up videos that I have posted over the past year with Dustin Pague, you will see a lot of goblet squats.  They are extremely easy to teach, quick to set-up, and fit into both conditioning and strength settings.

ii. Box- The box squat can be performed with any of the grips mentioned above, but the goblet box squat is the best place to start since you just learned the form. Now, we are talking about a box squat, not a squat to box. What this means is that we are going to sit back on the box, meaning a true dead stop, unloading the legs in the process. For this reason you will lose the benefit of the stretch shortening cycle and have to initiate the concentric portion of the lift from a true seated position. The box squat should be performed with the same form as a regular squat- feet slightly wider than shoulder width, toes pointed slightly outward, and minimal forward lean. The benefit of this exercise is that you can change the height of the box to practice your speed from various positions of the squat, however a full depth squat should place the anterior surface of the thighs parallel to, or just below the knees.

Since I mentioned the squat to box, check out this great video from Tony Gentilcore explaining the difference.

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iii. Front- The front squat increases the difficulty of the goblet squat by quite a bit… Where your elbows are pointing downward in the goblet position, your elbows are to be up and forward in the front squat position. Many individuals complain that the position is uncomfortable to get into, causing stress on their wrists and upper back. Well, that is exactly why I like the front squat. The front squat requires a good bit of mobility from the hips, thoracic spine, lats, triceps, and wrist flexors to reach the proper depth, which forces the athlete to use great form. If the athlete goes too heavy or lacks any of the above mobility it will cause a forward lean, making the front squat a self-correcting exercise.

The front squat is easily my athletes’ least favorite squat variation.  Really, you can take a punch to the face, but the stretch on your wrist is just too much for you to handle?  Over time they get comfortable being uncomfortable (to steal a line from Zach Even-Esh).  Plus, as I mentioned above, the front squat really corrects form pretty quick.

iv. Safety Bar- The safety bar squat is a changeable squat in that it can be performed in a few different ways. When performed with the elbows held low, it greatly mimics the movement of the goblet squat. This is a great tool to transition an athlete from the goblet squat to a back squat while still allowing the elbows to touch the thighs to cue proper depth. However, it can also be performed by reversing the handles over the backs of your shoulders, much like the front squat. If an athlete has mobility issues making the front squat difficult, for the time being, this would be a great exercise to transition them from the kettlebell or dumbbell to the bar [not pictured].

v. Back- While many people think of the back squat as the main squat movement, we actually do not teach it until the athlete demonstrates proficiency in the goblet, box, front, and safety squats. In fact, some of my athletes may never back squat. With the bar on the back and the arms pulled into external rotation, this is the first time the athlete could get away with a serious forward lean, and that is exactly why we wait until this point to teach it. Everything up to this point has driven the point of squatting as upright as possible, and the back squat should not be performed any differently. Now that the bar is across the back, the athlete is to “crush” the bar, squeezing it as hard as possible, trying to bend it into external rotation, really activating all the back muscles that will in turn create stability throughout the movement. Just like the goblet, safety, box, and front variations, the back squat is to be performed with the feet just outside shoulder width and the toes pointed slightly outward.

vi. Zercher- It’s quite possible that you’ve never seen anyone do the zercher squat before. However, this is one of the most practical variations for mixed martial arts and the grappling sports. By placing the weight in the crease of your arms you are carrying the weight lower, more realistic to scooping your opponent for a take down or throw. The lower position of the weight also places greater demand on your upper back to maintain neutral spine. Much like the goblet squat, the zercher squat is at the bottom portion when your arms are touching your thighs.

vii. Split- The split squat is the closest to a single-leg squat pattern that I include in my beginner programs. While it is not truly a single-leg pattern, the split squat will expose any asymmetries that an athlete may have. To be clear, athletes feel very off balance on their non-dominant side when the split squat is first introduced to their program. The split squat can be performed with any of the grips mentioned above. Proper set-up will place both of the legs at about a 90 degree bend when in the bottom portion of the lift. The movement involves a fluid movement of both legs working in unison while bending to lower and contracting to return to the upright position. The torso is to remain as erect as possible throughout the entire movement.

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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

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