Tales from the Trenches: Combat Training with Meer Awny
By Meer Awny
January 29, 2018
Combat sports have rapidly grown over the last decade with the mainstream push from the mixed-martial arts world combined with the recent re-emergence of boxing. To accompany this growth, more expertise is being added to fighter’s teams. Strength and conditioning coaches are being included despite the historical normality of the technical coach taking on the role. Besides managing overall load, recovery, and a crazy schedule that a fighter presents, quantifying performance improvements isn’t always an easy task. Regardless of physical improvements, the most important stat to a fighter is always his or her wins and losses.
The preparation of a combat athlete isn’t to be taken as a hybrid approach. The sound principles of developing strength, mobility, speed/power, and addressing the rotational and other specific demands of the sport are all to be taken into consideration. More importantly, choosing the most valuable components to improve based on the fighters needs and schedule is critical. Coaches might have to step back from traditional methods of quantifying and focus on being adaptable throughout the camp, which is never a concrete time period.
Using the Free Movement feature in the PUSH band opens avenues for many unorthodox applications. There is a strong rotational component in combat sports (producing and resisting it at different velocities in a variety of positions) that can be captured and easily quantified by using the feature. Coaches can use a high-speed rotational exercise as a testing measure pre- and post-training cycle and draw conclusions from the final results. Certain improvements might be expected from the performance coach, however, it can be great for establishing further buy-in from athletes and their coaches who could possibly be hesitant in including ‘strength’ training due to their previously established stigma.
Incorporating the Free Movement feature into the observations I made allowed me to easily compare the fighter’s response to the stimulus. I was able to show them the benefits of a structured warm up prior to regular training sessions, and potentially, competitive bouts. Initial interest for this case study stemmed from the lack of structure I saw in warm-ups during training sessions and competitions. The technical coach and I wanted to get athletes physically/psychologically primed prior to fights and to shy away from the general skipping and static stretching procedures that are still often seen in many training camps.
Chris Gaviglia at the 2017 PLAE Summit in Sydney did a great presentation on warm-up strategies and priming. He showed that a 5RM back squat at 85% of 1RM will have acute effects on jumping performance, and so I wanted to elicit a similar response in my fighters with a more applicable stimulus. In my case study I used the Free Movement feature to see if a potentiation stimulus could transiently improve punching speed in boxers. After a brief general warm-up, athletes had 5 practice punches at a boxing bag (same cues given, same gloves, and distance measured. They then had a rest period and did 6 med ball scoop tosses before taking a small break and returning to the bag to repeat 5 punches.
For the purposes of this case study, I created and normalised the cues for the straight right punch. This included distance from the bag (marked), same boxing bag, glove size and type, number of practice punches allowed, test punches allowed, rest periods, intervention procedure, and warm-up prior to the test. I asked the technical coach for three cues in relation to the straight punch and all athletes received the same information to keep things universal. Outside of the tests I’ve ‘played’ with many other punching strikes as well as placing the band around the ankle and kicking.
While only a case study, it proved effective in this case with all athletes showing an improvement in either peak or average punching velocity across the testing. Athletes who went on to spar also commented on feeling more alert/sharp. Despite the placebo possibilities, the feedback was definitely positive all around. The results provided some talking points on incorporating a more sound warm-up strategy on fight nights incorporating principles of dynamic warm-ups as well as athlete priming. Irrespective of any quantitative correlation, I’ll settle for a fighter who says “I felt sharp and confident” every time.
Beyond free movement the PUSH band is a great tool I have added to my programming with combat athletes. It has been effective in allowing me to set velocity targets during individual sessions, as well as manage fatigue and recovery in my fighters during fight camp. You’ll never need to tell a fighter to do ‘more work’, so I like having the band to provide real time data and cue athletes to adjust loads. Depending on how much time I have with a fighter I may also include general tests as an ongoing performance indicator (bench velocity at 75%-1RM, med ball throw, CMJ etc).
The case study I carried out had the goals of highlighting the benefits of structured warm-up and getting athletes primed prior to training sessions and even possibly competitive bouts. The feedback was excellent and the results provided the need for establishing a sound warm up plan for the fighters. Free Movement is a great feature that can be very effective as long as the coach remains true to knowing the ultimate goal and choosing the right things to pay attention too.
Meer Awny is a Strength & Conditioning coach from Sydney, Australia. His work is primarily centred on working with combat sport athletes, ranging from amateur levels to national competition, as well as top #10 ranked athletes in the world across a variety of martial arts. Meer has travelled the world to better his development of the 'fighter' and himself as a coach, and has spent time with multiple UFC fighters and learnt from some of the best combat sport performance coaches in the field. In his spare time Meer likes to attend coffee tastings, read, cook, travel and continually practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and boxing. You can find Meer on Instagram @Meer_awny