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Complex Training for Elite MMA Athletes


Guest Blog Post from Franklin Joyner, Triumph Athletics

The beauty of complex training (CT) is that it’s simple and it works. CT is the blending of strength and speed. In essence, CT is nothing more than a ME exercise immediately followed by a DE exercise. This is an enormously effective style of training. To better understand why it is so effective we will first need to look at the science behind CT.

The Science Behind Complex Training

The Maximum Effort

Every muscle within the human body acts on a specific principle called the All or Nothing Principle. The muscle as a whole can produce varying levels of force, but an individual fiber is only capable of producing its own amount of force. If more force is required, then more fibers are recruited. The key is that when a muscle fiber is innervated by the central nervous system, the fiber is totally and completely activated. There is no varying degree of activation. It is all or nothing.

The Size Principle demands that small/slow Type I fibers are recruited first and as more force is required bigger/faster Type II fibers are recruited to complete the effort. Thus, muscle fiber recruitment is regulated by required force. In the unfatigued muscle, a sufficient number of muscle fibers will be recruited to supply the desired force. Initially, desired force may be accomplished with little or no involvement of Type II fast motor units. However, as slow units become fatigued and fail to produce force, fast units will be recruited as the CNS attempts to maintain desired force production by recruiting more muscle fibers. Consequently, the same force production in fatigued muscle will require a greater number of muscle fibers. This additional recruitment brings in fast, but more quickly fatigued fibers. In layman’s terms, if you want to lift a lot of weight you must teach your CNS to become proficient at innervating the biggest/fastest fibers. The best way to do this is by lifting near maximum weight. This is the primary goal of the ME exercise.

The Dynamic Effort

Dynamic effort is best defined as lifting a non-maximal load with the greatest speed possible. Some examples of DE training are plyometrics, Olympic lifting, and shock training. DE training is important for one main reason: The Recruitment Principle.

The Recruitment Principle holds that the CNS can be trained to bypass the Size Principle and selectively recruit Type II fibers immediately rather than getting them involved only after the entire pool of Type I fibers have been innervated. This is extremely important in sports because of the need for immediate force production. Examples are a vertical jump, swinging a bat, throwing a punch, or even producing velocity on a fastball. DE’s are how the CNS learns to produce immediate maximum force. The reason we do the ME before the DE is Post-Activation Potentiation.

Post-Activation Potentiation

The underlying principle surrounding Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) is that maximum efforts induce a high degree of CNS stimulation, resulting in greater muscle fiber recruitment and force. Thus, you can produce a greater DE after your CNS has been “super stimulated” by the preceding ME.

Practical Application of Complex Training

CT can be scaled for use at any time in a program. We use this type of training most often as a transition between a strength/hypertrophy block and a specialization block. We increase the number and frequency of DE’s in our programs as we progress toward the specialization block (in season). As a result this is a great way to keep strength levels high while being able to incorporate more DE’s.

CT also provides a big bang for the buck for in season training. Because of time constraints during the season, athletes will often have time for only one or two sessions each week. CT allows athletes a time efficient means to maintain both absolute strength and explosiveness throughout the duration of the season. Below is a sample two day program using complexes for in season football players.

Day 1 (Lower)

  1. Squat/BB squat jump 6 x 3/5
  2. DB Lunge/split squat jump 2 x 5/3
  3. Lateral Lunge/lateral bounds 2 x 5/3
  4. GHR 2 x 10

Day 2 (Upper)

  1. Bench/clapping push up 5 x 3/5
  2. Pull up/DE sled row 3 x 5/5
  3. Hang clean & press or jammer 2-3 x 3-5

In the video below I will demonstrate various complexes for all movement planes.

The Premier MMA Training Bible – Blunt Force Trauma



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4 Responses to “Complex Training for Elite MMA Athletes”

  1. mr d harper` Says:

    very good article. GET MONEY, MONEY!

  2. Jeff Says:

    I’ve always included DE style exercises before ME in pairings, since the explosive lifting would seem to prime the nervous system for even better performance with the ME exercise. Executing the DE movement second seems like it would have more risk of being limited by fatigue from the max effort movement than it would benefit from any potentiation.

    But I will have to take it for a test drive just so that I am not guilty of being a keyboard commando!

  3. Jeff Says:

    Before I come across as an ungrateful jerk, let me say thank you for sharing your insight and the video. It is much appreciated.

  4. Jerry Shreck Says:

    I have used this type of training with my basketball players as well as other sports and have seen great results.

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