As the founder of ATHLETE.CO its essential that I work closely with all our performance coaches while developing our training programs to ensure authenticity and a deep understanding of their methods, strategies and thinking. This helps us create and deliver the best programs possible – our ultimate goal.
When creating The Ultimate MMA Strength & Fitness Program I worked closely with Richard Staudner, performance coach to multiple world class combat athletes and head coach to top UFC athlete and light heavyweight title challenger Aleksandar Rakic.
3 Phases, 18 weeks, 54 Workouts
Richard created an incredible three phase, 18 week training program that includes in detail his expertise from years of training professional combat athletes.
There are three important phases that Richard identifies when preparing an athlete for combat:
- Control your bodyweight
- Control external weight
- Control your opponent
Having followed the plan I can honestly say there are a lot of things I really like which I will cover in detail below. This is an honest and unbiased review including my thoughts on some things I found more challenging about the program, so here we go.
The Sign Of A Great Training Program
A great training program delivers results – that goes without saying. Another sign of a great training program is that the exercise selection and programming stay with you after you’ve completed the program.
You don’t just forget and move on, the program continues to give you value, you remember it and keep going back to it – this is certainly the case with this program and many things have stuck. Doing the program for the first time is just the beginning.
For me there was a perfect combination of 1) new exercises 2) new variations of familiar exercises 3) new programming ideas and 4) familiar movements but with new tools – the barbell for example.
There were also interesting new exercise combinations (e.g. push/pull combinations) that would stand the test of time in any program for their simplicity and effectiveness. This not only inspired me and interested me but it felt like I was learning AND progressing my training. There are parts of the program I still want to revisit with different tools, parts of the program I still want to do again, and parts from one phase that I want to combine with another.
The results were considerable – I was stronger and more conditioned, I was leaner and had visibly added muscle, my body felt and moved better. For combat athletes or anyone involved in sport or fitness these are essential qualities. For everyday athletes who work and have busy lives but want to perform better in the gym, in the ring, on the court, at work and with friends and family, the spring in your step, the energy and total body strength feel great.
I highly recommend this program, and doing the program once is just the beginning as it has a lot more to give.
Training Progression and Six Week Phases
The three phases are each six weeks long and this was one of my biggest challenges – the mental challenge of staying focused on one phase for six weeks compared to four or something similar. There are benefits – it allows time to really dial in your new exercise selection and allows time for the programming to really deliver results. It allows you to really solidify your gains and let’s face it – it’s ultimately a good thing. However, it’s tough mentally and requires some extra consideration to stick with the plan as it’s been written but you will be thankful if you stay the course with each phase, trust me.
Another element that helps with the six week phases is the programming – progression is linear and consistent over the course of each phase so there is progress being made each week in terms of reps and intensity and it’s clear to see your progress. This acts as great motivation to keep going and is a smart way to keep you healthy and injury free while progressing through the program.
Another important element to keep each phase interesting is the balance between the core exercises of each phase and the ‘specialised variety’ of accessory exercises and additional work. The core program remains constant with progression but there is also variety around the core to keep you mentally engaged – it’s very clever. By the end of each phase you have progressed considerably.
Tools And Training Equipment
The program has been designed for a gym or training facility, however there are easy substitutions for every exercise if certain things are not available. With some simple touches you could easily invest in a few pieces of cost-effective equipment that would make the program very effective at home.
The full program uses resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, a rowing machine, an assault bike, a treadmill, a pull up bar, a dip station and a plyo box. With the simple addition of resistance bands, adjustable dumbbells, a pull up bar and access to a safe place to run I would say this program adapts to being very effective from home as well. A proper training facility will always win in terms of equipment and the benefits from a dedicated space, but if you can’t consistently get to a facility then you will not progress. Training at home offers benefits in flexibility and consistency, and consistent work with minimal equipment following the exercise selection and programming in this program is very effective.
Each of the 54 training sessions (3 x sessions per week x 18 weeks) are structured to include a warm up, a main set (upper, lower or full body), core work and a finisher before a warm down. The sessions are very well structured as you would expect.
Phase 1 – Control your bodyweight.
Control your bodyweight is the goal for phase 1 and it’s the foundation on which the rest of this program is built, the rationale being if you can’t control your own bodyweight how are you going to control external weight or even an opponent?
This phase has some really interesting elements and the videos of Aleks in his gym capture all the exercises in detail. The exercise combinations are new, simple and highly effective. Another great thing about phase 1 is the sessions are intense and progress consistently over 6 weeks, plus they can be done anywhere. By the end of phase 1 I felt stronger and was moving better which set me up for phase two as intensity increases. All sessions include core work that’s often overlooked and essential for athletic development and performance, plus a finisher to really make sure you’ve pushed yourself.
Phase 2 – Control external weight.
Control external weight is the goal for phase 2 and this phase builds your conditioning as well as your strength as intensity and complexity increases with more external weight and new exercises. This phase contains some tough exercises which will definitely test you but there are regressions to help you get your reps (I needed them) and progress towards executing the full movements safely. This helps to build new strength, ensure good technique with the movements and ultimately add new skills to your arsenal.
There are videos of Richard coaching Aleks through the movements which are really useful with great coaching tips and a strong visual demonstration, even for the alternative exercises and regressions. With a focus on new techniques and more load I had progressed again by the end of week 12 with noticeable results. I felt stronger and fitter and motivated to explore phase 3 with another new exercise selection and structure plus higher intensity again. The more advanced conditioning work complements the strength, mobility and core work and I found it really develops a 360 degree result – I felt stronger in all areas which is ultimately what’s required for a UFC athlete who has to compete in many different scenarios.
Phase 3 – Control your opponent.
The third and final phase is where it all comes together – some equipment in this phase was relatively new to me having only used certain bits briefly in the past so phase 3 was another great opportunity to explore new and more advanced movements with exciting new tools. If you’re into sport and fitness then there is something exciting about good training programs – you like the feeling after each session, you enjoy the recovery and look forward to the next session, its exciting to learn new moves and use new tools, its like having a new toy and this is certainly the case here throughout all three phases.
All the work from phase 1 and 2 meant I was able to absorb the progressions in phase 3 without a problem and progress kept on ramping up. It’s important to note here that a deload week is a very good idea at regular intervals, whether that is between phases or just when your body is telling you it needs a rest. Listen to your body – I personally know I need to deload when my usual recovery time takes longer and my usual energy is not available. When I notice this I hit pause and wait until I’m rested and ready to go again, normally three days to one week.
Phase 3 is tough – no doubt. The strength work and conditioning elements are serious and if you’re anything like me you’ll like them a lot. My advice is to enjoy the process, put yourself into athlete mode and put in the work. I was training a lot, sleeping better, enjoying my rest and recovery as I’d earned it but waking up energised too.
Essential Human Movement Patterns
As with all our coaches Richard makes sure that all the movement boxes are ticked, and you are building a strong, well balanced and physically capable body. Throughout the program you will develop strength, mobility and proficiency in all the movement patterns by pressing, pulling, squatting, hinging, lunging and carrying but also ‘specialised’ variations of these patterns. These all go to create a powerful human who is ready to compete.
Tracking Your Training
A simple system to track your training is a great idea and something I recommend if you don’t do it already. This can be a spreadsheet on your laptop, a pen and a notebook, or something simple on your phone. Whatever method you choose it’s a great idea to track your training, your numbers, your times, how you feel and what’s working or not.
This is a fantastic program with real depth and incredible value, there is true expertise on display with over 100 videos of Aleks performing exercises and being coached by Richard. There’s a private Facebook group where you can ask questions and get answers. Each phase has so much to give just on it’s own yet it sets you up to keep pushing forward into the next phase, and then the next, and once you’ve finished you have a deep bag of training expertise to dig into again and again. If you’re a fan of training then this is your new toy.
To find out more, check out our Ultimate MMA Training Plan created by Richard Staudner with Top 10 ranked UFC light-heavyweight Aleksander Rakic, which even has a 7-day, no obligation free trial.
Graham Barber, Founder @ ATHLETE.CO