Radius Strike Series is an ongoing series of training-related articles from longtime trainer Ryan Parsons.
Over the past 20 years, how athletes train for mixed martial arts competition has changed dramatically. From my early days with Team Quest to where we are today, there’s been an evolution in how elite MMA fighters prepare for battle. How athletes and their coaches approach technique, recovery methods, training camp planning, strength & conditioning and sparring are all continuing to develop. In the Radius Strike Series we explore different training philosophies with the worlds greatest coaches and athletes.
Bas Rutten needs no introduction – UFC Champion, 3 X King of Pancrase, coach, commentator, actor – he literally wrote the book on fighting: Bas Rutten’s Big Book of Combat.
I sat down with Bas to get his take on striking training, sparring, and training camps for mixed martial arts fighters.
What is the ideal length of time for a training camp for MMA?
I didn’t train for three years and they gave me 10 weeks to fight one more fight, and that was perfect for me. But when you are already in shape less is good as well. In Japan, I fought my first two years 16 fights, when not injured, might as well keep fighting!
How many days a week should you spar?
Every day. I never got these guys who say they spar once or twice a week. Sparring (fighting) is what you are going to do when you compete, so do it a lot.
What is the ideal number of rounds to spar in a single workout?
At least 5 five-minute rounds.
Is it important to spar with 100-percent power?
No, it’s not, although my training buddies and I will try to hurt you to the body with kicks and punches. Knees to the body can cause injuries, so we don’t go hard with that. Of course, the head, we go less, like 70-percent; still pretty hard. When I see a clean shot to the head, I wouldn’t even make it.
How many days a week should someone hit pads?
I did 4 times a week; this is the most important for cardio. I hit every strike 100-percent; no jabs, nothing with no power; everything full blast. My first strike will be as hard as my last. My goal was 7 six-minute rounds.
I start with 2-minute rounds (if you have 10 weeks), do 7 rounds FULL power. Next week, 2.5 minute rounds, then 3, etc., until you have 6 minutes. This way you don’t overtrain and your body gets gradually used to throwing out a lot of power. This way fighting is going to be much easier and you will have great stamina.
How important is heavy bag work?
Very important for me. My first year in MMA, it was the only thing I did since I had no ground fighters at my gym. But also for power distribution, so you “feel” how to put your bodyweight in the strike, is very important. Don’t hit (hands) a hard heavy bag, kicking, okay, (no knees) but for punches, find a softer one to keep your joints healthy.
What’s the best way to condition your shins?
Just kick a lot on a hard heavy bag. Most of the time, the lower you kick, the harder the bag is; just do that. Work towards it; don’t start kicking the very hard part right away. Once your shin bruises, you have to wait again till they’re healed, so you lose a lot of time. When you feel it’s getting “tender”, easy up on the power. Forget rolling with a stick and all that BS, Peter Aerts and Ramon Dekkers (RIP) never did that, yet they kick doorposts with no pain.
How long before a fight do you stop hard sparring?
About 10 days, enough time for a cut to heal.
How important is it for an MMA fighter to spar and hit pads with MMA gloves?
It’s important because the angle of impact differs a little from a boxing glove. Watch out though, hitting a bag with MMA gloves might get you cuts on your “second knuckles.” Once you get scrapes, you will re-open those every workout. When you are 6 weeks out to a fight, that’s not fun. (Same as mat burns on your feet.) I wouldn’t do it all the time though, just once or twice a week, since you are going to fight like that. When sparring, just go for the body, ease up on the head.
What is the most overlooked aspect of striking for MMA?
Footwork; still see a lot of guys without good footwork. And I also mean where the feet are at the moment of impact, like with hooks, when you stand on one leg, you CANNOT put your body weight into a punch. I am not saying that you can’t knock people out on one foot, I’m just saying you can make the strike much stronger. On straight punches some guys lean forward, some even have their back leg come lose from the ground, which is absolutely wrong.
This is how I explain it to students. Try to push somebody backwards while standing on one leg. You can’t. You need your back leg on the ground for that, remember that, real power in straight punches comes from pushing of on your back leg.
Don’t say “that’s logic” because then you call a lot of guys stupid, since not many do it!
Another thing, NEVER look away from your opponent. (Easy right? Some still do it.) And “distance” is SUPER important as well.
Work on your basic strikes. That’s what I focus on in my classes. Make the foundation strong first, then start messing around.
Follow Bas Rutten on Twitter at @basrutten and check out his website at www.basrutten.com.
Follow author and trainer Ryan Parsons on Twitter at @RyanRadiusMgmt or @RadiusWraps and check out his website at www.radiuswraps.com.