Any successful martial artist will tell you that competitions aren’t won in the heat of the moment. What you are able to accomplish in martial arts tournaments is directly related to the training you’ve put into them. The path to victory is built slowly and carefully in the weeks — and months — leading up to the big event.
To get results in martial arts competitions, you have to train hard, but you also have to train smart. You have to know when to put in more time, when to dial up the intensity, and when to scale back. You also need to know what to eat and drink.
If you’re new to competition, or looking to brush up on your training plans, here are some guidelines to help you get in the best shape and mindset for tournament season. There are no quick fixes or foolproof plans when it comes to competition training. Developing the most effective — and responsible — diet and training routines for your martial arts goals might take some trial and error to get right. But these guidelines will help get you started.
1. Build a Base
The months leading up to martial arts competition training are when you lay the groundwork. This is a great time to introduce new techniques into your training, or focus on anything you’re still struggling with. This is also the ideal time to work on your cross-training to improve your general fitness and possibly give you an edge over your competitors.
Timing and specificity are the key to building a good fitness base for martial arts competition through cross-training. It takes at least six weeks to see proper gains from a solid strength and conditioning program. Starting a new cardio program too close to competition training time runs the risk of draining your energy more than increasing it. Taking up a workout routine that doesn’t have sports-specific applications can also be more work than it’s worth.
So start early and do your research. Talk to your coaches about your training plan. If you can afford it, hire a fitness professional with a background in martial arts sports-specific training to help you develop the right cross-training program for your discipline and your goals. Then stick to it and reap the rewards!
2. Schedule Your Peaks
If you’re interested in optimal results — and health — you’ll want to periodize your tournament training to ensure that you’re reaching your physical and mental peak right at competition time. The trick is to time your competition and training plans to ensure that you’re peaking at the right time — and giving yourself enough rest, recovery, and preparation time for the next competition.
This will be easier for some martial artists and combat sports competitors than others. If your martial art has a designated tournament season, like Karate, your base-building, peaks, and rest periods can be designed to suit that time-frame. If you’re an MMA fighter or a boxer, you can build training camps leading up to the fights or tournaments that you’ve booked.
If you train and compete in a martial art that runs tournaments throughout the year, though, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you’ll have to get a little more creative. Pick a few tournaments throughout the year that matter the most to you, and build your training plan around peaking for them. Treat any other tournaments that you choose to participate in as learning experiences.
Tapering can be a big mental challenge for competitive martial artists. Just when you’re getting excited about your tournament or fight, when you’re really motivated to train your hardest, you’re supposed to start scaling back? But cutting down on the number of hours that you’re putting into the gym doesn’t mean you’re not giving your competition prep your all. Your just focusing your energy a little differently.
For the best results, you should talk to your coach or a trainer about the best tapering plan for your martial art and your goals. But here are some general guidelines for the tapering phase of martial arts competition training:
Four to six weeks before your martial arts competition, begin reducing the volume of your cross-training and martial arts training while increasing the intensity of your training. This can be accomplished by reducing the number of days that you spend training, or the amount of time you spend on each training session. During this period, you’ll be training less, but you’ll still be training harder.
Two weeks before competition, you will decrease your volume again, but maintain the intensity. Cross-training should be limited to two session per week, and martial arts training should be focused on drilling and light sparring. Your primary goal during this period is to maintain your physical fitness and technique without risking injury before competition.
One week before martial arts competition, you will reduce the volume and intensity of all of your training. Light technique drills and walks are ideal for this portion of your training. The day before your tournament or fight should be a complete rest day.
4. Nutrition and Hydration
In general, you’ll feel and perform better in martial arts — and in life — if you develop a well-balanced diet that can be maintained throughout the year. If you need to cut weight for martial arts competition, though, you’ll need to make some changes in the weeks leading up to your tournament.
Weight cutting is a common practice in many martial arts tournaments, but it’s not always executed safely. If you want to make weight for a tournament or fight without sacrificing your overall performance and health, you’ll need to be responsible. Talk to your coaches and/or speak to a licensed professional with a background in competition — and, ideally, experience in your martial art — to come up with a safe and effective weight cutting program. And don’t forget to drink water! Cutting back on liquid is an easy way to cut weight, but a hydrated martial artist will always perform better in competition!