William Wayland is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He works in Essex, U.K., where he is responsible for the preparation of UFC fighters, professional boxers, world champion grappling athletes, and professional golfers.
Freelap USA: Your videos show a lot of focus on squatting. Can you get into how general strength training is harder to advocate now, as so many sports are seeking out special exercises or quick fixes?
William Wayland: Simply put, it is intense and systemic exercise versus exercises aimed at short-term peaking in specific movement applications. Most strength coaches know the former and amplify the latter; however, special exercises and quick fixes are attention grabbers, and that counts as currency in today’s social-media-oriented climate. I don’t understand why so many are keen to create a dichotomy when we know they are synergistic. You don’t see the time put in on the big movements and get a distorted view of the training environment.
Most of the combat athletes I work with need the robustness and raw qualities that regular squatting brings. I came full circle on the issue, investing more time in unilateral and special exercises for a while, but I later realized the intensity and velocity that squatting in all forms brought was superior to what we could achieve otherwise, especially with limited training contact time. Obviously, athletes with greater training ages and a broad foundation need less systemic qualities, especially when peaking for specific expressions of movement. However, the fire of strength still needs regular stoking and this where a solid squat routine will pay dividends.
Freelap USA: Motor sports deliver unique demands on the body and many of the experts here talk about sustained fitness as a possible way to combat mental error. Can you briefly explain what your program covers and what you just may leave to the track?
William Wayland: Motorsport training convention is built largely around the keystone of cardiovascular fitness as a catch-all quality, mental error included. For many, this is received wisdom, with many riders choosing to ignore those with no skin in the game. Simply trying to change the culture and thinking about their approach to strength and conditioning is, and will be, a huge effort in itself. In a sport where every metric, movement, gear change, and acceleration is data-logged, we know plenty about the bike but very little about the rider.
A 160kg superbike does not maneuver itself around a track. Most riders start out with a chronic lack of general strength that must first be addressed. With motor athletes, two very important areas we focus on are neck and arm strength, and strength endurance. A chronic problem that many riders suffer from is “forearm pump,” numbness and weakness of the hand or arm is not something you want to deal with at 160 mph. The prevalent thinking was that more cardiovascular fitness was the answer, despite many high-profile surgeries to alleviate the issue. Fasciotomy is not something we want for anyone.
Another key area is the idea of robustness; eccentric and isometric strength. Crashes can and will happen. Having the ability to stay tight in the right places and minimize injury is crucial when falling and sliding at high speeds.
Freelap USA: You shared a link to your article on monitoring peak power for a fighter and you saw a rise in power throughout the process. When working with athletes for longer, do you ever see a drop or stagnation? I’m sure length of prep time determines a lot of what you do; especially with higher- and lower-level fighters.
William Wayland: That post was largely illustrative of change over time in readiness using the squat jump. What I’m looking for here is largely suppression of peak power values due to shifts in training load. MMA fighters intensify around eight weeks from competition. Countermovement jump height and squat jump power are correlated to an athlete’s speed (ref).
Borrowing from what I learned from Dr. Dan Baker, if the mean/average velocity is down on most reps by greater than 5-8%, we need to check peak velocities. Paraphrasing Dan, “if the peak velocities are down by greater than 10-15%, it suggests the SSC is fatigued and the athlete is overreached or under-recovered. This may be OK in a hard, training phase, but not in a peaking phase.” I communicate this back to their boxing, MMA and jujitsu coaches, who can then adjust training accordingly. They often corroborate what they see as the subjective change in the athlete’s training quality and movement. Meaning, we can reconcile objective and subjective measures.
Freelap USA: Aerobic fitness for fighting ranges from street jogging or silly circuits with light weights, to intervals and just sparring. Could you share how you prepare the fitness of fighters?
William Wayland: This is another scenario where I came full circle, I saw the over-use of long duration of steady state cardio and bought into the HIIT trend that was pervasive about a decade ago. I finally realized that we were largely dishing up more of the same energy systems training they get from regular sparring sitting in and around lactate threshold. The proverb, “if you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you have always got,” holds true here. MMA coaches and complicit S&C coaches were joining in on collective wheel spinning and then wondering why athletes training “hard” were gassing out.
Training zeitgeists can be problematic when they embed themselves into the culture. Now I encourage a Hi/Lo approach, working both ends of the conditioning spectrum, with a focus on quality sprint work and tempo/VO2 max training throughout the training week. This is tailored to match where the athlete’s strengths sit, which then dovetails into anaerobic conditioning in the remaining few weeks of camp.Training zeitgeists can be problematic when they embed themselves into the culture. Click To Tweet
Freelap USA: Injuries happen in many ways with combat sports, but could you give the readers how you work around problems from the mental side. A wounded athlete also needs a mental boost when they know training is compromised. Any ideas on the psychological side of things?
William Wayland: Combat athletes thrive on a volume of training not matched by many other sports—missing a single session is considered sacrosanct. MMA fighters have the luxury of focusing on a discipline maybe not affected by injury; single sport stylists do not get that luxury. The beauty of strength and conditioning is that we can coordinate with the athlete to agree on some prescribed and self-prescribed work of some sort.
To athletes that can’t train their discipline, this is never busy work but should allow them to keep a handle on certain base qualities so that, as regular training is reintroduced, the transition isn’t too harsh. I have seen too many athletes take time off completely, often to wallow in self-pity, and return to training with no lead-in period and reinjure themselves. I’m very keen on an athlete-based approach, as increased autonomy and control over the situation generally leads to greater confidence.
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