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MMA Strength & Conditioning Q&A With Nick Tumminello

By Kristin Rooke / February 20, 2016

Coach Nick Tumminello has become known as “the trainer of trainers.” He’s the owner of Performance University International, which provides hybrid strength training & conditioning for athletes and educational programs for fitness professionals all over the world.

Nick lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where he trains a select group of clients and teaches mentorships. You can check out his DVDs, seminar schedule, and very popular hybrid fitness blog at NickTumminello.com.

In this interview, Nick reveals several useful and interesting insights about MMA strength & conditioning and how he prepares MMA fighters for battle.

1) How long have you been working in the fitness industry? How did you get started as an MMA trainer?

I’ve been working in the fitness industry as a personal trainer since the age of 18. I started my own personal training business at the age of 21.

I got started training MMA fighters back around 2002. Basically I started training a guy, John Rallo, who was an up-and-coming local fighter in the Baltimore, Maryland area, which is where I’m from. He ran the Brazilian jujitsu school where I was training at that time.

I was an ex-wrestler, very interested in the sport of mixed martial arts and obviously a passionate fitness professional, so I was a good fit to work with John and a few other up-and-coming fighters. Keep in mind this was long before the UFC became a mainstream sport.

As the sport grew so did John’s school and so did my experience training a multitude of (professional and amateur) MMA and Muay Thai fighters, along with a few boxers.

2) MMA fighters have to be well-rounded athletes. What is involved in their training programs?

When I write strength and conditioning programs for combat athletes, or any athlete for that matter, I set it up so it does not interfere with their performance during sports practice.

In other words, how hard I push my MMA fighters and when I push them (and don’t push them) in workouts throughout the week is determined by their grappling, striking and sparring schedule.

These fighters are already doing so much activity with their many other coaches, like their striking coaches or ex-fighters who work with them on their techniques, who have the go-hard-or-go-home mentality. They push these guys to the limits each day, so when I determine my strength and conditioning approach with fighters I’m careful to make sure that I don’t contribute to any overtraining, which honestly could lead to burnout or injuries.

3) How does training for MMA competitions differ from training for other sports?

For the most part, the exercises that I use with combat athletes are directly in line with exercises that I would use for an athlete in any other sport. That being said, there are a few small differences, like:

Also, the type of conditioning would focus on local muscle conditioning as opposed to central conditioning.

For example, basketball players have great central conditioning. They are able to run up and down the court for an entire game. But if you ask a well-conditioned basketball player to grapple, he would be fatigued within minutes. That’s because he has great central conditioning but he’s experiencing local muscle fatigue (from all the grappling) which is an entirely different metabolic demand that his body is not as conditioned to tolerate.

4) What are a few of your favorite strength training / body weight exercises?

5) Do you have any favorite types of cardio activities (sprinting, jumping rope etc.) for overall conditioning workouts?

Doing rounds of kickboxing or boxing on a heavy bag!

6) What is your favorite total body MMA conditioning workout?

The only true “MMA conditioning workout” is sparring. Everything else is just exercises that are used to increase one’s power endurance without the bumps and bruises of sparring. I have already listed those exercises and training concepts above.

7) Nutrition is important for all sports. Do you address nutrition with your athletes? What sort of recommendations do you give them?

Since I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian, I don’t prescribe specific meal plans for anyone. But I certainly do make nutrition and supplementation recommendations.

I like to keep things as simple as possible, so I tell my athletes to try to eat these four things in each meal: a lean protein, fibrous carbohydrate, starchy carbohydrate and a little fat. I tell them that the largest portion on their plate should be the protein source, the second-largest portion should be the fibrous carbohydrate source, and so on… With the fat source being the smallest portion in the mix.

I also recommend scientifically proven supplements like creatine, beta alanine, BCAAs, fish oil and vitamin D.

8) What are some of your favorite healthy snacks?

Beef jerky, fruit, protein bars.

9) How would you suggest a fitness enthusiast incorporate MMA training into his program? Should they?

As I stated above, there really is no such thing as a “MMA training exercise,” there are just exercises, period. Certainly, a fitness enthusiast can have an appreciation for some of the aspects that fighters emphasize in their workouts, that they themselves might not be emphasizing in their current programs, such as grip training and neck training exercises.

That being said, if someone is in interested in incorporating MMA training, then they should attend an MMA school and begin practicing striking and grappling on a regular basis.

This fitness component just helps to give you the ability to do what you already know how to do (i.e. striking and grappling) for a bit longer and with more intensity.

To put it another way, working out in the gym does not make you bad-ass, and in no way makes you a better fighter; it just makes you a better conditioned fighter. Practicing the specific skills involved in MMA (i.e. striking and grappling) are what will make you a better, more bad-ass fighter.

10) Can MMA conditioning be incorporated into the average individual’s workout routine? What would be the benefits of this?

Absolutely! If I’m training a fighter for a fight that’s five 3-minute rounds, then I will have him do circuits, each lasting three minutes in duration, and we will do five rounds of that circuit. We do this to increase their conditioning in a manner that’s directly specific to the demands of the competition.

Now anyone, whether they’re training for a fight or just are interested in training like a fighter, can utilize conditioning circuits in this manner if they want to add a unique workout challenge to their routine.

The goal of these circuits is to increase power endurance. Power is the ability to produce high amounts of force in a single burst, but power endurance is the ability to keep producing high amounts of force even in the presence of fatigue.

If I use a basketball example, it’s one thing to be able to vertical jump 40-inches once, but you’d rather have the guy on your team who has the ability to jump 35-inches throughout the entire game.

Power endurance training, like the MMA conditioning circuits we use, improve your ability to resist fatigue and outlast the competition.

We all feel weak when we’re tired, but that’s not due to a lack of strength or power, it’s due to a lack of power endurance. That’s a very important distinction!

The better power endurance you have, the less chance you have of becoming tired and feeling weak.

11) Is there anything you would like to add?

There is a horrible misconception that any intense workout that’s done in a circuit fashion using apparatus like tires and hammers, etc. is “MMA conditioning.” Not true!

First off, training safety is the number one priority. And often these workouts are more concerned with getting you tired than improving your performance. When the priority is just getting you tired, quantity is emphasized over quality and that’s a recipe for injuries and overtraining.

Second, the circuit conditioning aspect is a component of the training that we use only when we are preparing for a fight date. The predominant amount of exercise we use with the fighters his strength and power exercises to increase their ability to produce force without adding unwanted mass to their body that may interfere with them making weight.

Finally, when we do use circuits, the exercises involved are designed to replicate specific force production patterns that are common to MMA. So we don’t just pick any old exercise and do a bunch of reps of it while using some underground-type training equipment and call that “MMA conditioning”.

MMA Strength & Conditioning Video:

The following video shows Nick taking one of his pro-fighters, Ryan Mackin, through an MMA conditioning circuit. This circuit was completed a total of 3 times.

From Nick – “As you’ll see, the circuit replicates many of the muscular demands Ryan will experience in the cage without giving him the bumps and bruises of simply trying to get in shape while sparring, which is how most fighters get injured– in practice.”

For more videos, you can check Nick out at his youtube channel at Performance U.

Hope you enjoyed this interview and we are very thankful Nick took time out of his busy schedule to share his insights about MMA strength and conditioning.


  • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

    "In other words, how hard I push my MMA fighters and when I push them (and don’t push them) in workouts throughout the week is determined by their grappling, striking and sparring schedule." I wish my strength coaches in college had this philosophy. Our team would have been so much better and injury-free. Thanks for sharing so many insights, Nick. Really awesome interview.

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