Fit for the Fight

Specialized training and conditioning basics are the key to success for this Mixed Martial Arts fighter.

By Ryan Halvorson
May 1, 2011

Client: Ryan Mackin
Personal Trainer: Nick Tumminello, CSCS, owner of Performance University
Location: Baltimore

Going Pro. Ryan Mackin is no stranger to competition. In high school and college, he was a high-ranking wrestler. After finishing college, Mackin became a high-school wrestling coach. Still yearning to compete, he set his sights on becoming a professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter.

Although Mackin’s competitive history gave him an edge, he knew that to become a fighter on a higher level, he needed to undergo training at a higher level. Four years ago Mackin, hoping to take his physical capacity to new heights, approached Nick Tumminello, CSCS, owner of Performance University.

Building a Better Athlete. With his prior training, Mackin appeared to need little improvement—technically. “He is a very strong guy relative to his body,” says Tumminello. Mackin’s fight techniques were sound, but like many MMA athletes his physical conditioning was due for an upgrade. “A lot of fights are won and lost based on physical conditioning,” adds Tumminello.

Mackin and Tumminello focused on power endurance development to ensure Mackin could handle the notoriously long MMA rounds. “Going for a 5-minute MMA round is a lot more challenging than a 2-minute wrestling round,” Tumminello chuckles.

Achieving Personal Records. As part of an ongoing assessment process, each off-season workout begins with activities that address personal records in maximal strength, speed and endurance.

For example, Mackin might perform a one- to three-repetition heavy-resistance squat; a 40-yard dash; and push-ups to failure. “We look to see improvements in amount of weight lifted; quality of movement and strength; ability to go longer and harder; and recovery,” says Tumminello.

Training in the Off-Season. Completion of the personal records activities is followed by a general strength and conditioning program. The fitness program is similar to that of most athletes except that in MMA training the emphasis is on improving neck and grip strength. “Ryan comes in twice a week and does about four sets of six to 20 reptitions of each exercise.”

In the off-season, Tumminello is careful not to overdo anything. “Ryan teaches wrestling and works with fight coaches, so it’s important we don’t fatigue any one part of his body.” Mackin performs two workouts on separate days. Day A focuses on upper-body anterior chain and lower-body movements. Day B is all about the upper-body posterior chain and lower body. “We’re not trying to smoke his legs or back because that will interfere with his other types of training,” says Tumminello. “Ryan is also a weight-class athlete. We need to make him stronger without building too much muscle.” To avoid bulking up, bigger lifts are limited to six repetitions or fewer.

Training in the MMA Season. “Things change drastically during the MMA season,” Tumminello says. In-season training happens 6–12 weeks out from a fight. “Our goal is to not lose all the strength gained in the off-season.” To maintain strength—and avoid overtraining—Mackin performs only a few repetitions of a few sets of a major lift.

The remainder of the session includes two or three 5-minute fight-specific circuits with 1-minute rests in between. Mackin performs a specific number of repetitions of six to eight exercises such as weighted shadow boxing, man pick-ups and other drills. “We do the exact same movements in every circuit,” adds Tumminello. “If I give a variety each time, the fighter can’t focus on intensity because he’s figuring out the exercise.” Tumminello does change the order of the circuit to prevent adaptation. The workouts are tapered as the competition draws near and then discontinued within a week of the fight.

Gaining Confidence. Tumminello finds that his circuits improve performance and confidence in his athletes. “A lot of fighters worry about being outclassed and getting too tired. The circuit-style rounds eliminate these worries.”

Mackin is proof of this. As a result of his conditioning, he no longer worries about fatigue when he faces a competitor. He knows nobody can push him as hard as Tumminello does. Mackin has yet to lose as a professional fighter.

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To see Mackin perform one of Tumminello’s fight-based circuits, please visit


Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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