Brian Stann and Michael Bisping are the latest in a long line of injuries that have caused fights to fall through for the UFC in the last couple of years. The injury bug that had plagued the UFC for much of 2011 seemed to have subsided in the first quarter of 2012, but it seems like it might be rearing its ugly head again. Sometimes fighters get injured as the result of fights, but increasingly it seems to happen when they're in training.
At the beginning of the year I posed a question to a group of MMA coaches and fighters about the rate of injuries we've seen, and the following are their responses.
KJ Gould: In light of the amount of injuries in high profile MMA, are fighters training too hard, and do they need to train smarter?
Roli Delgado (TUF Season 8 contestant, UFC veteran, and head coach at Westside MMA, Little Rock, Arkansas) : I read a great newsletter from BJJ world champion Jordon Schultz the other day basically saying, and I agree, that Crossfit depletes your body too much and it has an adverse affect on your training as a whole. Sure you get better at Crossfit, but you're not getting stronger or more explosive. I can relate myself because when I finally started lifting and stuck with it, I was working and learning how to train physically with my coach Sean Ross and left the workouts with some energy left over; it was a new feeling. I found myself wanting more but also saw results!
The reality is, you're going to have nagging injuries that will not go away after the age of 25! So you need to work smarter, work around the injuries, don't spar every day, give yourself time to shadow box, do bag work, drill, lift, stretch, rehab and live to fight longer and better. We all have a shelf life, I'm learning that now having just turned 30 and finishing up the recovery of 2 surgeries on my hand. Training hard but also training smart is what you should be getting out of a gym with an established program with experienced coaches. Odds are they have made the mistakes and learned from them already and with their guidance you will be on your way.
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First - injuries are going to happen. We can't blame it all on fighter training too hard, or the wrong way. It's a tough sport, and while any kind of training carries a risk of injury, not training hard enough has its own risks too - getting injured in the fight, perhaps, or losing your career if you don't perform.
In some cases, perhaps improvements to training methods could be made, and an increased focus on working with fighters to rehabilitate old injuries and prevent new ones might help.
But fundamentally, I think we all (fans included) need to adjust our expectations. Injuries happen in any professional sport - we need to lean to adjust, manage them and deal with them. The fact that with health insurance more fighters are pulling out of fights shouldn't be surprising, and is probably a good thing in terms of their health and long term career - fighters shouldn't have to fight with significant injuries in order to pay the bills.
There's also the steroid issue - but that's a whole other rant!
Hear from more coaches after the jump
Nathan Leverton (Head coach at Leicester Shootfighters, Leicester, England:)The cause of an injury occurring and also the type of injury covers a wide spectrum. There are those from over training, misuse of equipment etc that could be avoided, but also ones that were entirely accidental or are general wear and tear, or problems from an unknown pre-existing condition. There are acute current injuries and chronic problems that have to be worked around and may flare up from time to time. Pretty much every pro has a chronic injury or two that they'll carry the rest of their life whether from training or a bout but many acute injuries can be avoided.
All the usual advice for injury prevention is valid but often unheeded until too late. Good nutrition and hydration, appropriate hygiene, treating rest / sleep as important sessions that increase with larger workloads, having a recovery regime (and sticking to it), tailoring training to your demands instead of just doing what everyone else does, having cycles and periodisation in your schedule, gradual progression in new movements and routines and so on. Steps such as these can go a huge way to preventing injury but many are neglected or misunderstood; everyone thinks over-training and injury won't happen to them until it does.
Actually, that attitude of some fighters can be the biggest problem leading to injury. An overly macho approach to training where everything has to be high intensity, ignoring minor injures (which then become major injuries!) and avoidance of injury prevention methods is common. It's almost as if acknowledging they may get injured is admitting weakness.
And of course the biggest problem is the cycle of being off the mat due to injury then doing too much when you come back, getting injured again and being out some more. It can be so hard to stay disciplined when coming back, both for the recreational martial artist who is simply enthusiastic to be training again, or the pro who might need to be back in the game and get that next pay cheque.
Basically, injuries happen, but being better educated about prevention and smarter about training would make it happen less.
Greg Nelson (Head coach at The Academy, Minneapolis, Minnesota): MMA is a serious Combat Sport made up of Boxing, Thai Boxing, Wrestling, BJJ and Submission Grappling. The contact associated with Boxing & Thai Boxing has obvious risks. Wrestling and the intense nature of the training has a lot of risk for joint and muscle injury. As a D1 wrestler, injury was common in the wrestling room. You get a bunch of high level athletes that do not want to lose and are all competing to make a spot on the team and the risks are obvious. Knee injuries and strained / pulled muscles are common. With Striking the same can be true.
Weight cutting and not resting properly also add to the problem. Now add Striking with wrestling, along with highly competitive athletes and the issues are compounded.
As a trainer of high level fighters it is a balancing act to train fighters to their potential, while at the same time keeping them healthy ... despite themselves.