After a grueling training camp, you see your favorite fighter dominate in the ring or cage night in, night out. They’ve constantly managed to demolish the opposition, leaving them looking like an unstoppable force of a human.
It makes you wonder how these modern-day gladiators prepare for an elite-level prizefight. How does an individual even begin to develop both the physical and mental fortitude for such a high-stakes contest that can end in humiliation or jubilation?
Dear reader, we’re here to take you through the inner workings of a fighter’s training camp. I have gone through the rigorous process for amateur mixed martial arts fights, but these are the usual steps in all levels of competition.
What Goes On In Training Camp
Many of you have seen training videos of elite fighters online. You see them jumping, hitting the bag, lifting weights, and doing other conditioning exercises, a lot of which are explosive.
Yes, these are part of the usual training camp routine. But we will go on a deeper dive to paint a better picture of what happens.
The Approach to Training Camp
The primary difference between training during the off-season and doing an actual camp is the purpose. Off-season training is about learning new skills and adding weapons to the arsenal. Camps are about further honing the existing tools in the shed.
During those eight weeks, fighters polish their strengths and work on their weaknesses. The saying ‘Why fix it if it ain’t broken?’ applies here. Adding new techniques can only disrupt the existing game plan.
The approach to training camp is also usually what separates lower-ranked, less-experienced competitors and seasoned, elite-level fighters. Those just at the beginning of their journey are still finding out what works best for them. For this, fighters take a generic approach to see what sticks. Adjustments are later made, depending on how the performance went, win or lose.
Preparations during training camp, of course, will also depend on the type of competition. Boxing matches focus on punches, while Muay Thai bouts include kicks, knees, and elbow strikes.
Training for MMA fights is more rigorous because it combines different disciplines for striking and grappling. To accommodate this, competitors usually train twice a day.
As fighters climb the ranks, their approach to training camp likewise changes. They should have a more well-rounded skill set and a stronger foundation of the basics at this level. The slight downside of that is opponents can now dissect their techniques to find patterns and exploit potential holes. But that’s all part of the game.
Intensity and pace begin to taper in the final two weeks of camp to avoid significant injuries. No fighter enters a contest at 100%, so a few dings and bruises are expected. But you don’t want to go in there with a compromised knee or a dislocated shoulder.
Sparring In Fight Camp
Sparring is a time-honored tradition aimed at getting fighters battle-tested. It puts them in a combat situation and allows them to react and apply the techniques they’ve learned in real-time.
But gone are the times of brutal sparring wars in gyms where one person goes home with nothing but a concussion. These days, coaches take a more systematic approach, basing their sparring strategies on how they’ve studied the opponent’s tendencies.
Sparring is a necessary evil for those who decide to compete. It’s a way for fighters at the novice and intermediate levels to get their feet wet and feel things firsthand.
But for those who’ve been doing it for a long time, sparring is avoided to minimize the number of hits to the head. And longevity and maintaining one’s mental faculties should be a priority if you’re a veteran in the game.
Many fighters would tell you that the weighing scale is a formidable opponent. It’s the first obstacle they’ll have to contend with, and many of them have yet to be successful, especially in mixed martial arts.
That’s because there are wider disparities in weight classes for MMA. If the lightweight division, for example, has a 155-pound limit, the next weight class at welterweight has a 170-pound limit.
That puts many fighters in an odd place, forcing them to fight at a lower weight class. Other competitors do the same, but their goal is more about gaining the upper hand by being the bigger fighter in a smaller division.
Enter weight-cutting. It’s a long-standing tradition for fight camp that’s usually practiced in high school and collegiate wrestling, and as recent studies have shown, it can be detrimental to an individual’s health.
Water loading is one of the most common weight-cutting practices, and here’s how it works: During the final week before fight night, the athlete begins to consume eight liters or more than 270 ounces of water. The amount gradually decreases as days pass. By the final day before the weigh-ins, the amount of water reduces to just a liter for the entire day.
As water intake increases, the body blocks vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone that maintains proper hydration levels. The lack of vasopressin tricks the body into disposing of more water through constant urination, which continues even when water intake reduces.
In short, the body sheds enough water to cause weight loss, and that’s all a fighter needs to make it through weigh-in day. They will then rehydrate right after stepping on the scale, causing them to enter fight night much heavier than they did when they weighed in.
Pundits view weight-cutting during fight camp as gaining an advantage over a supposedly smaller opposition, but it’s an accepted practice, especially in MMA. Excess dehydration also makes a fighter more susceptible to injuries and knockouts. It has caused state athletic commissions to amend their weight-cutting rules for fighters, but this tradition will likely be around for a while.
The Psychological Aspect of Fighting
The mental side of combat can be the most grueling for many competitors. They’ll have to battle self-doubt, anxiety, and impostor syndrome. Some experience burnout from the weeks of being in the gym during fight camp. And in most cases, the instability bleeds into their performance on fight night, which usually doesn’t end well.
Many fighters consult with sports psychologists to help them deal with mental stressors. Studies have deemed it helpful for the most part, but it tends to be a fighter’s make-or-break moment to determine if they are made for their chosen profession.
Now You Know What Goes On During Training Camp
Hopefully, this piece about a fighter’s training camp provides a clear enough insight into how competitors prepare for combat. It takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to be a fighter, regardless of level. You have it, or you don’t.
And at the very least, it makes you respect and appreciate what these combatants go through.