More and more we are hearing things like 'curse' and 'injury bug' when talking about a recently injured fighter or fight card that has been watered down by a hurt athlete. It is not only frustrating but sadly something that we have grown to expect anytime a favorable fight or event is announced. Injuries whether acute or chronic are happening much too often and most of us as well as the MMA organizations are becoming numb to it. Injuries are plaguing cards so much anymore it has become an everyday thing and that in itself is a whole different issue. The problem(s) i'd like to address here is how and why injuries are happening so often and possible ways fighters and their camps can avoid and heal them better.
First off we need to look at injuries for what they are - mistakes. Injuries are mistakes whether it's a mistake of training , over training , technique , genetic , equipment , safety procedure , recovery protocols , etc. An injury can be a nagging one that could be prevented or healed rather quickly or easily but a lot of times is ignored. An injury can also be something drastic and miserable like a fracture , tear , or something really disabling. I would estimate that most injuries preventing fighters from making it to their event are preventable. Most meaning at least 51 % because when we hear some of the reports of how the injury occured it was random or sudden and many times doesn't seem to add up. A lot of times afterwards you hear in interviews or conferences that a fighter admits to having pains or problems before the injury that seemed 'minor' at the time and weren't addressed until they were exposed through a much larger trauma. I think that not only are many trainers negligent but fighters are uneducated in terms of their own bodies and training implications. That is a bad combination to have going on daily and weekly. Fighters need to learn more about their body and training and health and MMA trainers need to be more than just fight trainers. If anything trainers and coaches need to bring in top of the line certified fitness professionals. A great example of this is in arizona greg jackson has some great fitness trainers and strength and conditioning coaches working with fighters like carlos condit all the time. It should also be a priority for fighters to have someone who is specialized in fitness and functional health around them instead of someone who is predominantly a fighting coach and knows a few exercises and thinks he's a fitness professional.
Secondly I would like to list a few of the biggest and most important reasons injuries are so common among the elite MMA fighters we pay to watch.
1. ) Drastic weight cutting ( especially after rapid weight gain between fights )
This is first and foremost the largest reason for fight preventing injuries. Think about it this way , you're building a small house and all you have is bamboo , clay , elastic bands , zip ties , and rope . The bamboo is the support structure that provides shape and stability. The zip ties hold together the pieces of bamboo and the elastic holds certain parts of the bamboo so that it can move somewhat and be mobile since elastic can stretch. The rope ties certain ends of the elastic bands onto different bamboo rods to provide stablitiy to moving parts and attachment places for the elastic bands. The clay is to fill empty spaces with something soft to provide extra stability and cushion. The clay requires moisture to form and hold and protect all those different pieces and the moisture helps the bamboo stay somewhat limber as well the rope from drying out.
Then after the house is well built , you feel like it would be better if it was significantly lighter so you begin removing much of the clay and the moisture with it. The house is indeed lighter however the loss of the clay removes stability weight and moisture from the elastic and ropes causing them to snap or wear down quickly. The wearing down of the network of ropes and elastic causes imbalances in support by the ropes , bands , and zip ties. Eventually these imbalances cause an out of sync balance and foundation of the small house. The combination of a weaker balance and constant imbalances without cushion and moisture from clay eventually causes the zip ties to snap as well as the ropes to break and elastic bands to become less pliable and useful. The breaking bands ropes and zip ties allow for the bamboo to absorb too much shock from movement and hold too much weight creating an environment for severe damage in all areas.
If bamboo is bones , zip ties are ligaments , ropes are tendons and bands are muscles then clay must be fat and hydration. Thinking of our body in such a set up and build helps to realize what happens to fighters who perhaps only fight 2-3 times a year at most. Such fighters take a lot of down time between fights compared to their 'camps' and during that time put on a lot of weight. This weight isn't necessarily all fat but it is quite a few pounds. After this down time the fighters begin insanely hard training regimens for an upcoming fight in a weight class their bodies aren't made for naturally - all while punishing every system to try to lose a lot of weight simultaneously. Obviously this combination is the norm for mma training and camps but it is simply not as beneficial as it is treated. When cutting down bodyweight so drastically and fast you are in a sense weakening your body. This would'nt necessarily be so dangerous for causing injuries if fighters and athletes weren't training like mad men while doing so. With a lot of hydration missing your muscles have a hard time buffering lactic acid efficiently. Without enough fat in your body and diet hormone synthesis slows down so there is less testosterone and HGH produced naturally to repair tissue and body damage. Losing so much water and fat makes bodyweight drop quickly , which in return is sensed by the body and more specifically the skeleton. The body in return decreases the amount of calcium stored in bones because the body is so light now and doesn't require so much support since it's lighter. The problem with this is that the diet used to get in fight shape and weigh in poundage is one to remove weight that is not muscle mass. This sounds great and is if you can make it to the octagon without hurting yourself in the proccess. If you don't make it there however it is because muscle mass was maintained while body mass and bone density was diminished. Doing so is simply cheating the system and has worked many fighters who can make it into weight classes where they have great size advantages etc. Cheating the system however , comes with a price. Building a fighting body with so much muscle and power while cutting down on fat and fluids very rapidly creates a potentially self destructive machine.
You get my point.
When the fighter or athlete is much stronger than his support systems it is likely that something will fail. It is as simple as that. When muscles are stronger than ligaments holding weakened bones , something with tear and or break. When tendons aren't as strong as the muscle they are connected to , it may get tore or damaged. When bones , ligaments , tendons , fascia , and various other tissues are weaker than the functioning muscles and parts of an athlete training as explosively as a pro MMA fighter , something is most definitely going to take a hit.
2. ) Lack of Cross Training.
I may be biased for this topic because of going to school for exercise physiology and fitness training certification but I think it is a good point.
According to Dr. Robert Klapper who you may have seen mention this on UFC tonight , fighters not cross training enough is a huge deal and reason why there are so many injuries seen in MMA today. Dr. Klapper is the doctor who operated on Anderson Silvas elbow and is a respected surgeon by athletes and fighters alike. On a very recent episode of UFC tonight he told Kenny Florian that a lack of cross training was a problem amongst fighters and I would have to agree. A huge reason for fighters bodies taking so much damage during training is that before camps not much is happening besides some grappling and technique work. Then from not doing much besides form and pad work etc fighters jump into a camp that is proably 80-90 % high intensity sparring and fighting workouts.
here is a link to the clip I'm speaking of ( http://www.fuel.tv/ufctonight/videos/ufc-doctor-knows-his-knees/ )
Obviously hard training , specific fight practice , and workouts are needed for good preparation in an upcoming fight. However going from 0 to 90 without a warm up or build up is a treacherous track. MMA training is already brutal but doing it after having a long layoff with little cross training , and while also weakening a body with weight cutting is pretty severe. Fighters need to stay active year round to stay healthier year round. Even if fighters won't be taking more fights per year than they normally would training camps and fight prep would actually be easier for them. Cross Training would not only help keep weight off during time between fights , but would also help to lessen the consistency of damage done to specific joints and tissues done through strictly fight training. Below is an example of a year that could cause injuries and problems and a year that I believe would help prevent such issues and work well for fighters and their performances.
Fighter X- welterweight
Wingspan: 74 inches
'Normal' year setup ( 3 fights .) fights on April 2 - July 22 - November 12 .
Weekly sparring and a lot of grappling through January and February.
Fight camp starts in Feb and runs through March.
Weight cut starts at the end of March for the April fight.
Almost 20 pounds is lost from last week of March to the fight on April 2.
After fight in April fighter relaxes quite a bit while still sparring somewhat and grappling until mid May.
Mid May fighter starts new training camp .
In about 10 days before the fight in July the fighter loses around 15-18 pounds to make welterweight while trying to maintain strength etc.
After the fight the fighter rests and relaxes gaining around 20-25 pounds before doing any real hard training again.
This repeated until the end of the year and into the next years.
- - -
Cross Training theory year set-up. Same fight dates etc.
January and February Crossfit workouts and new striking work.
March finish cleaning up diet and include yoga into training.
Middle of march until fight in April transfer to fight specific training and gradual weight loss and cardio work.
Only 9 pounds are needed to be lost leading up to weigh ins. Fight April 2
Rest until April 12th or so and begin elevation training or long distance running through May.
Clean up diet steadily through May and add aquatics training sauna yoga and karate.
June begin plyometrics and regular deep tissue massages along with building up to training camp.
Weight cut begins at the beginning of July and only 6 pounds are needed to be lost 3 days before weigh ins.
Repeat such patterns and use different training regimens to compliment the fighting practices year round.
I believe the Cross Training methodology would require a little more discipline spread over a year rather than agonizing weight cuts and starvation for shorts bursts etc. Allowing the body to fluctuate so severely between fights and camps and down time is very strenuous amd potentially dangerous. Hopefully as the sport grows more and more of these things will be taken under consideration and really looked at. Nick Diaz as ridiculous as he can be often does triathalons to compliment his training between fights and probably never has any trouble with weight cuts. Nick isn't the only fighter to cross training but there needs to be more of them in my opinion.
http://strong-athlete.com/ufc-fighter-jason-macdonald-talks-crossfit-for-mma.html - this is another good video to watch as far as complimentary training.
3. ) The UFC could do more to prevent and heal injuries.
This is purely an opinion obviously and would obviously have pros and cons but lets be honest , the UFC has more than enough money to help fighters additionally. Especially the fighters without name value and the momentum they need to have their career moving. I think if the UFC had a hand in offering different fight camps better technology for recuperation and individuals for rehab and fitness training things would be much better off. Obviously the top fight camps around the world have the best trainers and best insight etc , but they also have the best equipment and overall staff and resources. The UFC should spend a little extra money making sure that as many fighters and camps that they are in business with , have top of line technology and health staff year round to keep fighters healthy and potentially better ( better fighters = better fights = more ppv buys etc. ) Every gym should be allowed to possess the high level facility like the one that rampage trained at for Jon Jones. The MusclePharm sports center.
Here are a few things the UFC could afford to give to camps and fighters
1. ) hyperbaric oxygen tanks / sleeping bags.
2. ) Fitness professionals whether trainers , nutritonists , strength and conditioning coaches and more.
3. ) Athlete specific physicians
4. ) Ice baths - hot tubs
5. ) Athletic performance supplementation ( I know MusclePharm is partnered with the UFC - they have a good line up. )
6. ) New techniques and procedures to heal injuries i.e. blood spinning. Blood spinning is a popular technique being used in europe now to heal injuries much faster and effectively. Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez both have used it pretty recently.
BLOOD SPINNING : http://www.orthohealing.com/tag/blood-spinning/
For me the final reason for so many injuries happening :
4. ) Banned substances and PEDs
With the use of steroids being very prevalent and pretty undetected if you ask me , it's hard to tell how much possible strain that drugs and PEDs are causing fighters bodies. The UFC is allowing legal steroid use through TRT prescriptions and a lot of times for hypogonadism. Well of course fighters who starve themself or who have used steroids in the past have hypogonadism. I think the UFC has to make things black and white with testing protocols and rules and regulations as soon as possible. To a degree PEDs are supposed to help recover. However when they are used to keep muscle on and strength through rough weight cuts it just makes the body imbalanced and too strong for its own good so to speak. In my opinion the UFC should test rigorously and scientifically sound. They should have the rules laid out plainly and not mess around with loopholes or different athletic commissions codes. If the UFC wants fighters to not only be safe but 'clean' , then they should really take things seriously and have an accurate and comprehensive system in place for testing.
If they don't want to look for various substances which are always changing and being masked , then they should test for levels of different naturally occuring blood substrates. Instead of testing for PEDs or banned substances ( obviously narcotics and other things are a whole different story. ) they should test and determine fair levels of certain body chemicals. Just like test ratios the UFC could come up ratios and levels that are 'fair' and healthy for hormones and peptides etc. For a me a reasonable testing in such a way would look at the levels of four things and determine an acceptable ratio or concentration of all.
1.) Free testosterone levels
2.) IGF-1&2 levels
3.) norepinephrine and epinephrine levels
4.) EPO levels
Although I could go on and on about these different topics and opinions , I think this is a pretty good start on what can and should be done by both fighters and major MMA organizations to prevent injuries and protect fighters.
Let me hear everyone's thoughts about any all parts.