Newton's Second Law in MMA (and why Dan Henderson can hit so hard at any weight)

I like physics. Admittedly, like most, my understanding of it gets very convoluted very quickly, but I do enjoy it. To be a successful strength coach and performance trainer, you really need to at least understand the basics, specifically Newton's Laws; they're EVERYWHERE in sports.

This was especially true at UFC Fightnight 68: Dan Henderson vs. Tim Boetsch. So much so, that I decided to make a little video breaking it down.

If you're not a video person, or for the sake of notes: let's use our (written) words and talk a little about what I mean.

Applying the SCIENCE

What should you take away from Newton's Second Law and what it has to do with strength and conditioning?

If you recall, Newton's Second Law is:

Force = Mass (x) Acceleration

 

or more concisely:

F = MA

 

For a very long time, strength coaches and trainers in nearly all conventional sports tried to build the biggest, largest, most hypertrophied muscle-bound athletes they could, operating under the idea that manipulating the mass (M) in this equation would deliver more force. They were right in many cases too. If either number in the equation is larger,  you get more force (F). Simple math.

Well, this can present problems for a fighter. One of the biggest problems is that fighters have to weigh-in. A linebacker doesn't have to hit the scale to get access to the field, but a fighter of any combat sport does.  They have specific weight classes and they have to be as strong as possible at that particular weight. How do you make someone strong without putting on (too much) weight? The answer is in the "A."

Acceleration (A) is a tricky one to train. Strength trainers and coaches, in increasing numbers, are beginning to consider it more and more as a vital variable in producing more striking and takedown power in conditioning programs.

It's also the answer as to why a 135lbs man can brutally dish out a knockout punch, and why a guy like Dan Henderson can crank out incredible blows at any weight he fights at (even down 20+ lbs from his "prime years"). 

When Dan Henderson winds up to deliver a straight right, like he famously did to Michael Bisping, he's effectively putting the optimal amount of force into the punch by how effectively he accelerates via his technique. If he committed too much (or too little) of his weight into the punch, he no longer has the optimal striking power; his "M" is reducing his "A"/acceleration. 

Combat sports are a great example of acceleration in athletic performance because both fighters are roughly the same size. Their weight class ensures and defines this, so any talk of a "size advantage" (or Mass advantage) goes away quickly. 

The Takeaway

So there you have the theory as to why we want to manipulate and put a premium on acceleration in strength training. Now, of course, we have to answer the "how do you train for increased acceleration in generating force?"

 That's a topic for a future blog or article (something I think we'll do very soon- how's that for a tease?), but for now I want you to consider something:

4 of the 5 fights on the main card ended in knockouts. The only heavyweight bout ended in a submission victory for Ben Rothwell (go figure!). All other fights were under 155lbs, and two fights were at 135lbs. Two knockouts in a row from men weighing 135lbs certainly isn't just because of size.

Let me know if you guys like breakdowns like this, and I'll do more of them. If not, I'll stick to my long-form posts on programs and techniques, like the How to Build a Better Gas Tank (if you're a Jiu Jitsu or Combat Athlete)

- Mark

 

PS:  I know some of you will say this is all relative: if each fighter weighs the same, the force (and their tolerance to absorb it) is relative. You're right. However, you are generating much more than your body weight in force if you're properly striking. If I weigh 135 lbs and deliver a punch that only has 135 lbs or less of force, the chances of that punch being a knockout blow are probably pretty low.