Understanding exactly why a big fighter isn’t always stronger is crucial for fight performance. It explains why some fighters perform well in their weight class and others don’t, and informs how you can best train to dominate your weight class too.

As we’ve seen in the previous two videos, it’s speed that kills! However, the ability to generate the highest possible striking velocity is first dependent on foundation strength. But in order to achieve an effective strength-to-weight ratio, you must build the right kind of size!

For a big fighter, what’s the right kind of size? What’s the wrong kind of size?

That’s the focused topic for today…. Let’s dig into this now.

by Don Heatrick

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The Right Kind Of Big Fighter

In this episode we’ll break down exactly why a big fighter isn’t always stronger, and what the ‘right kind of big’ is for a fighter to become a dominant force in their weight class.

In the last video I explained that more muscle mass means a greater potential for strength, which is why we have both weight classes and male/female categories in combat sports, to keep things safe and fair.

‘More muscle equals more strength’ is generally true, but not always. How you train makes a big difference to whether the muscle mass you gain makes you stronger, or is merely bulk that slows you down and fatigues you.

Even using identical exercises, resistance training produces drastically different results depending on the weight used, the number of sets and reps, the duration of rest intervals, and the number of times a week movements are trained.

Before we explore how we get the results we want as a fighter, in this episode we must first build a basic understanding of the structure of muscle fibres. And how this relates to the strength you can expect to see as a fighter for your given muscle size.

Every muscle fibre consists of many parallel, contractile strands called myofibrils. Surrounding these myofibrils is a volume of non-contractile protein and semi fluid substance called sarcoplasm.

big fighter isn't always stronger muscle fibre

A muscle can gain size (hypertrophy) in two different ways, and your training can target one or the other, or a combination of the two. Bodybuilders target both types of growth, they just want to be as big as possible. But fighters must be more specific, or you’ll hinder performance with non-functional bulk that’ll slow you down without increasing strength.

big fighter isn't always stronger functional strength

Different Kinds Of Big Fighter

Myofibrillar hypertrophy results in an increase in the number of contractile myofibrillar strands, making the muscle denser and able to contract with more force. If you’re going to put on muscle mass, this is the kind that we want. You’ll get both bigger and stronger.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy results from an increase in the amount of sarcoplasm surrounding the myofibrils. This supports greater strength endurance but doesn’t make you stronger. We don’t want this kind of growth, it’s bulk that slows you down and messes up your strength-to-weight ratio.

It’s also important to point out you can increase neuromuscular efficiency – that is, make you better at recruiting the muscle fibres you’ve already got, rather than building more muscle. You get stronger without getting heavier, increasing your strength-to-weight ratio so you can move faster and be more powerful.

big fighter isn't always stronger myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy

So you can see bigger isn’t always stronger, how you train hugely affects the kind of size you build, the amount of strength it can produce, and the effect on your speed and KO power as a fighter. Exactly how you train to achieve increased strength, either with or without muscle gain, and avoid wasteful muscle bulk, is the topic for the next video.

In the meantime, check out the Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint in the further resources below, if you want to better understand how to piece all this training together to become a better fighter.

Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

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