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The Relationships Between External and Internal Training Loads in Mixed Martial Arts

Christopher Kirk, Carl Langan-Evans, David R. Clark, and James P. Morton

Purpose: As a multidisciplined combat sport, relationships between external and internal training loads and intensities of mixed martial arts (MMA) have not been described. The aim of this study was to determine the external loads and intensities of MMA training categories and their relationship to internal loads and intensities. Methods: Twenty MMA athletes (age = 23.3 [5.3] y, mass = 72.1 [7.2] kg, stature = 171.5 [8.4] cm) were observed for 2 consecutive weeks. Internal load and intensity (session rating of perceived exertion [sRPE]) were calculated using the Foster RPE for the session overall (sRPE-training load [TL]) and segmented RPE (segRPE-TL) for each training category: warm-up, striking drills, wrestling drills, Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) drills, striking sparring, wrestling sparring, BJJ sparring, and MMA sparring. External load and intensity were measured via Catapult OptimEye S5 for the full duration of each session using accumulated Playerload (PLdACC) and PLdACC per minute (PLdACC·min−1). Differences in loads between categories and days were assessed via Bayesian analysis of variance (BF10 ≥ 3). Predictive relationships between internal and external variables were calculated using Bayesian regression. Results: Session overall sRPE-TL = 448.6 (191.1) arbitrary units (AU); PLdACC = 310.6 (112) AU. Category segRPE-TL range = 33.8 (22.6) AU (warm-up) to 122.8 (54.6) AU (BJJ drills). Category PLdACC range = 44 (36.3) AU (warm-up) to 125 (58.8) AU (MMA sparring). Neither sRPE-TL nor PLdACC changed between days. PLdACC was different between categories. Evidence for regressions was strong-decisive except for BJJ drills (BF10 = 7, moderate). R 2 range = .50 to .77, except for warm-up (R 2 = .17), BJJ drills (R 2 = .27), BJJ sparring (R 2 = .49), and session overall (R 2 = .13). Conclusions: While MMA training categories may be differentiated in terms of external load, overall session external load does not change within or between weeks. Resultant regression equations may be used to appropriately plan MMA technical/tactical training loads.