Physiotherapist and MMA client pose for photo

What a well trained physiotherapist can do for MMA Performance | The Fight Physio Blog

“If you perform 5% less on a daily basis due to inefficiencies in your training, you’ll be losing out on an accumulative 182.50% over the course of 1 year, and over the average 20 year career of an athlete, they wonder why there are some people that are that much better than them even with the same hours of training each week”.

Importance of Physiotherapy for Combat Athletes

Gabriel is a sports physiotherapist based in Auckland, New Zealand. His credentials include a Bachelor in Health Science Physiotherapy, Postgraduate Certification in Sports Medicine, and Postgraduate in Western Acupuncture. He runs Physio-Logic, a physiotherapy company with multiple clinic locations across Auckland. His resume of clientele includes multiple athletes from a wide variety of sporting disciplines including rugby, rugby league, motorcycle racing, triathlon, badminton, power lifting, strongman, jiu jitsu, boxing, kickboxing and MMA. Over the last few years, he has focused his work towards combat sports, and a few of the athletes he has worked with early on in their combat sports careers have now become some of the most well known combat athletes in the world, including Dan Hooker and Israel Adesanya.

Asking a physiotherapist if an athlete needs physiotherapy is the same as asking a barber if you need a haircut – of course you do!

Jokes aside – absolutely, physiotherapy is an integral part of the training and success of an athlete.

Like nutrition, strength training, conditioning, drills, mat time and everything else, every gain you can get is a higher chance of success. Giving up small potential gains on a weekly basis can add up over the course of many years. For example, if you bought a coffee everyday and it cost you $4.50. Giving your barista a $5 note and telling them that they can keep the change is only a small difference of $0.50. However, $0.50 daily over 365 days is $182.50, or about 40 coffees more you could have bought. I’m not giving you financial advice on whether to tip your barista or not. But in training, if you perform 5% less on a daily basis due to inefficiencies in your training, you’ll be losing out on an accumulative 182.50% over the course of 1 year, and over the average 20 year career of an athlete, they wonder why there are some people that are that much better than them even with the same hours of training each week. Servicing your body may not seem like a top priority, but to ensure it moves efficiently, definitely invest time in its maintenance.

What exactly does a session with The Fight Physio entail?

Most people may think that a physiotherapist massages the body and shows you exercise. You are not wrong, like the same way the colour of a house is white – if you leave out the colour of the roof, the doors, the trims and the interior.

Physiotherapy has a lot of aspects of care, most of which fit within the following:

  • If you have a current injury, we will address what is not working or concussion deficits, and attempt to reduce the pain or symptoms and improve your function so that you can move better.
  • We look at how you body moves, and aim to correct it – are each muscle structure of that movement doing its role in the movement? Is any muscle working harder or lesser than it should?
  • We assess inefficiencies in your movement and work towards correcting them – Are you driving your movement with the correct muscle groups, or are they being hindered?
  • We check your breathing technique – You can go days without eating, hours without drinking, but you will not be able to last minutes without breathing. When was the last time you checked if you are breathing as efficiently as you can?

We use the variety of skills that we have to ensure that you are the best version of yourself that you can be. This can include massage, exercises, mobilisation of joints, electrotherapy, acupuncture, needling, taping and most importantly education.

How does a UFC fighter recover between training sessions during fight camp?

Movement is key. As you can see from their schedule, they train approximately 3-4 hours most days of the week. There is only so much time your heart rate can spike before your training becomes less efficient. However, to reduce load through the muscles, the best thing you can do is light gentle movements. The fighters find various ways to do so. This includes teaching striking drills, walking their dogs, or to head out for gentle mountain biking trails. On top of that, they attend their maintenance appointments, including our physiotherapy sessions, acupuncture sessions, chiropractors, massage therapists and eat cleanly.

How does a UFC fighter manage injuries during fight camp?

No individual is perfect. Everyone can be improved, and any pain or contusion sustained can turn a specific or a set of muscles off. With muscles turning off, weakness is bound to ensue. An injury is usually a result of a weakness that they may pick up in that particular muscle group. We aim to pick these weaknesses up before they become an injury in the body through regular and specific functional tests set out for them. During fight camp, we maintain regular appointments to address rehabilitation goals that we are aiming to achieve. As we see them regularly, they are encouraged to bring up any new sprains, strains or inefficiencies they are currently experiencing or have picked up recently. It is much easier and faster to address the injury or weakness in the first few days, as supposed to letting that injury prolong and the body compensating for weaknesses sustained.

How does a UFC fighter prevent injuries during fight camp?

As above, injuries are a result of weakness or the body’s inability to handle the load being put through the body. If a car runs into your leg and the bone breaks, the bone was too weak for the force going through your bone. Ideally, these fighters are not getting hit by cars, but the impact endured from various angles may lead to injuries or inhibition of muscles groups. If a muscle is inhibited, their ability to stabilise the structures will be compromised, which can lead to an injury. Our goal is to identify any weaknesses before they become injuries. Regular assessment and sets of rehabilitation protocols can identify and prevent weaknesses from becoming injuries.

Does the treatment of a UFC fighter change during fight camp?

The athletes that I have the pleasure of working with do not really go out of fight camp. The longest I have seen someone out of their regular training routine is a couple of weeks immediately after a fight. The team camaraderie means that after a fighter’s fight, they are back at the gym the next day helping their fellow teammates prepare for their fight camps. Because of this dedication, it means that they are consistently in a fight camp all year round.

How does the treatment of a UFC fighter change during fight week?

During fight week, their training is mostly done. Fight week is recovery mode, which goes back to the earlier question, movement is key. Keep the body moving doing light drills or walks. Our physiotherapy sessions are targeted at ensuring all the muscles are working well and addressing any last minute niggles by loosening or facilitating muscles and joints.

What is the role of a physio for a UFC fighter on fight day?

On fight day, keeping the fighter in focus is key. There are plenty of distractions, attractions, and attention they have to deal with. All fighters are human, and stress markers are certainly increased. If fight week has gone smoothly, we concentrate on breathing techniques, limbering up the joints, and reassurances that the body is working efficiently. A few muscles tighten when the body is undergoing stress. Releasing these muscles with soft tissue mobilisations to increase blood flow also helps with the warm up process prior to them heading out to fight.

Gabriel Tan – Head Physiotherapist Physio-Logic NZ @the_fightphysio