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M.M.A. : Training adaptation to competition with Borg scale

by A. Manolova | 25 Janvier 2019

MMA, fight, boxing, competition, match, sport, effort, lactate, resistance, training, workout, borg scale, science
Illustration du MMA

Figure 1. M.M.A. allows every combat style.

The M.M.A. or Mixed Martial Arts is a fighting sport that aims to synthesize all martial styles in order to be as effective as possible in combat. Thus, fighters can use striking techniques with practically all parts of the body, projection techniques and submission techniques (ie, keys and chokes). The fight begins standing but it is possible to continue on the ground. Victories are generally won either by K.O., by submission, or by referee's decision. Despite the violent image attached to the M.M.A., this discipline has become highly regulated and has become professional since the 2000s.

Fighting sports require high qualities and combined strength and endurance. In M.M.A., a fight consists of 3 rounds of 5 minutes each with 1 minute of rest. The energy demand that such a fight requires is very important. Indeed, the intensity of the strikes given and received and the techniques used require the mobilization of a large muscular mass in short and intense efforts, resulting in a high concentration of blood lactate (see note below).

Blood Lactate (Cliquez pour Afficher / Masquer)

Molécule de lactate

To form energy from glucose or muscle glycogen, the body can use anaerobic glycolysis. This process supports intense efforts of greater duration than those supported by the ATP-PC system, schematically.

At the end of the process, H+ ion (proton) is produced and the remaining compound binds with sodium (Na +) or potassium (K +) ions to form a salt, the lactate.

If you only have to remember one thing, it is that in the end, the concentration of blood lactate is an indicator of the solicitation of anaerobic glycolysis. That is, it reflects in a certain way the intensity of the effort. The higher the blood concentration, the greater the effort intensity.

Echelle de Borg

Figure 2. the Borg scale to evaluate the rate of perceived exertion.

If the lactate level is a method to evaluate the level of effort intensity, there are field tools, such as questionnaires or scales, which are easy to set up and which make it possible to estimate the rate of perceived exertion by the athlete during the effort and/or immediately thereafter. The Borg scale is a very famous and widely used tool in the sports world whose scientific validation has been demonstrated.

The Borg scale is a scale numbered from 6 to 20. To these values are associated verbal anchors that define the rate of perceived exertion by the athlete (Fig. 2). Used correctly, this tool will allow coaches or athletes to determine training zones according to the desired intensity. It is also possible to associate with this scale cardiac frequencies, blood lactate concentrations, etc.

The Study

In 2009, a team of American researchers from the University of Montana, USA, investigated M.M.A. and the training intensity and compare it to that of a national level match. The purpose of this descriptive study was twofold :

  1. Determine energy requirements in M.M.A.
  2. Determine the effectiveness of pre-competition training

For this, 4 fighters participated in this study, only 1 athlete had already participated in an official competition of M.M.A. During 3 weeks before the competition, lactatemia (i.e., blood lactate concentration) and rate of perceived exertion were measured in 6 training sessions. Measurements were taken within 2 minutes after cessation of effort. During each training session, the fighters performed 3 different circuits :

  1. Circuit 1 : Specific M.M.A. work including shadow boxing (i.e., without a partner) and resistance training exercises (e.g., push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, vertical jumps, lunges, etc.)
  2. Circuit 2 : Specific M.M.A. work in 2 rounds of 4 min with 1 min of rest.
  3. Circuit 3 : H.I.I.T. on cyclo-ergometer, 20s maximum effort followed by 10s of active recovery for 4 minutes.

Measurements of lactatemia and rate of perceived exertion were repeated just after the match.

Results & Analyzes

Few studies have been published about M.M.A., and although this study is only descriptive, it shows how much training and competition in this type of sport are physically demanding. Blood lactate levels and rate of perceived exertion are very important as shown in Table 1 :

Most of the fights were completed in the first round, which is very common, since in all 17 fights in this competition, 14 ended between 9s and 4 min 42s.

Of the 4 subjects, 3 had lactatemia levels higher than those measured after the fight. This assumes that the type of circuit practiced in training allows to mimic the efforts of a real fight. Concerning the rate of perceived exertion, they were also higher or equal to the one measured after an actual match. Nevertheless, it is important to note that some fighters have finished the match in the first round, which implies a lower level of effort. It seems that in these athletes, lactatemia levels correspond well to the rate of perceived exertion.

In addition to physical abilities, fight sports require great technical and tactical abilities. While the two are not directly related, it is important to keep in mind that maintaining a high technical level and keeping ideas clear are relatively easier when physical fitness is not a problem. Therefore, the training must be as demanding or more than the fight so as to support more easily the high intensities, highlighted by the strong lactatemia observed.

Practical Applications

The constant common to all sports is that the training must be adapted as much as possible to the requirements of the competition. Fight sports such as M.M.A. require significant strength and endurance abilities but also a high level of technical and tactical expertise. This study shows that using a simple tool such as the Borg scale, it is possible for coaches and physical trainers to test the rate of perceived exertion of their athletes. It is thus very easy to obtain reference values in competition and during training. These values can then serve as benchmarks to adapt the training.


  1. Amtmann JA, Amtmann KA and Spath WK. Lactate and rate of perceived exertion responses of athletes training for and competing in a mixed martial arts event. J Strength Cond Res 22 (2) : 645-647, 2008.

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