BRIEF REVIEW: The physical demands of mixed martial arts: A narrative review using the ARMSS model to provide a hierarchy of evidence


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

Journal of Sports Sciences 2020;23-1


The optimal preparation for any sport depends in part on the known determinants of success and the methods employed to achieve these determinants. As mixed martial arts (MMA) is a relatively new sport, the research base related to its performance factors is still in its infancy.

The Applied Research Model for the Sports Sciences (ARMSS) was proposed by Bishop in 2008 (1) as a method of structuring the evidence-gathering process. It consists of eight interacting stages that guide the logical progression of research by building on the findings of each stage. 


Papers relating to the characteristics of MMA athletes and relative performance in the sport, as well as the effects of MMA training, were grouped in accordance with the ARMSS. 62 studies were categorized in the following stages:

  1. Defining the Problem – 11
  2. Descriptive Research – 25
  3. Predictors of Performance – 21
  4. Experimental testing of predictors – 5
  5. Determinants of key performance predictors – 0
  6. Efficacy studies – 0
  7. Barriers to uptake – 0
  8. Implementation studies – 0



  • A great deal of variability exists in the research methods into the characteristics of MMA athletes
  • Minimal research regarding training loads. Most done via questionnaire, and a huge amount of variability within
  • Adaptations to MMA training not thoroughly investigated. Minimal focus on training types 
  • Competition and training demands measured through accelerometry promising for future monitoring
  • Studies show high player load, comparable with Australian rules football. Work/rest (W/R) ratio of 1:2-1:4. Shorter bursts of work on average 9 seconds, longer bursts 21 seconds.
  • W/R ratio depends on division
  • Advantage to being younger. When older fighters lose, often due to strikes. 
  • Anthropometrics not related to success (unlike other combat sports) 



At present the current body of MMA performance literature does not satisfy the requirements of the ARMSSThe ARMSS is only one model of collecting and organising sports science data, but may be a useful tool to guide further investigation to aid in the continued development of the sport.


  1. Bishop D. An applied research model for the sport sciences. Sports Med. 2008;38(3):253–263.



About the author

Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert is a registered physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Latrobe university (Melbourne, Australia) and a master’s degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) from Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia).

A 3rd Dan black belt in Shinkyokushinkai Karate under the World Karate Organisation (WKO), Sam participated for over 20 years in full contact competition, winning multiple state and national titles, and culminating in a 4th place in the heavyweight division of the Shinkyokushinkai World Cup in 2009.

As the co-founder and clinical director of Club 360, the premier multi-disciplinary health and fitness center in Tokyo, Japan, Sam has combined his practical experience with an in-depth study of sports performance in relation to combat sports, and strives to help other combat athletes reach their full competitive potential, whilst at the same time decreasing injury risk and increasing competition and training potential.

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By Sam Gilbert