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UFC Performance Institute to tackle injury prevention with Kitman Labs partnership

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Injuries that force fighters off cards are one of the biggest problems facing mixed martial arts today. It’s bad for the UFC’s business, a deterrent for fans who want to plunk down their hard-earned money for the product, and — most importantly — costly to a fighters’ wallet.

With that in mind, the brand-new UFC Performance Institute has brokered a multi-year partnership with Kitman Labs, which dubs itself “the world’s most advanced athlete optimization system,” officials announced Wednesday.

The idea is to gather injury data on the nearly 600 athletes on the UFC roster to find target areas to address. With that information the trainers at the UFC Performance Institute and the fighters’ MMA coaches might be able to accurately alter methods of working out to reduce injuries. This kind of science does not exist yet in MMA, though it’s gaining steam in other sports.

“It means we can start for the first time really understanding how injuries are occurring in MMA, what are the specific mechanisms that athletes are seeing injuries happening,” UFC Performance Institute vice president of performance Duncan French told MMA Fighting. “And then obviously the nature, the body parts and the duration of injuries, etc. So, we can be a little more intentional in the work we do through the PI in influencing and educating the community on the best ways to go about minimizing injuries.”

In addition to injury prevention, Kitman Labs also tracks data on athlete performance. It works with the Australian National Rugby team, among other top-tier sports groups. Per a release, Kitman Labs will allow UFC PI trainers to set up personalized programs for athletes to use remotely at their home gyms, away from the Las Vegas facility. The fighters can share information with the UFC PI trainers about their progress, or potential injury signs, with the hope of tracking training and health improvements.

“We are honored to work with UFC to bring advanced science and analytics to this world-class sport and these incredible athletes,” Kitman Labs founder and CEO Stephen Smith said in a statement. “The UFC is showing a unique and progressive attitude by proactively investing in protecting the welfare and longevity of their talent. The one-stop shop and remote coaching approach will propel them to the forefront of sport science and medicine and we are delighted to help them become global leaders in this space.”

The deal fits into what the UFC Performance Institute was designed to do: help UFC athletes maximize their athletic potential at no cost to them. The $14 million facility has only been open since May and was already home base for Conor McGregor’s training camp for his blockbuster boxing match against Floyd Mayweather this summer.

The UFC PI is an investment for the UFC into the health and performance of their athletes with an eye toward the future and the evolution of mixed martial arts. The addition of Kitman Labs is the latest example of that, French said.

“I really think it’s a perfect alignment with what the athletes, who are independent contractors, want,” French said. “Our ambitions are the same. So by using the PI to have conversations around how you’re training, what’s the best approach to training, how much is too much, where are you seeing injuries, can we give you some insights that you didn’t necessarily have previously, so you’ve got a heads up and you can avoid malpractice or things that are gonna put you at risk at certain times in your fight camp.”

The kinds of things fighters will be asked will include, how hard was a training session and how long did you train for. The more data the UFC Performance Institute and Kitman can compile, the more trends could emerge. French said he believes based on anecdotal evidence that knee injuries are the most prevalent in MMA — but he really doesn’t know for sure based on science. That, he said, will hopefully change.

“We’re trying to get to an intrinsic understanding of physiological stress and an extrinsic understanding of time motion characteristics,” said French, who came to the UFC from the University of Notre Dame. “How hard did you feel a session was? How long was your session? It gives us a real understanding of training load. By looking at training load across time in MMA, we can really start piecing out what the rigors of training are on our athletes and how we can go about supporting better education for training.”

Injuries will always be part of MMA. In order to prepare to fight, there has to be some actual fighting in training camp. But improvements can be made across the board, to keep those high-profile fights together and keep the athletes healthy and making money. Fighters don’t get paid unless they compete and that’s hard to do when you’re often injured.

“We’re never gonna prevent injuries,” French said. “That’s not just MMA — that’s every sport. What we need to be doing is giving to due diligence to try and minimize it.”

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