Noone Should Lose a Fight Because They Are Out of Shape. 3 Types of Conditioning That Every Combat Athlete Needs to Perform at Their Best
by Corey Beasley
We have all seen a fighter gas out.
Maybe the new guy let his nerves get the best of him, but an experienced fighter should never falter.
Being in shape shows people that you take your job seriously, you respect yourself, your competition and the promotion that is giving you the opportunity to compete.
I've watched enough athletes prepare for fights to realize that many are simply fooling themselves. They miss practices, sleep in, stay out late, cheat on their diets, avoid conditioning, take too much time off and wonder why they aren't able to perform
Bottom line: When I watch a high level fighter gas out, I think its disrespectful.
In my opinion, gassing out is a sign that you didn't prepare, you weren't consistent and are not a professional. Professional athletes take their craft seriously, prepare accordingly and show up ready for battle. In order to prepare for battle, you have to realize what you are up against.
What are your strengths?
Some guys can stand and bang all day, but gas out in the clinch or fighting for the take down. Others have the ability to grind for 25 minutes and wear their opponents down. Where do you excel?
What are your weaknesses?
This might be a better question for your training partners or coaches, but it is definitely something you need to acknowledge. Where do you falter in practice? Does a fast pace wear you out, struggling for takedowns, grinding for position, etc? Uncovering these weak links in your game can help guide your training and make you a better fighter.
What does your event demand?
MMA is different than jiu jitsu, which is different than wrestling, boxing, muay thai and others. Assessing the demands of your sport will help sculpt your strength and conditioning program. Are you fighting 3 minute rounds or 5? 3 rounds or 5? Are you competing at a tournament or a single match? All of these things are important and need to be accounted for, when developing the workouts leading up to the event.
Keeping a fight on the feet is different than aggressively trying to take your opponent to the canvas. Having a clear game plan and understanding you and your opponents strength can also help you better prepare for your event.
How much experience do you have?
As many of you know, practicing and competing are two different things. Until you compete, you won't fully understand how you react mentally. Some athletes stay focused on the plan and execute, while many newbies allow nerves and adrenaline to takeover, leaving them exhausted before they ever step foot in the cage or on the mat.
How is your weight?
Making weight is part of most combat sports. Good, consistent nutrition helps you perform better and keep your weight under control. Many fighters fail to plan and stay disciplined, leaving themselves with a nasty weight cut before they weigh in. While many still believe in drastic water cuts, I believe this hurts more athletes than it helps. You could be in the best shape of your life, neglect your weight, cut too much before weigh ins and completely kill your ability to perform the next day.
MMA, jiu jitsu, wrestling and other combat sports usually use rounds or periods to divide the match. There are typically breaks in the action, lulls in activity, stale mates and other situations that are less intense.
The difficult part is making sure that an athlete is prepared for a furious pace of the feet, able to clinch and control, can explode for the takedown, as well as jockey for position on the ground.
Like I said before, many kickboxers are able to throw strikes at a relentless pace, but fall apart when they go to the ground and are forced to grind under pressure.
Jiu jitsu guys may be able to roll for 30 minutes straight, but falter when they are unable to get the takedown.
My point is that you have to be prepared for just about anything.
- You need to be strong and explosive.
- You need to have the ability to move quickly on your feet.
- You need to be strong in the clinch or during a takedown.
- You need to be able to thrive during long periods of time on the ground.
All of these positions require different muscles, different types of contractions and different types of training.
Here are a few ways to make sure you are ready:
#1 Low Intensity, Long Duration
Can you last for 30 minutes straight?
Although high intensity work has dominated the fitness world recently, lower intensity work is essential for combat athletes.
Most people use 'Roadwork' to develop this level of conditioning, but there are many ways to develop the aerobic system efficiently. At our gym we use low intensity plyos, bodyweight movements, battling ropes, towel taz, weight complexes, drilling, shadow boxing, bag work and more. The important part is to maintain and low-medium intensity for long periods of time, not let your heart rate spike and maintain the ability to speak during the exercise or drill. This will help our bodies become efficient for long periods of time and will also help us recover from bursts of effort during the match.
If you use a heart rate monitor, try keeping your bpm below 150.
*This will change for each person, but this is a general guideline for an 20-30 year old athlete.
Just like anything, developing this aerobic system takes a little time.
Lets say you are working with the battling ropes and using an alternating wave drill. The goal is to maintain speed and velocity over time, without redlining. While this may shock some people initially, you will quickly adapt and develop the conditioning needed to perform for long periods of time.
Here is a sample 6 week progression that I use to help athletes work up to doing the ropes for 20 minutes straight:
Week 1: 30 ON, 30 OFF x 10 rounds
Week 2: 35 ON, 25 OFF x 12 rounds
Week 3: 40 ON, 20 OFF x 14 rounds
Week 4: 45 ON, 15 OFF x 16 rounds
Week 5: 50 ON, 10 OFF x 18 rounds
Week 6: 20 minutes straight.
This schedule is just one example of how to develop this system. As you can see, as the weeks progress, your time under tension increases, the rest decreases and the volume increases slowly over time. Over time your body will adapt and become more efficient.
You can do this type of training once or three times per week, depending on your goals.
#2 Medium Intensity, Lactic Work
This type of work is most commonly associated with burning muscles and lasts between 30-90 seconds.
We are unable to perform at or near 100% for this period of time, but the intensity is still high.
Common drills or events for this category include 400 meter run, running hills, shooting repeatedly or defending takedowns, higher intensity drilling or bag work, resisted exercise circuits or similar.
One of the most infamous tests at our gym is the 1 minute Versaclimber challenge. You could use running, Schwinn Airdyne bike or other, but we have found that the Versaclimber is simple and effective. The Versaclimber measures how far you go, so it is easy to measure results and progress over time. Although your lungs and legs will hate me, you will quickly improve over time and if you break 300ft, we want to hear about it.
Here's UFC fighter, Ian McCall and Bellator standout, Shannon Slack performing a 30sec interval:
In order to develop this system over time, lets break down a simple training schedule.
Week 1: 30 ON, 1 min OFF x 5 rounds
Week 2: 30 ON, 45 OFF x 6 rounds
Week 3: 30 ON, 30 OFF x 7 rounds
Week 4: 30 ON, 25 OFF x 8 rounds
Week 5: 30 ON, 20 OFF x 9 rounds
Week 6: 30 ON, 15 OFF x 10 rounds
In this example, we have kept the work period the same and slowly reduced the rest period over 6 weeks. You should be able to move faster and recover more efficiently as time passes.
#3 High Intensity, Short Duration Work
Speed and power kills.
I tell my athletes all the time, that if they practice at 75-85 percent, they will gas out when they have to push at 100%.
Just about anything that takes less than 10 seconds can be done as hard and as fast as possible. Our bodies are designed with a fight or flight response mechanism that allows us to haul ass or have super strength for short periods of time.
The most common exercise for this time frame is sprinting, which is awesome, but I am going to show you an alternative. That said, I would highly recommend you involve sprinting into your training schedule.
At our gym we use an inch and a half rope that measures 100 feet long. We attach one end to a heavy bag, sled or other anchor. Next, the athlete grabs the free end of the rope and attempts to make up and down waves that carry to the anchor point. We call this exercise the 100' tsunami.
The tsunami works the entire body and requires a unique combination of strength and speed to carry the waves to the anchor point over time. Developed by John Brook field, he has used this drill with the military's elite, some of the best fighters in the world and many more.
For the 100' tsunami drill, here is one way to implement it into your training:
Week 1: 8 sec ON, 1-2 min OFF x 8 rounds
Week 2: 8 sec ON, 1-2min OFF x 10 rounds
Week 3: 10 sec ON, 1-2 min OFF x 10 rounds
Week 4: 10 sec ON, 1-2 min OFF x 12 rounds
Week 5: 12 sec ON, 1-2 min OFF x 12 rounds
Week 6: 12 sec ON, 1-2 min OFF x 14 rounds
Remember, the waves should be continuous and reach the anchor point every time. The long durations of rest in this example allow you to recover enough to repeat that explosive effort every round. Just like in a fight, you might have multiple situations that require this type of explosive effort, so this will help you develop the cardio for those explosive moments.
NOTE: We use 50 foot ropes all the time for this drill, both 1.5 inch and 2 inch diameters. Obviously the thicker and longer the rope is, the harder it is to carry waves to the anchor point over time. If you do use shorter ropes, you have to give these drills a 100% effort, moving as fast as you possibly can up and down. These are not rope slams, with a break in the action. This is a continuous output of energy.
Combat sports require the endurance to last 25 minutes, the ability to grind under tension and the agility and quickness to explode when the opportunity arrives. Just like technique, we cannot be one trick ponies. An athlete that only uses slow, long periods of low intensity cardio to prepare for a fight, will miss out. On the flip side, many athletes only perform high intensity intervals and wonder why they fail to perform during competition. The key is understanding that you must train all three categories and develop a well rounded, efficient cardio program. That way, when the time comes, you know that you are truly prepared for anything!
Got questions? Leave a comment.