ALL CONDITIONING NOT CREATED EQUAL
by Matt Wiggins
Recently the subject of Conditioning has come up quite frequently in emails I’ve received, as well on various forum threads I’ve read. I want to take this article and delve into the area of conditioning.
Conditioning is one of those “big” words. By “big” words, I mean that many people use it to mean a lot of different things. The word isn’t being used incorrectly, per se, but rather being used as sort of a “catch-all” to encompass many different training ideas. I know this sounds like just boring semantics here, but stick with me for a minute…
For many (even most?) MMAists, when they think “conditioning,” they think cardiovascular conditioning. This could be in the form of LSD (Long Slow Distance) jogging, interval training/sprints, skipping rope, etc – activities that get you breathing hard.
Cardiovascular conditioning (the ability of the heart to efficiently pump blood throughout the body) and cardio-respiratory conditioning (the ability of the lungs to efficiently take in oxygen and discard carbon dioxide) go hand in hand. When you train to increase your capabilities in one, you’ll also be training to increase your capabilities in the other. (NOTE – from this point forward, I’ll call this style of conditioning “cardio.”) If you’re not sure what this is, go outside and sprint to the end of the block and back as hard as you can. Go ahead – I’ll wait…Great, you’re back. Are you breathing hard? Thought so. This is cardio conditioning.
Next, there’s muscular conditioning. This is the ability of a muscle (or group of muscles) to contract repeatedly. To get an idea of what this is like, hit the floor and do as many pushups as you can. Go ahead – I’ll wait again…how was that? You’re probably not breathing nearly as hard as you were from the sprint, but your triceps, chest, and possibly shoulders are burning like crazy right about now, huh? That’s muscular conditioning.
Then there is strength/power conditioning (NOTE – if you’re not sure what the difference between strength and power, go back and read my last article, “Dominate Your Bodyweight”). This is sort of a “step up” from muscular conditioning. Instead of your muscles having to just contract repeatedly, they have to contract at near maximal force repeatedly. If you want to test this one, too, take your 1RM – one rep maximum (i.e. – the most you can lift one time) – on the squat, and load 85-90% of it on the bar. Now, see how many times total you can squat this weight in 10 minutes (re-racking the weight is allowed). And no, I’m not waiting on you to go to the gym and come back, so just keep reading… You’ll find that you’ll be breathing hard (but not as hard as the sprint), your muscles will burn (but not like they did with the max set of pushups), but you’ll probably be more tired and have a lot less energy than at the end of either of the 1st two tests. That’s strength/power conditioning.
All three forms of conditioning are vitally important to an MMAist. A lack of any of the three can lead to losing a fight. Look at it like this – which of the following is worse:
-Breathing so hard and being so tired you can’t hold your hands up because you’re too busy sucking wind
-Your shoulders being so tired and burning so bad that it hurts too much to hold your hands up
-Being so worn out that even though you can hold your hands up, you now hit like a little girl
If you chose any of the above as being worse than the other, you’re wrong. All three give your opponent a GIANT opening to win the fight.
So, how to train these different modes of conditioning?
The best bet here is simple cardio work. This can be in the form of LSD (Long Slow Distance) jogging, but interval training is better. To make a long story short, your body can either produce energy with oxygen (aerobic) or without oxygen (anaerobic). Studies have shown that aerobic training increased aerobic capabilities, but showed very little increase in anaerobic capabilities. In other words, trainees who jogged got better at jogging, but not sprinting – they got better at what they trained. Makes sense…
However, anaerobic training leads to not only increased anaerobic capabilities, but also significant increase in aerobic capabilities as well. So, the trainees who sprinted got better at not only sprinting, but also at jogging. They got better at what they trained AND what they didn’t train – more “bang” for the training “buck.” Anaerobic training has also been shown to be far more effective than aerobic training for fat loss.
LSD shouldn’t be discounted and never done, however. While interval training is more beneficial as a whole than LSD, it is also pretty hard on the body. LSD is a good way (as long as it’s not taken to extremes) to burn up some extra calories, do some active recovery, and get some extra overall training volume in.
I also like two alternate versions of cardio conditioning, which are sort of hybrids between LSD and interval training. The first hybrid is “Density Conditioning,” which, in the version I prefer, you pick a time period, and a short sprint distance (say 20 minutes, and 50 yard sprints). You then perform as many sprints (sprint one way, walk/jog back, and repeat) as you can in your time period. Rest when you have to, but each time out, try to get more sprints in. These won’t be sprints in the traditional sense, in that they won’t be 100% efforts (if they were, you’d be toast inside of a few minutes). Rather, they’re very hard runs. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being an all-out sprint for your life, Density Conditioning is done on a scale of 8-9.
The other hybrid is what I call MFD – Medium Fast Distance. Here, you pick a distance that’s medium, and run the entire thing as hard as you can. For example, if an LSD jog for you might be 5 miles, then run for 2-2.5 miles, and run it at as hard of a pace that you can sustain for the entire distance.
Muscular conditioning is increased by simply making the muscles contract more and more times. This can be done by using exercises with light weight and high reps. Doing a set or two of high rep calisthenics now and then can be a good way to increase muscular conditioning, as can just adding a couple of high rep “backoff” sets after your heavy work.
I’ve written several articles about strength endurance (especially as it pertains to MMA), so I won’t re-create the wheel here. But, here are the basics:
If you want to be able to use your strength/power for longer periods of time, or repeatedly over given periods of time, then you have to train that way. This means compound movements, heavy weight, low reps, medium to heavy volume, and little rest.
Putting It All Together – Sort Of…
I’m sure that it goes without saying that how one would incorporate all these different training methods into a schedule would depend on the MMAist, his/her schedule, and his/her needs. So, there is by no means any sort of clear cut “answer” to this. However, there are some ways that you can work more than one type of conditioning at a time.
Circuits (also called “complexes”) can do this. Circuits are pretty simple – perform more several exercises back to back with no rest. If you’ve ever seen any of the Randy Couture / Team Quest circuits, then you know what I’m talking about. These can either be done very high volume with several exercises, lighter weight, and higher reps to tax muscular conditioning. Or, they can be done with a medium number of exercises (say 4-6), heavier weights, and medium reps (say 6-8). This will tax not only muscular conditioning, but will tax strength/power conditioning more. Both will greatly tax cardio conditioning.
Another way is to do single, alternating-limb exercises. These are best done with full-body exercises, and, because of the nature of the method, heavier weights can be used, with higher reps. For example, take the Dumbbell (DB) Clean & Press. Grab a heavy DB, and Clean & Press it with your left arm. Set it down, and grab it with your right hand. Clean and Press. Set it down and grab with your left. Keep repeating until you do 20-30 reps per side. This allows you to keep your form tight, use high volume, and use a much heavier weight that if you were doing 20-30 reps consecutively. This method will tax not only strength/power conditioning, but muscular and cardio conditioning as well.
Well, I hope that gives you a better sense of the word “conditioning,” and how you can use it to analyze your own MMA game. By knowing where you weaknesses are, you can improve them, and minimize the advantages your opponent might have. Remember, any disadvantage you have, is an advantage to your opponent.
Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins is a strength coach and author living in Cameron, NC. Having trained 15+ years, Wiggy is a strength moderator at mma.tv, and a columnist for MMAWeekly.com. His site, Working Class Fitness.com has just debuted “Working Class Fitness – The Programs” a series of six, 8-week workout programs dedicated to dominating bodyweight for Martial Arts Strength and Power Training.
Originally posted on: Monday, March 05, 2007 – by Matt Wiggins on MMAWeekly.com