There’s a lot of debate about cardio for fighters – some swear by the old-school long runs, other coaches have their fighters moving towards a sprint based cardio approach. With sports science taking the sporting world into a new direction, what is the best cardio for fighters?
In this article we’re going to look at the options and conclude with the most acceptable approach.
Train for the event
Sports science has taught us that exercise load is important and that we should train for the event in mind. If you’re a 100m sprinter, doing a lot of long runs is useless. You’ll never run more than 100m in your event, so why would you do a 5km training run?
The same applies to combat sports. Depending on your gender and event, you’ll probably be in action for between 2 and 5 minutes per round, working at a high intensity. There’s our first clue then – work at a high intensity. Don’t waste time or effort on anything that doesn’t directly improve you as a fighter.
High Intensity Cardio
Fight sports are high intensity – attacking movement, defensive movement, the powerful use of limbs, the relentless nature of each round and the very short rest periods mean that we need to re-create periods of high intensity work followed by short rest periods to mimic fight conditions.
The best way to do this is with HIIT (high intensity interval training). This way the heart rate stays high and we can control rest times. It’d be wise to mimic the event you compete in, so if you’re a boxer for example you could do your HIIT work for three minutes with one minute rest in between sets. You can do this with sport-specific drills, with sprints, with kettlebells etc. Just make it work for you.
Do as much as you need – but no more
Taking MMA as the example, you’ll be working for a maximum of 25 minutes, split over 5 x 5 minute rounds. With that in mind, you don’t need to go for a 90 minute run in the mornings. Yes, your road work is important, but that’s overkill. You risk injury when you overdo training, so keep your energy levels for sparring and more technical training.
If your event is 25 minutes, keep your longest runs to no more than 40 minutes, but work at a higher speed and intensity. You’re still going for longer than you need to, but you’re not wasting time and energy, nor are you increasing your injury risk whilst doing so.
Mix in weight training
This is one thing that a lot of fighters overlook. What you need to understand is that although you need endurance to be a great fighter, you need muscular endurance. This means you need the ability to still generate strength and power even when fatigued – you don’t just need cardio for cardio’s sake.
A runner needs pure stamina, but that’s because he’s doesn’t need to generate the power to knock an opponent out towards the end of a race (although it would make running much more fun to watch!). A fighter does though, so don’t treat your cardio as something that you do purely to improve stamina – make sure you do cardio in a way that maintains strength and power whilst you’re fatigued.
Effective Cardio for Fighters: Concluded
There’s room for all kinds of cardio for fighters, but the key to making it work is to go with an approach that gets you in fight shape. The takeaway points from this article are as follows…
- Work at a high intensity. Fight sports are high intensity, so try to match that in training.
- Mix in weigh training. You don’t just need to have great stamina, you need to maintain your power too.
- Do as much as you need, but no more. Take the length of your event, then add 5-10 minutes. Work at a higher intensity.
Get these basics right and you’ll be a fitter, stronger and more effective fighter.
Darren Mitchell is a Muay Thai enthusiast and writer for the Best Muay Thai blog. He has trained for several years at gyms all over the world alongside some world-renowned fighters and coaches.