In the past few posts, I really emphasized the importance of aerobic training in combat sports. Although I said before that direct aerobic work is critical for the development of a fighter, there is also a strong anaerobic component as well.
As a fight carries on and the aerobic system becomes the dominant energy system, the anaerobic system still plays a part of the energy production as well. By the nature of combat sports, there are spurts of high intensity and high velocity movements that often need more oxygen than the body can take in.
The purpose of developing the aerobic system is to increase your fighter’s rate of recovery during the fight. During “slow” times of a fight, such as after a high intensity bout, or during the rest periods in between rounds, a developed aerobic system will mean a better rested fighter. That fighter will then have more energy to fight harder and longer than another fighter with low levels of aerobic system development.
The anaerobic system on the other hand is used DURING those periods of high intensity/ high velocity movements. As any fighter (and just about everyone) knows, the real stuff happens during the actual fighting and if you can’t perform during the “real fighting” then what was the point of all the aerobic training?
You see, although a fight may last for 3 rounds of 5 minutes of whatever it may be, it only takes 5-10 seconds of hardcore action for the fight to completely change.
This is how comebacks are made. This is what a warrior is BUILT to do. It’s extremely important to be as fresh as possible during a fight but when push comes to shove, I want your fighter to kick his opponent’s ass.
With that said, let’s look at how we can make sure that it will happen.
An In-Depth Look At The Anaerobic System
There are two processes that allow for energy production in the body. They are the aerobic and anaerobic processes. Just as with the aerobic system, the anaerobic system also plays a part in trying to keep the body in homeostasis during movement by producing more ATP to match the expenditure.
Specifically, the anaerobic process:
-Regenerates ATP through non-oxidative processes only
-Can utilize ATP, phosphocreatine (alactic) or carbohydrate (lactic) as substrates
-Produces ATP at a much faster rate than the aerobic system, but also causes rapid changes in cellular environemnt, leading to large disturbances in homeostasis.
-Able to support maximum power output, but only for very brief periods of time
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that the anaerobic system produces ATP at a very fast rate but only for a short period of time, while the aerobic system produces ATP at a much slower rate but for a much longer period of time.
A Look At The Different Anaerobic Energy Systems
There are 4 anaerobic energy systems.
-Anaerobic Alactic Power
-Anaerobic Alactic Capacity
-Anaerobic Lactic Power
-Anaerobic Lactic Capacity
As described before in part I, the power of the system is the rate at which energy is being produced. In other words, the faster that your energy system can generate the energy needed by your muscles, the faster those muscles can contract and relax, which will ultimately mean the more power that they can generate.
The capacity of the system is the duration at which the energy is able to be produced. Basically, it is how long one is able to generate energy for.
The difference between alactic and lactic is that in an alactic zone, you won’t produce a high amount of lactic acid and in a lactic zone, you will. This forms the energy continuum as shown above which starts at alactic power and ends at lactic capacity.
Specifically, the anaerobic alactic power system is used during the first 10 seconds of high intensity movement. It increases the number of creatine kinase, which speeds up the breakdown of phosphocreatine so that you can regenerate ATP at a faster rate.
It also improves muscular contractility. The faster that your muscles can contract and relax will play a huge role in how much power your working muscles can generate with the alactic system. A work interval at this energy system would last 0-10 seconds per rep and have a recovery interval of about 2-5 minutes per rep. Maximum intensity is used during the rep.
The second system, anaerobic alactic capacity, is used from 10-20 seconds during high intensity movement. This energy system improves how much ATP and Phosphocreatine the muscles can store.
A regular work interval would last from 10-20 seconds a rep at a very high intentisity (91-96% of max) and the recovery interval would be around 3-4 minutes per rep. In other words, the recovery ratio would be around 1:15 but can be from 1:12 to 1:18. For recovery heart rate, it should be less than or equal to 120 beats per minute.
The anaerobic lactic power system lasts from 20 seconds to 45 or even up to 60 seconds. Training of this energy system leads to increases in glycolytic muscle tissue, glycolytic enzymes, and improvement is the nervous systems ability to activate and coordinate so that your muscles will play a large role in your power system.
The work interval is from 20 to 60 seconds, done at high intensity with a recovery interval of 2-5 minutes per rep. The work to recovery ratio should be around 1:5-1:6.
The last anaerobic system is the anaerobic lactic capacity system, which runs from 45 seconds to 120 seconds. The adaptations that come from training this system increases the availability of energy substrates, increases the pH buffering ability of muscles, and the rate of clearance of the byproducts.
The work interval to train this system is from 45-120 seconds at a high intensity (85-90% of max) with a 3-6 minute recovery interval or 1:3 work to rest ratio.
How To Develop The Anaerobic System
The thing about training is that you cannot develop any quality/system maximally if you focus on more than one thing at a time.
This means that if you want to train one part of the anaerobic system maximally, you cannot train any other part of the anaerobic system without affecting the improvement of the “main” system your working on. This also goes for aerobic training or trying to increase both of them at the same time.
If you want, you can program the training of multiple systems but it is never maximal. When you want maximal improvements on a certain energy system, focus on that one energy system before going to the next.
With that said, to develop one part of the anaerobic system you must use the right duration, intensity, and rest periods to work it.
For combat sports, the main energy system used is the anaerobic alactic system because combat sports are generally “hit and run” in nature where combat lasts for 0-20 seconds until the fighters step away from each other to recover before going at it again.
Generally, combat sports like boxing or kickboxing will use the anaerobic alactic power system (0-10 seconds) most of the time while sports that use grappling such as MMA and Ju-Jitsu will go from 0-10 seconds and sometimes go as high as 10-20 seconds in a row of continuous high effort movement or in other words, the anaerobic alactic capacity system.
Both are important to develop and it depends on the fighter and his needs as to which of the anaerobic systems he needs to develop.
Rest periods are longer due to it taking more time to slow down heart rate to less than or at 120 beats per minute.
3 Anaerobic Training Methods
These are the circuits that most people will see as familiar because these are ones that gas them out quick. High intensity circuits are freaking amazing for developing a fighters energy systems and muscular endurance.
The only problem is when they programmed in a less than optimal way, which is usually most of the time. Some coaches think you can just mix a couple of exercises for time and add it in anywhere. At that point, circuits can be counterproductive because it will place too much stress on the body and affect power, strength, and recovery levels of the athlete.
When they are programmed correctly though, they are amazing. Here is an example of a good circuit for the anaerobic alactic capacity system.
A1) Chin Ups – 4 X 5
A2) Med Ball Slam – 4 X 3
A3) Sled Push – 4 X 20 yards – After every circuit; rest until heart rate reaches 100 beats per minute
It’s a general workout but it’s a good starting point. Circuits are very flexible in that you can use them for just about anything and can be done anywhere.
For many coaches, this is the go to method.
Running is one commonality between many sports as a method to train any energy system. Sprints in particular have shown time and time again that they are an excellent method in developing the anaerobic system.
What I love about sprints is that they only require space and are easily timed.
A word of caution about sprints though: be sure to always have a THOROUGH warmup before a sprint session and know HOW to sprint because they can cause injuries to “newbies” and “pro’s” alike.
A simple sprint workout to train the anaerobic alactic power system is:
8 X 10 seconds of an all out sprint – rest until heart rate reaches 100 beats per minute.
This is an advanced workout and will make any athlete wince in pain just reading the protocol. For “regular people”, a 5 second set is enough but advanced athletes can go up to 10 seconds straight.
This is easily my most favorite training method for a couple of reasons:
1. They are an “anaerobic” version of tempo runs with much of the same benefits such as in the flexibility of protocol design and implement use (pads, heavy bag, weights…etc)
2. Once you get through halfway through a session, you will ask yourself if you were mentally stable when you decided to try it out, then when you get through it, you’ll feel like the biggest bad ass on the planet.
3. Mimics combat sports very well
4. Are NOT boring at all.
Hurricane training was created by Martin Rooney, a world re-knowned strength coach based out of New Jersey. There are 5 hurricane levels starting from level 1 to level 5. At level 1, only sprints are used for a total of 9 sets of short durations. From levels 2-4, sprints plus 2 exercises are used in 3 different circuits. Level 5 uses sprints and strongman training.
Here is an example of a level 4 hurricane from Martin’s site, Training For Warriors.
Hurricane Category 4
*Do one exercise right after another for 3 sets then move on to the next group
1a. Treadmill at 10mph and 10% grade incline for 3 sets of 30 seconds
1b. Bar Dips 3×12
1c. Hip Raise Crunch 3×20
2a. Treadmill at 10.5mph and 10% grade incline for 3 sets of 30 seconds
2b. Inverted Row 3×10
2c. Bicep Curl and Press 3×10
3a. Treadmill at 11.5mph and 10% grade incline for 3 sets of 30 seconds
3b. Knuckle Pushup 3×10
3c. Knee Grabs 3×20
As you can see, it is anything but easy but it is incredibly effective for energy system training and fat loss.
You also will notice that every circuit with its three sets amount to about 5 minute per completed circuit. Essentially, it is 3 rounds of 5 minutes of high intensity action. That is the exact same “protocol” as regular UFC fight.
It does not specifically target the anaerobic alactic system but it does mimic a fight very well and works both the anaerobic and aerobic systems to very high levels.
Programming Anaerobic System Development
As explained before, a program should start from a general standpoint and as the fight gets closer, the training should become more specific to the competition.
If there is 4 months between a fight, that allows for a good amount of time for a fighter to develop his most pressing needs to optimal levels.
At such a long time before a fight, aerobic training should form the bulk of a fighters energy system work. Here is where aerobic capacity training is best implemented in a program. At 3 months out, now aerobic power can be the main energy system worked on. At 2 months out, now anaerobic training needs to form the bulk of the energy system training (but there is still some direct aerobic work to keep it at maintenance). At 1 month out, high intensity and more specific training is used while the volume of skill work goes up.
In terms of frequency, at 3 months out there can be 1 session a week. At 2 months out, there can be 2 sessions a week. At 1 month out, there would probably be only 1 session a week because the increased volume of skill work will take place of the energy system work.
In terms of how workouts are done, say we use hurricane training. At 3 months out, we would use sprints and regular bodyweight exercises. At 2 months out, sprints and strongman training. At 1 month out, strongman or sprints and skill work.
An important thing to keep in mind is that as the fight gets closer, the training needs to become much like the fight itself. At 3 months out, it’s ok to have sessions at 10 sets of 20 seconds or something but at 1 month out, if the fight lasts 3 rounds of 5 minutes, then the training session should also be 3 rounds of 5 minutes.
Understanding and programming energy system training can seem very complicated, but it really isn’t.
In essence, you work on aerobic work at the start of a training program. Once you get to anaerobic work, you keep aerobic training on maintenance by decreases volume and frequency while increasing anaerobic training. The other option is to work on aerobic power the majority of the time, depending your fighter’s needs and what works for them. From there, you keep improving and little by little, mimic the work to rest ratio of the fight itself.
For every month, focus that month (or phase) on a specific energy system you want to improve maximally. On the last month or two, mimic the exact “protocol” of the fight.
Basically, as long as you have a good reason for everything you place in a program then it’s a good program.
If that still confuses you, check out part 4.
Check out the rest of this series:
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