Energy system development (aka conditioning) is an extremely crucial part to dominating as a combat athlete. Ever since the first fighters fought, people quickly realized that it took an incredible amount of energy to fight.
In other words, that shit is tiring!
A fighter can have the best technical skills, be stupid strong, and be as powerful as an Olympian, but the reality is that without high levels of conditioning, he’s pretty much useless. What is the point for him to have such amazing skills and physical qualities if they will only last for the first few seconds of the fight?
What do you think will happen if you’re fighters don’t develop relentless conditioning?
Someone will be knocked out or tap out. That’s for sure, but it won’t be the other guy.
So it’s in a trainer’s best interest to learn about and develop his fighters conditioning. Anyways, isn’t being able to go the distance and never back down part of being a warrior?
I believe it is and this series of articles will show you how to make sure you’re guy is the last warrior standing.
The Importance Of Conditioning For Combat Sports
The most important thing for a combat athlete is his technical skills. There is no going around it. Without highly developed skills, a fighter is no longer a martial artist and warrior. He is just another sorry street fighter.
Not only will great technical skills allow him to strike or grapple your opponent with great effectiveness and less chances of injury to himself but it will also make him more efficient in his movements.
It takes much less energy for a UFC veteran to perform a roundhouse kick than it does for a white belt at the karate school across the street to do the same thing.
With that said, a combat athlete can only go as far as his body will allow. He can have a crisp roundhouse kick but his body will determine how high, hard, and fast he can perform it.
The same goes for his energy systems. A fighter can have perfect technique but if his conditioning sucks then his last punch is going to be much slower, weaker, and less effective than his first punch.
If you, as a strength coach, can help bridge that gap so that every strike your fighter throws at any point of a fight with maximum effectiveness, then he will become a much more lethal fighter.
Combat Conditioning Myths – Busted
Before we get into you’re crash course in the energy systems, let’s bust some myths that are highly prevalent in the martial arts community.
Myth #1: Train Until You Drop
I don’t know if fighters are just literally crazy, hard headed or maybe both, but just because you have someone do endless rounds of circuits that leave him spitting blood on the floor doesn’t mean it’s getting the athlete ready for his fight. That means no more crossfit.
On the bright side: Combat athletes will do anything and everything to make sure they win their fight.
Even with that, the problem still remains. The reason why these “MMA Circuits” are used so much is because many coaches swear they are as sport-specific as you can get without actually fighting.
Most of these MMA circuits are badly designed and badly placed in the context of the training program. Not only do these same circuits do NOT improve conditioning for the fight, but they hurt the athlete as well as it will leave him fatigued during times they must be fresh to keep training. This increases the risk of injury and affects the “lifespan” of an athlete’s career.
Now, if they are designed intelligently and placed into an intelligently designed training program, then circuits can be great if not amazing and very beneficial to combat athletes.
Unfortunately, this is not the case most of the time.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to fix this. Either learn how to program them correctly or don’t use them at all.
Myth #2: Every Training Session Should Be A Conditioning Fest
Every fighter swears that every training session must include conditioning. It doesn’t. Far from it. The top priority is to improve strength, power, and other athletic qualities in the gym.
The biggest difference maker in sports is strength. That is why men are so much more dominant in sports than women are. Once you remove that variable, you’ll be left with a weak fighter. Although it is not the only variable it is should be a priority as developing maximal strength will affect just about every other athletic quality positively, including the endurance to handle a fight.
Obviously, everything should be periodized to gain maximal results from a training program. Depending on the fighter and his needs, he might need more or less energy system work than others, but the fact remains that everything should be planned out intelligently.
Not every training session has to be a conditioning fest.
Myth #3: Aerobic Work Is Useless
Combat sports are not purely anaerobic; combat sports actually require a large amount of work from the aerobic system.
Shocker, I know.
Here’s the reason why: The more you have to repeat the action accompanied by less rest, the more aerobic it becomes.
That might be a little confusing so let me explain.
Aerobic means “with oxygen”. Anaerobic means “without oxygen”. By definition, if something takes more effort the more anaerobic it becomes.
Now here’s the other side of the coin: Every energy system, including the aerobic system, will “turn on” at the same time during any activity no matter how anaerobic it looks.
This is amplified by how long the event takes. For example, a fighter will use his aerobic system more if he has to go 5 rounds of 5 minutes than he would if he went 3 rounds of 5 minutes. This is because he must expend his energy more frequently over a period of time, unlike a powerlifter who completes his lift and has tons of time to rest.
This means that although fighters are usually forced to do circuit after circuit to improve their “conditioning”, they are missing out on developing the energy system that is responsible for 50% or more of their energy production during a fight.
In other words, aerobic conditioning is just as important as anaerobic work in combat sports.
Total mind fuck, I know.
Energy System Training 101
There are two main categories of energy systems. On one side is the aerobic system and on the other side is the anaerobic system. In short, the aerobic system is for longer termed uses that can last from a few minutes to hours at a time and the anaerobic system is for shorter term uses, from a couple of seconds to two minutes.
Under those two main systems are the power and capacity systems for both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.
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.
Therefore, the energy continuum from the shortest to longest in duration is as follows:
-Anaerobic Alactic Power
-Anaerobic Alactic Capacity
-Anaerobic Lactic Power
-Anaerobic Lactic Capacity
Quick side note: 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. Another way to think about this is that running hard for a minute is going to “burn” more than running hard for 5 seconds.
These energy systems, while often taught to be separate, all turn on at the exact same time – right at the start of activity. And they will work as hard as possible to meet the metabolic demands present. This means that sports that were thought to only be anaerobic actually have a huge aerobic component to them and that cannot be ignored.
Unlike in true anaerobic sports such as Olympic Lifting and Powerlifting, a combat athlete cannot afford to have any weak links in his conditioning or they will be exposed both quickly and painfully.
For example, if a fighter doesn’t have the aerobic power to handle a 5 minute round, then he’s going to be in major trouble the last minute of that round. If an Olympic Lifter doesn’t have a highly developed aerobic power system, it doesn’t matter as he only needs to do one high intensity lift and then have a huge period of rest.
The Principles Of Combat Conditioning
The most important thing to a combat athlete is his technical skills. Without it, he is not a martial artist but a regular neighborhood street fighter. With better technical skills (and even tactical skills), the more efficient he will be at using his energy. On top of that, the better his technique is and the more refined it is, the greater potential he has for more power.
Basically, make sure his technical skills are being worked on before you worry about developing his athletic qualities.
The stronger you are the better the athlete you will potentially be, too a point. Although there will be a point when an athlete is “strong enough”, it is still important to raise his strength levels high enough to better be able to defeat his opponent.
There are two categories of strength that will be talked about here.
There is maximal strength and relative strength. Maximal strength is your level of absolute strength. Relative strength is how strong you are in comparison to your bodyweight. If athlete A can squat 200 pounds and athlete B can squat 300 pounds, then athlete B has higher levels of maximal strength. Now, if athlete A weighs 180 pounds and squats 300 for 10 reps and athlete B also weighs 180 pounds and squats 300 but for 8 reps, then by definition athlete A has a higher level of relative strength.
Both are important for combat sports because every fighter must work to become stronger than his opponent in terms of absolute strength all while staying in his same weight class with that newly developed strength.
Increasing maximal strength directly influences most if not every athletic quality including endurance. The stronger you are, the less energy it will take for you perform the same action as someone else with the same skill level. Increasing relative strength will allow you to be a better “pound for pound” fighter as now you’re stronger yet you’re bodweight doesn’t change much.
Direct aerobic conditioning is a must for all combat athletes.
Higher levels of aerobic conditioning will allow you to last longer in a fight as you will be able to recover faster. You can think of it the opposite way as well: the faster you can recover, the more you will be able to do during the fight because you’re not as fatigued as someone who doesn’t have a highly developed aerobic system.
It just so happens that many elite athletes, including combat athletes, have extremely developed aerobic systems. This allows them to perform their best throughout an entire fight or game. As any fighter will tell you, it’s not the guy who throws the first and hardest punch but the last one who stays standing that wins.
Although there are two subcategories of aerobic conditioning namely aerobic capacity and aerobic power, both should be directly developed within a fighters training program at one point or another, if needed.
If aerobic conditioning is what will keep you standing up during the last round and still perform better than your opponent, then you can think of anaerobic conditioning as when two MMA fighters are throwing a flurry of punches for 5 seconds or so and then one takes down the other and both are scrambling on the floor for the dominant position. There is constant high intensity movement for 1-20 seconds.
Obviously with that description, it is easy to imagine how important anaerobic conditioning is to a fighter. It is what can make or break a fight as that is where the real action happens.
Although there are many subcategories for the anaerobic system, the dominant anaerobic system for combat sports is the anaerobic alactic system. This is because many combinations won’t usually last more than 10 seconds at a time and if it’s a sport like MMA where combinations are then transitioned to the floor and more time is taken, it still won’t take any more than 20 seconds before movement stops. Fighting is a sport where both athletes come in for a rapid flurry of strikes and then come back out to catch their breaths. Even on the ground, movements are done rapidly and with great effort but for only seconds at a time before a fighter must quickly stop, recuperate, and then continue pressing on.
Energy system training for combat athletes can be confusing but the fact is to become a better combat athlete, you only need to be stronger, more conditioned, and more skillful than your next opponent.
Now if you’re fighters have high levels of both anaerobic conditioning (to be able to do more during the actual striking/grappling) and aerobic conditioning (the ability to recover faster and perform their best at every repetition), then they will be tough to beat.
So what do you guys think? Add your comments on the comment section below. I want to hear what you have to say!
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