We all know that fighting isn’t just about technique. If you have perfect technique but don’t have the stamina to keep fighting for more than 30 seconds then you’re not likely to have a very long career. Instead, fighters have to develop the endurance to last multiple rounds whilst they use their technique to outscore or knock out their opponent. It’s not that simple though, and there are numerous points of view about the best way to build up endurance, with the most common idea being regular 3-5 mile runs, otherwise known as roadwork.
It’s the age old cliché you see it in countless movies – a boxer getting up at silly o’clock in the morning, dressed in a grey sweat-suit, who starts churning out the miles through the deserted streets. Maybe he runs through the early morning city life, and then dripping with sweat he charges up a set of stairs and throws his arms up in celebration at the top. A dramatic but motivational tune plays in the background and you know he’s put in enough work to win the fight.
That looks great on film because it’s easy to portray and it lets you get some great scenic training shots in, but does it really work like that outside of the Rocky universe? You hear stories of boxers in the golden age running 5 miles a day, and his opponent hearing about it and running 10 a day. However in the modern age of scientific based training, is pounding pavement still the best way to get fight ready?
Let’s start by explaining how the body provides you with energy during exercise. Without getting too detailed it can be broken down into two systems, which work in different ways – the aerobic system and the anaerobic system.
The aerobic system
The aerobic system is what your body uses when it has access to oxygen, it’s about how efficient your heart and lungs are at getting oxygen to your muscles as they work. The aerobic system come into play once you slightly raise your heart rate, and it gets more efficient at moving oxygen the more often you do it. It’s widely agreed that you need to put in about half an hour of work each session and the best ways to exercise your aerobic system include cycling, swimming and (you guessed it!) running. Improving your aerobic capacity means your body can work at a steady level for a longer period of time.
The anaerobic system
The anaerobic system is what your body uses when you’re working so hard that your aerobic system cannot keep up and your muscles have to work without oxygen. Working anaerobically improves your body’s ability to put in all-out effort for short periods of time. You can improve your anaerobic capacity by doing intervals of high intensity work (think ‘holy crap I’m dying’ kind of effort) coupled with short rest intervals. This could be any combination from 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds rest, 30 on/30 off or 3 minutes of work with one minutes rest. Does that last one sound familiar to you?
Competitive martial arts like boxing, Muay Thai and MMA have been estimated to be about 20-30% aerobic and 70-80% anaerobic. The aerobic elements are things like moving around the ring, slipping or dodging out the way of attacks and chasing down your opponent, the rest of is all anaerobic to an extreme level – it takes a hell of a lot of anaerobic conditioning to be able to throw punches as hard in the last round as you did in the first.
If you want to be in the best possible shape for stepping into the ring you need to make sure you’re getting your intervals in, not your roadwork. The days of running 3-5 miles every morning are gone, you should be jumping rope every morning – for at least the length of your sports rounds and for more rounds than you need to fight – and putting in your maximum effort. Train hard fight easy has never been a truer phrase.
You can do intervals in a number of ways, the easiest being skipping (you can do it anywhere you can swing a rope) but sprinting, the static bike and even resistance exercises using kettle bells and sandbags can be used in these very high intensity sessions.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be using roadwork in your training, it can help build a base exercise tolerance that you build the rest of your fight fitness on, and there’s no arguing that regular steady state cardio is good for your overall health, but in a world where sport specific and functional training have become king, a world where athletes and fighters are stronger, faster and can work for longer, a fighters best bet is to work on high intensity intervals so they can punch and kick harder for more rounds.