Winning in MMA isn’t achieved solely as a result of possessing the best striking and grappling moves. And it isn’t accomplished by the athlete who is in the greatest shape. The winner of a match is usually the athlete that has the best combination of both of these attributes. Technique is highly important and warrants its own training discussion. The ability to “get into shape” in terms of lung and muscle capacity is essential if you want to employ the skill set you possess in order to win matches. Let’s focus upon the two areas of aerobic conditioning which should be your focus in order to be in the best possible shape, and in order to give yourself the best chance of winning.
Aerobic Power Capacity, or simply, your aerobic base, is highly important in mixed martial arts. You are engaging in a series of high-intensity activities, standing and on the mat. From the moment the match begins, your heart rate is elevated, your muscles are engorged with blood, and your lungs are pumping at full capacity. The higher the level of which your body is capable of taking these three aspects, the greater you will be able to perform as the minutes pass.
We’ve all seen fighters “gas” or run out of steam during a match. Their quick and concise strikes and other moves suddenly become sloppy, slow, and predictable. Their muscles can’t move as much weight. They don’t think at full capacity due to less oxygen reaching their brains, and they make mistakes. Once an athlete hits this wall, he is usually defeated quickly (unless the other athlete is also in this same oxygen-deprived state, in which case the fight quickly gets ugly).
In order to gain an advantage in the cage, you are going to want to find an edge in terms of your own maximum aerobic power capacity. In other words, you need to get into better shape than your opponent, so that your lungs push more air, your heart pumps a higher volume of blood to your body, your muscles tire more slowly, and your brain can think and react quicker, even when the strain of your activities are starting to make you tired. He will gas, and you will not. But you’ve got to make sure you’re focusing upon BOTH kinds of aerobic conditioning in order for this to happen.
You’ll first want to address your slow-twitch muscle fibers. These are situated within the muscle groups throughout your body – your arm, legs, back, etc. These are the long-term endurance muscle fibers. They are stimulated after you’ve been training for several minutes. Long walks, then jogs, then runs, as well as biking and rowing are ideal for targeting these “long endurance” capabilities of your body. These need to be your first focus, as they take longer to develop, are much more resistant to change, and are arguably more important in terms of lasting up to a half hour in the cage.
Additionally, you will have higher power output needs on a much more demanding yet shorter term basis, and this is why you should also target your fast-twitch muscle fibers. Quick sprints, powerful takedowns, and other fast, explosive movements are conducted with the help of these muscle fibers. And these movements should be used each week, so that you can improve your function and capability in these areas.
Your own aerobic threshold is the limit your body possesses for each of these groups of fibers. And documenting it is step one in improving it. Record your current performance capability (time/distance/incline) at long-distance activities such as biking and running. Then do the same for the short term sprints and other intense work. Document your improvements each week as you force yourself to train to failure and reach a new level of capability and performance almost every time. Your muscles and circulatory system will adapt and your aerobic performance capability will improve rather quickly as a result.
Your anaerobic performance capability works in the same way. Your use of heavy lifting movement such as squat, bench press and deadlift also targets both groups of muscle fibers. You should adjust your weight used to stimulate the differing groups of fibers. Sets where you can only complete 1 to 6 repetitions will target the fast-twitch fibers as you build strength. Likewise, those sets where you use light enough weight to complete 8 to 12 to 20 or more repetitions will target the slow-twitch muscle fibers. Just as with cardio, both types will need to be targeted to ensure you have the greatest possible performance capability once you get in the cage. Good luck!