CARDIO FOR THE MARTIAL ARTS
By Stephan Kesting
Cardiovascular training can be a confusing topic
and there are many different and divergent views on the subject.
Different reputable sources inform us that you don't need to do
cardio - just spar really long rounds (for grappling), or that
you should spar twice as many rounds as you are going to fight
(boxing), or that you should do sprints, or do long runs, or lift
weights for muscular endurance, etc. With so many 'experts', it
is no wonder that the answer isn't cut and dried.
I have my own beliefs and they seem to work fairly
well for me. I noticed a couple of years ago that my techniques
worked best and my sparring was sharpest not when I was stronger
but rather when my 'cardio' was at its peak. Because I wasn't getting
winded in sparring, I was able to think and make coherent plans
throughout the match. At the time I was running 3 or 4 times a
week, for 20 to 50 minutes at a time, in preparation for the fire
department entrance test.
The more research I have done on running, the more
I have come to realize that there are different levels of intensity
for cardio and that it is important to spend quality time in most
of them. It is probably true that one could substitute wrestling,
uchikomi, kicking the bag/pads, or sparring for 'traditional' exercises,
and that they would develop more sport-specific skills. I do a
lot of running, biking,stairmastering or stair running, however,
because of 4 reasons:
- I can do them without a partner
- I enjoy them (especially running and biking)
- It is easier to stay in the exact zone that you want to be
- My chance of injury may be smaller.
Based on any number of good running books (of which Daniel's
Running Formula by Jack Daniel's is an example) I have decided
that, for myself, to do different types of cardio and, to some
extent, periodize my cardio. Most authors recognize 3 or 4 types
of aerobic and anaerobic training:
1 - 'Easy and Long' or 'LSD' (Long Slow Distance)
or 'Aerobic conditioning'
This level is characterized by by going for at least
45 min at 60 to 70% of max heart rate. Depending on my goals at
the time, I try to do this sort of training once or twice a week,
either riding a bike, running or by climbing Grouse Mountain (the
locally popular 'Grouse Grind'). I try to go at a pace where I
could talk if I had to, but not carry on a conversation. This,
for me, translates to keeping my heart rate between 140 and 150.
Some people argue that this type of training is that
it is too long, given that a typical match or round is only 5 minutes
long. I disagree for a number of reasons. First, one is going to
be nervous long before the fight starts, and working for this long
acclimatizes the body endure protracted stress. Another reason
for going this long is to prepare your base for the more strenuous
training to follow. You've got to jog before you can sprint. There
are also many physiological adaptations that are best stimulated
by LSD type training. Finally this sort of training is excellent
for weight control and minimizing body fat.
Another way of thinking about it is asking why runners
who specialize in 5 km runs (roughly equivalent to a grappling
match) never just train distances of 5 km or less. They ALWAYS
run longer distances as well, often up to 10 or 15 km.
2 - "Threshold" or "Tempo Runs" or "Anaerobic
This type of cardio is shorter and harder than type
1 conditioning. Here you are looking at c. 20 minutes (e.g. 15
to 30 min) with your heart rate about 90% of maximum. This type
of training conditions your anaerobic systems and helps prepare
them for really short interval training which you might do later.
I often jump onto a rolling hills stairmaster program for this
type of training, so my heart rate is usually at c. 85 to 90% for
a good portion of the 20 minute program. Right now I am doing at
least two sessions of type 2 cardio in an 8 day cycle.
I have heard that Frank Shamrock's routine consists
of a warm up for 5 to 10 minutes, after which he keeps his heart
rate at 170 for 20 minutes). This is an example of type 2 cardio
or anaerobic conditioning. I would really like to know what Frank's
maximum heart rate is: if I had to guess it is probably about 197
to 200 bpm. If his HR is much lower (e.g. 180) then keeping it
at 170 for that long would be an awesome achievement.
HR-based training has a lot of potential pitfalls,
not the least of which is that max HR of 220 minus age can be off
by 20 or 30 beats per minute. For HR based training one really
has to do a maximal effort test (e.g. 4 laps of a 400 m track with
ever-increasing intensity) to determine what your personal (as
opposed to estimated) max HR is.
3 - Sprint Training
Many hard-core runners divide 'Sprint Training' into
two or more categories. Typically they differentiate between: A) 'Interval
Training' or 'Aerobic Capacity' training, and B) 'Repetition
Training' or 'Anaerobic Capacity' training. The differences
between the two categories of training lie in the work-to-recovery
time ratios and the intensity of that work. Typically in 'Category
A' (Interval) training you go for slightly longer intervals with
less recovery time, whereas in 'Category B' (Repetition) training
you go shorter and faster, but with quite long recovery periods.
My sense is that, for 99% of all competitive grapplers
and martial artists, that the differentiation between Interval
and Repetition training is academic. Basically in Sprint training
you are trying to go very hard (95% to 100% of max heart rate)
for not very long (20 seconds to 2 minutes), recover for a relatively
short interval, and then go again. Obviously the harder one goes
and the less rest you have, the more your performance at the sprints
themselves will deteriorate over time (and that is OK).
The goal of Sprint training is to condition you body
to function at close to maximum effort while in a severe oxygen
deficit. It will also help develop your system's ability to process
and remove lactic acid from your muscles.
Some typical sprint workouts might include:
A) Go to a track and run a 400m lap at 90% intensity. Say this takes you 1
1/2 minutes. Now rest 1 1/2 minutes and go again; try to keep the same time
for your sprint (now it might take 91% intensity). Repeat 8 times
B) Do a 20 minute run: alternate between 1 minute jogging at an easy pace and
1 minute of running very fast
C) Do so-called 'Tabata Intervals' where you do an activity for 20 seconds
on, 10 seconds off, for 6 to 8 reps. For the sake of argument, assume you are
using a rowing machine. Warm-up first, then start the sprints. Go completely
berserk for 20 seconds (100% effort) then rest for 10 seconds, go completely
berserk for another 20 seconds, etc. If you do these properly, you will find
the pain from lactic acid quite extraordinary by the 5th or 6th rep.
I think a common mistake is to try to get to sprint
training too early in your training cycle. It is very important
to get in sufficient training at lower speeds and intensities (Long
Slow Distance) before you jump it up all the way to sprint training.
If you start with sprint training injury is much more likely, because
your bones, muscles and connective tissue might not be sufficiently
conditioned to handle the stress.
Training Cycles, Periodization and Overtraining.
I have written a small book on the subject of periodization
and overtraining (Perfect
Peaking 1 and Perfect
Peaking 2), so all I'm going to do here is to summarize the
most salient points. The question is how to organize your training
to avoid overtraining, injury and to ensure peaking at the right
time. This is another very complicated subject, with many experts
weighing in from the running literature, bodybuilding literature,
Periodization uses phases of training, in which you
vary exercise parameters (workout length, intensity, recovery,
etc.) to achieved maximum results. Although periodization can be
applied to any trainable physical attribute, it is most often associated
with weightlifting, especially to help a lifter achieve a huge
1 rep maximum on competition day.
I have mixed feelings as to whether a standard weightlifting
periodization plan is appropriate for grappling. Traditional weightlifting
periodization is designed to maximize your 1 rep max, whereas for
grappling you want to optimize your muscular endurance and anaerobic
endurance. In most competitions you may be fighting for 5 to 20
minutes, possibly several times in a day.
The general principle of gradually increasing intensity
and decreasing length of training session as you get closer to
competition day is probably appropriate for martial arts cardio
training. Basically you might start out doing a lot of level 1
(LSD) training, maybe with a bit of level 2 thrown in for fun.
Gradually you increase the intensity of your training, substituting
more and more anaerobic work for the aerobic work. Even in the
final stages, however, you still want to be doing at least one
level 1 (LSD) session each week to maintain your aerobic conditioning.
It is critical to reduce the volume of training
as the training intensity increases. One of the most common
pitfalls that the avid and eager trainee can fall into is to
keep adding on additional exercises and training sessions as
he approaches competition time. As you increase the intensity
of what you are doing (i.e. sprint training) you need to cut
back on other activities to avoid injury and overtraining. Your
total time spent conditioning each week decreases as your
sessions get more intense. Of course in the last week before
the competition you should do very little in the way of conditioning,
maybe just one relatively short LSD session and one relatively
easy sprint session.
Speaking of endurance, my fingers are tired. Hope
all goes well in your training, Stephan