Ultimate Fight Conditioning – Push the Pace

With the recent inclusion of the lighter weight classes into the UFC, the fast and furious pace of the world’s top flyweights, bantamweights, and featherweights has been on display for all to see. Given their seemingly endless ability to throw lightning fast strikes and explosive takedowns from bell to bell without slowing down, it’s no wonder their fights are often so action packed and exciting.

After witnessing the enduring speed and quickness of such light weight fighters, it can be easy to wonder why they are so rarely seen gassing out and how they are able to maintain such a relentless pace – one that’s simply unmatched by the heavier weight fighters. In order to answer these questions and understand why the pace is almost invariably higher in the lower weight classes and the reason why smaller fighters gas out so much less often than their heavier counterparts, the basics of how the body produces energy first needs to be discussed.

Energy Systems 101

Although the subject of energy systems, often referred to as “metabolic conditioning” as of late, is one that may sound complicated at first, the basics are actually far simpler than most coaches and athletes realize. Even more, once these basics are understood, planning an effective program to increase a fighter’s ability to push a fast pace becomes much easier and more scientifically sound.

At the heart of energy systems is the basic principle that regardless of a fighter’s weight class, every cell in their body needs a constant supply of energy to function. This includes the cells within muscle fibers, of course, and they need energy in order to do their job of contracting and producing the force it takes to throw strikes, go for and defend takedowns, attempt a submission, etc.

Not surprisingly, the bigger the muscle, the more force it is capable of producing, and the more energy it requires to do its job – this is really no different than a bigger engine being capable of greater horsepower, but requiring more gas to produce it. Lighter weight fighters, of course, have far less muscle mass and can’t produce nearly as much force as fighters in the heavier weight classes, but their muscles are able to run on far less energy as well.

This difference in muscle size and energy requirements explains part of the reason that lighter weight fights are able to push such consistently high pace, but there’s more to the equation than just size…

The Aerobic Equation

Aside from the simple fact that bigger muscles need more energy to produce force and power, the second part of the energy systems equation can be seen by considering not just how much energy is required, but also how the body produces it. This is where terms like aerobic and anaerobic come into play and help explain what separates the fighters that can push a fast pace from bell-to-bell from those that end up face down and gassed out after just one round.

Along these lines, the first thing to understand is that in order to take the energy that’s stored in the food we eat and break it down into the chemical energy that muscle fibers and other cells can actually use, the body has two general paths it can take. The first path uses oxygen as part of the process of breaking down fats and sugars to create this energy – this is what is known as aerobic metabolism. The second path, on the other hand, doesn’t require oxygen and uses either sugars or stored creatine phosphate to produce energy and this, of
course, is referred to as anaerobic metabolism.

The biggest difference between these two paths is the speed at which they are capable of producing energy and the amount of time that they are able to produce it for before fatigue sets in. On one hand, aerobic metabolism can produce energy for hour after hour, but it’s a slower process than anaerobic metabolism and thus it can’t produce energy as quickly. Anaerobic metabolism, on the other hand, can only produce energy for very short periods of time – think seconds, not minutes – but because oxygen isn’t required and there are fewer chemical steps involved, it’s capable of producing energy at a much faster rate than the aerobic system.

The Right Mix

Dynamic sports like MMA that require an athlete to produce a ton of energy to support high levels of muscle force and power for up to 15-25 minutes no doubt rely on both aerobic and anaerobic energy production – there is simply no way that either system alone is capable of producing enough energy by itself. This fact is generally well known and accepted, but what’s often misunderstood, however, is just how important the balance between these two energy systems really is.

This is because the plain truth is that the difference between pushing a relentless pace and gassing out really just comes down to two things – how much energy must be produced and how much of it is produced aerobically compared to
anaerobically. When the majority of energy that needs to be produced throughout a fight is able to be produced through aerobic metabolism, there is very little fatigue and the pace can be maintained.

When the anaerobic system has to really kick in and provide a large percentage of energy, on the other hand, fatigue quickly sets in the pace inevitably slows down. If the anaerobic system is forced to work overtime for long enough, the result is exhaustion and often a loss.

The Big Picture

The final piece of the energy system puzzle to consider is that for many different reasons, a bigger muscle is generally less efficient at producing aerobic energy. One of these reasons is simply that fast twitch muscle fibers are generally bigger and more anaerobic in nature than their slow twitch counterparts. An athlete that’s got a lot of muscle mass, therefore, is likely to have a good amount of fast twitch fiber.

This end result is that having more muscle mass means that not only does more energy have to be produced to support the higher levels of force and power, but also that more of this energy is likely to be come from the fatigue inducing anaerobic system as well. Taken together, these two facts explain why we so often see light weight fighters bouncing around and looking almost as fresh in the third or fifth round of a title fight as they did in the first, while it’s not uncommon to see heavyweights starting to look gassed out before the first round is even over.

The Bottom Line

When taken together, everything points to the reality that the more muscle you have, the more difficult it inevitably is to push a fast pace throughout a fight. This means that body type can play a big role in the pace and eventual outcome of a fight.  Along these lines, it’s worth noting that none of the guys known for their relentless pace, fighters like Demetrious Johnson, Frankie Edgar, Nick Diaz, Clay Guida, etc., are among the most heavily muscled within their division and many are actually on the smaller side compared to others in the division.

Keep in mind that even though virtually all combat sports have weight classes, there can be considerable differences in the amount of muscle mass and overall body type between two fighters in the same weight class. When it comes to body type, there are some areas that you can have some control over, such as how much muscle mass and bodyfat you have, and other areas that you cannot – things like bone density, height, body proportion and limb length obviously can’t be changed.

Pushing the Pace

Unless you’re a fighter in one of the lighter weight classes or blessed with the right body type, the reality of energy systems discussed above may seem a bit disheartening, but don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do to improve your ability to push a fast pace without gassing out. Taking from the lessons learned from looking at the difference between the weight classes, it’s easy to see that if you want to up your pace, you have no choice but to increase your aerobic fitness, limit the amount of muscle mass that you have and develop a fighting style well suited towards maintaining a high pace.

Greater aerobic fitness means you’ll be able to produce more of the energy your muscles require through aerobic metabolism and less of it anaerobically. This means greater endurance and an improved ability to push a faster pace from bell-to-bell without slowing down – in other words, you’ll be able to fight more like a lighter weight fighter even if you aren’t one.

The Ultimate Pace Pushing Plan:

Step One – Improve Aerobic Fitness

In order to develop the kind of aerobic fitness you need to push a relentless fight pace like the top fighters from the light weight classes, there are three specific areas that you must work to improve. Each of these plays a role in aerobic energy production and each needs to be developed to the highest levels if you want to be able to keep up with the smaller, lighter, and best conditioned fighters in your division.

First, you will have to develop your cardiovascular system to deliver as much oxygen to the working muscles as possible. The more oxygen that can be pumped throughout your body and into the muscles, the more energy you’ll be able to produce aerobically and the better your fitness will be.

In order to do this, you’ll first need use traditional running, or Roadwork 2.0 circuits In either option, the general rule is to keep your heart rate in the range of 130-150 beats per minute for an extended period of time. This method helps improve the ability of the heart to pump blood and oxygen and also develops the network of blood vessels that bring the oxygen to the working muscles.

Next, you’ll need to train the muscles to become more efficient at using the oxygen that your cardiovascular system is able to deliver. After all, it’s ultimately inside the muscles themselves where aerobic metabolism occurs and this means you need to increase how much mitochondria – little aerobic power plants contained within muscle cells – if you really want to be able to push the pace to the max.

To accomplish this, short intervals of 8-15 seconds are used with relatively long rest intervals. What you choose to do for the interval, whether it’s sprinting, biking, calisthenics,  Kettlebell exercises or combat specific drills, is up to you as long as you follow the general guidelines. One important thing to point out is that during the rest intervals you should stay active with something like jump rope, shadow boxing, jogging, or some other low intensity activity.

Finally, in order to help your body maximize the power it can generate using predominantly aerobic energy, it’s important to incorporate a training method called pace work. For combat sports, this type of work should take the form of sparring or pad/work and the general guideline is simply to deliberately train at the maximum pace you can sustain without any real measure of fatigue.

For most athletes, this means they’ll need to keep their heart rates in the range of 160-170 and a simple heart rate monitor can be used to ensure they are in the right range.  This is just a general guideline, however, and you’ll want to find your own heart rate range that allows you to train continuously for at least three straight rounds without incurring much fatigue. Over time, this strategy will help maximize your maximum sustainable power and push your fight pace to a whole new level.

An 8 Week Program to Fight-Winning Fitness

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Week 1

40-45 minutes Running or Roadwork 2.0

30-40 minutes
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

Week 2

45-60 minutes
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

40-45 minutes
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

Week 3

Short Intervals
5-6s work:
30-45s active rest

30-40 minutes
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

45-60 minutes
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

Week 4

Short Intervals
6-8s work:
20-30s active

35-45 minutes
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

50-60 minute
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

Week 5

Short Intervals
8-10s work:
20-30s active rest

Pace Sparring/
Pad Work

45-60 minutes
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

Week 6

Short Intervals
8-10s work:
15-20s active rest

Pace Sparring/
Pad Work

60 minutes
Running or
Roadwork 2.0

Week 7

Pace Sparring/
Pad Work

Short Intervals
8-10s work:
10-15s active rest

Pace Sparring/
Pad Work

Week 8

Pace Sparring/
Pad Work

Short Intervals
8-10s work:
10-15s active rest

Pace Sparring/
Pad Work

Program Notes:

  • Always thoroughly warm-up before each and every workout
  • The amount of time spent for each interval and pace training session should depend on your current fitness levels. Beginners should begin with 10-20 minutes, while advanced athletes can work up to 45-60 minutes
  • Always make sure to use a heart rate monitor to ensure you are in the correct training range
  • The program should be considered an example and should be customized to meet your specific needs, goals and abilities

 

Step Two – Develop the Right Style

Aside from improving your ability to produce energy aerobically, you will also need to develop the right fighting style if you really want to be able to maintain a relentless pace. The reason this is so important is simply that style dictates a great deal about how your body must produce the energy your muscles need.

There is a world of difference between throwing everything you have into every strike or takedown attempt and choosing the right moments to explode and go for the finish, or simply choosing to wear an opponent down over time rather than going for the early KO or submission

Fighters known for their incredible pace, guys like Nick Diaz, Demetrious Johnson, Rich Franklin and Frankie Edgar, fight with a completely different style than those known for their strength and power. If you want to improve your pace, this means you must develop a style where your energy is spent wisely. Wasting energy and using more strength and power than necessary is a surefire way to end up fatigued while your opponent is still fresh.

Rather than using as much strength and power as you can, you’ll need to learn to use your strength and power only as much as necessary. Instead of wasting energy going for takedowns and submissions that you’re not going to get, you will have to learn to be patient and use your pace to break your opponent’s will before going for the finish. When you can combine top level aerobic fitness with the right fighting style and game plan, you’ll have what it takes to outpace and outlast any opponent you may face.

Note: for more information on how to develop fight winning conditiong, make sure to pick up a copy of Ultimate MMA Conditioning if you don’t already have one.

*This article has been reprinted with persmission from Fighting Fit magazine. Please see the October 2012 issue for the all the latest in training to fight.

Like What You’re Seeing?

Get Started Now With a FREE Video Course & Discover How to Improve Your Fitness and Unlock Your True Potential

one

4-Week Conditioning Program

Learn More
two

The Truth about Energy Systems

Learn More
three

The HRV Training Revolution

Learn More

Comments

Join the Conversation