A New Method of Intervals

Over the past few years there have been a large number of articles written on interval training and speculation over which method of interval training is the best for MMA. Many people these days seem to be touting the “Tabata” interval as the answer to this important question, but in this article I’m going to introduce you to a different method of doing intervals that I’ve found to be far more effective to improving conditioning for MMA and I’m even going to explain why and how it works.

This is a very specific training method that I’ve used with many of today’s top pros to achieve dramatic results. I guarantee that if you incorporate this method into your training program properly, you will too.

First, before I get into the details of the this method let me make it clear that contrary to popular belief these days, intervals themselves are not the only way to train and there are benefits to old school “road work” type training that you do not get from intervals. Although it’s become extremely popular lately to bash longer slow aerobic work as worthless and inefficient, the truth is that this type of training is still absolutely necessary to build the aerobic foundation that interval training should be built on.

What many “experts” these days don’t seem to realize is that longer slower aerobic work is the most effective way to increase the size of the heart (specifically the left ventricle) and increase the ability of the body to deliver blood to the working muscles. The intensity of interval training is too high and the volume is too low to achieve these very important training effects so if your resting heart rate is still in the 60s, or even worse in the 70s, you need to be doing longer slower aerobic work before getting spending all your time doing intervals.

Assuming you do have the aerobic foundation you need to get the most out of intervals, it’s equally important to realize that all intervals are not created equal. Just as there are different schemes of sets and reps when it comes to strength training, there are also many different methods of interval training.

Some interval methods are better at increasing your aerobic endurance, some are better suited at increasing your aerobic power, some are most effective at increasing anaerobic power, etc. Your body uses three different energy systems; the truth is that there is no single interval method that is the “best” interval to use all the time or for every purpose and this includes the Tabata method.

Having said that, the interval method I’m going to introduce to you now is not the only interval there is or the only interval you should use in all your training, but it is hands down the most effective method I’ve found for increasing your aerobic power. Simply put, aerobic power is how much power you can generate using the aerobic energy system and it’s a HUGE key to performance in any endurance sport and certainly in MMA.

In fact, how much power you can generate at your anaerobic threshold is the best predictor of performance in endurance sports and a far better gauge of potential than VO2 max. The more power you can generate aerobically the less you’ll have to rely on your anaerobic system and the better your endurance will be, plain and simple.

Without further ado, the intervals I’m talking about are High Resistance Intervals, or what I call the HRI method. Just as the name implies, they are done using high resistance as opposed to high velocity, and this is part of what makes them unique from other intervals and also why they are so effective.

Traditionally, intervals are done with little to no resistance and at the highest speed possible, i.e. you sprint as fast as you can. The result is that the highest threshold fast twitch fibers (the ones that come into play only when absolutely needed) rarely get used or exhausted because there is not enough resistance, and as a result their endurance does not improve much.

This problem is solved, however, by using high resistance and keeping the work interval short and the heart rate below the anaerobic threshold. In this way, we can improve the endurance capacity of the fast twitch fibers that traditionally have very poor endurance and we can improve how much power you’re able to produce aerobically.

If this sounds overly complicated don’t worry, you don’t have to understand exactly how it works to put it to use in your program. The best way to use the HRI method is to do sprints on a very high incline, or high resistance intervals on a spin bike. There are other ways to make the method work, but those are the easiest for most people to put to use.

There are several keys to using the HRI method properly:

  • 1. Use as much resistance or the highest incline possible
  • 2. Keep the interval no more than 10-12 seconds
  • 3. Your heart rate should not go over your anaerobic threshold
  • 4. Your rest interval should be dictated by your heart rate – rest until your heart rate drops to 130-140 before repeating
  • 5. Do at least 15-20 intervals per workout

Following the guidelines above, you can simply set a high incline (15% grade) and sprint for 10-12 seconds, let your heart rate come down to 130-140 and then sprint again.  If you have access to a steep hill and a sled, you can also pile some weights on and do short sprints up the hill – this is one my personal favorite ways to do it and it’s also brutally effective.

It’s best to use the HRI method for 2-3 weeks before taking a week off. It’s an intense method and you’ll see results quickly, but more is not always better. If you want to improve your conditioning and are tired of doing the same old intervals over and over again then give the HRI method a try 2-3 times a week, I guarantee you’ll feel the difference in the ring or cage.