Getting in great shape might not be easy, but there’s more to conditioning than simply training as hard as you can. After all, if it was simply a matter of nothing more than hard work, professional fighters would never gas out. The following five tips will help you supercharge your conditioning and get the most out of your training by training smarter, not just harder.
Tip #1 Use the High/Low Model
Although the High/Low model was originally developed for track athletes, it can easily be effectively applied to combat sports and conditioning. The principle component of this system is to separate your training into high and low days. This allows for the body to perform at its peak when it’s ready to do so and then gives it a chance to recover in between hard training sessions.
On the high days, you’ll want to perform high-intensity intervals and explosive strength type exercises while keeping the overall volume moderate. On the low days, you’ll instead keep the intensity much more moderate and give your body a chance to recover fully. The low days are a perfect time to include technique work and drills and lower intensity conditioning like roadwork circuits.
Tip #2 Include roadwork circuits in your training
In recent years, roadwork has gotten a bad rap and largely shunned as an ineffective waste of time by many in the strength and conditioning community. The truth remains, however, that many of the best conditioned and most successful athletes in combat sports throughout history have always included some form of roadwork in their training and continue to do so.
Lower intensity work can speed up recovery, improve aerobic fitness, and doesn’t take as much of a toll on the joints as higher intensity interval training methods often can. This type of work doesn’t have to mean hitting the pavement, though, and more combat sport specific exercises can be used.
Try including 4-6 exercises such as shadowboxing, jump rope, med-ball throws, stationary bike, body weight exercises, etc. for 5-10 minutes performed in circuit fashion each once or twice a week. Keep your heart rate between 130-150bpm throughout the entire training session for maximum results
I wrote a previous article about Roadwork 2.0 that you can reference here.
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Tip #3 Get a heart rate monitor and use it
A high quality heart rate monitor will help you get the most out of your conditioning work because it can help keep your heart rate in the right training ranges while also providing invaluable feedback so you can determine if your program is working the way it should be or not. Without this sort of objective feedback and information, a lot of your training becomes nothing more than guesswork.
You can use a heart rate monitor in several different ways to maximize your training. First, you can use it to get an accurate gauge of your resting heart rate, a good measure of overall aerobic fitness. Most top combat athletes have resting heart rates in the low to mid 50’s.
Finally, a heart rate monitor is absolutely essential to making sure your heart rate is in the right zone for conditioning methods like roadwork circuits and lactate threshold training. Without a heart rate monitor, there’s no real way to know where you’re at. When used properly, a high quality heart rate monitor like the Polar RS100 is one of the best investments you can make in your training and is guaranteed to help you train smarter
Tip #4 Track and Monitor Your Conditioning
In order to really improve your conditioniong, you have to have some gauge of where it is at to begin with. After all, if you don’t really know where you are, how do know if you’re moving any closer your goal or not? Having no real measure of your current conditioning level and no way to track it is a surefire way to never really improve it.
For the purposes of simplicity, the four easiest ways to measure and keep track of your conditioning are the following tests:
- Resting Heart Rate
- 1.5 mile Run
- BioForce HRV Score
- Heart Rate Recovery – 1 minute following 1.5 mile run
For the majority of combat athletes, the right target resting heart rate range is in the low to mid 50’s. Much higher than that, and it’s a good sign that your conditioning will be lacking. For the 1.5 mile run, you’re going to want to shoot for the 8 minute mark and just as importantly, you’ll need to be able to see your heart rate drop at least 30-40 beats within the first minute following the run.
If you’re using BioForce HRV, your average HRV score itself will be provide a good gauge of overall fitness and conditioning levels as well. The majority of well conditioned combat athletes will have an average HRV score in the mid-80’s and higher. If you’re not there, you can use the system track your changes in average HRV over time and monitor your progress.
Generally speaking, resting HR and HRV are indicators you can measure on a daily basis, while you might use the 1.5 mile run and heart rate recovery test every 4-6 weeks. Consistent measurement and monitoring is one of the most important steps to making sure your conditioning will improve. Far too many fighters want to improve their conditioning, but then they never try to accurately measure it and have no real way of knowing whether or not their program is actually producing the results it should be or not. Don’t make this mistake.
Tip #5: Increase Your Training Frequency
Regardless of what’s being put into the headlines these days, there is a reason that high level endurance athletes put in massive hours of training, because it works! Combat athletes don’t need the same level of aerobic fitness and they don’t need to spend hours and hours running or biking or doing activities like that, but if conditioning is the goal, you will need to put in the time to make it better, there are no shortcuts.
One of the biggest mistakes fighters often make is that when they want to improve their conditioning, they try to do so only by training harder. They up their intensity, start doing more intervals, hit the pads more, etc. While all this plays a role in conditioning, there is always a trade off between volume and intensity. You can’t train with both high intensity and high volume for long before you end up overtrained and/or injured.
The best way to improve your conditioning is to find the right balance between intensity, volume and frequency. The truth is that for the purposes of conditioning, frequency matters..a lot…and most athletes will get more out of putting in more time at a lower pace than killing themselves every time they hit the gym. If you train so hard that you can only really get in 3 solid workouts a week, that leaves 4 days you’re not training and that’s a conditioning killer.
The best solution to this problem is to train 2-3 days per week hard and 2-3 days per week easy. In other words, follow the high/low model described earlier. Even better, use BioForce HRV along a heart rate monitor to decide which days should be your hard days and which days should be your easy days and you’ll be well on your way to having world-class conditioning.