Tips To Improve Endurance For MMA Fighters!


Photo Credit: Taco Fleur

** MEDICAL DISCLAIMER **

MMACHANNEL strongly recommends that you consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. You should be in good physical condition and be able to participate in the exercise. MMACHANNEL is not a licensed medical care provider and represents that it has no expertise in diagnosing, examining, or treating medical conditions of any kind, or in determining the effect of any specific exercise on a medical condition.

In MMA, endurance is the bread and butter of every fighter! While possessing elite striking or grappling skills is important, what is just as important is the ability to keep high levels of energy and strength over an extended period of time. Even if a fighter’s skills are average at best, the ability to maintain a consistent pace can win you a fight in the later rounds! 

In MMA, endurance is the bread and butter of every fighter! Possessing an elite striking or grappling skills is important, but the ability to keep high levels of energy and strength over an extended period can also make a lot of difference. Even if a fighter’s skills are average at best, the ability to maintain a consistent pace can win you a fight in the later rounds! 

You have to undergo various types of endurance workouts away from MMA training to improve your endurance level more effectively. Battle rope workout, sprint running, circuit training, gymnastic, and high altitude training are some of the very effective endurance workouts for MMA fighters.

But this is not just for fighters to increase your fighting stamina, anyone can do this to improve their stamina. If you pick just a single one from our list below and add it to your weekly training schedule, we assure you will experience significant improvements in a short period!

Battle Rope Workout 

While jumping ropes have been in combat sports for many decades, battle rope workout became popular relatively recently. Maneuvering the long thick ropes in linear and circular motions will boost your cardio to the higher levels and the muscles burning and screaming will tell you that your upper body is improving as well.

Most of the aerobic and anaerobic exercises are typically affecting the lower body. Even if some have an effect on the upper body, the imbalance between is huge. The famous fitness trainer Don Saladino who transformed the regular bodies of actors Ryan Reynolds and Sebastian Stan into the superheroes, gave his opinion on the battle ropes

“The ropes are great for someone who is completely healthy and needs to give lower body a bit of a break, but can also work for people who are recovering from a lower body injury.”

Although battle ropes are a new thing, there are a couple of credible studies conducted on its effectiveness. One Canadian research discovered that performing a battle ropes workout for 15 minutes per week can increase the max press-ups by 24% and sit-ups by 7% in just four weeks! The scientist from the University of Minnesota came out with their study which indicated that 10 minutes of this exercise significantly raises metabolic burn and fat loss (source).

Sprint Running

Sprint running has always been the traditional punishment for disobeying the gym rules, and for a reason! Short sprints are very intense and require 100% of your energy and all muscle power. Although these exercises could be among the hardest, they are excellent for improving the cardiovascular system, muscles, stamina and they also burn a lot of calories.

The good news for all of us who don’t like to spend many hours a week jogging is that short sprints have an equal or even greater effect! As Fitness and Adventure Sports Expert Mr. Bihod Bhadri suggests:

“Doing the same type of workout every day is boring; moreover it is not effective for your body. Every day, I see people going for long runs or are just simply running on the treadmill in order to lose weight. That’s not how fitness regimes work, people should have variety. Doing sprints adds just that” said Mr Bhadri.

However, the most astonishing fact about sprints is that it enhances muscle strength just as weight lifting does! As a part of anaerobic exercises, sprinting naturally requires every muscle in a body to work hard and by doing so enhances the protein synthesis! The study performed at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden indicated that sprinting can enhance protein pathways by as much as 230 percent!

To make it easier for you, here are a couple of tips for you to begin with (source)

4 x 200 meters 
Rest 1 minute between runs and rest three minutes after the last before starting the 300’s
3 x 300 meters
Rest one minute between the runs and rest three minutes after the last run before starting with 400’s
2 x 400 meters
Rest one minute between runs

Circuit Training

In case you are unfamiliar with this type of training, the circuit training program is a combination of intense strength exercises and aerobic/anaerobic exercises. Both strength and conditioning workouts have an enormous effect on improving cardiovascular fitness and combining the two will maximize the effect!

This program was developed by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson in 1953 and represents the group of physical activities which athlete performs by using different equipment at the rapid pace. During one circuit, the athlete must complete the following exercises:

  • Upper-body (push-ups, bench dips, back extensions, medicine ball chest pass, bench press and inclined press up)
  • Core & trunk (sit-ups, stomach crunch and back extension chest raise)
  • Lower-body (squat jumps, compass jumps, astride jumps, step-ups, shuttle runs, hopping shuttles and bench squats)
  • Total-body (burpees, treadmills, squat thrusts, skipping and jogging)

We agree, the exercises presented above look hard and completing the circuits in a short time is even harder. However, the benefits a fighter could enjoy are huge! Studies performed at Baylor University and The Cooper Institute indicated that circuit training is the most effective way to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance (source)!

Gymnastic

Like MMA and wrestling, gymnastics naturally requires an insane amount of conditioning and endurance which they are building up through the intense aerobic training. The close connection between the two sports and the benefits that gymnastics can offer to MMA athletes is explained in our “How Gymnastics Exercises Make MMA Fighters More Superior” article. If you haven’t read it by now, be sure to check it out!

Image Credit: nenad stojkovic photography

As we’ve previously mentioned above, the athlete’s conditioning depends on the maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and oxygen transport (EPO). Presumably, you’ve seen videos of athletes running on the treadmill with the mask over their face. This is a simple method used to accurately determine how much oxygen your body takes during the exercise which further produces the ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Logically, more oxygen leads to more ATP’s and efficient energy. The average VO2 max among the untrained, healthy males is about 35-40mL/kg/min, and for healthy females about 27-31 mL/kg/min.

You can check out the VO2 Max values presented in man and women in this article: Source

In order to increase those numbers, gymnasts use a lot of anaerobic/aerobic training and exercises such as hanging on the bar, the ring workout or L-sits. Getting involved in gymnasts training programs as support for the martial arts training could be very beneficial. Apart from great conditioning, the athletes could enjoy the improvements in the following areas:

  • Core strength and balance
  • Hand – eye coordination
  • Flexibility
  • Confidence and self-esteem
  • Improves bone health
  • Explosiveness 

High Altitude Training

Yes, we know, moving the training camp in the mountains seeks a considerable financial investment. However, the technology provided us with some excellent substitutes like the training masks which are decreasing the oxygen intake and simulate altitude training.

One of the best examples of how high altitude affects the MMA fighters is a memorable Heavyweight title fight between Cain Valasquez and Fabricio Werdum, held in Mexico City (7349ft). Werdum, who arrived much earlier and was able to adapt his body to the changes, absolutely demolished the man who has been known for his exceptional cardio! This makes you wonder: What actually happens at a high altitude?

Being exposed to a higher altitude and working in an environment with reduced atmospheric pressure forces the body to battle against the lower temperatures and oxygen pressure. Training in these conditions will naturally force the body to put on a fight to keep the organs running. By doing so, the athletes could enjoy significant improvements in the greater oxygen transport through cells (EPO), the maximum amount of oxygen delivered (VO2 max), and much better blood volume (source).

As a result, the study “Living high-training low” performed by Ben Levine and Stray-Gundersen J. on Olympic runners showed that training at high altitudes enhances performance in elite athletes by 1 to 2 percent!

Heavy Bag Workout

Heavy bag workout is one of those fundamental aerobic exercises that has been the main part of everyone’s training program since the beginnings of combat sports. By throwing the punches at the 100-pounds bag, you are activating the whole body including shoulders, hips, chest, back, waist and legs (source). Apart from the physical benefits, you can genuinely enjoy losing weight without harming your health and reducing anxiety and stress.

Image Credit: Keith Ellwood

Let’s take a look at some of the most important benefits of heavy bag workouts for MMA fighters below: 

Moving around the bag and throwing punches from various positions and angles naturally requires transferring your weight from side to side which significantly increases the stability and coordination. 

  • Improves punching power and explosiveness
  • Instead of throwing wild single shots, focus on getting everything right in terms of technique and throw combinations. This will enable you to build more muscle which means more power!

As mentioned above, heavy bag workout is an aerobic workout that puts your cardiovascular capabilities on a test. Doing this exercise a couple of times a week will strengthen the heart and lungs and allow them to supply the body with more oxygen. 

Uphill Running 

Running has always been the synonym for endurance, but the uphill running could certainly boost the athlete’s conditioning to another level. Uphill running is one of the easiest and challenging workout that can help you dramatically improve your cardio level as a fighter.

Although it may sound odd, this form of running teaches how to properly position the knees (knees up) and is equally great for building leg muscles, quads, lower abs, and upper body. By progressively improving these areas, the athlete could enjoy great benefits in speed, power, and a big gas tank.

If you’re not a fan of strength training, outdoor running could be a perfect substitute for strengthening the muscles in your calves, hamstrings, glutes and Achilles’ tendons that naturally lead to much higher resistance. What’s more, Dr. Bengt Saltin from the University of Copenhagen conducted a study on the effectiveness of hill running, and proved the similar point: hill runners possess higher levels of aerobic enzymes in their quadriceps muscles and have higher resistance!

This is especially important for MMA fighters who are relying on their body resistance and the ability to perform under the high intensity for an extended period. 

If you are just a regular beginner, you should start by regularly running on the flat for a couple of weeks to get your body ready for this intense workout. After that, spend a few weeks training on the hills or treadmill and you’ll immediately see the difference when back on flat. Everything becomes much easier!

Swimming

Among all the grueling exercises out there which often force the athlete to throw up or even collapse from exhaustion, swimming is probably the most enjoyable one! I mean, who doesn’t like swimming?! It’s the fourth most popular activity in the US

Compared to the regular running, getting into the pool and swimming for an hour, the athlete could burn almost the equivalent amount of calories and improve the cardiovascular system. Despite the fact that swimming has many benefits, the most important is that it affects the entire body! Regardless of the style you choose, the advantages are equal:

  • Increases the heart rate without stressing the body
  • Builds endurance
  • Builds strength
  • Improves tones in muscles

Every MMA fighter who’s training three times a day puts the body and mind through a tremendous amount of stress and pain. Naturally, swimming is one of those aerobic exercises which builds the resistance but doesn’t stress the body and can be used for recovery purposes also. Plus, it teaches you how to get in the control of your breathing and find the perfect rhythm which enables you to maintain the high-energy levels.

Jumping Ropes

Have you ever seen an MMA or any combat sports training video without the fighter performing jumping rope exercises? From the early boxing days, jumping ropes has been always a part of every training session and here is why:

According to the sciencedaily.com, ten minutes of jumping rope is equal to the eight minutes of running! Plus, the calories are burning much faster (up to 1300 per hour) and can significantly help a fighter controlling the weight through the training camps. If you recall those UFC countdowns and embedded series, you can remember fighters doing a lot of jumping rope during the most important parts of weight cuts.

However, most importantly for our research purposes, the academic study conducted at the American College of Sports Medicine showed us that performing these exercises three to five times per week increases your heart and lung health and improves the cardiovascular fitness! 

Like swimming, jumping ropes requires the coordination between the mind and the body which enables the athlete to stay calm and focus on breathing. Furthermore, it prevents many injuries from happening by improving the overall strength and bone density. As said by the professor Dr. Daniel W.Barry from the University of Colorado: Source

“Jumping is great, if your bones are strong enough to begin with,” Dr. Barry says. “You probably don’t need to do a lot either.”

Kettle Bell Workout

As simple as it looks, this cannonball looking workout tool is one of the best equipment for improving both cardiovascular and muscle strength! By performing ballistic exercises, the athlete can quickly experience more advantages over the any other training tools out there.

With the ability to work on explosive strength and endurance at the same time, this Russian training tool instantly became extremely popular among the MMA fighters. 

While performing some classic lifts such as the Snatch and Clean & Jerk, athletes could quickly develop the ability to sustain power over an extended period of time (power-endurance).  Furthermore, significant cardiovascular improvements could be expected from the popular overhead exercises which are forcing the muscles from the respiratory process to assist in the muscular activity (source). These advantages will provide any MMA fighter with the necessary endurance capacity to maintain high energy levels and power for the entire fight.  

Conclusion:

As mentioned in the introduction, MMA is a very complicated sport and so is the science behind endurance. Every now and then, the new study or training equipment shows up and completely changes the way we exercise. The workouts and benefits presented in our list are not just focused on professional athletes, but on the people all over the world. As much as endurance helps the MMA fighter, it also helps an average man to go through the daily activities. That said, our last tip for you is to get up, pick one from the list and start building those muscles and endurance!

Jeff J.

Jeff J is a retired Gunnery Sgt. with the United States Marine Corps and a former Federal Police officer. He was involved with extensive training with weapons systems, and hand to hand combat, mentored and trained hundreds of Marines in high-level fitness programs.

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