#1: Balance out Your Cardiorespiratory Conditioning
- If you have access to a well equipped gym, don’t just hang out on the treadmill, ellipticals or bikes. Working the legs is how most go about their CR training, but as martial artists we also need good metabolic capacity in the upper body too. The rowing machine can be an excellent option, and a welcome change of pace. It’s also a great way to balance out all of the striking, push ups, and pressing that we do.
- Some roadwork/long slow distance is good, but don’t stop there. If you can fit in 2 or 3 CR sessions per week, consider the following rough ideas:
Day 1: Sustained high intensity. Work at 85-90% your max HR for 15 minutes. One session is adequate for starters; a longer session, or a second can be added in after several weeks. Consider supersetting this with a split between a bike or running and rowing (but don’t waste time between!).
Day 2: Long slow distance. Find a comfortable pace around 65-75% of max HR and settle in for 1-3 miles. Although fight training lore is steeped in daily, dedicated roadwork, it shouldn’t dominate your training time. Every few weeks, change it up by using a different piece of equipment, terrain, or combination of rowers, running, etc.
Day 3: High intensity intervals. Find a modality that allows you to work at 95-100+% of your max HR. Start out with a work:rest ratio of 20sec:10sec for 4 minutes. If you are new to this, avoid trying to use bag work or technique training for HIIT, as you will likely not be able to maintain the target intensity for each work bout. Give sprints, jump rope intervals, and carefully planned weight training complexes (1/4-1/3 bodyweight loads, compound exercises, 1 exercise per major muscle group, 8-10 reps per exercise) a shot.
If time is limited, you can combine upper body CR training with lower body strength training and vice versa. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid combining prolonged CR training with training that require a high rate of force production, such as SAQ or power training.
#2: Balance out Your Strength Training
- Strength training can suffer from hazy goals, and from trying to fit in too much at once. Set clear goals, make a plan for how you are working towards them in each session, and stay on track.
- Give yourself a limit of 45 minutes per strength training session to help cut out the dead time and superfluous exercises.
- Get a high quality strength training program designed by a qualified trainer, or based on your past training and current needs. Adjust loads as you need to, but stick to it for the duration (4-6 week cycles are ideal).
- Don’t be afraid to get weird. The standard strength and power targets for programming are important, but don’t get stuck in them. Throw in a new exercise or two, preferably things that stress as much of the body as possible. Asymmetrical is good too. Look for exercises that integrate that strength and power into coordination. Turkish Getups, suitcase deadlifts, and Jefferson lifts, are some examples. Work in bodyweight exercises that complement your technical training and your weight training. For example, if you can pull a heavy deadlift, see if you can crank out a few Spiderman pullups. See how many times you can extend your fingers and make a tight fist in 1 minute, increase it weekly. Can’t do pull ups or push ups? Progress from isometric holds at the top and slow descents, or use a resistance cable for assistance. Strong is good; mobile and coordinated and strong enduring in a range of positions is better.
- *As always, don’t get in over your head and jump into exercises that you can’t perform safely. These suggestions assume a relatively healthy person with experience or access to a good trainer.
#3: Set Aside an Hour per Week for Tissue Quality
- If you have the luxury of 4 or 5 conditioning sessions per week, set one aside for myofascial release (foam rolling). Give one half hour over to large muscle groups with a roller, and a half hour to the deeper, smaller musculature around joints with a lacrosse or tennis ball. Put on some music that you can get lost in and work your way from head to toe, front and back. You can also tack 15 min onto each normal training session, addressing the muscle groups most used or working through them on each day.
- If you don’t, make some time during down time. If you watch TV in the evenings, this is a perfect opportunity to get some SMR in. But don’t get so lost in the magical glowing box that you forget to work from muscle group to muscle group.
- Remember, once you’ve identified tender points in a muscle, spend a full 30 seconds applying sustained pressure on it. Rolling up and down can be useful for breaking up tissue adhesions and promoting circulation, but sustained pressure is necessary to reduce resting muscular tension by tripping a neuromotor reflex. Use a clock, or count to 40 in your head (chances are good you will more accurately reach 30 sec this way).
#4: Set Goals for Bag Work
- A heavy bag, double end bag, speed bag and slip bag can be vital training tools, or insidious wastes of time. It all depends on whether or not you have goals, a plan, and some self awareness. Set clear goals for each piece of equipment. Give yourself time limits (2 min. rounds work well). Write down your most persistent technical flaws and set up a mirror, or get a reliable training partner to point them out when they occur. If you just go in and pound away with the same set of bad habits, you’re only making them stronger.
- Set goals for each round of heavy bag time. In addition to your usual bag work, break your habits. Try out the combinations, strikes, footwork and movement styles of good training partners, fighters or other martial arts that you see some value in.
- If you spend a lot of time on the heavy bag, balance it out with light, fluid work on a double end bag.
- Particularly if you train in a traditional martial art, consider the importance of head movement. Get a slip bag, watch how the pros use it, and incorporate it into your warm ups or rest intervals.
#5: The Most Important Tip: Actually Do It!
Resolutions and attempts to start or return to a training program can fail without getting off the ground because people can recognize the need, but don’t follow up with motivation to actually do it. Your body is your most important training tool, and all of the weapons that it provides need to be maintained. If that means turning off the TV or getting up a little earlier, make the decision and get to it. If you’ve been saying “I know…/I’ll start after…” for a while now, then you’ve established a habit that will only get harder to break as you repeat it. Start out gradually if need be, set clear goals that you can actually achieve, and work at them session by session. In a few weeks or months, you’ll be stronger, faster and more resistant to injury, and your technical training and practice will improve in leaps and bounds with it.