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5 conditioning training myths in martial arts

A lot of top martial arts coaches will often tell you that the difference between winning and losing a fight often depends upon which fighter is more conditioned. No wonder then that martial artists from all styles place a great deal of emphasis on conditioning training. Early morning runs, endless situps for abdominal conditioning, rope jumping, etc are what you will often see martial artists do besides practicing their art in a dojo or outside. And in the modern times thanks to MMA you will find that circuits done with kettlebells, bodyweight, weights , etc too are a staple in a fighter’s preparation for a fight.

All that is great, and I personally believe that due to a higher level of conditioning amongst the fighters today, the quality of fights that we see are of a higher quality too. The problem however arises when amateur fighters plan their conditioning workouts. Due to their lack of knowledge and/or due to wrong and misguiding sources of information, they end up more beat than built! In this post I would like to tackle some of these conditioning myths that are popular today amongst aspiring fighters. Read on, you might just discover if you too have been making these same mistakes.

1) Conditioning workouts must leave you wiped out- have you ever done a conditioning workout and swore that you will not stop till you drop? After all those workouts in the ultimate fighter show seems to only consist of guys puking, failing to stay of their feet when doing conditioning. While it may seem really macho and necessary to do workouts that leave you dead, in reality the best conditioning workouts are those that build you up rather than break you down completely. Sure, the TV show highlights the puking and fainting because that is what sells their episodes and helps with TRP’s, but real life is a bit different.

Its great to knock out your opponent, but dont let your training knock you out

This concept is however tough for many to understand. Most fighters think that excess fatigue while doing conditioning is just a sign of weakness and with time it will get sorted out on its own. While it is true that conditioning workouts should challenge you and get you out of your comfort zone, it should also to be kept in mind that the idea is to progress and not push beyond your limits, every single day. I mean if you are looking for punishment then don’t worry, martial arts will deliver a lot of pain with strikes and takedowns that you will receive from your opponents. Your goal should be to ensure that your body does not break down too much and too soon. If your conditioning training leaves you feeling sick every time you do it, then soon your performance will drop and so will your enthusiasm. Remember, train hard but train smart too.

2) Long distance roadwork is the ultimate conditioning workout- if you have ever seen one of those classic martial arts movies, then you might think that getting up before sunrise to go out and run, is the best way to improve your conditioning. While running does have benefits to offer to a martial artist, it is certainly not the best way to get conditioned. Most amateur fighters fight for less than 10 minutes in fast paced bouts. In such matches there is no place for slow and steady movements. Even most pro MMA fights are for a total of 15 minutes (if it goes the distance). So then what is the point of running slowly for an hour? Sure, if you are looking to cut weight, which could include some muscle and strength too, then long distance running comes handy. However for the rest too much roadwork is likely to hurt your conditioning and performance rather than build it up.

Also it must be kept in mind that slow training like marathons can actually make you less explosive, if done too frequently. And as a fighter being fast and explosive is one of the most important requirements that you must possess. The best way to run for a fighter is to do sprints. Sprinting will make you explosive while also improving your conditioning. Depending on your fitness levels you can sprint anywhere between 1- 3 times a week. If you still want to do long distance roadwork, then ideally limit it to once a week, that is, unless you are looking to cut weight for a fight.

3) Lift weights only for conditioning- in an earlier post I had shared some myths that are associated with strength training for martial arts. However when it comes to weight training and martial artists, this is one myth that seems to be very popular. Again, those damn MMA reality shows seem to have brought about this misconception that martial artists should only lift lighter weights for circuits, unless they want to become musclebound and slow. While it is true that the goal of a martial artist is not to become a weightlifter, it is also true that strength is important for martial arts.

Ideally basic barbell and dumbbell training should be used for low to moderate rep training where the emphasis is placed on heavy weights to build strength. It can however also be used for conditioning work via circuits, barbell complex, kettlebell training, strongman training, etc. The key is to use weights as a strength training tool first and then as a conditioning tool. So if you train with weights 3 times a week, then lift heavy on 2 days and you can do a circuit or high reps style workout on the third day. If you are looking to cut weight fast, then reverse it to 2 high rep days and 1 heavy day, but do keep atleast 1 heavy day to maintain strength.

4) Conditioning workouts need to be done everyday- I just don’t get it, is actual martial arts practice, that is kicking, punching, throwdowns, sparring, etc so easy to do that they do not involve any type of conditioning? I don’t think so! Often I suggest to regular folks to do some martial arts for IMPROVING their CONDITIONING. Yes, just practicing your kicks, punches with enough power and speed will help you to get tremendously conditioned. The extra conditioning should be done just to take it to another level. However that does not mean that martial arts training lacks intensity and is easy.

Believe me practice improves your conditioning too

Ideally your conditioning workouts need to be much shorter in duration when compared to your actual practice. Remember that you are first a martial artist and not a fitness competitor. For the amateur martial artist 2-3 separate conditioning sessions should be more than enough. Any more than that and he will end up eating too much of his recovery and martial arts time to really be able to develop his skills.

But what about the professionals, they seem to do some conditioning training everyday? Well first of all they are pros who have built up such high levels of fitness over a period of MANY years, it is just not the same for an amateur. Secondly their whole life is about training, eating and sleeping. They have enough hours in a day to rest and recover from their brutal workouts. Again, it’s just not the same for a person who works/goes to school and then makes time for martial arts.

5) A low bodyfat equals great conditioning- while it is true that Randy Couture’s 6 pack abs are as functional as they look, it is not the same in everyone else’s case too. A 6 pack is a sign of low bodyfat, and not necessarily a sign of great conditioning. I mean there are some skinny teenagers out there too, who smoke, do drugs, etc and still have great looking 6 packs. So are they highly conditioned too, I don’t think so! Take a look at Fedor Emilaneko, he is considered by many as the greatest ever mixed martial artist, and yet he does not have a single digit bodyfat %. Of course I am not saying that he is obese, but he is certainly not as ripped as some of the guys that he has defeated. Does it look like he needs to be more conditioned?

Fedor did not become a champ without good conditioning

And what about guys like Roy Nelson, Butterbean, etc. Sure, I am not saying that they are the most conditioned fighters out there, but if it were only about how they looked, then I guess they would not even be allowed to enter the ring/octagon. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that martial artists should stop checking their bodyweight and bodyfat completely, all I am saying is that if your opponent’s 6 pack looks better than yours, it does not mean that they are necessarily better conditioned as a fighter too.

There are obviously many more myths related to martial arts conditioning as you can understand. The key is to ensure that as a martial artist your training revolves mostly around improving your skills, technique, and power in your moves, rather than get too caught up in the fancy mess of trying to become a fitness athlete. This is especially true when you are starting out and not yet a professional. In the long run as you progress you will be able to add different methods of conditioning, go harder, etc. However the key is to keep it in check and not overdo it to the point where your martial arts starts to suffer.

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