Full Guide to Endurance Training for MMA and Boxing


Full Guide to Endurance Training for MMA and Boxing

endurance training for mma

A fighter’s gas tank is one of the main physical traits that determines his ability to win a fight. Unless he plans on winning by one-punch-knockout every fight, he needs a well-rounded base of endurance to be successful in the fight game.

But how do you organize endurance training for MMA and boxing? And more… How do you develop endurance for MMA and boxing?

It’s a three step process. The first step is assessing your weak points, or rate limiting factors. The second step is selecting your training strategies. And the third step is scheduling your endurance training.

In the post below, I’m going to reveal how to do all of that. Plus, I’m going to give you a sample endurance training schedule that I would use for the average fighter.

Keep in mind, this sample schedule isn’t optimal for everyone. A fighter’s endurance training should be organized based around their specific weak points, their biases (what they’re good at), and even what their skills coach wants you to develop.

I’ll show you how to determine their weak points below.

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Let’s get into the post:

Identifying Rate Limiting Factors

The first step in developing endurance for combat sports is identifying your, or your athlete’s, rate limiting factors. Rate limiting factors are essentially holes in the athlete’s performance that hold back a certain aspect of their training. In English, rate limiting factors are an athlete’s weak points.

There are three rate limiting factors related to endurance training. They are:

Respiratory Limitations

Respiratory limitations are present when the athlete cannot get oxygen into the body, nor can he push out carbon dioxide, efficiently. This is usually do to some kind of obstruction in their breathing due to postural or biomechanical issues. This is common for fighters who usually have kyphotic posture.

If you don’t know, kyphosis occurs when the muscles of the chest, neck, and shoulders are overly tight and cause the back to round forward. Many fighters have this postural imbalance due the nature of their sport. Constantly using the muscles on the front of the body with little use of the posterior chain causes the muscles on the front of the body to be overdeveloped.

Different breathing protocols can be effective in correcting respiratory limitations. Specifically the Buteyko method, which is a breathing method in which the athlete maintains good posture, and does maximal breath holds. There are also a few endurance training methods I’ll go over later in the post that can hammer away at respiratory limitations.

Utilization Limitations

Utilization limitations occur when the athlete has the ability to get blood and oxygen into the muscle, but not into the mitochondria for energy production. This issue primarily occurs in slow twitch dominant athletes. These athletes can run, swim, and bike for long distances. However, when it comes to repeating explosive movements, they struggle. Think of fighters who are volume punchers, and can throw hundreds of punches in a fight, but can’t knockout their opponent. These fighters have utilization limitations. I’ll share how to overcome utilization limitations later in this post.

Delivery Limitations

Delivery limitations occur when the athlete struggles to get blood and oxygen into the muscle. This limitation occurs in muscular, fast-twitch dominant athletes. Especially fighters who come from football and basketball backgrounds. These fighters have lots of power, but they lack the ability to maintain low and medium intensities for longer durations.

These fighters usually have dangerous one-punch knockout power, but if you get them past the second round, they quickly gas out and become less of a threat.

Endurance Training Methods To Correct Rate Limiting Factors

Once you’ve identified your, or your athlete’s, rate limiting factors, you’ll want to identify which endurance traits and endurance training methods you’ll want to work and use to hammer away at those rate limiting factors.

Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic capacity is your ability to drive blood and oxygen to the muscles. Having read the above, it’s easy to see that developing aerobic capacity corrects delivery issues.

So, how do you develop your aerobic capacity?

The main modalities I like to use are as follows:

  1. MAF Training: MAF is a training method developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone. Without diving too much into the science, MAF training is simply maintaining a heart rate calculated by taking 180 and subtracting your age. You’ll maintain that for a long duration.
  2. Roadwork: Traditional long, slow distance training is great for developing your aerobic capacity. Swimming, biking, and running are all acceptable. Pick the one that works best for you
  3. Escalating Density Training: Escalating Density Training is a training method developed by Charles Staley in which the athlete is given two exercises and performs them back to back for a certain amount of reps. He is constrained to a certain time block and takes no breaks in between movements.

Essentially, if you want to develop your aerobic capacity, you want to work low heart rate zones for a sustained period of time.

Threshold Training

Threshold training hammers away at delivery and utilization limitations. Threshold training is usually performed in heart rate zones 3 and 4. That means the athlete is training between 70 and 90 percent of their maximum heart rate.

The main modalities for threshold training are circuit training and lactate threshold training. Circuit training is a form of training in which you perform a set group of exercises in rapid succession, no breaks. Lactate threshold training, on the other hand, is training at an intensity in which the body can’t sweep the lactate. Lactate is an acid that is produced by the body during exercise, and by performing lactate threshold training, you’ll improve your ability to perform when lactate is present in the body.

Power Endurance Training

Power endurance is your ability to repeat bouts of power or explosive movement. Increasing power endurance will hammer away at utilization limitations. The two modalities I like to use to enhance power endurance are alactic and anaerobic capacity training, preferably called utilization and desaturation training. This kind of training consists of red zone work (90-100% of max heart rate), repeated sprints, and quick, explosive bursts. Essentially, we’re utilizing oxygen as fast as possible and repeating explosive movements over time.

Blended Energy System Training

Finally, we arrive at blended energy system training. Blended energy system training hammers away at respiratory limitations. It mainly consists of high/low or low/high intervals sustained in a-cyclical movement patterns. Essentially, this is going from a low-intensity, ramping up to a high-intensity, then bringing the intensity back down. This gets the athlete in the steady flow of saturating and desaturating the muscles with blood to allow for an increased ability to take in oxygen and let off carbon dioxide.

Now that we’ve seen how to hammer away at limitations, let’s see how to put it all together.

Sample Endurance Training Schedule for Fight Camp

8-5 Weeks Out

Monday: Zone 2 MAF Running 30-45 Minutes, Light Intensity

Tuesday: Sprint Repeats

Wednesday: Low/High Interval

Thursday: Sprint Intervals

Friday: Zone 2, MAF Run, 30-45 Minutes

Saturday: Sprint Repeats.

Sunday: Off

Explanation for The Schedule: The schedule starts off with some light intensity endurance training. Reason is, there’s still a lot of training to do throughout the week, and you don’t want to blow your load to early.

Tuesday is usually a strength and conditioning day. We don’t want to confuse the organism by performing a mix of high and low intensity training, so we do some repeated sprintability training using different modalities.

On Wednesday, we’re working the respiratory limitation with low/high interval training. We really want to underscore the need for good posture, breathing diaphragmatically through the lumbar spine, and creating the ability to take in that oxygen more efficiently.

Thursday, we’re back in the gym. So we’re going to opt for more repeated sprints.

Friday, we’re back to low-intensity running to wind down.

And Saturday, we’re going to do more repeated sprints with a different modality than we’ve used all week. If their upper bodies haven’t been exhausted, I might use ropes or sledge hammer slams to perform this kind of training.

4-1 Week(s) Out

Monday: MAF Run, 30 mins

Tuesday: Red Zone

Wednesday: Low/High Intervals in A-cylical Fashion

Thursday: Red Zone Training

Friday: Zone 2 Training

Saturday: Hard Threshold Training Zones 3-4

Sunday: Off

Explanation for The Schedule: 

The first thing you’ll notice is that I dropped down the time for the endurance training on Monday. This is simply to make it more fight specific.

On Tuesday, we’ve changed to a circuit or threshold training. This will be high intensity and will be specific to the fight game.

Wednesday, we’re back to hammering away at the respiratory limitation with low/high interval training.

Thursday is another gym day, so we’re back to red zone training. Make sure you present yourself or your athlete with different training modalities than you used on Tuesday.

Friday, we’re back to low-intensity training. Today, make sure you change up the training modality. You can use the pool, hit a run, or try some biking to change things up. You should be especially careful not to beat up the legs too much.

Finally, on Saturday, you want to perform sport-specific circuit training that simulates the time domains and biomechanics of the sport. This way, you’ll easily be able to transfer your endurance to the sport.

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