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Running For MMA; Is Hitting The Road Beneficial?

Running For MMA; Is Hitting The Road Beneficial?

Mike Leng discusses the pros and cons of LSD running and sprinting for MMA fighters.

Author: Mike Leng


Running. It’s the first thing that everyone thinks of when it comes to ‘getting in shape’ and MMA athletes are no different. Almost all combat athletes will be including some form of running into their training from either steady state jogs to sprint work. While running has been a part of combat sports since the year dot, is it beneficial to MMA? What type of running will yield the best results? Are you putting in hours of roadwork and getting no benefit or is it giving you extra gas on the mat?

The two primary options for athletes are either jogging or sprinting, so for the purpose of this article we will focus on these for now. At this point it is worthwhile mentioning that while the points mentioned in this article are to give a brief understanding of running (and indeed most steady state vs. interval cardio), it is not the be and end all on the subject and I encourage you to ask questions of your coaches or people more knowledgeable than you to further your understanding.

Before we start looking at the types of running let's take a closer look at how your body uses different energy systems to do different things. What it uses to lift a heavy weight and what it uses to sprint is very different. The three types are;

  • The ATP-PC system, which your body uses for short, high intensity tasks up to about 10 seconds in duration (depending on the individual).
  • The Anaerobic system which kicks in for moderate intensity activities lasting normally between 10-90 seconds.
  • For low intensity activities it will generally use something called the aerobic system (nothing to do with bubbly chocolate, fatty) . This generally kicks in after about 90 seconds of exercise and lasts up to several hours.

Typically your body utilizes one system as it’s primary source while the other two contribute only a small amount. For example, if you’re sprinting all-out for about 10 seconds, your body is fuelled by the ATP-PC system, after which it uses the aerobic system to replenish the ATP-PC system. Or if you’re lifting a weight for about 90 seconds, it uses the anaerobic system after the first 10 seconds. If you were jogging, then beyond the 90 seconds your jogging is fuelled by the aerobic system. Your body will never use just one energy system in a fight so it is important that your training mirrors what happens in the cage as much as possible. So let's look at running.

Chances are that if you are reading this and you already practice MMA, or are looking to start, then you already run. If I was a betting man I would wager that you are doing some form of long steady state jogging (a mile or more) so we will start with this.

Steady state running for MMA basically comes from the idea that all combat athletes from boxers to monks in a far forgotten land have run to improve their fitness. They believed that not only will it increase your ability to last longer in a fight but it will also give you the added benefit of improved mental toughness, lung capacity, relaxation and checking out girls in spandex on your jogging route. While these points may be valid, we will just stay within the realm of improving your conditioning, as the GOAL of running for MMA athletes (and this is very important as no one should be doing something just for the sake of it) is to improve your conditioning in a fight.

So since we now know that your training should be as fight specific as possible and that jogging is a low intensity activity that primarily uses the aerobic system, how is this reflected in a fight? The fact of the matter is that it isn’t really. If you think about any fight you have watched or participated in then you can clearly see that it is generally short periods of explosive, high intensity activity followed by a period of medium/low intensity. While having a good aerobic base is certainly a good thing, being able to run miles and miles will just make you more efficient at running.

Short, high intensity sprints (30 seconds) mixed with periods of low intensity jogging (1 minute) for the same duration as a fight may go a bit further towards replicating a fight as it can use all of the energy systems (and burn more fat, but that’s another article). However, sprinting is still just moving along one plane and not really using any resistance, so it doesn’t go the full way to replicating what we are looking for. Short sprints using a weighted sled/prowler or very short sprints (10-20 meters) using a weighted vest may be a better option. Adding these types of sprints into a sensible strength and conditioning plan may seriously help your gas tank.

Whilst I believe that steady state running and cardio can have their place in a fat loss or off season training plan, I think there are much better ways to improve an athlete's conditioning during fight camp, and adding long cardio sessions are just going to eat into recovery without really offering any pay off. If you are including steady state cardio into your training then maybe consider dropping it for a month in favour of something more fight specific and see if you notice any difference? Then again you may think I’m talking a load of crap and really enjoy your running? If so, then more power to you, I’m sure you will be amazing at running away from your opponent for the full duration of the fight…


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