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HIIT – How Great Fighters Develop Endurance

Written by Tim Brown

One of the most fundamental aspects of any fighter’s performance is his (or her) endurance. Whilst many beginners are able to display power in their fighting execution such as punching power or sometimes even speed, very few possess the workload capacity to go rounds on rounds. It’s not even an overlooked aspect of any sport such as boxing or wrestling, it’s just that many fighters (usually the ones starting out) don’t appreciate enough. They think to themselves – as long as I have the power, speed or technique, I will have the tools to end a fight quickly. All of these functions are crucial in anyone’s game but it’s important to recognize what role endurance plays in all of this.

Let’s assume that like many fighters, you recognize you have a really strong point in your fighting arsenal. For arguments sake, we’ll pick power. You have higher than average power and it can be punching, kicking or power in your arms during wrestling, whatever. In order for you to effectively use this advantage and leverage it in your spars or fights, you must be able to use it continuously over time. This is where endurance comes into picture because it’s one thing when you can demonstrate this power in one few minute sparring session. It’s something else when you have to display that over 5 or 10 rounds or the power is gone.

This is where you will frequently hear from sports commentators or fighters alike, “you have to take them to the deep waters”. When someone has mediocre technique/power/speed and is facing a fighter with great one shot KO power or technique that is superior – you must ask yourself, what can you do to wear this person down? For MMA fights when someone has great striking skills but has similar wrestling, your best bet is either to wrestle them or to wear them down. Once you wear someone down, it’s a completely different fight. Same goes with wrestlers in MAM with great endurance. If you wear a wrestler down with strikes and continuous stand up movement, they will stand a lot smaller chance of taking you down. And this all is due to the continuous high pace output required in a fight.

How to solve this issue and turn endurance into your strength?

First of all, it’s not an overnight night. There is no magic pill or magic formula. I felt that I have to get this out of the way first. It’s about smart work and training intelligently to develop better endurance as a fighter. Slow pace cardio has its place and time in training but for the purpose of this article, I’d like to focus on HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training.

HIIT Boxing Training

HIIT Boxing Training

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is probably the most important thing to understand for when it comes to fighting endurance. Fighting is the type of activity that will require you to exert high amount of energy over small periods of time. You don’t frequently trade punches until someone is gassed out. You also don’t wrestle continuously for 20 minutes. You go on and off continuously. If you’re a boxer, you will look for those open spots to land your shots, explode on the opportunity with a combination and lay off for a second or two. Same goes for kickboxing, Muay Thai and other sports. In order to become a cardio machine, you need to be able to exert great amount of energy in a short period of time with small rests in between. When you are able to do this, you will notice that you become a lot more explosive as well as recover quickly. So you must train accordingly and HIIT is what helps achieving this.

How to train for HIIT?

To train for hit, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s about switching to high amount of energy exertion to low amount of energy exertion. You go on and off. It’s as simple as that. If you’re a beginner that is just trying out going on and off – you can start even as simple doing any exercise at maximum power for 15 seconds and resting for 45. If you’re more intermediate, you can up the on part to 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off. If you’re more advanced, you can attempt 15 seconds on and 15 off.  The actual seconds don’t really matter that much. What matters is that maximum energy is exerted in a short period of time followed by relatively short (less than 45 seconds preferably) rest or slow paced movement. The exercise itself can vary and is not as important as long as it’s not heavy weight training. It should be the type of exercise that you can do for a longer time and not just a few reps as otherwise it’s not cardio training.

HIIT ideas

  • 100m sprints followed by 200m slow run – 4 times, rest 3 minutes and do it 2x again
  • 15 seconds maximum speed and heavy bag punching/kicking followed by 30 seconds slow-technique punches – 3 minutes, rest 2 minutes and follow again
  • 30 seconds fast pace cross-trainer followed by 30 seconds slow pace – 6-10 minutes
  • 10 pushups each followed by a high jump and 30 second rest afterwards – 4x times
  • 20 second high knee standstill sprints followed by 20 second normal standing jog – 3x, rest a minute and then do this another 3-4 times

All of these are forcing you to go at go at a high pace/workload for a short time and requires you to do it again shortly after. When you do this several times a week, you will notice converting this energy into other parts of your fighting sport. Whether that is wrestling, boxing, judo – you’ll get better at all of these and it’s because you’re able to train for longer time at a high pace level. You will be able to maintain your power, technique and speed in those explosive rounds where others will fall. To becoming a great fighter with superb endurance, maintaining high intensity is one of the most crucial things. If you’ve not given high intensity interval training a try, this is the right time!

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