If you watch UFC fights on TV, you’ll somtimes hear announcer Joe Rogan exclaim, “Uh oh, he’s gassed!” This means that one of the fighters is showing signs he’s out of breath. This is usually followed shortly thereafter by the gassed fighter being knocked out or submitted. Being in better shape is clearly a huge advantage in the UFC.
However, this clearly isn’t only for UFC fighters. Earlier this year I started to notice the same thing in my Taekwondo training. At the start of a sparring class I felt strong, but 20 to 30 minutes in, I was gassed. I might win my first match, but by #2 or #3 my guard had dropped, so I wasn’t protecting my head, and I couldn’t kick high or fast. I was a sitting duck, and I decided I had to do something about it. I’ve been quite successful so far.
The first thing you might think of when you need to “get in shape” is running. Marathon runners run for miles and don’t get gassed, do they? Well, you’ll want to be careful about adopting that kind of static endurance training if what you’re training for is a fight. Marathons take hours. A fight is over in minutes (or less!). A fighter needs the ability to turn on maximum effort for a short burst, then recover and go again. This is where Interval Training comes in.
Interval Training involves exercises where you push yourself to peak exertion, hold that for an amount of time, scale back to a lower level of exertion and then push again. Repeat. You can see this illustrated in the chart above. This type of training allows you to train harder at max exertion than you could with something like a consistent running pace — as a marathoner does. A marathoner doesn’t have a high peak exertion level. They operate at a low/medium level for the entire event. In a fight, you have to be able to turn on your full capacity to push the offensive or escape from an attack.
I’ve added Interval Training to my program in two ways. One way is using the “Interval” programsetting on the elliptical machine at the gym. It automatically cycles between a hard setting and an easy setting. This let’s me push myself to the absolute limit for a full minute, driving my heart rate up above 170 bpm, and then ease back to a level where I can recover. I can then get my heart rate back down 130 bpm and catch my breath in time to crank it up again. This is great for simulating the cadence of a fight.
The other way I’m adding Interval Training is running through hilly terrain. Running on a flat surface is good for endurance training, but running through hills allows me to push to exhaustion while ascending and then recover during a descent period.
With these additions to my program, I find that I am never gassed during a typical Taekwondo sparring class. Better yet, last week I competed in a regional ATA tournament. I had to fight 3 sparring matches in rapid succession with different opponents. While I pushed hard in all of them, and worked up quite a sweat, I never felt gassed and that kind of endurance was a big factor in how well I placed. Adding 20-40 minutes of Interval Training to my program ~3 days a week has made a huge difference. You shoud give it a try.
Do you have any experiences with Interval Training for martial arts? If so, please share them here. Do you have any good ways you use Interval training in your program?