I hate running. Seriously, there are few things I dislike more than running. I avoided it for years in my training, and would smugly say “you’re doing it wrong” while driving by someone slowly jogging down the street. I mean, jogging is such a low stimulus. It certainly couldn’t illicit a change in our bodies. I’m an athlete who needs more explosive power capabilities. I have no intention to run a marathon.
However, after reading Joel Jamieson’s Ultimate MMA Conditioning, I can be found pounding the pavement every Tuesday and Thursday morning for an hour or so. Am I sadistic? Slightly. I do believe there is merit to the idea that if you dislike something (at least in your training, but generally in life as well) you should probably do more of it. But my 2 hours a week of misery has greater purpose than mere character building, it greatly contributes to my overall conditioning while increasing my ability to muster up energy for quick and explosive bouts. Let us further explore this “idea” as I try to generalize some of Jamieson’s thoughts.
Aerobic Vs Anerobic
As you are probably well aware there are basically two energy systems at play in our bodies, aerobic and anaerobic. Simply put these two systems are responsible for creating the fuel on which your muscle tissue relies. This fuel is known as Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is broken down to create the energy your muscles need to contract. Therefore the more ATP your system can produce, the more energy your muscles have to allow them to work harder and longer.
The aerobic system uses oxygen and, unlike the anaerobic system, also utilizes fats to create ATP. This is important because fats can produce twice the energy of sugars at 9 calories to 4 calories per gram. The aerobic system produces most of the ATP found in our body. Unfortunately, it takes the aerobic system much more time than the anaerobic to produce ATP. This knowledge can make the aerobic system sound more appealing to train, but lets dig even deeper.
I am sure you are thinking (or were thinking) as I once thought, “I’m a combat athlete, I need to be explosive, so I better focus on my explosive/powerful energy system (anaerobic).” You certainly aren’t wrong, if you want to be explosive you’ll need to train explosively and further develop your anaerobic system. But you would be selling yourself short if you didn’t include any aerobic training, and here’s why. The aerobic system is going to fuel your body throughout the fight, which includes the fuel used to create explosive movement through your anaerobic system. Simply put, the better your aerobic system, the better your anaerobic system. This whole aerobic energy system is now beginning to sound much more important.
So how can we most efficiently develop the aerobic system?
Jamieson lists a number of ways along with how to utilize them, however, for the purposes of this article I am going to talk about one method in particular that I use weekly whether I have a competition or fight schedule or not. He calls this method Cardiac Output, I simply call it steady state. This type of training conditions the heart to pump a larger volume of blood with each contraction by enlarging the size of the left ventricle.
When you can efficiently pump blood to your muscles, more oxygen gets delivered resulting in more energy. A distinction must be made between the adaptions created between steady state work and high intensity interval training. On the surface both seem to strengthen the left ventricle, but they do so in completely different ways. Steady state cardio actually stretches the left ventricle allowing a larger capacity, while higher intensity work will actually thicken the heart walls. Therefore, contrary to what many coaches may tell you, you cannot achieve the same results of aerobic work (steady state cardio) with anaerobic training (high intensity interval training).
How you can achieve it?
Alright, all this science is well and good, but what should you do? It is actually very simple. All you need to do is keep moving for 30-90min while maintaining a heart rate between 130 and 150 beats per minute. The way I accomplish this is by strapping on my heart rate monitor, run down the road for 30 mins, then turn around and head back. Jamieson mentions a method he calls Roadwork 2.0 in which he suggests using several exercises in a circuit that keep your heart rate at the desired beats per minute.
I have tried this approach but I find that when I pick one exercise (namely running) I am able to zone out more easily during the training session, which is important to me considering my disdain for steady state conditioning. Try both systems, and see which you prefer. Remember to get in 1-3 of these sessions a week, and keep that heart rate within the desired range. After a few weeks of this training, you should see vast improvements in not only your overall aerobic conditioning but in your anaerobic system as well.
What are main advantages of steady state cardio?
There are numerous advantages to incorporating a steady state cardio program into your regular fitness routine. Cardio exercises that are done in a steady state assist you lose weight while also increasing your stamina. And, let’s face it, a solid cardio workout can help you reset your mindset and recover from a bad mood or lack of motivation.
The advantages of steady state cardio aren’t limited to that. In a recent study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, steady state cardio was found to protect against insulin resistance by enhancing insulin sensitivity. Some of us are prone to believing that cardio is only beneficial if we’re drenched in perspiration, out of breath, and sore the next day. Scaling down your effort, on the other hand, is a good way to exercise, especially if you’re a beginner or need some rest in between strenuous exercises.
We may develop our endurance and conditioning without putting ourselves under too much stress by doing steady-state exercise. It improves our efficiency as machines. Athletes who train year-round for a single sport miss out on the physical and mental advantages of cross-training. There are numerous advantages to running in a steady-state pool, cycling on a stair stepper, or triathletes rowing in a steady-state rowing machine.