Decades ago, the late Mas(utatsu) Oyama, founder
of Kyokushinkai Karate, and arguably the undocumented godfather of mixed martial arts,
once conducted an informal test between two of his students to
determine what kind of physical conditioning was best for hand to
hand combat performance. The first students preparation for the
competition consisted mostly of calisthenics as background
conditioning. The second student trained with weights. The exact
exercises used were not documented exactly but it may be assumed that while the
first student did bodyweight exercises such as
pushups, pull ups, jumping, stretching and the like, the second student was
newly introduced to barbell and dumbbell exercises (probably without a strength
and conditioning coach around). The first students body became
supple and wiry. The second student, whose exact conditioning may
not have been recorded, gained muscular bulk.
After a few months,
both fighters tangled on the mat. The contest most
probably allowed not only striking but also grappling. According to the
story, the karateka who trained with classic karate calisthenics beat the
muscle boy hands down. Does this prove that training only with
calisthenics is the best conditioning method for Karate or Mixed
What if the first student was just a better
fighter? Did they have the same nutritional
plan? Did they use supplements?
Did they understand the value of weight
training recovery at that time? This kind of test
hardly proves anything given the fact that there were too many
uncontrolled variables involved. The concept of barbell
exercises being an integral part of mixed martial arts
equipment was new and under the authoritative auspices of Mas Oyama, it
must have made sense that weight training slowed you down by making you what
was known at the time as muscle bound. Also, there was
only one student of each conditioning discipline. There should have been
a larger sampling.
Mixed Martial Arts is an Anaerobic Activity
A 1998 study observed that advanced practitioners
of karate tend to be much stronger in the bench press and half squat than
beginners. This is probably due to a constant regimen of push-ups and
jumping but could it also be the other way around? That is, if a martial artist
was to begin a weight training regimen, including bench presses and squats,
would this help them better in their sport? The same study analyzed
that martial artists such as karatekas tested out more or less to be
anaerobic (strength and power oriented) athletes. This is
interesting because although the same study did not consider them to be
endurance (aerobic) athletes, their uptake of oxygen efficiency (VO2
max) was measured to be about 19% above non-athletic participants in
the same tests.
The goal of the mixed martial artist must be to
not only learn striking and grappling techniques but to also develop
the stamina to sustain these activities for long periods of time. Stamina
is the combination of strength and endurance. To attain stamina, the
strength and conditioning of the mixed martial artist must be of a hybrid
nature. In yet another study it . . . is recommended that
karate practitioners perform more specific weight training, plyometric
exercises, and interval training to increase the ability to buffer acid muscle
and blood concentrations and to build lean body mass, strength, and power to
develop the specific motor skills required in sparring.
Martial Arts Requires Training Specificity
MMA conditioning for a cage fight can be a
grueling affair. One should not waste time with exercises that are not
specific to the sport. It would be best to practice skills and
conditioning at different times or preferably, on different days.
Practice skills on Monday and Wednesday and work on stamina Tuesday and
Friday. If you have a busy schedule, however, then you may be
pressed to do everything on the same day. If this is the case, you should never
tire yourself out first with stamina training. This should be done
last. Skill Movements requiring critical accuracy,
finesse and timing should be practiced first. These would be
pinpoint speed strikes, punches and kicks which are then followed by the
practice of grappling movements requiring more brutal strength such as throws,
take downs, reversals and such. Stamina conditioning is done last.
If you practiced the more skilled and
explosive movements first when you are fresh, you are telling your body
through the language of muscle memory something like, I want you to do it
this way; sharp, accurate, crisp and powerful. If, however, you train
finesse techniques when you are exhausted, your muscle memory will tend to
return sloppy and tired movements in the future.
There may, however, be a sound argument in
that you should exhaust yourself first and then practice a skill such
as kicking. After all, you say, what if a bout lasts many
rounds? My body should have the muscle memory to know what is needed to
fight well when exhausted, shouldnt it? If this is your thinking
then first practice skilled movements in your workout, then exhaust
yourself and if you still have enough energy left, finish up with skilled
movements. This will develop concentration.
Weights Interval Workout to Develop Stamina
Here is a great workout for building stamina for mixed
martial arts. You should only do a workout of this type after you have
been weight training for at least a few months and you are in reasonably good
1)Cardio: Jump rope for one minute.
2)Strength: Do six to eight repetitions of power
cleans. Use a light weight.
3)Cardio: Do step ups for one minute. You can
use an ordinary chair for this. First thirty seconds step
up onto the chair with your right foot and thrust yourself up bringing your
left foot up beside your right foot.
Then step down onto the floor first with your right foot bringing your left foot
down beside the right. Your
right leg provides the concentric movement up. Your left leg provide
the eccentric motion down. On the
second thirty seconds you reverse feet. Your left leg will push you
up and your right leg will let you down.
4)Strength: Incline (or regular) bench
press. Use a weight you can perform 6 to 8 repetitions without
straining. Bar dips are acceptable as a substitute.
5)Cardio: Jump rope for one minute.
6)Strength: Back squats. Use a weight you
can perform 6 to 8 reps with without straining.
7)Cardio: Step-ups for one minute.
8)Strength: Chin ups. You should be able
to do about 6 to ten reps without straining. Bent rows are acceptable as a
9)Cardio: Jump rope for one minute
10)Strength: Power cleans .
11)Repeat three or four rounds. No
This stamina developing workout will definitely get
the job done. Again, you should not attempt this workout unless you are
in reasonably good shape. Consult a doctor first before you do it. Dont
do it more than two or three times a week. One very important note:
Dont think you can turn this workout into a high intensity
training workout by doing the strength exercises to
failure. You will definitely over-train.
After you achieve better conditioning with the above
workout try variations by super-setting the strength intervals to be:
2)Cleans and presses or sandbag lifting.
4)Bench press and bent rows.
6)Back squats and partial good mornings or deadlifts.
8)Dips and chin ups
Repeat 2 more times-quickly moving between exercises
with no rest for a total of 3 rounds. If the weights are too light, its
okay to go heavier with lower reps.
Stamina workouts such as those above should not be
done more than twice a weekthree times at the most. If youre looking
for a interval type of circuit workout that develops your both your
strength and VO2 max then try this for 6 to 8 weeks. If youre exploring
options, this is one of the best stamina routines out there. So consider
weights to be part of your mixed martial arts training gear.