Work Capacity: Do It Stronger, Faster, Harder, and Longer
By Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins
(Very similar to Ross Enamait's ideas)
There are many elements to strength and conditioning (S&C) training as it relates to mixed martial arts (MMA). Most folks think that it’s all about “strength” or “cardio.” While those two elements are very important, there are many others that are just as, if not more, important and should be trained as such. There is power, strength-endurance, power-endurance, muscular conditioning, flexibility, agility, and much more. When discussing these different elements, the inevitable question usually ends up getting raised—“Which one is the most important?”
MMA (and combat sports in general) is different than most other sports in that it doesn’t focus on solely just a few elements of fitness. Many times, sports tend to be more to one end of the spectrum or the other, with those ends of the spectrum generally being toward maximal strength-based training or endurance-based training.
MMA is totally different though. It not only requires high levels of strength but also high levels of endurance. This endurance has to not only be cardiovascular in nature (i.e. how in shape your heart and lungs are) but also strength and muscular in nature (i.e. how long you can produce high amounts of force and how long you can simply contract your muscles). Your levels of strength are tested in weakened environments (due to being put into physically weak positions and having to produce force against unwilling opponents) as well as in very fatigued states (everybody feels good and is strong at the beginning of the fight, but are you strong at the end of it?). In fact, I’d venture to say that MMA is one of the most physically demanding sports out there, coming from the perspective that it requires highly developed levels of so many different physical elements.
So again, the question begs asking—which of the qualities that I’ve mentioned so far is the most important? My answer? None of them.
This isn’t to say that they’re not all vital to any mixed martial artist’s game because they are. However, I feel the most important physical quality that a mixed martial artists can posses is one that’s a little more all-inclusive and even somewhat less tangible—work capacity.
Work capacity is a pretty simple concept and is easy to identify with. Put simply, work capacity is how much work you can do. How much can you lift and how many times? How many overall pounds can you lift in a set timeframe? How hard can you run two miles? In a more MMA-specific fashion, how many punches can you throw in a round? How many times can you shoot in for the takedown? How many times can you sprawl? If you know how many punches you can throw, how long can you continue to throw hard ones? If you know how many times you can shoot in for the takedowns, how many times can you shoot in and still be fast? How long can you hold onto a submission hold? How long can you physically impose your will on your opponent while on the ground? How strong and fast are you at the beginning of the fight? In comparison, how strong and fast are you at the end of the fight? An easier, though again somewhat less tangible way of looking at it might be to ask yourself, “How big is my gas tank?”
Now, many of you might think that this sounds like conditioning. And to a certain degree, you’re correct. I think many people misuse the word “conditioning,” using it to only mean cardiovascular fitness when it incorporates much more than that. But, that’s another subject for another time.
Work capacity doesn’t just entail conditioning or endurance elements though. Work capacity is the “whole enchilada.” It’s everything—strength, power, speed, athleticism, agility, endurance (cardio, strength, power, and muscular), and a whole lot more.
Legendary catch wrestler, Karl Gotch, was known for saying, “Conditioning is the greatest hold.” By this, he meant that if you’re in better shape and can do more work than your opponent (given that his skill level doesn’t just totally outclass your own), you can, at the very least, keep up with your opponent until he gets tired. Once he gets tired, as famous football coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” You, being in better shape, then have the upper hand, both physically and now mentally. Having more work capacity than your opponent—being able to do more work than he can—gives you that upper hand.
So, how do we go about increasing our work capacity? If only there was one answer to that question...
Because work capacity is such an all-encompassing element to S&C work, there is no one single way to increase it. And increasing your work capacity in one area won’t (necessarily) increase it in another. So, you have to focus on what your weaknesses are and what you really need work on. For example, say your strength-endurance is sub par. You start your fights off being very strong, but, by the end of the match, you’re as weak as a wet noodle.
In this situation, a good way to bring this up is to decrease your rest times during your strength training. If you’re normally resting 2–3 minutes between heavy sets, start shaving time off your rest period. Go for an initial goal of 60–90 seconds. If you’re only resting 60–90 seconds between sets, try to cut that in half. Doing this will condition your body to not only produce near maximal amounts of force but do it more repeatedly and with less rest. This will more closely mimic what might happen in a fight.
As another example, say your muscular-endurance is lacking. Say, for instance, that you start your fights off throwing hard punches, but, by the end of the fight, your shoulders are so tired that you can barely hold your hands up. They (your shoulders) just “burn” too bad. A solution for this is to do punching-based minute drills. Line up in front of the heavy bag with a timer set for 60 seconds. For that entire minute, throw as many good, clean, crisp, hard punches as
You don’t want any of these light little pats. Hit that bag! Go for broke here. This is a “sprint” for the entire 60 seconds. Rest 60 seconds (eventually get this down to 45 seconds) and go again. Repeat for 10 rounds. This will teach your body to go all out, but because it’s only 60 seconds, you can go more all out than you might be able to do in a three- or five-minute round. This will allow you to throw more hard punches overall (in total). Increasing the volume like this will increase the muscular-endurance in your shoulders.
Now, let’s say that you just plain need more overall capacity. To use a sort of metaphor, you need to be fighting with a 20-gallon gas tank, but you’ve only got a 10-gallon tank. The only way you’re going to fix this is to get more overall activity/volume in. This can be accomplished by increasing your amount of skill work, S&C work, or both. Find ways to simply get more volume in your training. You just have to do it smartly though. You can go out and add a ton of volume to your workouts, but you leave yourself open to overtraining, burning yourself out mentally, getting injured, or any combination of the above.
A good way to add overall volume is to do little “mini-workouts” in the day. These are short, little workouts, designed to just get more work in. They won’t (necessarily) give you an intense strength workout, conditioning workout, or skills workout, but they will add up over time and will help you increase the size of your gas tank.
A good, sample mini-workout needing no equipment might be:
* Burpees X 25
* Push-ups X 25
* Squats X 50
* Sit-ups X 25
* Shadow box X two minutes
Do this mini-workout once or twice per day, 5–6 days/week in addition to all your other skills and S&C work and see how much more work you’re capable of after two months.
There are countless ways you could address work capacity. Just be sure that when you do, you’re increasing your strength level and conditioning (or both) and making sure that you don’t open yourself up to injury. Remember, all your S&C work should be designed to make you a better fighter, and work capacity is one of the best ways that you can do that.
Train Hard, rest hard, and play hard.
Sports specific training topics
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