The Physical Needs of MMA – Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, we looked at all the various strength attributes that are needed in MMA. This time, let’s continue on from strength into different power and endurance characteristics, as well as cardio.


Power is simply strength measured with a time component. Instead of wanting to know how much weight you can lift in a given movement, you want to know how much weight you can lift and how long it takes you to lift it. Power can be increased by either lifting more weight in the same amount of time, or the same weight in less time.

Example – a squat 1RM of 300 lbs is a measure of strength. A squat 1RM of

300 lbs performed in 2.5 seconds in a measure of power. A squat 1RM of 310 lbs performed in 2.5 seconds would be an increase in power. A squat 1RM of 300 lbs performed in 1.8 seconds would also be an increase in power. However, a squat 1RM of 310 lbs performed in 2.7 seconds would NOT be an increase in power. It would be an increase in strength, but not power (more weight was lifted, but it took more time to do it).

Power is important simply because there is nothing slow going on in the ring or cage. You can be strong as all hell, but if you’re not fast, don’t plan on being able to get anything accomplished. And speed can add much more than you might think to what goes on in a fight.

Try this example – put your fist against a wall and push as hard as you can. I mean really drive it into the way. Use a maximal effort. After a short rest, bring your fist back about 10 inches from the wall, and punch the wall at about 50{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} effort.

Which one hurt more? The second one did. That’s because of the speed that was introduced. Power can be trained a few different ways. The most common way is to use ~40-65{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} of your 1RM for an exercise and move the weight as quickly as you can. 4-6 sets x 4-6 reps is usually around the norm for this kind of training.

Another way can be to follow up a near maximal lift, with a much lighter, explosive lift. Think a squat with 90{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4}+ of your 1RM for 2-3 reps, immediately followed by jump squats.

Most associate the Olympic/”quick” lifts with power (cleans, snatches, pulls, etc.), but truth is that power can developed with any exercise – just be sure to be moving the weight as quickly as possible.


Ok, this one should be fairly self-explanatory, too. Take the description of power above, and apply the “endurance” elements of strength-endurance above.

You now have the definition and importance of power-endurance.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability of musculature to contract repeatedly (regardless of the amount of force being produced) over a given time period. For example, squatting 85{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} of your 1RM for 10 reps inside of three minutes would be strength-endurance. Squatting 85{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} of your 1RM for 10 reps – none of which lasting over 2.1 seconds) for 10 reps inside of three minutes would be power-endurance. Doing free bodyweight squats (also called “air squats”) for three minutes straight would be muscular endurance.

This is important in MMA because before you can have any elements of usable strength/power-endurance, you have to have muscular endurance.

Muscular endurance is increased either by increasing your 1RM in a given exercise (see explanation of strength-endurance) or by simply performing high-rep sets of a given exercise – usually bodyweight calisthenics.


“Cardio” refers to cardiovascular and cardio-respiratory endurance. This is basically the ability of the heart and lungs to pump fresh, oxygenated blood throughout the body. The lungs pump oxygen into the body, which in turn oxygenates the blood. The heart then has to pump that oxygenated blood throughout the body. The more efficient the heart and lungs are, the fewer times they’ll have to “pump” per minute, as they’ll pump more air/blood per “pump”.

Not to sound redundant, but it should be fairly obvious why this is important. Reduced fatigue (both physical and mental) is the main thing we’re trying to avoid. Increased recovery (both localized and systemic, both momentary and long-term) are great benefits.

This is, of course, in addition to all the basic long-term health benefits associated with a healthy heart and lungs. There are several ways to increase your cardio. I’ll briefly go over two of the most common methods of increasing your cardio, as well as two methods that sort of “combine” the two that I have come up with and use.

LSD (Long Slow Distance) – this is a method generally used for increasing aerobic (with oxygen) conditioning. Just like the name implies, the distance covered is generally long, and the pace is slow. Think jogging for a few miles. The benefits of LSD can be increased aerobic capacity, increased muscular endurance of the legs, less drain on the CNS, active recovery, and increased work capacity.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) – cardio training is made up of two components – time and intensity (how hard you work). The two are inversely proportional. The longer you work, the easier you have to go (as with LSD). With HIIT, we hit the other end of the spectrum, by working much harder, but for much shorter time periods. Think sprints.

There are many methods of doing HIIT. One of the most common (and most demanding) is the “Tabata” method. Tabata was a Japanese researcher than first studied and tested the benefits of HIIT. He found that they were of more benefit than originally thought.

LSD increased aerobic (with oxygen) capacity, as the pace is slow enough that the body can continue to uptake sufficient oxygen to produce energy. However, with anaerobic (without oxygen) means that the body is working so hard that sufficient oxygen can’t be had, so the body has to produce energy in the absence of oxygen.

It was thought that if LSD-styled training increased aerobic capacity (with little increase in anaerobic capacity), then HIIT-styled training would do the exact opposite. Tabata found this to not be true.

Tabata found that while anaerobic capacity was greatly increased, that there was also a corresponding increase in aerobic capacity. Though the increase wasn’t as dramatic as when doing LSD-styled training, it was much more than LSD increased anaerobic capacity. It was almost like getting “2-for-1”.

Tabata also found that HIIT was superior for burning fat than LSD. While HIIT didn’t burn as many calories during the workout as LSD did, it had the metabolism so “revved up”, that it continued to burn calories for hours AFTER the workout was complete. LSD, on the other hand, quit burning calories once the exercise was done. HIIT burned considerably more calories total (during and post-exercise).

(To learn more about Tabata and his studies, go a Google search – there is plenty of info around the internet.) The “Tabata” protocol involved intervals done at 100{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} intensity for 20 seconds, followed by a short rest period of 10 seconds. This was repeated up several times, with the common protocol being repeated 8 times.

While HIIT can be much more beneficial than LSD, it also has its downfalls. The two main ones are that it can be quite easy to overtrain whilst doing HIIT. Doing any activity at 100{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} intensity can be hard on the body – both physiologically and on the CNS (Central Nervous System). It’s not uncommon to burn out doing too much HIIT.

The other main drawback is that it requires an actual 100{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} intensity. It’s quite common for folks to think they’re putting in 100{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} intensity, when they’re really not. That sort of effort is much more difficult than most folks realize, and much more difficult than most have ever done. They end up putting in much less than 100{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} intensity.

The problem is that they are also doing a much reduced amount of work. Remember that I said the two elements of cardio were inversely proportional – they had to be hard and short or easy and long? Well, if HIIT isn’t done right, you end up with the worst of both worlds – easy and short. You get the least amount of benefit of any combination.

Density Conditioning – Density Conditioning is a method I came up with to take the popular weight training protocol of Density Training and apply it to cardio. It involves running a medium distance in a quicker and quicker time, or doing sprints of a given distance, and doing more and more of them in a given time frame.

MFD (Medium Fast Distance) – MFD is a “happy medium” between LSD and HIIT. It’s not short, and it’s not long. It’s not easy, yet it’s not 100{15aeb35eec840799df247626cfa6821cb9499241e90aba7a245c8546144fd8f4} intensity, either. It’s a medium distance, covered as quickly as you can.

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