Combat Ready: What makes an MMA fighter? Part 2

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Outside of skills and the correct mentality, a modern day MMA fighter requires a blend of many different physical attributes. In the last edition, we covered Strength and Speed. Looking at how we can properly describe these 2 factors and how they interrelate to produce power. In today’s article, I will be looking at the other side of the coin: Endurance. Being strong and fast is all well and good, but if you’re gassing after the first round you can expect to go with a Loss on your record! So what do we mean when we talk about endurance? To me, the best measure of endurance is simply “What percentage of the Fighter’s peak abilities can they sustain over time?”

Being strong and fast is all well and good. But, if you’re gassing after the first round you can expect to go with a loss on your record! So, what do we mean when we talk about endurance? To me, the best measure of endurance is simply “What percentage of the fighter’s peak abilities can they sustain over time?”

What “kind” of endurance we are discussing will depend on what the ability is, how often it’s repeated and how long the time frame is. This could be as short as 1 technique lasting just a few seconds. For example; if you throw a 7 punch combination, how does the speed generated in the last 2 punches compare with the first 2?

It could be over a medium time frame, for instance in a prolonged clinch against the cage how is your postural control and strength after 30 seconds? How about after a minute? Or it could be as long as 25 minutes. For example; how are the fighters take down defence in the 4th minute of the fifth round vs in the first minute of round 1? All of these are examples of endurance and all of them could have a make or break effect on the outcome of a fight.

Let’s take a step back and look at where endurance comes from.

When you move, there has to be a source of energy. (Well duh, I hear you say!). A fighter has 3 main energy systems at their disposal. Their names, fuel source and how long they last are noted below.

  • Alactic (ATP + CP) – runs out after (up to) 12 seconds
  • Lactic (Glycolytic) – runs out after (up to) 90 seconds
  • Aerobic (glycogen, fat and protein: requires oxygen) – lasts for hours

As soon as you begin to perform an activity, all of these energy systems will be in play. How long you can continue to perform the activity will depend on how intense it is, how often (if at all) you get to rest and how quickly you can replenish the fuel source.

The level at which you can work is determined by two things in each of the energy systems; the systems power and its capacity. System power is a measure of how quickly and efficiently the system can supply energy and capacity is a measure of how long the system can operate at a given amount of its maximum power. Think of it as how “hard” you can work and then how “long” you can maintain a given percentage of that work.

So, for low-level aerobic work, you can keep going for hours, eventually burning all your stored glycogen ( a carbohydrate that is stored in your muscles and liver) and tapping into burning your body fat as the primary fuel source. It a seriously inefficient way to generate energy. But, it will keep you alive and moving. Albeit it pretty slowly, for a good long while. When you are using the aerobic system you will be breathing more (it requires oxygen remember). But, you won’t feel especially tired in your muscles. Think low level running, movement drills and so on. An example of “power” in this system would be “how fast can you run a mile?” and an example of capacity would be “how many miles can you run consecutively at 75% of that fastest mile pace?”

The lactic system is the “middle ground”, allowing you to perform bursts of pretty fast/hard activity for a relatively short period of time. When this system is pushed hard you’ll feel “the burn” in your muscles and your strength will reduce the longer and harder you push it. Think of an extended exchange in sparring, with multiple kicks and punches, a stuffed takedown attempt, straight to more striking, clinch, a successful takedown, some quick positional changes on the ground then a scramble back to the feet with a few more strikes on the way back out. The whole thing might last 40-60 seconds and when you separate the fighters neither of them is likely to be keen to re-engage immediately. System Power would be something like “How much force can you generate, on average, in the strikes at the start of the exchange?” and system capacity would be “I stuffed the first takedown attempt but was unable to prevent the second one 20 seconds later” That “heavy limbs”, burning muscles feeling that drives fighters to step back is the lactic system running out.

The alactic system is the energy system that determines the available energy at maximal intensities for a very short period of time. Think of throwing a combination of a few strikes then stepping back and delivering a kick, with the whole thing lasting only 2 or 3 seconds. How much force you can muster in those strikes will be determined by primarily by the alactic system. You can think of the maximal force being determined by the systems Power and then the relationship between the first strikes power and the fifth, six or seventh being the system capacity. Put simply, alactic power is going to determine how hard you can hit the opponent once. Alactic capacity is how hard the 2nd, 3rd or 5th blow in a combination is relative to the first.

From this, you can see that you can “gas out” any of these energy systems, in different time frames. By analysing your own performance in sparring and competition you should be able to deduce what systems need work and whether their power or capacity is the priority.  

In the next instalment, I will cover how these energy systems interrelate and how to figure out what’s holding back your performance. In the meantime, if you have any questions pop over to my Facebook page and drop me a PM.

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