There’s No Replacement for Mat Time (But Is More Conditioning Necessary?)

For years I’ve been calling Chris daily. A lot of our conversations are dumb–mainly because I’m a 14 year old in a 27 year old’s body. Many times, though, I call Chris to pester him for information–he knows a lot of things that I don’t.

Most of those obnoxious, pestering dials are concerning MMA conditioning. See, Chris trains mixed martial artists–a lot of them, I’ve only trained one, he has a lot that I desire in that realm.

He’s told me about their movement prep, the finishers he uses to raise their anaerobic threshold, and the off-day aerobic work capacity training, but he’s always sure to drive home one point with every conversation–there’s no replacement for mat time. True MMA conditioning is the baptism of hands flying at your face, feet contacting your thigh and an opponent attempting to lock a submission. Resisting an onslaught and countering with a powerful offensive, in real time, is what conditions a fighter for 15 minutes of savagery in the octagon.

The same is true for other sports–nothing prepares you for a sport more than playing it.

Unfortunately, this mind set is often taken to the extremes; conditioning programs are set up only to mimic the sport, or athletes only play their sport to condition. There is a time and a place for non-specific conditioning. As with all things S and C, the answer to what time and what place is it depends.

My best friend, and client, Josh Hull plays linebacker for the St. Louis Rams. Have a look at his face.

I tried to warm him that his eyes would get stuck that way, but he wouldn’t hear it. Now he looks like Luo Ferrigno’s inbred second cousin Ernie.

A few years ago Gatorade came to the Rams facility and put some of the players through a fuel partitioning test. They had the participants cycle at high heart rates and percentages of V02max to see which fuel source they burned predominantly–carbohydrates or fats. Josh ripped through carbs during the entire test.

What does it all mean, Basil? It means he has an underdeveloped aerobic system, Austin. (Probably the result of his 5 years at Penn State under the supervision of a woefully lacking strength and conditioning staff. This is speculation, of course, and I’m kind of a jerk.)

Josh’s teammate, James Laurinaitis, burned fat for almost the entire test. Two guys that play the same position, weigh about the same and move comparably used two different energy systems to complete the same rigorous test.

Josh, however, should have been able to access his oxidative capacity at some point during the test–it lasted until he failed at around 45 minutes and they were working at high Vo2max percentages. His inability to do so is an energy systems problem–inefficient aerobic system leands to slower recovery times and is linked to connective tissue injuries. Mr. Hull tore his ACL and suffered a high ankle sprain during consecutive years.

Non-specific, lower-heart rate aerobic system development was necessary for Josh–so we spent a fair deal of the winter doing it. Had we focused our conditioning efforts on activities that strictly mimic the time and intensity requirements of an NFL football game we would have done Josh a disservice.

For the rest of the summer Josh will train like a monster and drill like a mad man; he’ll condition specifically with his training group in Ohio (that’s right a former PSU football player finishes his off-season at Ohio State). But his performance, and is injury resistance, are improved because his aerobic system was developed.

There’s no replacement for mat, or field, time, but that doesn’t mean more conditioning is unnecessary.

Chris will be back on the blog on Thursday to talk more specifically about conditiong–especially for mixed martial artists.

Peace and chicken grease, fools.



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Todd Bumgardner
M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
Todd Bumgardner

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M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger

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