Have you ever witnessed a boring fight that looks like two retired citizens are fighting over the last swig of booze? That is what I felt watching Dada 5000 and Kimbo Slice’s final round back in 2016.
Without cardio, you can register some of the most gruesome injuries besides losing the match.
In this article I’ll describe some of the reasons for bringing in good cardio workouts into your training and give you my best cardio workouts for MMA.
Is MMA Good for Cardio?
Martial arts include a combination of activities improving stamina, endurance and mental health.
Besides benefiting the entire body, MMA directly impacts how much blood flows through your heart at any given time.
MMA raises your heartbeat, making your heart pump blood effectively even when you are resting. As a result, your cardiovascular health strengthens.
Even during relaxation, blood flow in your body requires less effort, which reduces your risk of hypertension, among other conditions.
How Do I Get Good Cardio in MMA?
When starting, MMA might leave you short of breath. Unlike weight lifting or treadmill exercises, MMA offers an intense workout. MMA stands out from other exercises as it offers you a wholesome body workout.
With MMA, you don’t focus your training on particular muscles but have a general physique improvement. The thorough workout molds you into a better fighter with improved energy levels.
Related: How To Get Into MMA
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To understand this better, let’s look at how different MMA sports affect your cardio.
You have to utilize the little loopholes your opponent offers to come on top. Without adequate wrestling skills, any MMA fighter will have a hard time keeping up with an opponent showing competence in this area.
If you end up fatiguing earlier than your opponent, it is almost certain you will lose that match.
With weariness, you can’t generate your techniques effectively. Wrestlers need to balance their breathing rhythms to ensure efficient oxygen pumping in their bodies.
Are you looking forward to spending a lot of time sparring on the ground? BJJ equips you with the skills necessary to restrict your opponent’s movements when on the ground.
And it requires quite the effort to keep someone securely locked in a back mount, full mount, belly, or side control.
I remember when I started training the rubber guard was giving me a heck of a time. With much practice and understanding of breath control tricks, now, I can protect myself effortlessly.
BJJ allows you to be flexible. It also reduces blood pressure, improving your body strength through activities like grappling.
There are several moves boxers do. They throw massive punches, including uppercuts, hooks, crosses, and jabs.
While doing this, your body is in a constant state of back and forth. From swinging your arms to shifting your upper body and legs, boxing involves lots of movements. And to achieve them, you need a lot of energy that relies heavily on air intake.
By engaging in these vigorous activities, you improve your breath rate, blood flow, and heart rate, which are the core aims of cardio workouts.
Muay Thai is a unique form of Martial arts since it offers more ways to beat opponents. Unlike traditional kickboxing that limits you to throwing punches and kicks, Muay Thai allows you to use up to eight limbs!
You can throw in your feet, counter with your elbows, knee your opponent, or inflict pain with your shin! You have so many ways, and this may increase the speed you can respond to your enemies. This means you require lots of energy hence an increased metabolic rate and oxygen intake.
What Do UFC Fighters Do for Cardio?
UFC fighters have intense workout regimes to remain in perfect shape. They carry out a lot of activities. Here are some great examples.
Check out this interview with Max Holloway, where he talks about how his ability to keep bringing the pressure to his opponent by just overworking them:
Max is a great example of a fighter at the top of his game and is well known for his cardio ability to take the fight for a full five rounds in an MMA fight.
Let’s look at a few more examples.
Velasquez undertakes thorough workout sessions throughout the week. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, he lifts weights for one and a half hours in the morning.
He then rests and returns for a two-hour hard sparring session starting at twelve. Here, he fights various training partners. The best part about this is that while his partners confront him, he barely has time to relax. As a result, he has to find the inner strength to emerge victorious even when pushed to the limits. Therefore, he fights harder.
He proceeds to have three five-minute BJJ rounds before relaxing then returns for a final one-hour workout at 6.00 p.m. He engages in activities like bungee cord running against a time limit to ensure he attains a certain pace despite the hindrance.
One of the biggest highlights of Weidman’s career is dethroning Anderson Silva. I think that his conditioning played a big part in his victory. He includes so many exercises to make sure he leaves no stones unturned.
From rope jumping to biking, Jiu-Jitsu, intense pad work, rope slamming, bungee-cord run, and more. His workouts are simply meticulous.
Phil Daru is an MMA coach whose impressive workout is something any MMA enthusiast should try. In his endurance segment, he begins by instructing fighters to do a leg stretch. Maintaining a 90-degree angle during the all-fours position is key in guaranteeing a better form.
He progresses to instruct fighters to conduct hip flexors by moving up, down, and sideways using their legs while on their backs. The next step involves ten sit-ups with legs outstretched while your head touches the floor.
He follows up with bungee cord runs with tied weights to improve acceleration. Next comes the 36-inch ball-hold jumps. Ten chest pass throws follow these, then tire slums and flips, and lastly, a half-mile jog.
How Do You Build Stamina for MMA?
Alternating between fast and slow action is one of the best endurance developing tricks I learned from my coaches.
You should flip things up by having periods of workout followed by rest, active recovery (like a light stretching routine such as Yoga), and repeat.
Lifting weights is another excellent way to improve stamina. Get your body into a “fight mode” by pushing yourself to be your best version. Something to always keep in mind is; can you slice the time in half?
How long do you take before starting the next exercise? Shortening these periods is another stamina-enhancing trick.
Incorporating burnout sessions into your cardio workouts trains your body to perform when under pressure.
Having stamina provides a burst of energy when you need it most.
The Best Cardio Workout for MMA
Having tried different cardio workout suggestions, I’m yet to find a plan that is as effective as the exercises I’m going to share.
As usual, we have to start with the lightest tasks as we increase intensity.
I found this exercise effective at raising my heartbeat and improving my speed.
Through this exercise, I realized that I improved my agility. Initially, I wasn’t great at synchronizing my steps. However, the keenness needed to avoid tripping on the rope ensured I gradually improved my coordination.
I also noticed that I would get tired quickly. So, it’s best for beginners to alternate between jumping rope and resting.
During the intermediate level, try to increase this to three minutes of jumping and one minute of resting. At an advanced level,
In all these levels, ensure you repeat the jump-rest sequence five times.
After this, wrap your hands to prepare for boxing if you’re adding in a technique session, take a rest, and hydrate your body. Don’t rest over three minutes to avoid sluggishness during the next round.
It seems a bit weird to spar with someone that’s not around, isn’t it? Although some consider this step optional, its numerous benefits are essential in MMA.
Because you aren’t under any pressure, you can focus on perfecting your form. You should be mindful of your footwork and the distribution of your weight.
Muscle memory is another critical aspect you’ll gain from shadowboxing. With your body on autopilot, you can perform moves in actual fights with more precision.
I also observed that most newbies ignore the pace involved in this step. You should push yourself to your limits. Assume you had the toughest competition to gain the most.
Alternate between five minutes of shadowboxing and one minute to rest, three times.
In this session, you can use whatever platform is available. You can use your verandah, cut garden sections, but the best is having stackable boxes. With stackable boxes, you can tell the height you have and it’s a perfect way to start slow then really work through.
Stand in front of the platform with your legs hip-width apart and arms sideways. End knees and angle forward at your hips with your back flattened.
Swing your arms backward while jumping explosively onto the platform. Land lightly while slightly leaning forward. Dismount and repeat moves for five minutes.
The purpose of the platform jumps is to engage your core. The exercise focuses on your shins, thighs, calves, and butt.
An excellent way is combining the exercise with MMA balls if available to improve your explosive power even further.
For great results, try aerobic swimming for at least 30 minutes. Begin by closed-fist freestyling across 25-50m distances.
In closed fist freestyling, you have to swim just as the name suggests: with your fits balled up. This way, you have to use more strength in your forearms to get through the water than with open hands.
For beginners, start by closed-fist freestyling for 25m followed by a 15-second rest. In the next round, freestyle for 25m and rest for a similar period. Repeat the two until you complete eight reps.
If you want an intense swimming cardio workout, alternate freestyling and closed-fist freestyling through 25m distances and perform 16 reps without rest.
Swimming offers excellent progression in your cardiovascular health. Unlike most cardio workouts, you have minimal chances of experiencing wear and tear on your joints.
With swimming being a low-impact cardio workout, it has a lot to offer with minimal to worry about. Unlike most high-impact exercises, you’re not prone to injuries.
Finish off by doing a one-mile run. Running increases your heart rate and blood flow. It offers you that extra drive. Through running, you get to condition your leg muscles to withstand lengthy fighting periods.
Cardio and MMA are two things that always go hand in hand. To ensure that you are ready for lengthy matches, you need to outsmart yourself.
Adopting a vigorous workout regime is how you’ll improve your cardiovascular ability and last longer in the fight.
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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.