They ran stairs over and over and over again. No doubt you were either impressed with yourself (if you were a part of the team) or were impressed with them (if you weren't on the team). So why did they do all of that stair climbing?
Here's why. Running stairs and/ or uphill improves speed, strength, and explosiveness at the same time. The interesting thing is that as amazing as those wrestlers were, they weren't asked to do nearly as much as mixed martial arts fighters are today. For reference, add in Muay Thai kickboxing, submissions/ jiu- jitsu, and the fact that they need to be able to employ everything while being struck.
In other words, anyone that practices mixed martial arts needs to be in outstanding condition.
Then there is the rest of the world. We'd all love to be in that kind of shape whether we actually want to fight in a cage or not. Along with this, if you want to have the endurance of a professional MMA athlete, which by the way nearly every mixed martial arts fighter will tell you is paramount to success in the sport, here are some guidelines for laymen (non- fighters) to consider.
Disclaimer: Never attempt any workout program without first consulting a professional in the field and physician. No article can suffice for this. Further, it is always important to start small and work up.
Running: Here's the thing: Just jogging leisurely on a treadmill or track won't do it, even if there is a place for that. Running at a steady pace does have some worth in terms of health, for sure. However, mixed martial arts fighters are capable of going from zero to 60 in a small amount of time. In other words, a fight isn't just a gradual thing in its entirety like jogging is. Rather, the speed with which fighters move in a cage must vary. Therefore, so should your running workout.
In other words, jog at a steady pace for several minutes and then move the speed up to three quarters or a sprint. Then after a certain period of time, drop the speed down to what you were doing before you started sprinting. Then repeat. This is similar to what was asked in those Bigger, Faster, Stronger workouts back in the day.
This kind of running workout will improve both general cardio and explosiveness.
By the way, remember that whole running stairs thing? Well, it works. Sprinting up stairs or hills and then jogging down is great for explosiveness and cardio. In fact, Tito Ortiz, former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight Champion, is a big proponent of running uphill with resistance.
Thus, if you want to have mixed martial arts (MMA) endurance your running workouts will likely need to be about more than just a slow jog. Further, you'll have to do this a couple of times per week- but not more than three times- as you don't want to over train.
Building The Core
Basically, this is the stomach and lower back. However, to be even more accurate the core refers to the muscles that run the length of the trunk and torso. When these contract they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle; thus, they are supportive in nature. Interestingly, the powerful movements we generate in the extremities all come from this area, and it is for this reason that many people believe the core is the most important thing for a fighter to focus on when it comes to conditioning. Luckily, focusing on this area in combination with good eating (which would be a whole separate article) and cardio exercises will leave you looking good.
Some exercises used to develop the core include crunches, leg lifts (though many people don't like this exercise due to the way it can wear and tear on your back), bicycles, abdominal bracing (bracing is when someone attempts to pull their navel back toward their spine), work with medicine balls, yoga, and push ups (remember that almost every exercise can work the core, not just the obvious ones). In addition, there are various pieces of equipment out there that help accomplish this task. Just watch some infomercials for a ton of options.
Since the core is so important, many believe that it should be worked almost everyday.
Nearly all mixed martial arts fighters lift weights these days. Generally, however, this is only done 2-3 days per week. Is it absolutely necessary? Perhaps not as Fedor Emelianenko, widely considered the greatest MMA fighter on the planet today, doesn't even work out with weights and is still known as one of the most powerful people to ever grace a mixed martial arts stage. Still, most fighters do lift weights to improve strength, explosiveness, and to help avoid injury.
Some weightlifting exercises designed to increase explosiveness include dumbbell jerks, finger cleans, and dumbbell squats.
In addition, standard exercises like the bench press, squat, upright rows, curls, bent over rows, military press, leg curls and extensions, and more may also be beneficial. Oftentimes, these exercises are done with low repetitions and several sets to promote power.
Now if you don't want to lift weights, you'll have to get imaginative in order to build strength. Some ideas are chopping wood (or using a large hammer to drill down on a tire-see Paulo Filho), push ups, and chin ups.
Stand Up Training
You've heard it before. Cardio kickboxing can really boost one's cardio and fitness level. For non- fighters that want to be in great shape, this will do the trick. The next step up could be several five- minute rounds of bag work (make sure that you know how to punch and kick before engaging in this). At most do this a couple of times per week.
Of course, if you're really into fighting and not just getting in shape like a fighter, try live sparring under the supervision of an appropriate professional.
Speaking of real fighting...
Real fighting/ sparring
This is the problem for people that want to have the endurance of a mixed martial arts fighter but don't want to fight. It really can't happen. You can come close for sure. But the thing that works to get people in MMA shape best is submission grappling and sparring in a cage or on a mat. There's simply nothing like it. Bas Rutten, former UFC Champion and current MMA commentator, has indicated in the past that even marathon runners have gassed before when they've come into his gym. Simply put, wrestling is like a tuggle war that never ends. Stand up fighting is a different kind of cardio, more explosion and speed. To be able to do both 100% requires that you practice using the muscles involved.
And that means training to be a fighter.
Search Google for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gyms in your area, and then give them a call. Take a class on beginner's kickboxing. Don't worry -- it's for beginners. The training is likely to be the light and include a mitt-work (punching / kicking mitts) and foot work (how you move on your feet).
After you've taken a few kickboxing classes and gotten to know the trainers and feel good about the gym, attend classes on beginner's grappling. Sure, you'll most likely be grappling with other students, but it's likely to be light, with most of the focus on technique, while developing endurance.