Written by Travis “the Gorilla” Thompson
The best cardiovascular exercise for any sport is sport-specific (engaging in the sport). It is also the best way to improve as an athlete. In the case of MMA, this means sparring. However, sparring occasionally results in injury and cannot be trained at max intensity regularly, so we must do additional cardio training (face the dreaded exercise machines). Again, we want sprints with short rest. For example, take an Olympic level cross-country runner versus an Olympic sprinter. The sprinter is stronger, quicker and more explosive or POWERFUL. As an added perk, sprinters have more desired bodies than a distance runner. Sprinters are chiseled while distance runners do not have as much muscle definition and sometimes have flab. This is because of the difference in how they train. When distance runners compete they run for hours and need lots of stored calories (fat) to burn while competing.
Speaking of the Olympics, Dr. Tabata is a Japanese Olympic coach who through trial and error found an optimal training style to maximize cardio gains. The goal according to Dr. Tabata, is to spike your heart rate which will boost your metabolism for up to 48 hours. (His principles can be applied to weight lifting as well. Google Tabata or Guerilla Cardio and you will find the scientific data). Traditionally, the work to rest ratio was 1:3 respectively. For example, one would sprint at max effort for a period of time (Let’s use 30 seconds) and then rest for 3 times as long as they sprinted for. In our example, the subject would rest for a minute and thirty seconds. Dr. Tabata revamped the method into a 2:1 work to rest ratio. He found that doing 8 rounds at 20:10 was the optimal range. The subject would exercise at max effort for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest before returning to max effort for 7 additional rounds. The key is that every round is max effort (the subject does not go lighter in the first rounds so that they can complete the later rounds). By round 5 the subject should be at the point of exhaustion and struggling to complete the final rounds. This workout is preceded by a 5 minute warm-up and followed by a 5 minute cool-down totaling 14 minutes.
If we choose to use sprinting for our exercise of choice, our warm-up and cool-down will be jogging. The warm-up should be fast enough so that one does not tire, while at the same time they are sweating prior to the actual workout portion. If the subject is not sweating, they are not warmed up sufficiently and should jog until they are sweating. The cool-down should be at minimum a very slow jog (active recovery). This trains the heart to recover even while the body is still in use.
Here it is in short:
- 5 minute warm-up
- 4 minutes (8 thirty second rounds) of 20 seconds max effort, 10 second rest
- 5 minute cool-down
By following Tabata, I have seen my cardio excel quickly. This type of training is also better for burning fat. As first stated it burns fat rather than muscle but it continues to burn fat after the workout. On a slow paced workout, once exercise is ceased, so is fat and muscle burning. Working out at this intensity will skyrocket the heart rate and boost your metabolism. Dr. Tabata’s research found that the body’s metabolism remained high for up to 48 hours after the significantly shorter workout. Many people use the burned calorie counter on exercise machines as their “proof” of burned calories. They may burn 800 in their hour of slow cardio while I burn 350 in only a ¼ of the time but my body is going to continue burning calories and surpass their 800.
To keep the exercise challenging we need resistance. To do this set the treadmill at an incline, increase the resistance on the stationary bike, etc. When I first began, the treadmill incline was 7% and the first rounds were always at a faster speed than the later rounds. I prefer a running on a treadmill to running outside because it forces me to continue at a desired speed. When running outside, it is hard to know how fast you are running on the last set compared to the first so you cannot measure your progress as effectively. However, this cardio format may be performed on most exercise machines as well as by jumping rope or swimming etc.