Train the Cardio – Part 2

It is now time to get a bit deeper in the Cardiovascular training. Combat sports are acyclic sports, times of work and rest change without any predictable pattern. This clearly makes our training a lot harder, compared to people who have to run on a straight line for 100mt without interruptions. Energy Systems need to be exploited.

Fighting is mainly based on anaerobic energy systems, therefore – sorry to break it but training long distance, steady pace running, won’t cut it if you are trying to get fight fit. Before you jump on my throat, I am not saying long distance should not be worked; in fact Endurance plays its role too when it comes to S&C, especially when in pre-season or coming off a period of low/zero training. But after adaptations take place and your volume  of cardio is increased, it is time to step into another training zone that better matches your future demands.

It is like training with 800m runs for a 110m hurdles. It would not work, right?

Before I dive right into how to Test and improve your athletes cardio, let’s take a step back and refresh a concept:


You surely have heard of this fitness measurement, which is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise.

The name is derived from V -volume, O2 – Oxygen, max- maximum. Maximal oxygen consumption reflects the Cardio fitness of an individual and is an important determinant of their endurance capacity during prolonged exercise.

Why is it so important?

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use, and it directly correlates to fitness capacity.

Testing your athletes (you can google how) to discover their Vo2Max is critical for any endurance training program (and fighting sports also need that element)

It allows you to determine your athletes’ level of fitness, similar to a one-rep max for a resistance exercise. You can then design a program using various endurance training methods, and test their progress with subsequent max tests.

How do we get a better VO2 Max

It is possible to increase VO2 max by regularly performing exercises that challenge the cardiovascular system by increasing endurance training volume and intensity over time.

However, especially for our unique demands, we can increase VO2 max with the interval training (mentioned in the previous article), which includes short periods of vigorous exercise interspersed with short rest periods.

And this is where it comes in the game a fantastic tool, that will totally change the way you approach cardio and it is currently used by all major sports teams (Rugby, Cricket, AFL, Soccer).

It is time combat sports step up, and Coaches take ownership of these tools learning to use them on a regular basis.


The Max Aerobic Speed (MAS)

MAS is simply the lowest running speed at which maximum oxygen uptake (V02 max) occurs, and is typically referred to as the velocity at V02 max (vV02 max) and measured in meters per second.

MAS was developed for the purpose of increasing the specificity of training and to enable coaches to monitor training loads more accurately. Something to consider, however, is this test was mainly designed for running based sports. So does MAS actually help a better performance for Combat sports athletes?

I strongly believe so and give MAS my thumbs up, in fact, the cardiovascular fitness plays such an important role in the development of a fight, whichever the discipline, that it can potentially help you overcome a technical gap between you and your opponent.

How do we find the MAS?

Please do not be disharthened by the numbers you will read below. Just focus on the concept and then try the practical examples I put together for you.

Improving performance means planning and monitoring training loads; this requires observation and record keeping. You ought to be diligent!

We get our athletes to run a certain distance that requires 5-8min to be covered. Once we have each person time, we divide the distance in meters by their time in seconds.

We obtain their MAS.

To make my job easier, I will set a distance at 2km (1000m) and get to have our athletes to warm up for 20 minutes, then run the 2km at 100% effort.

Now, let’s pretend (to make calculation easy) that athlete A covers the distance in 8 minutes. MAS = Distance/Speed

This means the 100% M.A.S. = 2000m/480seconds = 4.1m/s

From here we can build a table of different MAS for different time segments/efforts to organize the cardio training (especially efficient in combat sports which is not a steady continuous activity). You only need 10min and a calculator.

For combat sports, we can set up both, Long and short intervals. Long have 1-3min work at 85/100% MAS; Short Intervals are up to 1 min at 100/140% MAS.

For highly trained individual we could start immediately with maximal and supramaximal efforts to hit Vo2Max  -short sprint sessions.

My personal approach on this is to minimize risks (injuries), supporting recovery which leads to enhanced performance and long term gains; hence in order to develop solid foundations, especially for a general audience, I suggest starting from Long intervals at sub maximal effort: 80/90/100% MAS and passive or low intensity recoveries, then moving onto shorter supramaximal efforts.

Long Intervals:

Here some examples

  •  3min @80% MAS – 3min @50% MAS *3-4 reps/2-3 sets –> WORK: 590m (in 3min) -REST: 360m (in 3min)

This is how I got to those numbers:

Working speed is 80% MAS = 0.41 * 8 = 3.28m/s. This means in 3 minutes (180 seconds) they will have to cover this distance: 3.28m/s (80%mas) *180s = 590m

The Recovery time goes again for 180seconds, but this time the speed is 50% mas = 0.41*5= 2 m/s, so they will cover the following distance: 180s *2m/s = 360m

Once they are proficient on this interval, we can lower the time /distance but increase their speeed, this time closer to maximal speed.

  • 60 seconds @95% mas – 60 seconds @40%mas

And so forth.

Short Intervals:

  • 15s @100 Mas – 15s @70% Mas (Euro Fit Method)

or Tabata Style

  • 20s @120 mas – 10s passive rest *8 reps

or, my favorite for advanced combat sports athletes,

Unpredictable Tabata (you vary the length of the 8 reps and keep a work-ratio of 2:1)

Dr. Dan Baker’s  (S&C Coach of the Broncos and worldwide speaker) is one of the icons of this method and my source of knowledge for these ratios. I strongly advise you to read the article clicking the link

But if you have no time now, just keep reading here.

We will use the so-called EURO FIT Method:

1-2 Sets of 12-20 reps of 15s @120%MAS, with 15sec recovery

From the scores of our Fighter A, measured above, we see that 15s at 120%MAS = 74m

We simply set up the distance and get the fighter to work on this distance for 12-20 reps, monitoring the time/distance covered and making sure he stays on his 120%MAS.

The beauty of this method is that we can have 10 people or more, each one with different 100%MAS and we can set several rows with unique 120%MAS distances to work the same 15s intervals.


Fighter 1 ————————-→74m

Fighter 2 ——————-→68m

Fighter 3——————————→ 80m

and so forth.

We can increase volume either via increasing number of sets (from 1 to 2) or increasing MAS from 120 to 130%.

Great to train for VO2Max improvements but either dislike or does not need (like those who fight) continuous cardio work.

With this style, once you have the MAS of your students/athletes, you can set cones at individual distances (consistent with the individual MAS). This will allow you to run much more effective sessions.

Now, let’s try give it a go.

Let me know how things go. I bet your athletes/practitioners will love having some data and you will feel a lot more in control of the situation.

As usual share our articles and let me know if you have any question on the matter.

See you next month