Conditioning For The Combat Athlete

Fighter or Runner?

Are you a wrestler? Ju-jit-su practitioner?

How about any kind of grappling or combative athlete?

 How will thirty to sixty minutes of low intensity jogging going to prepare you for six to seven minutes of absolute hellacious combat?

Folks, please understand this: neither wrestling nor any form of mixed martial arts are aerobic sports. Therefore, AEROBIC TRAINING ON ITS OWN is a not the most efficient approach to this.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are still combat athletes out there using outdated conditioning methods that have long been proven ineffective and useless.

Both by science and-

“Geez I don’t know, have you paid attention to anything going on in the past 10 years? Getting the information is pretty easy now a days as compared to before the internet.”

The methods I speak of include hours and hours of long distance running and other unproductive forms of aerobic activity.

Now interesting side note, there certainly is a place and time for every athlete regardless of sport to establish a certain level of “aerobic capacity” or the ability to not be so de-conditioned that a casual activity will leave your drooling and cross eyed. That topic is for another time though.

Just about every single high school or college wrestling practice I’ve ever been to you’d still see wrestlers running each and every day like they’re training for a marathon instead of a six or seven minute bout of high intensity grappling.

Shoot I remember specifically our coach timing our mile times for ummmmm, the wrestling team? But on the positive side honestly in all fairness he was a very punctual, detailed person on just about everything so it was just his way of keeping track of our, so called “GPP”. (General Physical Preparedness)

On the other side of the spectrum it makes about as much sense as trying to become a world champion skateboarder by practicing your golf swing for eight hours a day.

 If that’s not the approach to take, then what is?

To answer that question let’s briefly take a look at what occurs in a wrestling match.

At the high school level, there are three periods consisting of two minutes each. At the collegiate level, there are three periods as well, the first consisting of three minutes and the final two consisting of two minutes each. At the Olympic level, there’s one five-minute period and a three-minute overtime period, if needed.

During these two to five minute bouts you’ll find yourself squatting, pressing, pulling, lunging, twisting, and bridging. You’ll make explosive movements, slow grinding strength-based movements, and you’ll hold isometric contractions a lot longer than you can comfortably stand.

For your off-the-mat training to have any carryover whatsoever, you need to be sure you’re doing all of these things in your conditioning program. The exact same holds true for any kind of martial art or no-holds-barred fighting.

While some of the time periods and rounds may be different from one organization or sport to the next, the same general principle applies.

So, let’s get right into my best conditioning methods for these athletes.

  1. Strongman Training


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Strongman training incorporates the use of odd objects such as stones, logs, tractor tires, sandbags, kegs, sledgehammers, anvils and just about anything else you can think of. The basics of strongman training are to lift and carry or drag heavy shit; that’s the gist of it.

Strongman training can be used as a conditioning day all on its own or at the end of a regular resistance-training workout. There are endless amounts of exercises and events to choose from when putting together a strongman workout.

Those who are new to strongman training will have extreme difficulty with many of the exercises and will be winded quite quickly. Eventually, after getting used to this type of training, the goal will be to lower your rest periods and do more work in a given time period.

If you opt to have an entire training day dedicated to strongman training, I recommend that you pick four or six exercises that offer as much variety as possible. Below is an example of a good sequence of exercises for a strongman workout:

  1. A) Tire flip


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  1. B) Log clean & press


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  1. C) Farmers walk


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  1. E) Stone or Odd object loading


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You can do the exercises for straight sets or in a circuit fashion. When your conditioning improves and you continue to try to get more “sport specific” with your training, you should aim for two to three straight minutes of work (or whatever length of time the rounds or periods last in your chosen combat sport) followed by a brief rest period.

For example, you could do one exercise for that long or you could do each exercise for 20-30 seconds and then move immediately to the next. While most matches don’t last nearly this long, the strongman workouts should take anywhere from 30-90 minutes.

If you choose to use strongman training as a finisher to your normal weight training workouts, you’d be best served to pick one or two exercises and perform them for ten to fifteen minutes straight with a brief rest period every 30-120 seconds.

  1. Bodyweight Circuits

Using your own bodyweight in a way that will resemble what you do in a wrestling match or no-holds-barred fight is an outstanding way of improving your conditioning. I usually like to go outside in the fresh air to a park and perform these.

Grouping together four to six bodyweight exercises such as wheelbarrow walks, push-ups, single (or double) leg squats, squat thrusts, crab walks, inchworms, and mountain climbers and doing them in a circuit will get you in great shape in no time.

I personally like to mix 1 stationary exercise (push up, squat, row, lunge, any variation) with 1 locomotion exercise (animal movements, jumping, sprinting, throwing, etc)

Again, try to eventually work your way down to using work to rest ratios similar to that which you’ll face in competition.

1 round would look like:

A1.Broad Jumps x 30-45 sec

A2.Bodyweight Row x 30- 45 sec

A3.Bear Crawl x 30-45 sec

A4.Bodyweight Pushup/Dip x 30-45 sec

A5.Lateral Hops x 30-45 sec

That’s 2:30 -3:30 give or take few seconds of straight work.

Now dependent on your specific needs (sport needs) dictate times and amount of overall volume. So the specific duration of each exercise can change.

Each of these in a row, with minimal rest periods for multiple rounds will send you in a metabolic turmoil, huffing and puffing, building that motor that always has 80% in the tank no matter what.

Coaching at the high school level, I enjoy getting our wrestlers into “situational” positions, scrambling for time, finishing a takedown, the common scenarios of the sport followed by a full body exercise for both partners. Combining the skill specific work with a strength exercise, making them accustomed to working under fatigue.

Which is obviously critical for wrestlers, once they reach a certain level.

  1. Sled Combos

An average sled is one of the most valuable tools any hard training combat athlete could have in his arsenal. The possibilities are limitless with the sled.

To choose an effective sled combo, try to pick movements that will work the body from as many different angles and in as many different ways as possible. Here’s an example of a highly effective sled combo:

  1. Backward sled drag: 30 seconds


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