“Lack of conditioning will make a coward of us all.” – Dominick Cruz
Dominick Cruz may weigh just 135 pounds, but the two-time UFC Bantamweight champion is a force to be reckoned with when he slides on his UFC gloves. Cruz was also the final bantamweight titleholder of World Extreme Cagefighting and has developed into one of MMA’s top pound-for-pound fighters behind a unique style.
So, Cruz knows what it takes to succeed in the ring. While a strong will to win can’t be underestimated, it won’t mean anything if you don’t have the conditioning, stamina, and physical toughness to go the distance. MMA and boxing test your physical fitness in nearly every respect, so incorporating some of the following exercises into your training regimen may help you stay strong in crunch time.
We’re not exactly reinventing the wheel with this suggestion, but throwing on your headgear to spar with an opponent is a great way to develop your overall fitness. First, it will help you test and train your cardiovascular endurance (the body’s rate of oxygen absorption, or oxygen intake). Second, if your sparring in conditions that are similar to the competition, it will help your body become acclimated for when its time for the real thing. Finally, practicing with real movements that simulate actual fighting builds confidence, which will come in handy in those later rounds when your boxing gear feels heavy, and you feel ready to give in.
You’ve probably seen clips of all your favorite boxers shadowboxing, and that’s for a good reason. It involves pretty much every type of boxing movement imaginable, making it the best way to develop muscle memory in the eyes of many experts. Dance around the ring on your own and throw jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts while slipping, rolling, and moving your feet to dodge imaginary incoming blows. Sudden changes of movement are big for attacking and defense, so, while focusing on your punching technique, pair big steps with little steps and quick pivots with big pivots. All this endurance work is also a good time to slip in some visualization work to imagine how you’re going to take down your opponent.
Long distance runs are an iconic part of training. If you want to improve your endurance, then get your shoes on and go for a run. Running is obviously a good way to increase your cardio, but don’t go running aimlessly. You need to get your heart rate and other training types. The paced run, interval training, and hill climbs are three types of run training you should be alternating through.
For the paced run, your goal should be a continual improvement over a set measurement. Strive to either go farther in a given time or complete a certain distance in a shorter time. For interval training, your goal is to raise your heart rate and push yourself to get results. Start by jogging at a moderate pace for about two minutes before increasing your speed for a solid 30 seconds. Repeat the interval training for 20 minutes. Finally, hill climbs train your body to work against resistance. Find a hill, or, if you live someplace flat, a long set of steps (like the steps to the Museum of Art) or a treadmill, run up at max intensity for 5 to 10 seconds, then walk down and wait until 2-3 minutes have passed and do it again. Start with 4 or 5 reps, eventually working up to 12.
4 Skipping Rope
Jumping rope is fun, looks intense, and is another great cardio exercise to make a staple of your repertoire. It helps build endurance in your breathing and legs, while also serving to improve coordination and balance. Skipping rope can be more challenging than running, and many fighters like it because it feels less monotonous. A number of routines can be employed as well—like interval training, alternating your legs, and trying double-unders that involve passing the rope twice under your feet in a single jump.
Push-ups should never be underestimated as an exercise that can produce results. They work your arms, shoulders, chest, and core and require no equipment so that you can do them almost anywhere. Modifications can also be done to make push-ups more challenging or interesting. If you find yourself pumping them out with ease, consider wearing a weighted vest to simulate the extra weight your MMA gear or boxing gear will add on fight night. You can also elevate your feet to increase the difficulty.
6 Sit-Ups and Crunches
It’s all about the core. Well, not all, but a considerable part. Sit-ups and crunches are perfect for strengthening your core, which goes a long way to making you a more physically fit fighter who can persevere when fatigue begins to set in.
If you’re a gym guy or gal, chances are you’ve been asked some variation of “What’s your squat?” a time or two. Squats strengthen your legs and glutes, helping you with typical defense moves like bobbing, weaving, and slipping. A strong lower body is essential to being a fighter that excels in the later rounds.
Back to the core for our final suggested workout. Chin-ups and pull-ups build up your arms, chest, shoulders, and core strength like few other exercises can.
General guidelines & takeaways
Along with the above exercises, proceeding with the following tenets in mind can help keep you from getting tired in the later rounds:
- Raise your heart rate.
You must raise your heart rate to improve your cardio (oxygen intake). All of the above exercises, when done at a high enough pace for a long enough period, will push your limits.
Do interval training.
Interval training is ideal for muscle conditioning that will help you stay strong throughout fights. Balance out your muscles (work biceps to balance triceps, back to balance out chest and abs, etc.) to increase your range of motion and overall physical performance.
Increase muscle memory.
Spending considerable time hitting the bag, hitting the mitts, and shadowboxing will help make all your moves feel easier and more natural, regardless of what round you’re in.
Dedicate time to your mental game.
Develop a mental edge. Having the right attitude and mindset is huge to getting results during training and in the ring.