We understand developing strength and power for that one-punch knockout or explosive shot is important. And the cardiovascular fitness to last for an entire fight. These are often seen as isolated physical attributes that require different training modalities.
But what if there was a way to maximize power development and the ability to repeat it with one exercise? And why are repeated high-intensity efforts important for combat sports in the first place?
Importance Of Repeated High-Intensity Efforts
Being able to repeat high-intensity efforts (RHIE) during a match is a key performance indicator for all combat sports. We can also call this repeat power ability or power endurance. For example, 77% of all UFC fights are ended within the 8-14 second high-intensity work period with a 1:2 to 1:4 work-to-rest ratio .
Elite boxers show an activity-to-break ratio of 18:1, meaning they perform 18 offensive and defensive actions before a break in action . Kickboxing requires 2 seconds of high-intensity effort followed by 6 seconds of rest on average .
Considering successful kickboxers used more offensive and defensive actions and punch combinations compared to losers, and successful boxers maintain a high frequency of attacking movements throughout each round shows RHIE is extremely important in these striking arts . Grappling is no different.
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For example, BJJ has a 6:1 effort-to-pause ratio, with roughly 117 seconds of effort paired with 20 seconds of inactivity . Each effort period involves 30 sec of low-intensity activity with 2-4 sec of high-intensity activity .
Judo typically requires more high-intensity efforts in a match with a 2:1 to 3:1 activity-to-pause ratio. We see, on average, 4 seconds spent in a preparation period, 16-18 seconds in a grip dispute, 1-1.7 seconds of throwing attacks, and 9-17 seconds of groundwork .
The most brutal grappling art of wrestling has a similar activity-to-pause ratio to Judo of 2.5:1. It consists of 27-47 seconds of work to 7-20 seconds of rest .
Activity To Pause Ratio
High-Intensity Work Period
1:2 to 1:4
1:2 to 1:4
2:1 to 3:1
Preparation: 4 seconds. Grip Dispute: 16-18 seconds. Throwing Attacks: 1-1.7 seconds. Groundwork: 9-17 seconds
These data show us the importance of repeating and maintaining high-intensity striking and grappling actions throughout a fight. But what physical qualities underpin a fighter that can do this?
Physical Qualities Underpinning Repeated High-Intensity Efforts
I often harp on the importance of aerobic conditioning for fighters. This is mainly because it's a low-hanging fruit you can attach to make progress with minimal effort since many fighters are missing this within their training.
But you can’t rely on building an aerobic gas tank through low-intensity exercise to repeat high-intensity efforts. It’s why I preach about a polarized approach to strength & conditioning where you train at the very low and very high end of the spectrum.
And as you progress through a training cycle or if you are plugging gaps within your physical attributes, you program higher-intensity modalities as needed.
But back to aerobic conditioning. Most research is focused on the ability to repeat sprints, as many team sports require this attribute. Typically we see aerobic capacity as measured by VO2max significantly largely correlates with repeat sprint ability .
The mechanism underpinning this is the heavier reliance on aerobic processes to regenerate phosphocreatine (PCr) stores between sprints. In short, PCr is needed to convert ADP back to ATP as the muscle's energy source for contractions.
But not all research agrees with some papers only showing moderate correlations between VO2max and repeat sprint ability . One reason this discrepancy may exist is the effort given by the test subjects. For example, one paper stated their subjects tended to save energy to counteract fatigue, as shown by the first sprint of each block being slower than their maximal sprint effort .
However, combat is not a sport of sprinting. And high-intensity efforts often involve working against an opponent of similar weight when grappling or throwing a flurry of strikes mixed with clinching and bullying your opponent.
This is where the term repeated high-intensity effort was born and includes any effort, including sprinting like wrestling, scrambling, throwing, sweeping, and striking . Interestingly, the relationship between repeated sprint ability and RHIE is poor, showing the strenuous demands of non-running activities like wrestling .
A study in rugby league demonstrated this using GPS to isolate and quantify collision demands from running. They found a greater reduction in collision performance (tackling) than speed, with a 14% difference .
Therefore, enhancing RHIE will take more than developing the aerobic engine. You need power! And the ability to sustain it repeatedly.
High-Volume Power Training For Combat Athletes
As mentioned, a polarized approach to training requires training at high and low intensities throughout a training cycle. This develops cardiovascular and neuromuscular qualities independently. Meaning you’re improving aerobic fitness and the ability to recover between efforts and improving maximal strength and power to higher outputs during efforts.
It makes a sound approach to training and is one method I use. But what about developing both simultaneously in a fashion that potentially transfers better to repeating high-intensity efforts like striking and grappling?
High-volume power training (HVPT) is the answer . I ran a 4-week cycle of HVPT, and it absolutely kicked my ass. So what is it, and how do you do it?
It's performing ballistic movements at optimal power load for high volumes. While you can do HVPT with non-ballistic movements like speed squats, you don't get the same benefits due to the bar deceleration as you lock out the squat.
It's typically best to use exercises that don't have a high-skill component, like jump squats, bench throws, and trap bar jumps. Olympic lifts can be used, but technique will deteriorate quickly, potentially putting you at risk of injury.
However, Weightlifting derivatives are an option, such as hang clean pulls to reduce the degrees of freedom. Interestingly, one study used bike sprints, which instantly made me think of Andrew Usher's bike sprints he uses with world-champion boxers.
Regarding loading, you’re looking at approximately 30-40% back squat 1RM for the jump squat and 60-75% power clean 1RM for the Weightlifting derivatives.
Two to three sessions per week is more than enough to make gains and you’ll use anywhere from 12 to 20 reps per set with anywhere from 90 to 200 reps per session . How does this look in practice? Here's a great example from my colleague Schuster et al. :
This is a brutal progression, and I've modified it inside the SSOF Underground Training App with a progression I used that can have you progress over 6 weeks. It's part of the year-round 365 striking, grappling, and MMA programs.
Before you embark on a high-volume power training routine, there are a few points to consider:
High-volume power training is an underutilized training modality that can push the limits of your conditioning. If you have a solid conditioning base, give this a try and see how you respond. I guarantee you’ll feel the difference in the ring, cage, or on the mats.
If you want the program done for you, join the SSOF Underground, where I have the hallmark SSOF training programs and the NEW 365 striking, grappling, and MMA year-long training programs that include HVPT.
- UFC Performance Institute.
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