One of the biggest misnomers when it comes to MMA conditioning is the difference between "conditioning" and "cardio." When MMA fighters new to this subject first decide to add a strength and conditioning program to their training, often times they take what they know already from general fitness and bodybuilding and think that increasing their bench press, doing a bunch of curls and running several miles every day will pretty much get them in shape for a fight.
Obviously there is a lot more to it then this. A WHOLE lot more to it. I can go on and on about the types of strength and conditioning MMA fighters need to optimize their performance in the ring or cage, but I want the focus of this article to clear up the difference between MMA conditioning and cardio.
Cardiovascular fitness, or cardio for short, is basically the capacity of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to your working muscles. The general types of cardio you can develop are aerobic endurance and anaerobic endurance. Aerobic, which literally means "with oxygen," refers to slower but longer paced exercises, such as jogging; whereas anaerobic, or "without oxygen," refers to high intensity training where your muscle don't rely on oxygen to contract your muscles.
In MMA, both aerobic and anaerobic endurance are equally important. The better your aerobic endurance, the faster your heart will be able to supply your muscles with oxygen, which means the faster you can recover your wind, or "catch your breath." The better your anaerobic endurance, the longer you will be able to perform high intensity exercise without gassing out.
However, this is where most people think MMA conditioning stops. But if you were to get to the point where you can jog 5 miles plus non-stop no problem AND you can do dozens of wind sprints in a short amount of time, and that's ALL the "conditioning" you did, I guarantee you will still gas out in a high intensity MMA fight. Why? Because although your cardio may be in great shape, your conditioning will still be lacking.
"So what the hell is the difference, Derek!?"
I thought you'd never ask. Conditioning for MMA, unlike conditioning for non or low contact sports such as soccer or basketball, requires that you not only have excellent cardio or wind, but that you have muscle/strength/power endurance as well. Let me explain the difference. In basketball, players are constantly running and jogging back and forth, hence aerobic and anaerobic endurance is vital so that they can continue to do this throughout the whole game without slowing down or hindering there performance.
In a mixed martial arts bout, often times fighters will engage in the clinch, shoot in and fight for a take-down (or fight against one) and continue to exert their muscles both explosively and for prolonged times (such as trying to secure a submission). Not only does a fighter require great cardio, but he also needs to condition his muscles (arms, legs, shoulders, etc.) to be able to contract for a relatively long period of time as well. If you've ever got caught struggling for a take-down for several seconds after when you are already tired, you'll know what I mean. This is a type of conditioning that you won't get from just running on a flat surface several times a week.
This type of conditioning requires a certain type of resistance training, whether it's with weights, sleds, sandbags, or what have you. It is important to note that conditioning your muscles is different then just lifting weights like the general fitness or bodybuilding industry suggests. You may be able to bench press 400 lbs, but if you have poor MMA conditioning, the ability to exert maximum strength, power, and endurance for an extended amount of time, then after 30 - 60 seconds of battling in the cage or ring then you probably won't have enough strength left to bench press 100 lbs.
MMA conditioning is a complex subject, primarily because MMA, unlike any other sport, requires virtually EVERY type of physical attribute we have, AND each attribute must be maximized for optimal performance. But at least now you know that running around your neighborhood everyday is great for your cardio, but only one piece of the puzzle in terms of MMA conditioning.