Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Martial Arts Training

Let’s start with a list of the known adaptational responses to physical training. They are cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. When we concern ourselves with the demands of a sport or exercise we can assess the activity by asking ourselves which of these adaptational responses is critical to the activity.

For instance, triathlon requires great cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, great stamina, little strength, less flexibility, and negligible, or no power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. On the basis of this assessment, like it or not, we at CrossFit don’t consider triathletes great or even good athletes.

When I apply the same criterion for analysis to the NHB, MMA, or BJJ competitor we see at once that the fighter requires each of the ten physical skills to an extraordinary degree. The extent to which these athletes depend on each of these physical skills is so high that it is reasonably argued that the MMA competitor is potentially the best athlete on earth. I say “ potentially” because I believe that today’s fighters have generally not yet realized the fitness potential that later generations of fighters will surely possess if they are to win fights. CrossFit is helping to bring this change about.

CrossFit has for years, through development of core strength and conditioning programs, endeavored to engineer programs that optimize each, simultaneously, of the adaptational responses to training. These workouts have been highly regarded by professionals whose lives and livelihoods depend of their fitness such as cops, Special Forces personnel, and firefighters. In recent years our expertise has been applied to MMA and BJJ competitors, and we’ve met with great success.

Here are the distinctive elements to the CrossFit philosophy followed by some specific areas where we diverge from conventional training. Philosophically we train with a constant eye for Neuroendocrine response, power development, cross-training, and functional movements. The value and rationale for each of these is too complex to be covered here, but let me briefly define each. Neuroendocrine response is the neurological and hormonal response to an exercise. Some exercise have a high neruoendocrine response, some have little. We focus on the exercises that have been shown to have a high neuroendocrine response. Power is king in sport, not speed. Power is moving hard and fast, not just hard, not just fast, but hard and fast. CrossFit places a premium on the development of power. Cross training in its broadest sense is training past the normal bounds or parameters requisite of your sport. The CrossFit commitment to cross training is suggested in our program's name. Functional movements are those that mimic motor recruitment patterns commonly or universally found in nature. The advantage of training functional movements is so important that physical prowess is utterly impossible without it and yet, amazingly, fitness protocols in gyms and health clubs are typically absent of functional movements.

The CrossFit approach is distinctive and therefore represents a departure from conventional training in many respects. Let’s detail some specific and obvious differences in CrossFit training.

1) We train for strength and metabolic conditioning (“cardio”) simultaneously. Fighting requires strength at very high heart rates. You had better train for that. Your opponent is unlikely to let you catch your breath before you throw him.
2) We train with gymnastics. Gymnasts have the best strength to weight ratio and the best coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy of any athlete. The value of advanced body control to MMA competition should be obvious.
3) We train with weights. Weightlifting trains for imparting and receiving great and sudden forces. MMA competition is ultimately about control of objects (your opponent). If you don’t see the correlation between the deadlift and throws you either haven’t done enough deadlifts, throws, or both.
4) Our weightlifting is Powerlifting and Olympic lifting based; we do no bodybuilding. That means no curls, lateral raises, leg extensions, leg curls, or any of the rest of the staple of most health clubs, and gyms.
5) The vast majority of our metabolic conditioning efforts are anaerobic not aerobic. Guess what? Fighting is an anaerobic sport. The fighters that are training daily with long distance cardio efforts are getting weaker not stronger, losing power, strength, and speed the more they train. This may not be well understood, but it’s a fact.