Updated: Apr 30
ROADWORK OFF THE ROAD
In my previous article I outlined the importance of the traditional long slow distance training, better known as roadwork, as an important conditioning method for combat sports. Here’s a little recap.
What is roadwork?
Roadwork or long slow distance (LSD) refers to hitting the pavement in the good old fashioned way for a long (30-90 min) low intensity run. Despite of being a part of most great combat athletes’ training regimes in the past, it has recently been under attack as a less effective way of developing aerobic capacity. And thus the eternal debate called LSD vs HIIT has begun.
What is aerobic capacity?
Aerobic capacity refers to the amount of Oxygen that can be inhaled, transported through the blood and utilised to produce energy during exercise.
Why is it important for combat sports?
Combat sports require high levels of both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, but the majority of the energy during a fight comes from aerobic sources. Aerobic metabolism determines the upper limits of performance and a fighter’s ability to consistently repeat high intensity efforts; it also regulates recovery between the rounds, enabling the athlete to enter each round with more energy, thus maintaining good technique and composure all the way into the final rounds.
Can't I develop aerobic capacity through shorter high intensity training?
You can improve VO2 max (the most commonly used indicator of aerobic fitness) through HIIT. However, the cardiac adaptations you achieve through this type of training, differ from the ones achieved through low intensity continuous work. Moreover, it has been shown that those using only high intensity training methods tend to hit a plateau faster, while those who practice steady state training continue to improve for much longer.
The bottom line
Roadwork is an effective way of improving aerobic fitness, without putting high levels of stress on the body. Unlike high intensity interval training, which requires maximum effort on every repetition (in addition to the highly demanding training regime of fighters), roadwork, when used properly, can actually aid recovery.
But do I have to run?
No. You don’t have to run. Even though I am a big propagator of running, as a way of improving both physical and mental health, I understand that not everybody is a massive fan, or has the ability to run for an hour or longer. But that’s no excuse for not doing any roadwork. There are numerous other ways of getting the benefits of a long run without the actual run.
What are we trying to achieve?
One of the key adaptations caused by long slow distance type of training is the eccentric hypertrophy of the heart muscle, which then increases stroke volume - the amount of blood the heart is able to deliver with each beat (read the details here). For the heart to get the stimulation to increase in size, a large volume of work is needed (at least 30, but ideally between 60-90 minutes of steady-state low intensity training). If the intensity is too high, the contractions become too fast for the heart to completely fill up with blood, and this adaptation will not occur. It is called LONG SLOW distance for a reason. We want to stimulate the heart to work at a rate that’s stimulating enough, but not too intense that we cannot keep it up for a long time. Only this constant low intensity stimulation will lead to the adaptations we’re looking for.
So if you’re not a fan of running, here’s some things that you can do instead: cycling, swimming, skipping (rope that is), shadow boxing, low intensity pad or heavy bag work, calisthenics or any other low intensity continuous exercise or a combination of exercises. Now, I understand that if you hate long runs, chances are you’re gonna hate any other type of steady state activity, so here’s my best advice for you: low intensity circuit training.
In the video below you can see one version of a low intensity circuit you can perform easily anywhere. Here I combine skipping for 5 minutes, shadow boxing for 5 minutes and some bodyweight exercises for strength, mobility and core. Changing things up every couple of minutes, makes the session more interesting; incorporating shadow boxing aids skill development and the exercises I perform strengthen my body and core and improve mobility at the same time. That’s a lot of birds with just one stone. I almost convinced myself to ditch running for good and just do this instead… Almost.. I love my running. But I still like to mix things up sometimes and do this type of circuits occasionally.
Design your own circuit
There are endless ways you can create your circuit. If you’re a fighter or combat sports enthusiast, I would definitely include shadow boxing or low intensity bag work, as it’s a great opportunity to practice your skills while developing your aerobic capacity. Just be careful not to get carried away and turn up the intensity too high. It’s good to have specific drills in mind before you start, rather than running out of ideas and instead just going berserk on the bag. Choosing the right exercises is also very important and very subjective. Something that I find very easy, could be a killer for someone else or vice versa. So make sure you pick something that will not get your heart rate to skyrocket. It’s also a great chance to sneak in some mobility work, especially if you’re otherwise too lazy to do it on it’s own. It can keep the intensity down when combined with other exercises. You can see in the video, instead of doing as many push-ups as I can in a minute, I do one rep, followed by a groin stretch, then another rep and another stretch on the other side. Heart rate stays down, flexibility goes up.
Whatever exercise or circuit you choose, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
1. The overall duration of the session should be between 40 and 90 minutes (I know it sounds never ending, but trust me, when it’s broken up into 5 minute pieces, and you do things you like, such as shadow boxing, it goes much quicker that you’d think).
2. Keep the heart rate between 130 and 150 bpm. The best way to measure this is using a heart rate monitor. These days it’s really easy to get hold of a relatively good one for a cheap price. If you don’t want to invest in one, then you will have to go by feel. On a scale of 1-10, this would be around 4 or 5. You should not be out of breath and should be able to maintain a normal conversations (normal does not refer to the topic of the conversation, but to the fact that you can talk and breathe at the same time, rather that having to stop talking to catch your breath).
3. If you’re doing a circuit, the exercises are performed back to back with no rest in between.
4. If you’re also including strength work in your training regime, this should be done separately in a different training session.
5. Include roadwork in your conditioning 1-3 times a week, depending on your goals and current fitness levels.
6. Have fun with it. Yes, that is an official guideline. If you’re going to do something for 90 minutes, and you approach it with scepticism or loathing, that’s not gonna end well. Design your own little workout and enjoy the process.
So there you have it. A long run without the run. Roadwork without the road. Long slow distance without distance… You get the point.
I’m giving you this outline for the circuit as a great alternative to running, because I know a lot of you hate getting out there on the road, or get nauseous simply at the mention of a long run. After all, we're fighters, we love the intensity and the killer sessions! But if you want bulletproof conditioning, it is very important that you understand the benefits of roadwork. You need an efficient engine and neglecting this type of training could lead to sub-maximal results. Watch the video, give the circuit a try and let me know in the comments what you think.
I hope you like it. But if you don’t, you can always go back to running.
In order to become the 1% you must do what the other 99% won't.