Yesterday, I wrote about my Paleo experiment, and I’ve talked about the importance of sleep. Now I’d like to touch upon a workout program I’m playing with, which is based on the book Ultimate MMA Conditioning by Joel Jamieson, the former strength and conditioning coach for Pride.
The book has a fair amount of theory on the energy systems used in mixed martial arts and protocols to develop them. The training approach is based on blocks. Block periodization (also known as conjugate sequence periodization) is nothing new. It was formed and tested by Verkhoshansky in the Soviet Union and has been used by Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s coach.
In this case, there are five 8-week blocks for general endurance, general strength, explosive speed and power, power endurance and fight preparation. Each block emphasizes a main quality and then you can pick a secondary goal as well. There is a 7-10 day deload period between blocks, and two 5-week phases with two weeks of overlap.
Why would I do this program when I’m not an MMA fighter? Several people have asked me that already. Here’s my reasoning. First of all, even though I’m not a fighter, the blocks emphasize areas of fitness I’d like to develop. Who doesn’t want to be stronger, more explosive and have better endurance? I like that I can work some of my secondary goals (pull-ups, kettlebell work, etc.) within the framework of this program and that there is such ample opportunity for individualization. And I like that it is so comprehensive and that each block builds on the next.
Second, I’m so psyched to experiment with conjugate sequence periodization. I’ve done tons of programs emphasizing linear periodization that get stagnant and boring (and lead to overtraining), and I’ve done programs that are so randomized that they may be interesting but don’t really cause improvements. This system appears to be so much more advanced and elegant than complex or concurrent periodization for various reasons, and I like the idea of adapting in a particular area and a secondary focus, while maintaining other areas–and working adaptations which don’t interfere with each other, and developing different areas in a way where they build on one another.
Third, my sport of choice is Brazilian jiu jitsu–which emphasizes many of the same pathways as MMA. Now granted my technique is not developed enough to require peak performance (as I learned so painfully this past weekend when I lost *three* BJJ matches at a tournament in a minute or less), but I still am holding out hope that I can get there one day. And forth, as a fitness enthusiast (read: geek), I like keeping up to speed with what’s out there and trying different things.
The Details (Equipment and Goals)
My only equipment for this program is the book, fitness equipment and a heart rate monitor. For the latter, Joel recommends the Polar RS 100 for its lap function, which can track average heart rate and heart rate recovery. It’s not cheap (around $110) but it’s incredibly comfortable with lots of features I haven’t figured out how to use yet.
I’m starting on the general endurance block. Pre-testing can include your resting heart rate, your heart rate recovery (you want it to get to 130 or below within a minute of training), or running as far as you can in 6 minutes and tracking your average heart rate, distance and speed. VO Max and lactate threshold are other expensive tests you can run.
I personally despise running and have the goal of completing this entire program without it, so decided to focus on the resting heart rate which should drop by 5-10 beats per minute during this block. 49-54 beats per minute is excellent for a male athlete between the ages of 26-35, and for a female athlete, 54-59 is considered excellent. I am currently at 63 and would like to get in the excellent range.
General Endurance Block, Phase A
As mentioned, phase A and B last for 5 weeks each, with 2 weeks of overlap. The first phase focuses on cardiac output, and you can choose a secondary goal (tempo, HICT, low volume HRI, etc.) while also emphasizing technique. (Phase B focuses more on work rate, but I’ll write more about it once I get there.)
When I did Joel’s Bioforce testing, my strength and explosive power were my strongest points, with muscular endurance and aerobic fitness at the lowest, and anaerobic somewhere in between. So I’m letting that guide which protocols I choose.
The program says that 3 days of training is sufficient, assuming you are training in your sport as well, but otherwise with cardiac output you may need a bit more than that.
Cardiac output will be my main emphasis: 3 days a week of biking, bag work, etc. (jogging, swimming, jumping rope, etc. is also acceptable) with my heart rate between 130 and 150. Since I’m only 32, I’d like to work towards the higher end of that. I’d like to eventually get to the higher end time-wise as well. I am starting out with half an hour and trying to get to an hour and a half. (90 minutes at 150 beats per minute 3 days a week is my ideal, but I am starting at 30 minutes at 130-ish beats per minute 3 times a week).
For secondary goals, I can choose from the tempo method, HICT and low volume HRI. These complement the endurance cycle but also increase different metabolic pathways.
The tempo method entails 3-4 exercises, with 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps and 6-8 minutes rest between sets. The exercises are pretty standard ones (squats, bench presses, deadlifts, pullups, rows) but the timing is different: two seconds concentric and 2 seconds eccentric per rep, with no pause at the top or bottom (so 4 seconds total).
HICT (high intensity continuous training) helps recruit higher threshold muscle fibers. It involves 1-2 sets of hill lunges, hill bike rides, spin bikes, Versaclimber, etc. at a low speed (20-30 RPM on the spin bike) for 10-20 minutes per set. There is a 5-10 minute rest between sets and your heart rate should be in the 150s or low 160s.
And HRI (high resistance intervals) are your hill sprints, sled drags, spin bike, etc. with 10-12 seconds per rep and then resting until your heart rate is back down to 130-140. This should be done under the anaerobic threshold with only 15 to 20 reps.
What This Looks Like
Because you’re only supposed to do tempo 1 day a week and HICT two days a week, but can do as much cardiac output as you want, my weekly programming could look a bit like this:
Day 1 Tempo, HICT, cardiac output
Day 2 HICT, cardiac output
Day 3 low volume HRI, cardiac output
This will obviously be changed around depending on timing and what else I have going on in each given day. For example, I only did cardiac output yesterday so will have to do HICT today in addition to BJJ training.
Still, here’s what a sample first week might look like (keeping in mind that it will increase in the latter weeks):
- 30 min bike ride (HR at 130-150)
- 10 min hill bike ride (HR 150-160)
- 3 sets, 8 reps, pullups/deadlifts/rows/squats at tempo–8 min between sets
- 30 minute workout: 10 min each bag work, jumping rope, jogging (HR at 130-150)
- 10 min hill bike ride (HR 150-160)
- 30 minute bike ride (HR at 130-150)
- hill sprint, 15 reps, 10 seconds each, rest ’til HR at 130-140
Anyway, there’s a great thread on Joel’s book on the Performance Menu forums, and Joel’s website (8weeksout.com) has a forum as well. But I’d be happy to do my best to explain anything that’s unclear. I’ll also post updates as I progress through the different phases, so expect the next one in 3-4 weeks when I’m starting phase B of the general endurance block, and another one at the end of the block when I assess the results. 8 weeks of programming times 5 blocks with a week in between is almost a year’s worth of programming, so keep checking back!