It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to understand why running is not for everyone. Instead of getting into that…let’s just assume you move well, you’re a fighter and you want to get ready for a fight.
What’s the simplest (not easiest) perfect conditioning exercise for MMA that will get you ready for your next fight?
I WANT YOU TO RUN UP A MOUNTAIN!
I’m not joking. Let me explain…
A few years ago, my wife, Mandi had a great idea. (Slight sarcasm here…) Let’s drive to Mt. Major in Gilford, New Hampshire and go for a hike. As we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed backpacks, hiking poles and lots of hiking gear. You would have thought these people were preparing to climb Mount Washington.
We took a different approach. We came prepared as well, but we had our headphones, heart rate monitors and a small water bottle filled with some Fast Twitch, our favorite pre-workout. That is all…no poles, snacks, changes of clothes, etc.
We decided that we had one goal, which was to not stop running until we got to the top. About 30 minutes later, we made it. We were exhausted, but we had a blast.
A few observations from that day:
- Running up a mountain was mentally taxing! There were times when I wanted to walk or rest, but I couldn’t quit.
- I had to pay attention to my footwork the entire time. Due to the various terrains made up of loose dirt, rocks, roots and grade changes, I needed to keep my footing. If I didn’t pay attention I definitely would have fallen on my face. It was imperative I stayed sharp!
- Running for thirty minutes straight up a hill was natural agility training. I was reacting to the trail. Sometimes I’d leap over a rock, step on a root or even decide to avoid an obstacle altogether. My feet and my mind stayed connected. I utilized various body positions, joint angles and footwork to keep moving successfully up the trail. Seriously, running up a mountain is the epitome of agility training.
Since then we’ve run up the mountain several more times and every time a light bulb goes off.
Lets dig a bit deeper shall we?
Running Up a Mountain is a Self-limiting Exercise
When Gray Cook speaks, I listen. He is a big fan of self -limiting exercises. Here is what he has to say on practicing self-limiting exercises:
Self-limiting exercise demands mindfulness and an awareness of movement, alignment, balance and control. In self-limiting exercise, a person cannot just pop on the headphones and walk or run on the treadmill, fingering the playlist or watching the news on a well-placed monitor. Self-limiting exercise demands engagement.
The mountain run is exactly what he’s talking about above. You can’t slouch, you need to stay in an accelerated position and due to the incline, and you must use a mid-foot strike. Sure, you can get lazy and slow down, but your technique has to remain similar throughout the run if you want to complete it.
Mobility and stability are popular words these days, and for good reason. If you are a strength coach, you should have a basic understanding of the biomechanics involved in running.
In an ideal world, here is what we should see happen when someone is running:
Core motor control
This is essentially core stability. It’s the opposite of feed-forward tension or bracing. The article below says it better than I ever could.
Simply put, this is the ability to maintain a neutral arch in the foot when the foot strike occurs. In an ideal world, we would love to see no pronation or supination on impact. The foot should be stable!
I would love to see 20 degrees of available dorsiflexion on all my athletes. If your ankle is stuck, your body will find range of motion elsewhere…oh yeah, that’s why your knee is sore!
Proper joint alignment
Sticking with simplicity here, the hip, knee and ankle should be pointing in the same direction.
In gait, the front hip should be flexed and the back hip should be extended. This should all happen underneath a stable pelvis.
If your running technique looks similar to a Victoria’s Secret model on the catwalk, you’ve got some issues coming your way. A stable pelvis works perfectly with strong and mobile hips. Running with an unstable pelvis is like shooting a cannonball from a canoe, sure you’ll move but not very far and not for long.
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, how do we execute the climb?
Running a mountain is not steady state by any means. The various terrains, grades and natural obstacles are a great way to perform some interval work.
Once you find groove, pick a point up the mountain about 40 yards or and sprint to it. Do this several times on your run. There will be times where you are pretty much recovered and a sprint is doable, other times you will be smoked. Mix in a little bit of both, but be smart and don’t put yourself in harms way. You should know what you are capable of physically. I want you to run your ass off, but not to the point where it ruins your day and makes you vomit.
From my experience, a tough 35-45 minute climb is plenty. We aren’t talking Everest here, but conquering a tough run with an elevation of 1,200 to 1,800 feet is very doable.
Get outside, have fun, and change it up a bit. It breaks up the monotony and challenges you in a completely different way.
As always, train hard, train smart!