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Interval Training and High Intensity Interval Training for MMA

Interval Training is not a new training methodology. It has been around since the 1930's when a German coach Dr. Woldemar Gershler began looking for ways to improve running performance. Since then it has been established that periods of high intensity training followed by a lower intensity recovery period that are repeated over a workout time can have a more beneficial effect on cardiovascular endurance, energy delivery systems, and overall performance. Without getting overly technical, it has become common knowledge to athletes and trainers that interval training has many beneficial rewards in the form of increased performance with less training time invested.

High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT is an adaptation of the earlier methods where the volume of work is usually shortened but the intensity and effort used is brought to near maximum exertion for short periods to tax our energy delivery and cardiovascular systems. This method improves aerobic and anaerobic endurance, Lactic Acid and Glycogen synthesis, and provides the “afterburn” effect where your body continues to burn calories up to 48 hours later. HIIT training is especially effect for athletes where repetitive explosive performance is demanded, which is ideal for the MMA combat athlete.


Interval Training Methods

Interval training protocols differ in terms of length for both high and low-intensity intervals, the ratio of high to low-intensity, and the level of intensity during the workouts. There are three methods that most interval trainers are familiar with, Tabata Method, Little Method, and Turbulence Training.

The Tabata Method was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata of Japan in 1996. It involves high-intensity bursts at 170% of one’s VO2 max. The workouts total four minutes and involve 20 seconds of high intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight cycles. The recommended frequency of Tabata workouts is between 2-4 times per week. Tabata is best for those who have already gotten to a moderate level of fitness and are looking for a workout that requires very little time. The Tabata Method can also be performed with strength training movements.

To implement the Tabata Method, try the following. Start with a three-minute warm-up, then sprint for 20 seconds. Rest (walk) for 10 seconds, then repeat the sprint/walk cycle for a total of eight cycles.

The Little Method was developed by Drs. Martin Gibala and Johnathan Little in 2009. It involves high-intensity workouts at 95% of VO2 max. The protocol calls for 60 seconds of high intensity effort followed by 75 seconds of low intensity effort. Repeat for a total of 12 cycles (27 minutes total) up to three times per week.

An example of the Little Method: start with a three-minute warm-up. Cycle for 60 seconds quickly and with maximum resistance. Follow that with 75 seconds of slow cycling at low resistance, and repeat the fast/slow cycle for a total of 27 minutes. This is best for athletes at an intermediate fitness level who have 30 minutes to invest.

Turbulence training was developed by exercise physiology researcher Craig Ballantyne. It involves eight-rep high-weight training sets alternated with 1-2 minute cardio sets. The protocol alternates high-weight/low-rep strength training with high-intensity cardio. The maximum 45-minute workouts combine strength training with cardio, and the recommended frequency is three times per week.

To implement Turbulence Training, start with a five-minute warm-up. Perform an eight-rep set of a weightlifting movement (like dumbbell presses) followed by one minute of mountain climbers. Repeat through a full-body routine for 45 minutes. Turbulence Training is generally best for those who have longer to train and are looking to incorporate strength training into their routines.

Interval and HIIT can be very demanding, and care should be made to reduce the risk of injury or overuse. But the reward for interval training are many, and it might just be the thing to push you out of a training plateau or slump and re-energize your workouts!

Check back for Part II where we show you how to add interval training and HIIT directly to your MMA workouts!

(Articles are for informational purposes only. Train safely and seek the advice of a physician before starting any workout routine. The hosts of this website, its partners and the suppliers of articles and videos take no responsibility for the information provided. Trainees accept all risk.)



About the author

Ray White's Midwest Martial Arts teaches Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts to students, amateur and professional fighters from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. He can be reached at the SMB Academy in Battle Creek Michigan, at and at .