Add Swimming to Your Conditioning Arsenal.  Here’s why, and how:

Add Swimming to Your Conditioning Arsenal. Here’s why, and how:

“Train smart at all times and do your best to avoid injury. Training Smart is more important than training hard.”

-Georges St. Pierre

No matter how great you think your conditioning is, the water can be extremely humbling. It is unforgiving, but offers big rewards to those who smartly choose to incorporate some pool workouts into their training. This is as true for combat and tactical athletes as for any other sport requiring a high level of aerobic fitness.

As a Combat or Tactical Athlete, you no doubt put yourself through some brutal training. The high intensity training you perform puts a lot of stress on the joints, as well as on the nervous system which is constantly trying to recover from these sessions.

Swimming offers 4 invaluable benefits that will be highly complimentary to your training and performance, all while being low impact on the joints. I’ll also list a few workouts you can incorporate right away to get started.

Improve Strength-Endurance

One of the most beneficial attributes for a combat athlete (or most athletes), is strength-endurance. It’s great to be strong and powerful, but if you cannot continue to express your strength beyond the first round, then it is essentially useless. Swimming offers a constant resistance, as you must continue moving against the resistance of the water or you will go under. Build up to Swimming 1000 meters at a nice slow pace, then work on doing it faster or add distance.

Promote Recovery

Performing low to moderate intensity training can help push the body into a parasympathetic recovery state. Instead of hammering away at your body when you’re already in a recovery-debt, try doing some long, slow distance (LSD) training in the pool. This can be done as one long session (30-45 mins), or in intervals. low intensity cardiovascular training helps the body get rid of waste products created during high intensity training, and pushes blood flow into the joints and muscles. The result is faster recovery between sessions.

Cardio-Respiratory Control

If you’ve never worked out in the water before, the first challenge you’ll encounter is keeping control of your breathing and fatigue level. You cannot breathe under the water, and so cannot take a breath whenever you need to. You need to establish a rhythm and learn to be comfortable with limited breaths. This can have a dramatic effect on your ability, as you may quickly reach exhaustion and panic as you feel you are reaching exhaustion and cannot breathe. Obviously, controlling your breathing and energy output are critical skills for any athlete, none more so than a fighter. Lose your breathing in the ring, and you are in big trouble. Learn to slow down and stay in control, breathe, move, relax… Drive your heart rate down.. You can control your fatigue while still moving. This is known as “Dynamic Energy Control,” and is a mandatory skill for an athlete to possess.

Focus Under Fatigue/Mental Toughness

Swimming will force you to constantly be focused as you must continue to breathe and move under constant exertion. This can be immensely beneficial to an athlete, as you will enhance the ability to control your breathing and energy output without panicking. Training sprints in the pool can enhance this quality even further. You WILL want to stop moving as you accumulate fatigue and your lungs are begging for more air. Being able to overcome this can have a dramatic effect on your lung capacity and your mental toughness under fatigue.

Some Workout Examples/lessons on how to swim

LSD (long-slow-distance) swim – Swim at a low intensity constantly for 20-30 minutes.

LSD swim – Swim 1000 meters at a low intensity, gradually build up to and beyond 1000 meters.

Sprints – Try Swimming some 100 meter sprints, with rest between sprints equal to the duration it took to complete the 100m. (1:1 work/rest). Gradually add more volume to the sessions and work on moving faster.

Mixed Sessions – Do 10-20 pushups outside of the pool, jump in and swim 50 meters, repeat.  Try 3-5 sets of 3 reps of this to start, with 1:1 work to rest ratio.  Gradually increase the volume of the sessions over time.

It’s best to use a mixture of these methods, as swimming likely isn’t your primary sport and you are using it as a low impact recovery/conditioning method.  Once a week would be fine in this scenario.  

Which Stroke should you use?

I personally love the Combat Side Stroke. I learned it by watching videos on youtube, and you can too. You can also use a freestyle stroke. Be patient if it’s new.. You will get it!

Remember. If you’re using swimming as a method of enhancing recovery.. keep the intensity low to moderate for longer durations. If you want some higher intensity conditioning without the added stress to the joints, use sprints and work on decreasing the rest periods between reps.

Hope this was helpful, leave a comment and let me know!

The Secret to Improving Fitness and Conditioning

The Secret to Improving Fitness and Conditioning

The desire to push the body to new levels of strength and fitness is something I understand very well. I’ve been training in one form or another for most of my life, and my life has in fact usually revolved around my training schedule. If I knew years ago what I know now, I no doubt could have reached much higher levels of physical conditioning, and in turn, performance. The secret to being that beast you visualize in your head (but havn’t quite achieved, despite punishing your body relentlessly) is not a magic training program, nor is it a supplement or hack. I’m not trying to sell you anything either… I have acquired the knowledge both through my own experiences and through the help of some great coaches, books and articles that I’ve learned from and tested out on myself. I have been my own guinea pig over the years. I’m no guru, but I do believe I’ve got it right.

To spare you from having to read too much, I’m going to keep it as simple as possible. What’s holding most people back from harnessing the full power of their body’s potential is the over-reliance on High Intensity Training (think HIIT, circuit training, etc..). We skip straight into high intensity training, without realizing that we have neglected the foundation of fitness and of high level physical conditioning.. the aerobic energy system.

A Quick Explanation of Energy Systems

The Aerobic energy system uses oxygen along with fats and carbohydrates to create energy for us to continue moving. It is efficient and long lasting, but slow. As exercise intensity increases, the aerobic system will try to keep up, until it no longer can produce the energy being demanded by whatever we’re doing.

At this point, the anaerobic energy system will begin to increasingly become utilized to continue producing energy. The anaerobic energy system does not utilize oxygen, and instead uses substrates already present in the blood and muscle tissue to create energy. This provides a fast, powerful source of energy (think sprinting or any explosive movement lasting less than 30 seconds). The downside is that the anaerobic energy system cannot produce energy for very long. If you sprint at maximum speed, you cannot maintain that speed for longer than about 10-15 seconds.. It is simply not how our bodies are designed.

Thank of the fighter who completely gasses out in the middle of a round. Why, after so much training and sparring and high intensity conditioning would that happen? Most likely, it happens because that athlete has not built up his aerobic engine, the foundation of conditioning.

It can be very counter-intuitive. fighting is a sport where you have to be explosive, so why would you need to build up your aerobic system with lower intensity training? The answer to this question is the secret to achieving a higher level of fitness and conditioning.

The Aerobic System resupplies energy (recovery) between explosive bouts

Building up the aerobic energy system will allow you to recover faster between explosive bouts. The aerobic system clears out the byproducts created during high intensity exercise, and also replenishes energy so you can continue moving at that high intensity. If your body is unable to keep up with the intensity you’re trying to train or compete at, you will “hit the wall.”

So, how can you harness and build the power of the aerobic energy system?

Take a step back and dedicate 12 weeks or so to building your foundation. If you need help, check out how I programmed this for myself here. You shouldn’t completely cut out high intensity training, but keep it to 1-2 days/week. On those days, push yourself as hard as you need to. Devote 3-5 days per week, depending on your current fitness level, to low to moderate training lasting 30-60 minutes in duration. You can use treadmills, running, or any other activity, and should mix it up frequently. These sessions should have your heart rate between 130-150 for the duration of the session. gradually increase the length of the session over the course of several weeks.

Over time, you will be gaining invaluable adaptations in the body. The heart will adapt by pumping more blood per beat, and thus you should see your resting heart rate move lower, which is one of the surest signs of improved aerobic fitness. You will improve your body’s ability to clear out the byproducts of intense exercise and thus will be able to go harder, for longer. To see some advanced ways to plan your programming, check out my article on how to program your training for optimal results.

Now get out there and become a better athlete!