Friday, 3 October 2008

Conditioning. Who needs it?

"Fatigue makes cowards of us all" - Vince Lombardi

Marcus Houston (Chief Instructor Krav Maga & Tactical Edge Edinburgh) and I were talking conditioning last night. For a long time Marcus has been way ahead of the curve, mandating serious conditioning as part of the classes. For those who struggle with the whole technique vs conditioning continuum it's important to clarify a few very important points...

At it's most basic level, take two fighters of equal combative ability, similar combat mindset and set them to battle. What other element might dictate the victor? Answer...conditioning.
All else being close to equal, conditioning will win the day. Why? Those of you who have trained with Marcus or attended one of Mark Davies Tactical Edge seminars will be familiar with the following...

From a psycho physiological stand point as soon as adrenalin kicks in the body responds in a very systematic fashion. It really doesn't matter who you are you cannot dodge several million years of evolution. As that hormonal cascade erupts the nervous system goes into overdrive . Big time.
Increase heart rate causes loss of fine motor skills at around 115 bpm.
Over 145 bpm complex motor skills go on vacation and the auditory starts closing down.
At 175 bpm tunnel vision occurs, tracking becomes difficult. This is where all that scanning you've been told to do is so important. We aren't going to get into 185 that point you are in the headlights.
The 115 to 145 range is considered optimal for combat.
Your breathing becomes shallow, you begin to hyper ventilate. Once you have adrenalin and cortisol coursing through your veins you have a limited window of opportunity to get the reaction in check. You cannot stop the process but you can control to some degree the extent to which it impacts your performance.

The only autonomic function we have any control over is BREATHING, everything else is on auto pilot. The ability to control and stabilise breathing offers your only opportunity to decrease the heart rate. What Mark refers to as Combat Breathing (also called autogenic) gives us an effective tool that can drop the heart rate by up to 30% and keep it there long enough to gather ourselves.

Breath in for a count of 3, hold for 2, breath out for 3. There are different versions and counts but the principle is the same. Get your breathing under control.

So, where does the conditioning aspect come in? To make effective use of the information above we need to get ourselves into a state of compromise. Steady state cardio simply wont work. You can bang out the miles at a steady pace but in a combat situation it wont help you unless you are fortunate enough to be able run away.

We need what combat conditioning coach Ross Enamait calls "Aerobic Fitness without Aerobics". Simple, high intensity interval training. Intervals increase aerobic capacity without the negative side effects of steady state cardio. Fighting is an explosive, powerful, intense activity and only conditioning that reflects that is useful. If you want the science behind it pick up a copy of "Full Throttle Conditioning" from Ross himself.

I suggest that prior to the next class everyone pairs up and after a brief warmup performs a simple back and forth circuit of Burpees with a squat jump and hindu squats. Thirty second intervals are a good place to start. Push your partner, make them go full tilt. Experience the mental toughness required to make it through ten minutes without bending over, hands on knees. Between each set you will have enough time for three cycles of Combat Breathing. Keep moving, don't stop, no matter what. Anyone who's come to Combat Ready Conditioning will be familiar with this. You will not find recovery lying on the floor, you will find it as you move and breath.

As soon as the 10 minutes are up start sparring at 50%. Nice and loose, no need for power but maintain speed, try an connect with your partner. 3 minutes. No stopping. If it goes to ground simply get up and start again. It is essential that you do not stop moving. This is not reality, this is a controlled, safe environment. But it will give you a tiny glimpse into the kind of physical & psychological battle you face if and when self defense becomes a reality.

Scenario based training with partners who know how to be what Tony Blauer calls "Good Bad Guys" is vital. Opponents who will offer enough resistance to allow us to drill and hard wire the techniques. Developing unconscious competence is the object of any credible self defence system. What Mark refers to as "Flow". To find that flow under duress in the heat of battle, that is the ultimate goal.

All the drilling and practice should be at the core of what you do. But without the physical ability to back it up you are dueling with a .22 when you could be using a .45.

-Rannoch Donald

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