Thoughts on Training – Periodizing Group Classes

Group training is a tricky thing. On the one hand, everyone has different needs and a different starting point that needs to be taken into consideration. On the other hand, though, it totally makes sense to periodize training in order to maximize adaptations. 
In the Athletics class, this is easy. We run our athletes through an assessment that pretty much tells us all we need to know about their movement quality and strength levels. Then, when it’s time to squat, everybody squats. For some, that means Pistol Squats. Others front squat with a barbell. If nothing else works, we’d have somebody bodyweight squat-to-stand just to prepare him to squat later on, when he’s developed the mobility to do so. I’ve written a ton about this process, so I won’t bother going into details at this point. 
As for Martial Arts classes, things are a bit different. Of course I could just devote a part of class for solo training and assign individualized tasks to my fighters. That would pretty much break the flow of the class, though. Therefore, when it comes to drilling technique, it’s all about progressions and regressions. Within certain limits, that is – certain fundamental basic drills, e.g., leg control drills, will benefit everyone. Everything else is pretty scalable if some thought is invested. 
Energy system training  (EST) is a bit more tricky. Let me preface this by saying that I rarely do strength work in my martial arts classes. That’s what the Athletics class is for. I don’t necessarily believe in sport specific strength training. Rather, I think that sports-general training makes sense. You know the drill – a push, a pull, squat, hinge, loaded carries, rotations and core stability. Can’t really go wrong with that. Strong is strong, as Mike Boyle likes to say. 
EST, on the other hand, must become specific at some point as Joel Jamieson ( points out. Here, I like to integrate as much as possible into my classes. Note that I won’t go into a primer on physiology and the different energy systems here. If you don’t know that stuff, Google it. There’s enough good and free info on that topic out there. 
Most of the time, when you think about EST in a martial arts class, you probably think of grueling anaerobic bouts, something along the lines of circuits, violent padwork and hard sparring. Guess what – all those things have their place. Considering however anaerobic system’s relatively low degree of trainability and the negative impact on recovery (decreased mitochondrial density, decreased capillarization, … ), devoting a good portion of your training time to developing the aerobic system might be a good idea. Joel Jamieson’s Ultimate MMA conditioning might be your best resource to look into when it comes to training methods for the aerobic system. 
Still, in an amateur stand-up fight, that usually goes anywhere from two to three rounds of two to three minutes each, you better have a strong glycolitic system in place as well. Now the glycolitic system is highly dependant on the amount of enzymes at its disposal. After the cessation of training, these enzymes stick around for around 18 (+- 4) days before starting to decrease. Hence, it makes sense to do your lactic block quite closely to the fight. However, as mentioned, hard glycolitic training will impair your recovery – not a good thing in a tournament where you might have to go through six or more fights in a day. 
That’s why I’ve decided to implement two blocks each of both aerobic and anaerobic training for my fighters to prepare for the upcoming Polish Open on March 18th. The reasoning is as follows:
March 18th – Fight day
March 11th until March 17th – Taper
February 20th until March 11th – second glycolitic block
January 30th until February 19th – second aerobic block
January 8th until January 29th – first glycolitic block
November 28th until January 7th – first aerobic block
This way, each block is started before the residual effects of the previous block wear off.
Now especially the aerobic block poses a certain challenge, as slow long distance runs and similar modalities just don’t fit into a class setting. Also, my fighters are already training five days a week, which is plenty at the amateur level. Time efficiency is the name of the game here. Some of the methods I employed during this block are:
Aerobic Circuits: This is just what you think. I’d define a couple of stations, say for example four, and have my guys move from one station to the next without rest. Each station would be two to three minutes of either rope skipping, shadow boxing, partner drills, low intensity technical padwork with me or something similar. After warmup, we’d do anything from 45 to 60 minutes on that circuit.
Low intensity padwork: holding the pads is an art form on itself. Like it or not, most beginners and even intermediate guys can’t properly hold the pads when left to their own devices. They can, however, hold a couple defined combinations of you show them how. That’s exactly what we’d do in an aerobic block. Each athlete would go for five, three minute rounds with half a minute up to a minute of rest in between rounds. Before the first round, I’d define a single combination, say a 1,2,3,roundhouse. That’s what everyone would be doing for the entire first round. Then, after the first round, I’d demonstrate a new combination, say a lead roundhouse,2,3. In the second round, the pad holder would call out (and hold) those two combos. Each round, a new combination would be added so that in the end, everyone is throwing five different combinations during the fifth round. Works like a charm. This drill gives a total time of about twenty minutes, followed or preceded by another twenty minutes of holding the pads. That’s around forty minutes of low-to-medium-intensity cardio.
Extensive sparring: just what the name implies. We’d go for five, five minute rounds of pure stand-up. The aerobic system has to work like crazy to meet the energy demands of such a bout. Teaches the fighter a lot about pacing, too. 
Intermittent core training: although conditioning has to be specific at times, neglecting GPP is a mistake IMHO. Especially since fighters tend to be pretty banged up anyways. In an intermittent core circuit, we’d alternate rope skipping and core stability drills, at least one for each fundamental stability pattern (i.e., anti-flexion, anti-extension, anti-rotation, anti-lateral-flexion).
As for the glycolitic training, that’s less fancy. Still, this can be progressed nicely. For us, the layout is as follows:
Mondays and Thursdays: On Mondays and Thursdays we’d go for specific intervals. Basically it’s as many kicks as possible against the pads in an alloted time frame, repeated for a couple of intervals. Although most combinations take no more than a couple seconds, I’ve decided to go for eight work intervals of 20 seconds each during the first block. This will build a ton of work capacity. In the second block, we might keep things shorter and go for more rounds. During those 20 seconds, my fighters throw anything from 30 to 40 kicks. That makes something around 280 kicks over the course of four minutes. As for progression, we went for the following:
  • Week 1: 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off, 8 rounds
  • Week 2: 20 seconds on, 15 seconds off, 8 rounds
  • Week 3: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, 8 rounds

Pretty straight forward. Watch Anna going through one of those intervals:

Saturdays:  Saturday is our sparring day. During our glycolitic block, that means shark-tank sparring. In essence, this means that we’d go for two minute bouts where after each minute, a fresh sparring partner steps on the mat. Let’s assume you have fighters A,B and C. Then the rotation would be like this:

  • Minute 1: A – B
  • Minute 2: B – C (second minute for B, against a fresh C)
  • Minute 3: C – A (second minute for B, against a relatively fresh A)
  • Minute 4: A – B
  • Minute 5: B – C
  • Minute 6: C – A
Now everyone had four minutes, which equates to two, two minute rounds with a minute of break in between rounds. The only exception is fighter A, who had two rounds of only a minute. This adds a component of scalability, though, as the role of A can either be rotated (we’d typically go through three to five of these blocks) or assigned to the least fit fighter. In the second block we’ll probably switch down to 90 seconds per rund (as that’s the time of a round under PUT rules) and go for more frequent rotations.
At the open Polish, we’ll have a nice assessment of how well this worked. I’m pretty optimistic, though – my fighters will be in the shape of their life. Of course, I’ll keep you updated. 
So long,
Take care

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