The Right Pace

How to get the most out of your conditioning once you step into the cage.

Any time a fighter ends up gassed out and face down on the canvas, the simple reaction is to point the finger at a lack of conditioning
as the cause. Everyone from forum warriors to fight commentators often leap to this conclusion, quickly writing off the loss with discussions of how he or she must not have trained hard enough or worked on conditioning suffi ciently to last through the fight.

Although such an analysis appears to make perfect sense on the surface—because everyone knows what a fighter looks like when he runs out of gas—the truth is, conditioning is a much more complex and multifaceted aspect of the fight game than people have been led to believe. To understand why this is the case and why trying to unravel the cause of a fighter slowing down and “gassing out” is not always easy as it may first appear, we need to have a clear understanding of what conditioning is and what it is not, on a fundamental level.


The first thing you should understand about conditioning is that literally every single fighter out there has the ability to fight from bell to bell without gassing out. The only difference between fighters should be the pace they’re able to maintain throughout the rounds. This is because, when it comes right down to it, just about everybody can walk a mile, but only a very small handful can run it in less than four minutes. Along the same lines, every fighter could make it through three or five rounds, but only those with a high level of conditioning can maintain it through while maintaining a high level of power throughout.

In the fight game, conditioning is really a measure of how much power a fighter is able to sustain over the course of a fight. Fighters with world class conditioning can sustain a tremendously high power output without slowing down, just like Lance Armstrong can ride a bike for hours at a speed that most could only hit for a minute or two before having to slow down. Those with poor conditioning, on the other hand, can only maintain lower speeds and levels of power, and as soon as they try to hit the high gear, they quickly fatigue and gas out.


The easiest way to understand why some can fight with a furious pace throughout an entire fight and outwork almost any opponent, while others end up gassing out in the first round, is to look at a concept called the “Anaerobic Power Reserve.”

This simple model, one developed and proven in research, shows that every fighter has some level of power that they can produce aerobically called their Maximum Aerobic Power. Whenever they need to produce more power than that allows, they have to tap into what’s called the “Anaerobic Power Reserve,” a source quite similar to an afterburner on a jet or the use of nitrous on a car. As soon as this anaerobic energy reserve is tapped, however, the athlete starts to fatigue, and the longer an athlete uses it, the faster they fatigue. The only way to avoid this is to drop power output lower and get back into the aerobic power zone.

Because combat sports are so explosive and dynamic in nature, all fighters must constantly tap into their anaerobic power reserve throughout a fight, the difference, however, is how often they have to tap into it and for how long. If a fighter is capable of producing a very high level of aerobic power, he won’t have to tap into the anaerobic reserves as often, or for as long, as someone with a lower aerobic power.

Obviously, fighters also have a choice of how much energy they expend and whether or not they throw everything they have into a punch or hold back power, whether or not they go for the takedown when their opponent has it well defended, and if they should use as much energy as they can and go for the win or if it’s not the right time.

Simply put, gassing out is the result of tapping into the anaerobic power reserve too much, either too frequently and/or for too long. Some fi ghters can produce a ton of aerobic power without hitting this afterburner as often, while others have lower aerobic power levels and end up tapping into their anaerobic power almost constantly.

In either case, all fighters can control their pace and choose how much energy they expend and even more so, when they expend it. They can choose to wait for the right moments to strike with everything they’ve got, they can wait for their opponent to be off balance before going for the takedown, or they can waste energy and swing for the fences with every punch and crank on submissions that just aren’t there. In other words, pacing is about choosing when to tap into the anaerobic power reserve and how long to stay there.

The best fighters know what pace they can maintain if they want to last all fi ght, and they know when to explode and go for the finish and when to save their energy. Less experienced and less savvy fighters use their energy ineffi ciently and constantly use their anaerobic power reserve when it’s unnecessary, and they often end up gassed out as a result. In order to avoid this, there are some simple keys to developing the right pacing strategy and learning how to manage energy in the right way to last from bell to bell regardless of your conditioning levels.


The simplest way to avoid gassing out when you’ve overstepped your pace is to always be aware of your output. All too often, fighters get caught up in the moment, letting their adrenaline get the best of them, and they throw their pacing strategy to the wind as soon as they hear the bell ring. Smart fighters, on the other hand, pay close attention to the pace they are going and are aware of their own limits. They know when their power output is up in the anaerobic reserve zone for too long, and they know when to back off before fatigue sets in.

Part of your training should be learning the pace you’re able to sustain and becoming aware of when you’re crossing that line. Next time you’re doing pad or bag work or sparring, for example, make sure that you’re aware of what pace you’re able to maintain throughout the rounds and what pace leads to rapid fatigue. The old adage that you’ll fight like you train is an accurate statement
for most, so training at the right pace will help you build solid habits that will keep you on target and on the right pace when it counts.


Aside from taking mental notes and being aware of your pace, using a heart rate monitor as a gauge of your work and your pace is an invaluable tool to provide you with concrete feedback. Even though every athlete has a different balance of energy production and taps into their anaerobic power reserve at different points, very few fighters are able to sustain heart rates into the upper 170s and 180s without quickly starting to gas out.

With the use of a simple heart rate monitor, you’ll be able to accurately gauge how hard you’re really working and keep track of your pace. Whenever you’re training hard and you find your heart rate running up in the highest zones, greater than 90% of your maximum heart rate, you’ll know that it’s time to slow your pace until it drops back down. Most heart rate monitors will even allow you to set an audio alarm to go off whenever you reach a particular heart rate. This type of monitoring can provide you with real-time feedback during your training and really help you fine-tune and maximize your own pacing strategy.


All combat sports require a delicate blend of both aerobic and anaerobic energy. The anaerobic side provides for a high level of explosive power and strength, while the aerobic side is largely responsible for supporting the endurance necessary to last from bell to bell. At all times throughout a fi ght, both systems are contributing to some extent in providing the fighter the required energy to throw explosive strikes, execute or defend takedowns, or go for submissions.

If it were possible to develop both energy systems to the highest levels, conditioning would never be an issue. Unfortunately, the human body simply doesn’t work that way, and the development of one system often comes at the expense of the other. This is why the biggest, strongest fighters, the ones capable of the most anaerobic power, are so often the ones with the biggest conditioning problems. Alternatively, those with the highest levels of endurance tend to be far less explosive than their more anaerobically fit counterparts.

Making sure that you’re able to last from bell to bell while maintaining the ability to be explosive comes down to finding the right balance of energy system development. Work too much of either system and you’re likely to create a hole in your game—either lacking the strength and power you need to finish opponents and control the fight, or unable to make it through a fight without gassing out. Achieving the right balance between the two systems through an effective training program is absolutely essential to being able to maintain the pace that’s required to win fights.


Without question, the most important component of an effective pacing strategy is using your energy wisely, carefully picking the right moments to tap into your anaerobic energy reserve. Knowing when to explode and go for the KO or submission and when to give up on the takedown or let go of the guillotine is very often the difference between gassing out and getting through the round. Unfortunately, the efficient use of energy is an area that many fighters make the biggest mistakes in andwhere improvements most often need to be made.

Throwing everything they have into every punch or kick, going for submissions that they just don’t have, wasting energy on takedowns their opponent isn’t going to give up, and generally wasting energy is the number one reason why fi ghters that are generally in good shape end up gassing out. When this happens, some fi ghters learn their lesson and become smarter and more cautious with how they use their energy, and some don’t. If you want to be able to last until the end, you have to learn when to explode, and when to wait. You have to be willing to give up submissions that you don’t have and save your energy for the ones that you do.

UFC Flyweight contender Demetrious Johnson is a 100mph buzzsaw from bell to bell. Here’s a sample of a fight-specific conditioning routine that Joel Jamieson had him doing in the last couple of weeks prior to his recent victory over Ian McCall. Add this workout to your weekly routine and you’re sure to see results.


– Jump Rope
– Med-Ball Circuit
– Shoulder warm-up

– 20 second sprint at 8.5mph
– 20 second shadow box
– 20 seconds fight specific pad work

Repeat for 5 minutes Keep HR in mid-170s for entire round Rest 60 sec, look for drop in HR Repeat for 5 rounds

Accessory work
– Ab Wheel Roll-outs 4×15
– Hanging Pikes 4×15
– Medicine Ball Rotational
– Throws 4×6

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