For many mixed martial artists, grinding gears on a bike is lessening the grind in the cage.
The career of a mixed martial artist is defined by contact and how much of it the body can en- dure. Whether a fighter is being punched in the face, defending a leg lock, or sprawling to avoid a takedown, every aspect of training carries with it con- tact and, by default, a risk of serious injury. In 2012, there were six UFC main events shuffled due to injuries sustained in practice. Some were the result of overtraining, others the inevitable freak occurrence, but all came from contact.
To limit the amount of contact many ﬁghters face outside the cage, a growing number of trainers are implementing cycling regimens as a form of cross-training for their athletes. Unlike running, which can stress knees, ankles, and hips, cycling is a low-impact exercise. There may, however, be more to cycling than just minimizing the risk of injury—many ﬁghters feel that cycling helps enhance both physical and mental conditioning.
“You know who got me into it? Ray Lewis. Yeah, the football player,” says Rashad Evans. “He was animated and screaming to me, ‘Oh man! You’ve got to get a bike! Your endurance is ridiculous. Every day on the bike, man. You gotta be on the bike!’ When Ray Lewis tells you something, you listen.”
The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion bought his bike in August and has been riding 20 miles as frequently as four times a week. “Since I started cycling, my lung capacity is just getting better and better,” says Evans. “I anticipate using the bike even more as my upcoming ﬁght gets closer.”
One of the key reasons that cycling has been utilized as a training tool is because it is effective at gauging VO2 max, which is the number associated with how much oxygen an athlete can disperse through their bloodstream with each breath. Essentially, it describes how efﬁciently oxygen is being utilized by a person during various levels of exercise.
“Since I began cycling, it doesn’t take as long to recover in between rounds,” Evans says. “I can get to the corner after a round of sparring, take a deep breath, and be ready to ﬁght so much faster than before I was cycling.”
Cycling also limits the impact ﬁghters face during training. Instead of pounding the joints, the cycling motion creates aerobic exercise with less risk of injury.
“We grind,” says Evans. “We grind a lot, and that contributes to injury. Any time you get a chance to get a workout in where you can improve endurance without having to grind your body, well, it’s perfect.”
The physical payoffs are evident, and like millions of amateur and professional cyclists around the world, Evans does it to enjoy the outdoors and the remarkable weather of South Florida. But there is something else that Evans enjoys about the bike—clarity of thought.
“You go to the gym three times a day— it’s hard to keep that going for a 12-week training camp,” says Evans. “Honestly, you go crazy. But on the bike, you get out and get fresh air. Suddenly, a few miles in, you’re thinking about your stresses in a new way. It’s a great escape from the grind”