Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Long slow cardio in combat conditioning - is it really necessary for better endurance?

By Sabina Skala

A couple of weeks ago I had a great pleasure to be interviewed by Carl Lanore for Super Human Radio http://superhumanradio.com/shr-1005-arthur-jones-metabolic-conditioning-plus-building-the-heart-for-greater-output.html)  You can get this podcast on I-Tunes, as well as other great interviews with Carl's guests - good news is - the podcasts are FREE! Super Human Radio is a great source of information for everyone looking to achieve physical and mental excellence. Carl is an extremely knowledgeable host and I always learn something new listening to him and his guests.

One of the topics of our discussion was how the heart adapts to given stimulus and what training forces the most beneficial changes in the cardiac muscle.
As you are aware there has been a big hype around interval training, short, intense sessions that were supposed to improve your cardio much better then long slow, so called road work type of training. Not only they promise you that your heart will get better and stronger, also that you can have it at a fraction of time you would need to spend doing your 45- 90 min runs, etc. Why train for 1 hour if you can have it all in 20 mins or less?

Unfortunately, those who advocate this type of training, have probably done none or not much research. Yes - short intense training causes changes in the cardiac muscle. It caues thickening of the cardiac walls, which results in the heart being stronger able to pump more blood with a single beat. This increases the cardiac output and stroke volume, also lowers the resting heart rate. Your heart becomes more efficient and pumps more blood into the muscles with a single beat.
The problem with this approach is, that if you focus on improving your cardiovascular efficiency using this type of training only - the thickening of the heart walls may decrease the left ventricle cavity, which means that your heart will not be able to fill with as much blood as it could.

Long slow cardio always had a place in old school training. If you look at any movies about boxers, mma fighters, etc - at some point in the movie the guys always go for a run. There is a reason for that. Most of you are familiar with the term - athletes heart. It is usually used in relation to long distance endurance ahtletes. Endurance athletes have bigger heart than average person. It is because during long slow cardiovascular activities (run, cycle etc) the heart has got a lot of time to pump more blood through the ventricles. If you think about a big baloon constantly filled with water, eventually the walls of the baloon will streatch. The same happens to the heart - with a large amount of blood filling the heart constantly and being  pumped out, the left ventricle eventually enlarges. This adaptation makes the heart more efficient as it can pump more blood with a single beat which results in greater cardiac output, stroke volume and lower RHR.
Long slow cardio also helps to improve vascularity and builds little capilaries around the muscles, which then serve as a pathway for delivering all the nutrients and removal of waste products. The better muscle vascularity the quicker they can repair and recover.

                                        Athletes heart - with enlarged left ventricular cavity

If you focus solely on short intense intervals your heart will not have enough time to fully fill with blood, therefore the walls will never have a chance to streatch. Long slow cardio (for combat sports  45-60 mins of cardio activity HR between 130bpm - 150bpm) is also superior to short intense training in terms of building vascular network.

Summarising - both short intense intervals and long slow cardio should be included in a training program of most combat athletes. The frequency and propotions depend on athletes experience, recovery, frequency and phase of training and of course the type of sport they involved in. The frequency of long and slow cardio should be greater for beginners. For advanced athletes (depending on the combat discipline) 2-3 sessions per week of 45 - 60 mins are enough.

Please bear in mind that long slow cardio does not necessary mean run, it can be a light sparring session, technical drills, etc as long as your heart rate stays between 130 - 150 bpm for the duration of the session. If you wish more detailed information - refer to the Super Human Radio (as per the link above).

Coming back to the Super Human interview - before our talk, Carl has emailed me about some research he came across. The research elucidates the feedback loop that protects the heart that starts to send signals to the brain, which cause people to " back off". It causes pulmonary changes that "exhaust" the person even though they may have been able to push harder. I tried to find that research online, with not much success yet. However I remembered I came across something similar in one of the books I read. It is Joel Jamieson Ultimate MMA Conditioning. He mentions briefly about so called Central Governor system. The theory of the CG system explains that the brain regulates the cardiac output by regulating the mass of skeletal muscles that can be activated during maximal exercise. In other words it is the heart first that is at the risk of damage not the skeletal muscles therefore the CG limits the neural recruitment of the muscle fibers to protect the heart.
This is a very interesting theory, which I have been investigating further (this will most likely be my next blog post). Here are some of the articles I came accross. Check them out - they express different opinions: - some support, some are against the existence of CGS.

Article 1 HERE
Aticle 2 HERE

Article 3 HERE 

Have a good read


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