How does conditioning work in sports?
February 25, 2009 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Uh oh! He's "out of gas"! How does conditioning work in sports like MMA and boxing?

In the color commentary for UFC, you often hear them say a fighter is "out of gas." The fighter appears slow, tired, and doesn't move much.

My question: is this expression literal? I mean, does it mostly have to do with oxygen intake? And how do you deal with this problem... just do a crapload of cardio exercise before fights to improve your lungs? What exactly do they mean when they say "conditioning"?
posted by wastelands to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They're referring to the conditioning for endurance sports, which when you "run out of gas" implies the body's exhaustion of its ability to supply fuel to the muscles in the forms of oxygen and sugar (carbohydrates). Typically you deal with it by eating something, since muscles can only create their own food out of fat, and those guys don't have much.
posted by rhizome at 7:48 PM on February 25, 2009

Best answer: MMA fighters typically depend more on anaerobic conditioning than aerobic fitness.

Here are some training tips.
posted by tdismukes at 7:52 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

My question: is this expression literal?

No, it is not literal. Humans do not run on gasoline.
posted by tiburon at 8:30 PM on February 25, 2009 [7 favorites]

Learn about Lactate Threshold, for starters
posted by tiburon at 8:36 PM on February 25, 2009

Response by poster: tiburon, we do run on oxygen, though, which we inhale in gas form.
posted by wastelands at 8:42 PM on February 25, 2009

we don't 'run on' oxygen. we inhale o2, and exhale co2. oxygen simply carries the waste carbon away.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:50 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: lester, oxygen does more than "carry away waste carbon." It's in fact crucial to obtaining energy. So, yeah, we do run on it.
posted by wastelands at 8:59 PM on February 25, 2009

Regardless of whether or not we run on air, the expression "ran out of gas" is not literal. The saying comes from automobiles running out of gasoline and quitting. Somewhere along the line someone made compared this to humans getting tired and quitting.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:34 PM on February 25, 2009

Oops. Somewhere along the line someone compared this to humans getting tired and quitting.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:35 PM on February 25, 2009

You can put yourself into this state if you want. Do something like: sprint 100 meters, 20 pushups, 10 pullups, and cycle through this without a break for as long as you can. Pretty soon you get sluggish. Yeah, you'll also be 10 kinds of out of breath and ready to puke, but you'll notice that you just can't react quickly anymore. If someone attacked you you'd pretty much be just standing there contemplating it. I don't know the biology of it too well, but as far as I know that's pretty much how fighters train. On preview: yeah just like in tdismukes' link. It takes hell of willpower to do that kind of anaerobic conditioning.
posted by creasy boy at 1:49 AM on February 26, 2009

I have used 'out of gas' when wrestling in BJJ to describe being at the limits of how much oxygen I can get into my lungs. I'm pretty strong, but I'm not very aerobically fit and I find myself literally running out of the air I need to keep my muscles going.
posted by tomble at 3:34 AM on February 26, 2009

tdismukes is semi-correct in his statement, but his answer implies an incorrect answer to your question.

MMA fighters do use a lot of strength conditioning, but it is not their main training. Some, like Houston Alexander, focus a lot more on strength training, but in general it is only a portion of their training. Aerobic exercise is a very important part of their training. Some use air restrictors (my term, they are masks that make it harder to breathe) while doing aerobic exercise and/or while doing boxing/muay thai drills to increase their aerobic efficiency.

Gassing is due to lack of oxygen in the manner that tombie describes. Fighters like Brock Lesnar really have to focus on aerobic exercise because they have so much muscle (Lesnar cuts to make the 265 pound weight limit and has a low bodyfat percentage) that their oxygen requirements can quickly overwhelm their lungs.

If you want to see how they train watch some episodes of The Ultimate Fighter. There is a lot of crap thrown in there too (really, I'm not kidding), but you will get some good views of the training. One of the episodes of season 8 shows Krzysztof Soszynski using one of the air restrictors like I mentioned earlier.

You can also check out some of the pre-fight profiles that the UFC does. I believe the one before the Rashad Evans/Michael Bisping fight showed Evans running up a mountain in New Mexico and Bisping going for a 5 mile run every morning.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 6:41 AM on February 26, 2009

Would you say that a car runs on oxygen? Because an internal combustion engine uses oxygen for essentially the same purpose as cellular respiration. I think it would be rather bizarre to say that a car runs on oxygen, and similarly bizarre to say that humans "run on oxygen". In both cases, oxygen is used as an oxidizing agent, not a fuel.
posted by grouse at 8:04 AM on February 26, 2009

thekiltedwonder - anaerobic conditioning and strength training are not the same thing. Here, here, and here are some more explanations of the distinctions between aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.

The simplified explanation is as follows: Aerobic training involves low-to-moderate intensity effort for longer periods of time (90 seconds or more). Anaerobic training involves high-intensity effort for shorter periods of time (2 minutes or less).

MMA fights typically involve flurries of high-intensity exertion (above the lactate threshold) alternating with slower moments in which the fighter can recover. Anaerobic training allows the fighters to put more intensity into those flurries and recover more quickly during the slow moments. A fight is much more like a series of sprints than it is like a marathon.

I'm certainly not suggesting that a fighter doesn't want to have a decent aerobic base, but the experts I've read and talked to indicate that anaerobic training is more important for MMA.

Another way to think of it is that your work/rest ratios in training should reflect the nature of your athletic endeavor. For example, if you wanted to use running as a supplement for your MMA training you'll get a lot more benefit out of interval training (sprint, walk, sprint, walk, sprint, walk) than you would out of jogging for 10 miles.
posted by tdismukes at 11:03 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here is a discussion of the different types of conditioning specifically related to MMA. The author gives more detail on the subcategories of anaerobic conditioning.
posted by tdismukes at 11:22 AM on February 26, 2009

My question: is this expression literal?

No, it is not literal. Humans run on surfaces like tracks.
posted by battlecj at 11:02 AM on February 27, 2009

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