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Busting the Myth: Exploring the Endurance of Combat Sports Athletes and the Role of HIIT Training


A popular meta-study shows that combat sports athletes who do HIIT training show slight increases in oxygen uptake. Only for grapplers and not strikers, with no significant advantages otherwise. This would make sense as strikers get lots of cardio just boxing or kickboxing, while grapplers do too with wrestling or jiujitsu albeit less.

The meta-study aimed to investigate the effects of high intensity interval training on combat sports athletes. A systematic review and meta-analysis were conducted using 12 original studies involving combat sports athletes who underwent HIIT training, sprint interval training, or repeated sprint training. The selected studies evaluated various physiological outcomes, including aerobic - (heart rate, maximum oxygen uptake,) anaerobic - (peak and mean power in single and successive Wingate tests, blood lactate concentration,) and anthropometric - (body mass and body fat percentage.)

A total of 255 subjects from the 12 studies were assessed, and most of the included studies were of high methodological quality. The results showed that HIIT positively influenced maximum oxygen uptake for both striking and grappling athletes. There were no significant differences in anaerobic peak power for striking athletes, but a statistical improvement was observed for grappling athletes. Moreover, HIIT had a minor impact on body composition, with significant reductions in body mass for striking athletes and a slight increase in body fat percentage for striking athletes, but no significant changes for grappling athletes.

HIIT can effectively enhance maximum oxygen uptake and anaerobic power in combat sport athletes, while its impact on anthropometric metrics like body composition appears to be relatively minor. Combat sports athletes already regularly get cardio integrated into their workouts, but does HIIT training really give them the edge they need in competition?

Combat sports athletes are often in excellent cardio condition due to the nature of their training and competition. Combat sports, such as boxing, judo, taekwondo, and others, require a high level of physical exertion and demand significant cardiovascular endurance during training sessions and actual bouts. Here are some reasons why combat sports athletes tend to be lean:

Intense Cardiovascular Demands: Combat sports involve high-intensity bouts of activity interspersed with brief periods of rest. These bursts of intense effort mimic the principles of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) itself. Thus, combat sports athletes regularly engage in a form of interval training during their practice, which can contribute to improved cardiovascular fitness.

Regarding the lack of significant differences observed with HIIT training, it's important to note that athletes who are already engaging in regular combat sports training may have adapted to the cardiovascular demands and intensity of their sport.

As a result, the additional HIIT training may not provide as pronounced improvements in cardiovascular fitness or body composition compared to individuals who are less trained. While HIIT can still be beneficial for combat sports athletes, its effects might not be as prominent due to their already high level of cardiorespiratory fitness. Nonetheless, HIIT can still offer some advantages, such as specific adaptations to different energy systems and potentially enhancing anaerobic performance.

It is worth mentioning that individual responses to exercise can vary, and some combat sports athletes may still experience noticeable benefits from incorporating HIIT into their training regimen, especially if they focus on targeting specific fitness parameters or if their regular training has less emphasis on high-intensity intervals. Urijah Faber, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Anderson Silva, and many of the greats pull off their wins by obviously not getting as "gassed" as their opponents. Endurance is an important part of training in combat sports that you may not get noticeably different results in a meta-study. When it comes to 1 on 1 championship fights however, whoever did their HIIT training more may be fighting on a fuller gas tank and that's a huge advantage.

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