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Have More Gas in Your Tank

By Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins

(Article re-published with permission from

There are two quotes that I’d like to start this article off with. The first, if you’re a martial artist, have surely heard (esp. if you’ve read my work):

“Conditioning is the greatest hold.” – Karl Gotch

The other is also well-known, esp. if you’re an American football fan:

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” – Vince Lombardi

In many ways, they both drive home the same basic premise – that to be a champion, you have to be able to outwork your opponent.

Gotch’s quote simply says that no matter what techniques you (or your opponent) know, if you’re in better shape than he is, and can push the fight/match longer and harder, then you’ll have the upper hand.

Lombardi’s quote is a little more telling, making reference to the human psyche, and how it breaks down under duress. Everybody stand tall at first – it’s who can stand tall at the end that marks a warrior.

How this applies to MMA should be pretty evident. We’ve all seen fights in which one guy lost simply because he gassed. Mark Coleman’s loss to Mo Smith and Tito Ortiz’s loss to Frank Shamrock are both examples. Royce Gracie has been involved in fights where conditioning ended up being the dictating factor (his inability to continue after his fight with Kimo at UFC 3, as well as his 90 minute showdown with Sakuraba in the first Pride GP). And we’ve all seen BJ Penn seemingly shoot himself in the foot by coming into fights in what has seemed to be less than optimal condition.

There are many elements to superior conditioning, but one of – if not THE – most important is Work Capacity.

Work Capacity is a simple concept – no need for complex definitions, or major pseudo-scientific discussions. Work Capacity is essentially how much work you can do, and how hard/fast you can do it. The ability to do more work than your opponent and to do that work harder/faster than your opponent means you have a higher Work Capacity.

So, that segues into the next question, which would be, “How do we increase Work Capacity?”

The main way would be to simply just do more work. Yeah, that’s right – condition yourself to doing more work, by…doing more work. You don’t have to do a whole lot at first – add small amounts to your overall workload.

There are a few ways to do this. You could add small amounts of “active-rest” to your workouts, so that you’re actually working while you’re resting between sets. For example, say you’re doing your weight training, and resting 60 secs. between sets. Spend 30 of those 60 secs throwing light shadowboxing combinations. Or maybe do a couple sprawls/burpees. Or a couple jumps. Or 5 situps. Anything like that will work.

Another way to do this is to add in extra work throughout the day. During your everyday travels, figure out ways to increase your physical work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a few extra parking spaces away so you have to walk further. If you’re shopping, carry your items instead of using a cart. That sort of thing. Then you can add in small “mini-workouts” during the day, as well. 5 burpees, 10 push-ups, 10 situps, and 10 squats wouldn’t take over about 90 secs to complete. Do that 4-5 times during the day.

If you’ve read any of my older work, you’ll know I’m a big fan of something I called the “Daily Ritual.” The Daily Ritual is a small, ~10 mins workout done every single morning. It doesn’t have to be a lot – in fact, it’s not supposed to be. It’s just enough to get you breathing hard, and maybe break a sweat. You don’t want it to be so much that it leaves you sore, tired, or drains any of your recovery abilities. An example might be 50 burpees. Or 40 pushups, 50 situps, and 100 squats. Or walk half a mile. Something light.

You see, the idea behind this kind of thing is to cumulatively add up the volume, without ever taxing the body at any one particular time. Look at it this way – say you did 40 pushups, 50 situps, and 100 squats every morning. It probably wouldn’t take over just a few minutes to complete. If you did it every morning (7 days/week), at the end of a month, you’d have done 1200 pushups, 1500 situps, and 3000 squats. At the end of a year, it’d be 14,600 pushups, 18,250 situps, and 36,500 squats. You think all this extra work wouldn’t increase your Work Capacity? Darn right it would! And the best thing is that you never had to do any real hard work at any one time to do it.

Another way to increase Work Capacity is to simply add volume to your workouts. Depending on the individual, and how his workout currently looks, I don’t necessarily recommend this option that much. Too many times people go overboard, and end up too way too much extra work. You have to know when to say when.

Rather, where I would have trainees go first (rather than adding volume to their workouts), would be to shorten their rest periods. Nothing drastic at first – just lop off 10 secs. or so per set. From there, drop more (how much you drop will depend on how much you’re resting now – somebody using 2-minute rest periods can decrease more than somebody using 45 secs.). Just strive to have no more rest than necessary.

Doing so will increase workout “density” – or how much work you’re performing per unit of time. Density can be increased two ways – either do more work in the same amount of time, or the same amount of work in less time. We’re going for the second option.

After you get to the point that you’ve significantly decreased your rest periods, you can think about adding some extra volume to the workout. Increase the rest periods back up to where they were or close to it. This will seem like forever now, but the added rest will help your body cope with the extra work you’re now doing in your workouts.

Doing any of these things will help you build your work capacity, and help you condition yourself to outwork your opponents.

About the Author

Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins is a strength coach and author living in Cameron, NC. Having trained 15+ years, Wiggy is a strength moderator at, columnist for MMA Weekly, and an avid fan of Mixed Martial Arts Training. His site, Working Class, is dedicated to designing low-tech, high-result Workout Programs for fighters, athletes, and “regular joes.”


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