Over the last few years, I have changed what I thought about “endurance” or energy system training. Years ago, I didn’t really put much stock in this style of training at all. I felt that just by performing your sport or your martial discipline, you would be getting the specific energy system work you needed. Because of this belief, my training focused mostly on speed, strength and power work. When I started to work with a number of high level fighters, and started training in jiu jitsu and judo myself, I saw that specific endurance work was not only important, it was essential.
At first, I followed some of the archaic endurance training methods that have persisted over the years from road work to stair climbing to hill runs. Granted, these were all tough at first, but my instincts told me that this was not enough. It was then that I started to “experiment” on myself with circuit style training.
To me, when I use the terms “circuit style,” I am describing a series of like or unlike exercises all combined one after the other with minimal or no rest for a certain period of time. Choosing the time for the circuits is easy. I take the maximal length of time a fight or match could last and then either add time to it or rest in between and do multiple sets of that time. This way, athletes are able to give maximal performances for the same period of time they would be expected to compete.
When you start getting into this style of training or start to surround yourself with people who enjoy this style of training, you see nothing but gluttons for punishment. Hard anaerobic work for five to 10 minute bursts is nothing short of a form of self torture. However, as my athletes will say, once you get used to this type of work, it really becomes a sense of enlightenment. Training this way will teach you more about yourself than lifting or sprinting. You will learn who you are, what is important to you and how skilled you are at pushing yourself to the limit.
The circuits started with combinations of ladder drills, hurdle drills, box jumps and med ball work. We had stations set up and performed the prescribed number of reps at each station until the set time had elapsed. If we were doing multiple sets, we then would attempt to beat the original volume of work in the same amount of time. After this, we started working on high speed treadmills and started interspersing exercises in between the sets. From here, we started incorporating in sparring with the sprints as well. It was around that time that things started to get crazy. Enter the strongman circuits.
When I write “strongman,” I am talking about exercises like the giant tire, farmer’s walk, sandbag carry, thick rope pull drags, heavy sled or car pulls and the like. We had used a number of these pieces on a separate training day than the endurance work, but the group was ready for a new challenge. That is how we created the Category 5 hurricane. We started performing these sessions every Tuesday at our facility, and it was the one day of the week I looked forward to and dreaded at the same time. After one particularly tough session, World Champion Grappler Roger Gracie stated that he felt like he "had just been hit by a Category 5 hurricane!” Right then, we all understood and started to classify the level we took a session to by the scale on which they base a hurricane's intensity (i.e., Category 1 through 5).
The 5 Categories of Hurricane Endurance Training
I have broken down this style of strongman training into five categories that can be completed over 12 weeks. The progression is as follows:
- Indications: This level is used as the introduction to lactic circuits for your beginner athletes with little experience. This can also be used as a recovery type session if you back down the intensity, either if the athlete is feeling over trained or is coming off a competition.
- Methods: I use the high speed treadmill alone with 10 second sprints at a low to moderate intensity. The athlete’s heart rate is monitored, and after each rep on the tread, the athlete’s heart rate (HR) must return to 120 beats per minute (BPM) before getting back on the tread for another sprint. This way, the athlete can do six to 10 sets comfortably with little fear of nausea. The rest periods should be timed and recorded with the goal of each subsequent training session to have less recovery time per set.
- Timeframes The athlete should perform this style of training for the first few weeks (two to three) of training.
- Sample Circuit:
- Treadmill at nine to 10mph and 10 percent grade for sets of 10 seconds with adequate recovery to reach 120 BPM
- Indications: As the athlete’s recovery time improves, abdominal med ball exercises are introduced during the recovery portion between the sprints. The sprints can be up to 12 to 15 seconds.
- Methods: I use a number of different weighted med balls and perform three sets of two different ab exercises after the first three sprints. Then I choose two new exercises for the next three sets and then two final exercises for the last three sets to equal nine total sprints and 18 sets of abs. The speed can increase every third set on the treadmill. All of the sets are performed as quickly as possible. HR can still be monitored, but 120 is not required to start the next set.
- Timeframe: This training can be performed for the next two weeks of training.
- Sample Circuit:
- 9mph at 10 percent grade for 15 seconds for three sets with 50 toe touches 10 times and 30 pike ups eight times
- 10mph at 10 percent grade for 15 seconds for three sets with 10 Russian twists 50 times and slams 10 times
- 11mph at 10 percent grade for 15 seconds for three sets with 25 triangle abs 12 times on each leg
- Indications: Now sparring exercises (i.e., boxing, muay thai, pummeling) are introduced for a specific timeframe between the sprints. The sprints are 15 to 18 seconds.
- Methods: I have my fighters do 10 “rounds” between the treadmill and pad work with a partner next to the treadmill. The sparring aspect of the training should be one minute in length between sprints, and each round should have a particular focus from the person holding the pads. This is all now performed continuous with no rest.
- Timeframe: At about five to six weeks, the athlete can start to experiment here or can move to a lower version of Category 4.
- Sample Circuit:
- 10mph at 10 percent grade for 18 seconds with one minute of sparring (total time of the circuit is 15 minutes).
- Indications: Now the athlete is prepared to tolerate high levels of lactate and his/her mind is strong. At this time, free weights are introduced between the sprints. The sprints are 20 seconds.
- Methods: Perform three blocks of three sets of sprints with two different exercises each set. For each sprint, the speed will now increase. The intensity of the weight will determine the overall difficulty of the circuit. The rule of thumb is to start with 30 to 50 percent of your max weight on the exercises and perform eight to 10 reps on each. The exercise sets can be either agonistic or antagonistic.
- Timeframe: This is reserved to about seven to eight weeks in the athlete’s training cycle.
- Sample Circuit:
- 9, 9.5, 10mph for 20 seconds at 10 percent grade for three sets with bench and chin ups
- 10.5, 11, 11.5mph for 20 seconds at 10 percent grade for three sets with dips and curls
- 12, 13, 14mph for 20 seconds at 10 percent grade for three sets with gi rows and high pulls
- Indications: This is reserved for the athletes with the highest level of lactate tolerance. Now strongman, full body activities are introduced between sprints. The sprints are 20 seconds.
- Methods: Perform three blocks of three sets of sprints with two different exercises each set. For each sprint, the speed will now increase. The intensity of the strongman exercise will determine the overall difficulty of the circuit.
- Timeframe: This is performed at nine to 12 weeks into the athlete’s training.
- Sample Circuit:
- 9, 9.5, 10mph for 20 seconds at 10 percent grade for three sets with tire flips and sandbag carry
- 10.5, 11, 11.5mph for 20 seconds at 10 percent grade for three sets with farmer’s walk and arm over arm rope pull
- 12, 13, 14mph for 20 seconds at 10 percent grade for three sets with sandbag lift and sled drag
This training is like a hurricane: when it passes through your area, things are never the same. The effects of hurricane training are long lasting and something you will not forget. After 12 weeks of training, you will be physically and mentally stronger than ever before.