How to optimise your cardio training for martial arts.

The traditional view of cardio is practice which is quite detatched from the martial art. Classic boxing training involves a lot of running sometimes even up to 10km runs aside from the sports practice. This was very much the case in my own competetive days I would be running 3-4 times per week along side 4 one-and-a-half to two hour sessions of judo per week and a circuit training session. This cardio heavy approach to training is somewhat outdated and we need a new look into what cardio we do as well as when and how we do it.

Make it sports specific

How often do you run in a relatily straight line or up a hill in martial arts? Imagine how much better your technique would be if you replaced a 20-40 minute run with sports practice like focus mits, throwing practice (nage or uchi-komi) or rolling drills. At the very least a skipping rope should be used in place of running as its somewhat more accurate to the sport than running. Mike Israetel has a good video on the negative effects of slamming people with extra running.

Change the workout structure (HIIT)

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is the new big thing at the moment amongst cardio shy gym rats as well as in the sporting world. It has tonnes of fitness benefits which you can find here:

Best of all it makes sense, you won’t normally be working for any period longer than 5 minutes in a martial art and probably not all at the same pace. It would make sense to make the intervals you train for the same length as the round you fight in competition as well as making the rest periods somewhat similar. For mixed martial arts for instance, if you had 3×3 minute rounds with 1 minute rests, do 3×3 minute intervals with 1 minute rests. Again don’t do this at a constant pace either, up the tempo or sprint for periods of time, even up to 15 seconds at a time. This specialises your body to your sport and uses your time optimally.

MMA workout exercises

So here are some examples of some movements you can do to work cardio, while practicing your sport.

  • Skipping rope
  • Focus pads
  • clinch fighting
  • throwing/takedown practice
  • wrestling
  • rolling
  • bag work
  • bjj drills

The forms of sparring I’ve included are the grappling centred as they carry the least injury risk in comparason to striking sparring. Obviously you shouldn’t neglect standup striking but if its purely for cardio training then why take the risk?

Judo exercises

I’m including these as its my first sport and they also carry great utility to mixed martial arts as well as another way to change up your training.

  • Skipping rope
  • uchi komi on bunjees (check out Neil Adams’ product)
  • uchi komi with an uki
  • nage komi
  • grip fighting
  • no-gi randori
  • randori
  • bag work
  • kuzushi

If you’re interested in more content on cardio for judo, check out this article on


Remeber, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. Training time and recovery times are limited so make the optimum use of both. Running will make you better at running and maybe a little better at fighting but practicing martial arts specific cardio will give you the most benefit for your time investment.

Thanks for reading, if you enjoy reading our articles, sign up to our email list with the link below  to recieve updates as well as more free content, interesting posts I’ve found as well as early updates on any products we might bring out in the future.

What cardio methods do you use? comment below and don’t forget to like our facebook page for more articles and videos.