The Mighty Mitochondria

The Mighty Mitochondria…..The Engines that Drive Endurance

As a combat athlete, one of your primary goals should be building your endurance capacity. All the positions and techniques in the world tend to go out the door when you’re your gassed and your body ultimately seizes up. The good news is that you can seriously increase your engines gas tank by some well structured and intense exercise. Your mitochondria are those engines that are at the base of your endurance system.

… one of the best ways to increase your mitochondria is to perform intense endurance exercise….

Mitochondria are microscopic structures inside your muscles where carbohydrates, proteins and fats can be broken down in the presence of oxygen to create the energy you need in order to compete at intense levels. As the density and quantity of your mitochondria increase, so does your endurance capacity.

There is enough research available to suggest that one of the best ways to increase your mitochondria is to perform intense endurance exercise within a training period of up to one hour. What is more important than the “time” spent exercising, is the intensity over a given time.

In non-athletes, studies have shown an increase of mitochondria density of up to 70%. Again, these were individuals who had been sedentary and had nearly zero exercise in their daily lives. In the case of elite athletes, an increase of mitochondria density has been regularly increased in density by 20%. An increase in 20% of mitochondria density in an elite athlete is substantial. Especially in the case where most elite athletes and the events they compete in are decided by a “razors edge”. So imagine outlasting your opponent on the mat or in the cage due to the capacity of your endurance. Your ability to “recover” more efficiently and ultimately breaking him first is always your goal.

Establishing a Baseline
One of the best ways to establish a baseline and reference point for the level of intensity required for your training is to have a VO2 Max test performed. VO2 Max testing is regarded as one of the best tools to establish the level of efficiency. VO2 Max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. The more oxygen you can use during high level exercise, the more ATP (energy) you can produce. This is often the case with elite endurance athletes who typically have very high VO2 Max values.

These tests take place in human performance labs under strict testing protocols and are typically pretty pricey. So for the assumption of this article instead of using VO2 Max values, we will use maximum heart rate as a reference. Use the equation of 220-(athletes age) = Max Heart Rate (MHR).

Managing your MHR will require you to purchase a good heart rate monitor of which you can get at your local Sports Authority or online at any runners site or a triathlete training site. I personally like the tri sites as they tend to be more scientific in their approach to the endurance components of training.

… there is no easy path on this one…”Go Hard or Go Home”

Your training target for increasing your mitochondria density should take place at 90% of your MHR. Your ultimate goal for the ideal balance of increase mitochondria development in relation to time training should be 90% MHR at a 30 minute clip. Remember, that is your goal for optimum returns on your training regimen. Working up to that is the key. Even an elite athlete will not likely be able to reach those levels without at least a 6 week training plan. It is highly likely that you will have to work your way up to the 90% MHR / 30 minute target.

Working Specific Body Parts
Also keep in mind that mitochondria are muscle specific. This means that as you train, you have to develop a training program that will address your legs, torso and arms. The effect is not “systemic”, instead it is body part specific. So if you are working on your aerobic base on a treadmill or stationary bike, you will only be developing your mitochondria in your legs. Not your arms or torso. So for sake of developing it in your arms and legs at the same time you may want to consider using a rower or a stationary bike like a Schwinn Aerodyne which has push-pull handles on it. In the training of our athletes we use treadmills, cable machines, truck tires, car pushes, dumbbells with squats, etc in order to best develop that body parts mitochondria. All the while keeping the 90% MHR target in mind.

Here is what I suggest specifically addressing the 90% MHR / 30 minute target. As mentioned, even an elite athlete will not be able to step right up to the 90 / 30 goal. What is non-negotiable though is the 90% MHR number. So if you can only perform the exercise modalities selected for 5 minutes or 10 minutes, thats OK. Continue to work towards your goal of 90% MHR for the 30 minutes. Keep the workout going and be sure to mark your metrics on heart rate and duration.

In order to build your endurance engine you have to “Go Hard…or Go Home”. There is no easy path on this one. Your results are directly related to the accumulation of intense exercise over time. If you are diligent and work the metrics, you will get phenomenal results.

OK, Lets Get Started
Keep in mind that mitochondria development is “site specific”. Meaning that if you are hitting your legs hard, the mitochondria density is being developed in that region. If you are hitting your arms and shoulders hard, the mitochondria density is being developed there. Here is a suggested program to get you started :

For all programs you will need heart monitor and your goal is to keep your heart rate at 90% Max Heart Rate (MHR). To address full body development, I will usually develop 5 to 6 minute “rounds” that hit legs, arms, and shoulders in each round. Repeating these rounds will allow you to eventually work up to the 30 minute minimum for best results.

• Burpees for 1 minute
• 400 meter run for appx. 1 minute or 100 meter sprints for 1 minute, no resting.
• Push Ups for 1 minute
• Body Weight Squats for 1 minute
• Bear Crawls for 1 minute

In between each set the athlete can take a as much as 2 minutes to recover. This is not ideal, but if this is your first attempt at this type of training and conditioning, you will need it. As the athlete is able to recover more efficiently the time between sets can be reduced and in some cases perhaps eliminated.

Address Your Recovery
As always, be sure that you finish your training. It is not done until you give the body the building blocks it needs to repair the damage from this training session. The bodies adaptation to the abusive workload is what makes the body stronger. You need to give the body the fuel to heal. That means immediately after the training session you need to drink your protein, engineered carbs, BCAA’s, Argnine, Glutamine and Creatine shake. Sip it, don’t down it. Best wishes with this program. Let us know how it worked for you. It is not for the feint of heart.

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