Endurance and Stamina Training

Consult a professional before embarking on any activity or lifestyle change. The author, publishers and distributors jointly or separately do not accept responsibility for any injury, damage or loss of anything, including, but not limited to life, person or property due to any advice from this book.

Copyright © 2004 by Kobus Huisamen. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

Pictures by John Yoo.

To the trainers who made the most impact in my career: Steve Kalakoda, Henk Pelser and Ivan Hippolyte.

Ever lacked steam in the ring?

Running out of juice is unforgivable. Every fighter can’t be champion, but every fighter should be fit, at the least.

And there are few things more frustrating, knowing that you could’ve taken you opponent out – if you only had the steam to do it…

Yes, and tomorrow, nobody remembers why you’ve lost.

I remember fighting against Yasuhiro Anbe (the Japanese heavyweight champion) in 2002. All the reporters predicted that I was going to knock him out.

However, I was just recovering from a serious flu – the first in years. I don’t want to make excuses, but I just want to show what happens when a tired heavyweight tries to fight.

We went the distance. I won, but was frustrated, because I couldn’t knock him out. It felt like all power just drained from me.

He was very tough (I’ll take nothing away from him – he was a tough customer) and I didn’t have the steam – a bad combination. I knocked him down twice and he knocked me down once in the fight.

I came out looking like a train wreck – all black and blue – scaring the kids in the street.

I don’t want to be there again.

Stamina and endurance is very similar, but the academic differences in definition are unimportant for the purposes of this book. So, when we talk about stamina in this book, endurance should be seen in the same context.

When it comes to stamina, every fighter knows that nothing is more terrible than running out of gas in the middle of the fight. Then you are easy pickings for a fit opponent.

Stamina training is about the continuous delivery of technique over an extended period. Boxers can fight twelve rounds, Muay Thai fighters only five and Pride fighters fight 10 minutes for a first round.

Whatever your style, you have to train stamina.

But, please, don’t run. So many fighters take the daily, or weekly ten kilometer run. They base this on the “LSD-principle” (Long Slow Distance).

This advocates running slowly for periods exceeding 40 minutes. Why? Ever seen a fight go slowly for 40 minutes? If you have, I hope you’ve packed your lunch!

Fighters must train to conditions close to their sport. Seen any good marathon runners in the ring lately? Do you think that an ultra-marathon runner will make it in the K-1?

Use common sense. If you believe in running, then tell me: How are your knees lately? How about your back? Flexibility? Power?

Fight simulation and interval training

The best way to train is to simulate the fight, i.e. is to spend the whole fight time sparring. However, on a daily basis this is not recommended.

So what most do is strike the pads.

Striking the pads (if the trainer is good) will tire you much more than the heavy bag.

You’ll have to constantly adjust to technique, distance and targets, as well as keep your guard up.

However, there is one drawback. Most trainers will instinctively stop mid-session to correct technique or power. This just breaks the momentum of the session.

Stamina is something that each fighter must take care of on his own.

Spend about 25 to 35 minutes on your own for this. This is your time. If you need somebody to motivate you, then get somebody, but motivation should come from the inside.

The fighting game takes place in intervals.

You fight, then step back, fight and step back, or in the case of mixed martial arts, you get tied up and rest for a few seconds before you carry on.

Ideally, this is the way to train – at intervals.

Interval training

Get onto that bicycle. Use the stationary bike in the gym. Ride the bike in the way that you fight.

A typical kickboxer should ride hard for three minutes, rest for one minute and ride again – the same way kickboxing rounds go.

Then ride this for the amount of rounds that you fight. Add two or three rounds in to try and compensate for the stress factor. Preflight stress can and will drain your energy, so increase your workout.

When you ride, put a heart monitor on, and keep within your target heart range.

Basically, for most fighters, your endurance training should be about 75% to 90% of you maximum heart rate.

The easy formula for determining your maximum heart rate is to deduct your age from 220. Experts vary over the accuracy of this and some have very complicated formulae, but we don't carry laptops around in the gym, so lets use the easy one.

If you are thirty years old, then your maximum heart rate is about: 220 – 30 = 190 beats per minute. Your training range of between 75% and 90% should then be from 143 to 171 beats per minute.

In the one-minute rest, try to keep moving a little (yes, you move in the corner between fight rounds), while still trying to get you heart rate down.

As your training progress, your heart rate should come down (i.e. stabilize) in a short time. Yes, endurance is not only measured in your ability to keep going, but to recover quickly in between rounds.

Can you go over your maximum hear rate?

Well, yes. I have done so on more than one occasion by cycling in the gym and I’ve found many others, on a search online, who have done the same – with no negative effects.

Some theorize that is depends on the strength of your legs – being able to pump the blood stronger, similar to what fighter pilots do to curb the effects of the Gforce.

Whatever your training, it is good to keep a log. In this way you can track your progress.

Look at the following example: (30-year old athlete)

Interval training on stationary bike on rounds of 3 minutes, with one minute’s
rest in between:

Date: July 15th
heart rate
end of
1st round
end of
end of
2nd round
end of
end of
3rd round
end of
end of
4th round
68 138 120 148 128 155 135 150
Weight is about 96kg. Felt okay after first, but nauseas after 2nd. Kept
going and felt better afterwards. Heart rate still not coming down
quick enough. At end of session, heart rate took 4 minutes to come
down to 120bpm.


Date: Sept 18th
heart rate
end of
1st round
end of
end of
2nd round
end of
end of
3rd round
end of
end of
4th round
60 133 119 150 123 168 120 164
Weight is about 96kg. Felt okay for the session. At end of session,
heart rate took 1 min 12 sec to come down to 120bpm.

Dr. Hatfield’s interval training

One of the most interesting methods of training that I’ve come across was the well-researched training of Dr Hatfield.

He was responsible for preparing Evander Holyfield against Buster Douglas in 1990.

He researched the conditioning requirements of fighters and came up with the 3-minute drill.

When coaches do this, monitor the pulse of the fighter. Do the sequence below (Hatfield drill) for 3 minutes, stopping and resting for one minute and resuming the drill for three minutes again. Do this for the length of the fight and add one round in for the stress factor.

Hatfield drill:

Sprint 40 meters
Stop and sprint backwards
Jump up and down 10 times
Get into push-up position and give me your legs
Run forward on your hands
Run backwards on your hands
Run left on your hands
Run right on your hands
Jump up and down on your hands 10 times
Stop…get up…run (grapevine/carioca step) left 40 meters
Stop…run back (grapevine/carioca step) right 40 meters
Skip-jump forward 40 meters
Skip-jump backwards 40 meters

Have fun; this drill will work your arms in a way you won’t believe.

Stamina Training

Figure 6.1: The grapevine step.

Stamina Training

Figure 6.2: Running on your hands.

Kobus’ interval drills

I found the Hatfield program extremely effective, but wanted something that would balance the legs and upper body more. So I’ve played and experimented with the program a bit and came up with something that you can do indoors, or in your kickboxing studio.

Do this while wearing MMA-style gloves – because you’ll be striking pads.

Warm up 5-10 minutes
30 seconds Power uppercuts against pads
  Jump up and dash 40 meters
  Sprint backwards
15 seconds Tuck-jumps
30 seconds Body kicks (against Thai pads)
  Run on hands (20 meters: push-up position with feet in trainer’s hands)
  Run backwards on hands (20 meters)
30 seconds Body hooks (punching against pads)
  Jump up and dash 40 meters
  Sprint backwards
30 seconds Punch rush (punching straight punches while stepping forward – pushing the trainer backwards across the floor)
30 seconds Front kicks (Thai pads)


With interval training, the first thing that comes to mind to me is sprinting. This is easy and quick and takes no equipment, besides good shoes.

Earlier on I said that running long slow distance isn’t great for fighters. However, sprints are good, and may be a good break from the normal gym routine.

You can do this early in the morning when the weather is nice and you want some fresh air.

Sprinting shouldn’t replace your other interval training, but you can make it part of it. It does work your conditioning well and if you’ve got access to the facilities, well, they say a change is as good as a holiday.

Sprinting uphill is the best, but for the sake of safety (i.e. staying off the road), it’s best done on a track.

Steve Kalakoda loves to replace the hill with stairs – by this time, we know half the outdoor stairways in Tokyo.

Just sprint. If you’re not sure – to give you a basic idea, you can follow the program below once a week; putting one or two rest days between cycle 1 and cycle 2 of the program.

Something like this would work nicely:

Cycle 1 100 meters dash 20 times Time limit: below 18 sec
Cycle 2 200 meters dash 12 times Time limit: below 35 sec

Remember, running puts different kinds of stresses on the body, so monitor yourself for injuries.


Fartlek means, “speed play”.

I sometimes used to do some fartlek training, just because it provided a break in routine and a chance to get outside in the fresh air.

Fartlek training is a kind of interval training designed by Swedish track and field coaches. It comprises of running different distances over different times with measured rest intervals.

The value here is that it stresses both the aerobic and anaerobic systems of the body.

There are different kinds of fartlek. I’ve selected ones useful for fighters.

Remember to cycle your training.

For example, you can do them once or twice a week for one month. The following month, do them once or twice for the whole month. Month three, you can do them three times per week. Use any cycle that will work well into your program.

However, keep a close tab on any developing injuries.

Program 1 (Astrand Fartlek):

Warming up 10 minutes slow run
Sprint maximum effort 75 seconds
Jog run 150 seconds
Maximum effort 60 seconds
Jog run 120 seconds

Repeat this cycle 3-5 times (doing the warm-up run just once, of course).

Program 2 (Gerchler Fartlek):

Warming up 10 minutes slow run
Sprint maximum effort 30 seconds
Slow run 90 seconds
Sprint maximum effort 30 seconds
Slow run 75 seconds
Sprint maximum effort 30 seconds
Slow run 60 seconds
Sprint maximum effort 30 seconds
Slow run 45 seconds
Sprint maximum effort 30 seconds
Slow run 30 seconds
Sprint maximum effort 30 seconds
Slow run 15 seconds
Sprint maximum effort 60 seconds
Cooling down 10 minute slow run

Strength stamina

Sometimes, we feel that we still have the “wind” to fight, but that our power has just about disappeared.

This can be very frustrating, when you know that you have a very powerful punch, but you opponent doesn’t seem to be fazed about it.

We’re talking about strength endurance.

Strength endurance is a critical element for fighters. You would want to have the ability to knock out your opponent as much later in the fight as in the beginning.

This kind of training is easiest done in the gym, but you can do it at home if you like.

At home you’d have to use your imagination, with tons of pull-ups (chins), lifting up heavy objects and any other thing you can think of.

If you live I the country, you can train a little like the military – running with lumber, climbing over obstacles, etc. Personally, I prefer to do Henk’s circuit.

Henk’s Circuit

When I prepared for a national title, back in 1997, Henk Pelser used to make me do a circuit that I found worked so well with me, that I still use it and have put my own fighters on it.

This program takes only about 35 minutes to complete. It “kills” you in the beginning.

This is how you do it; only work on machines in the gym (you don’t have time to put plates on a bar).

Set the machine to a weight that you can handle for 30 repetitions – in such a way that you really strain the last few reps.

Once you’ve completed the 30 repetitions and can’t lift the weight any more, then reduce the load by 50% and continue with the remainder of the set.

Do this with the upper body exercises.

The leg exercises (leg press and calf raise) are done differently. For them, you just do one set each. The set comprises of 80 repetitions.

The sit-ups are done in sets of 100 repetitions.

However, few people are able to start at that, so they start lower.

Start the sit-ups for sets of 50 repetitions, or lower – depending on your body. Then increase them as you improve.

The sit-ups are short movements – no full movements. The idea is to move quickly.

You move non-stop from one station to the next.

You don’t stop to rest, nor to drink water until the whole circuit is finished.

No. Time/Reps Exercise Description
1 10 mins Rhythmic knee lifts

About 100 lifts per minute

2 5 mins Cycling Stationary bike – medium-heavy
3 100 Sit-ups Short movement – quick repetitions
4 50 Peck deck (seated
Peck deck machine – full movement, quick repetitions
5 100 Sit-ups Short movement – quick repetitions
6 50 Tricep cable press down 60-90 degree movement – quick repetitions
7 100 Sit-ups Short movement – quick repetitions
8 50 Preacher curls Preacher curls machine – full movements – quick repetitions
9 100 Sit-ups Short movement – quick repetitions
10 80 Leg presses Horizontal leg press machine – medium heavy setting. Don’t lock the knees.
11 100 Sit-ups Short movement – quick repetitions
12 80 Calf raises Standing calf raise machine – heavy setting
13 100 Sit-ups Short movement – quick repetitions

What I like about Henk’s circuit is that is improves my strength endurance and I found that I can increase the load about every three months.

I do this program almost daily in the four weeks just before a fight, but only once per week normally for maintenance.

A warning: I tried this program once after laying off for some months and almost gave myself a hernia with all the sit-ups. So, ease into the program.


There is one more way that will challenge your strength endurance – strip-sets. You can do this as part of a break in routine in your normal gym workouts, by incorporating one or two exercises per week, or you can take a few exercises for one stamina workout.

Strip-sets involve doing one exercise in the gym for one set of 50 – 100 repetitions.

I only do this once in a while – for fun and to challenge my friends and myself. You will need a partner for this.

This is how. You start with an exercise, performing repetitions until failure, then you strip some weight off and continue.

For example: Load a bench press bar with a load of 5-kilogram plates, with a total weight that you know you can press for at least 10 repetitions.

Lie down on the bench and start bench-pressing until you fail.

Quickly rack the weight and shout: “Strip!”

Your partner must immediately take one 5-kilogram plate off each side and hand you the bar, whereas you immediately start pressing again.

Then you press until failure again.

Rack it again and shout “Strip!” again and your partner should take another plate off each side.

The idea is to take weight off in the shortest time possible and to let you keep on bench-pressing non-stop until you reach the predetermined number of repetitions.

Usually, I ended up doing the last 10 repetitions with just the bar and having a hard time doing it.

Actually, it’s quite fun. You can do it on machines too, just moving the pin up one plate at a time.

Here is a list of exercises that works well with strip-sets. If you want to make it a workout, choose one exercise for each muscle group.

Bench press Using 5kg plates 50+ reps
Seated shoulder press Using 2.5kg plates 50+ reps
EZ bar curls Using 2.5kg plates 50+ reps
Squats Using 10kg plates 50-100 reps
Triceps cable press down Moving the pin for each plate 50+ reps
Leg press (machine) Moving the pin for every 2 plates 50-100 reps
Leg curls Moving the pin for each plate 50+ reps
Leg extensions Moving the pin for each plate 50+ reps

Do this when you have friends working out with you – you will need a lot of shouting encouragement.

Challenge your buddies in the gym. Compete against each other.

The Anaerobic threshold: (just some academic notes)

How long can your muscles hold on before they start to strain severely during exercise?

Ever heard of VO2 Max?

Athletes and trainers with access to high-tech equipment usually know about this. This is what people refer to when they talk about the oxygen consumption of your body.

When you train, you take in oxygen to feed the muscles. The higher the intensity – the more the intake.

At one point, your body cannot increase its oxygen intake, despite an increase in the intensity of you physical activity.

This is called the anaerobic threshold.

At this point, high levels of blood lactate stops the process. Any exercise beyond this point is anaerobic.

At this point, the muscles strain severely. Yes, this is where you want to collapse on the treadmill because your legs refuse to work any more.

Some athletes want to know exactly where this point is. They want to know when they reach this point during competition, and whether or not it can be improved.

Yes, it can be improved. Just do interval training.

Train very hard; i.e. your heart rate at about 95% of your maximum heart rate, or you can train for 20 minutes at 70%-85% of your maximum heart rate.

If you want to measure your VO2 Max, you will get a number that indicates the amount of oxygen (in milliliters) in one minute per kilogram of bodyweight.

For example 62ml/kg/min means his body uses 62 ml of oxygen for every kilogram of body mass per minute.

The anaerobic threshold is expressed as a percentage of your VO2 max.
In unfit people, it is usually 55%-60% of the VO2 max.
In elite athletes, it is about 85%-90% of the VO2max.

Generally speaking, for most people, this is purely academic.

It is just a number, but you can feel like a fool when people talk about it and you don’t know what they’re talking about.

However, for fighters this doesn’t matter too much, as we train interval training anyway, so we are able to address this just by doing normal training.

Article written by Kobus Huisamen

Kobus is a retired professional fighter and multiple title holder who competed at top international levels . He also trained fighters for appearances in Pride, K-1 and other events. After 20 years in martial arts, he wrote: A Fighter's Encyclopedia and several articles. A former South African Airborne Forces soldier, he'd also been working as a nightclub bouncer for nine years to put him through university.

Currently, he's a business consultant but still puts on the gloves for a workout most weekends.