It’s interesting that in this day and age we still look at athletic accolades in any sport like they were brought upon with will or heart. As if will itself guided an inhuman response to the increased performance of this individual. Sadly though we are also being berated with fallen heroes in this respect, such as the influx of PED’s in the cycling world, the fight community, both in MMA as well as boxing. It almost seems like what we used to look at in wonder in the athletic world, now seems to be replaced by Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s). As if Will or heart just isn’t enough anymore; anything that will take the athlete one inch further, make them a half a second faster, and so forth. It almost puts this next BLOG in the right place though when I ask, was it heart or cardio?
Let’s understand that I’m not attacking this generation of athletes regardless of the scandals that have surrounded them. Whether you look at baseball, Tour de France, or the myriad of weightlifting athletes or countries banned from Olympic competition this past year. I’m just trying to prove my point, that although we’d like to see the underdog come out on top with the will to beat his record time or the enhanced opponent in front of him/her, the reality is that at any stage of an athlete’s career, it will be his properly conditioned body that will take him further.
Cardio comes from the Greek word ‘Kardiac.’ Another way of reading this is “heart” in English. That’s right, maybe it’s not the valiant effort that pushed certain athletes over the pinnacle rather it was their conditioned heart that helped them. Now please don’t mistake me when I generalize cardio, by thinking that all athletes should be running on the treadmill or riding a stationary bike or any other apparatus you can think of. I am saying that every athlete should take their conditioning, sport specific of course, very seriously; it can be the deciding factor at the right moment in their careers.
So let me digress for a moment. I’ve been privy to conversations with coaches in the past that have let me know that their teams’ failures are because of the lack of heart on the ice or pitch. Or recently a coach mentioned that someday he was going to try these exhaustive exercises he’s prescribed to his athletes and see how tough they really are! Well, one coach is running his athletes into the ground as punishment for losing and not having the hearts to win which contradicts the science behind recovery and in season maintenance training. While the other is throwing together exercises that he thinks might improve his athlete’s conditioning without forethought or even asking why? These are examples of people that should stick to the sport specific aspects they actually are really good at, such as drills and techniques for their particular sport, and let the professionals step in and teach the strength and conditioning factors involved in said sports.
There is one caveat though and I include myself in this boat, there are a lot of strength and conditioning coaches that lack the understanding of how to properly condition athletes in many sports. I add myself in here because there was a time early in my career as a strength coach I was trying to find my bearings and allowed certain influences dictate my philosophy on what conditioning truly should be. As time passed I realized that I took for granted what I’d learned in school and later realized that the basic pillars of understanding training in all of its aspects were right in front of me; energy systems! Sometimes we focus so much on the newest and latest that we forget the basics. Mike Robertson once said recently in his Physical Preparation podcast, “you have to learn Bompa before you learn Issurin.”
A truer statement could not have been said better. I learned the hard way that to truly better these athletes and improve my performance as a coach, I needed to go back to the basics. Therefore I needed to understand that if you want to condition your athletes to the best of your abilities, you need to:
1. Breakdown the sport they play
2. Breakdown their position
3. Breakdown their playing time
4. Finally; understand the energy systems involved in that sport
That’s correct, The most important factor is understanding the energy systems involved in that sport. Here is a question to most MMA coaches, and I don’t want to pick on you specifically, but I feel that this is an ongoing problem. To simplify, in MMA, you stand, kick, punch, grapple, and groundwork, correct? Then why in the world do you persist in training HIIT or circuits on a constant basis? MMA coaches, if your fighter loses, it’s not because he lacked heart. He might not even lack the skills needed, but he did lack the right conditioning (cardio). So, I guess, in this respect, he did lack heart.
I’m 45 years old and I’ve recently just walked back into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after a 4-month break and I’m positive that a 20-year-old kid off the street in shorts and a t-shirt will give me a run for my money on the mats just because my conditioning isn’t there. So when someone says to me, I got no heart, they’re correct, but give me a little time strength and conditioning, combined with BJJ practice, and the kid in shorts and a t-shirt better pack a lunch.
When confronted with the question, “was it heart or cardio?” I have to say yes, to both as they are synonymous. PED’s aside, you take two athletes competing for the same accolade, both in perfect conditions, perfect skill levels, in a perfect environment I might say the winner showed more heart or let’s call it will. The rest of us though, need to up our conditioning, but we need to train smart and understand our sport. Because if there’s one thing that truly sucks, is injuries and in most sports, this happens in lieu of bad conditioning coaching.
My friends, if you take your training seriously and would like advice on how to up your game, feel free to contact me; firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to help you get to the next level of your sport. Until next time;
Stay healthy my friends, and work that heart muscle!