Ready to rumble: T3's mixed martial arts fighter grapples with the latest training tech

Can today's greatest training tech take our prize pugilist to the next level?

MMA, or mixed martial Arts, is a tough business. If you’re not good enough to defend yourself and attack your opponent as necessary, you get punched in the face (and these gloves aren’t as padded as boxing gloves), kicked all over your body, grappled to the floor and put in all manner of locks.

Ding-Ding!

You need to have mental and physical determination to fight in a cage. You have to be prepared to push yourself, especially when training. There will be times when all you want to do is sit on the sofa and eat cake; but you know you have to go to your training session and stay on the clean diet.

Before T3 editor Rob contacted me to see if we could raise my fighting and training game with the latest tech, I used old-school methods: running, hitting bags, sparring… But with a fight coming up in four weeks, it’s time to step things up a level.

Week One

I decide to start the week with a four-mile hill run, plus some judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. What better way to track my running performance than with the new Apple Watch Series 2? I’ve got the aluminium bezel, as it’s slightly lighter (30 per cent lighter, actually – Ed) with the white sport band. I can leave my phone at home while I’m out, thanks to the built-in GPS, and get a detailed report of my run – including where I sped up and slowed down – in the Activity app on my iPhone when I get home. And, of course, I can continue to measure my heart rate.

 

Having the right footwear is vitally important. I prefer to do my running on the roads or cross-country, so trainers have to have the relevant foot/ankle support and cushioning to prevent shin splints. For my run, I slip into a pair of Under Armour’s SpeedForm Slingride running shoes. They fit me like a glove, almost moulding to my feet. When I got them, I wondered if they were too light to give me the relevant support, but I’ve had no ankle-rolling or foot/shin pain at all. They’ve also got great grip for when I move in and out on the punchbag, and lift weights.

Clothing is equally important. You don’t want to be training in baggy cotton gear that soaks through. Plus, baggy clothing is dangerous when rolling, as fingers and toes can get caught and broken. Breathable, decent-fitting Lycra is favourable; the Under Armour gear I have is light and comfy, which is ideal. You sweat but don’t feel sweaty or weighed down.

Week Two

I want to push myself further and set myself tougher goals – so I turn to Bragi’s The Dash for my three-mile run on the Thursday. This is a ‘hearable’ that’s essentially two wireless earbuds with activity-tracking built in. They also have 4GB of storage, meaning I can upload my songs so that I don’t need to take my Watch or phone out for a run. And I can swim in them. The touch interface is confusing at first, but once you get used to the number of taps you have to do to begin a workout – voice feedback guides you here – it’s easy. And then you can see your results, including heart rate and distance, in the Bragi app.

You can also set goals using the app, and get feedback on when you’ve achieved them – important when trying to reach fat-burning zones and pushing yourself. It all adds up to tracking runs more effectively and learning more about your fitness as you work out. Plus, getting live feedback on my heart rate just by double-tapping the left bud while running was great.

Week Three

It’s Saturday in week three. This is a rest day and, because I’m not doing any physical activity, I can properly monitor my resting heart rate – and the general health of my heart. The Withings Body Cardio smart scale is something I never thought I’d need – but the numbers I get from it give me a fascinating look at my body. As well as my weight, fat mass, muscle mass, water mass and bone mass, the Withings scale even gives me the health of my arteries.

How? Well, Withings says that with every beat, the heart “generates a wave that propagates along the arteries” (er, OK). So apparently, the speed of your blood flow determines how healthy your arteries are – faster speed indicates stiffer arteries. This is tracked via Health Mate, an intuitive app that gives a comprehensive data set of your body mass and heart health. Losing weight safely is so important; too many fighters undertake drastic weight cuts that can have a serious impact on their health and performance. 

Week Four

It’s the final week of my training before I meet my opponent. And for my workout on the Wednesday, I turn to the Sparbar Pro. This is, in layman’s terms, a rotating stick on a punchbag that aims to improve hand speed, defence and head movement. You hit the bar and it spins around to ‘attack’ you. This is a perfect bit of kit to incorporate into your training, particularly at home when you haven’t got your coach or a training partner there to pad/throw punches back at you. Using this, I quickly learnt that I drop my hands far more than I should, so it encourages good defence and helps to get your head moving! I feel like this could massively tighten up my boxing skills, and help with hand speed – I imagine it’s a bit of kit that most fighters would want at home or in their gym.

By combining tech with my typical training regime, I feel as though I know my body – and fitness – better. I’ve been able to push myself further than before, and the Sparbar Pro has given me more confidence in my boxing, defence and head movement.

Fight Day

It’s Saturday. I’m at the venue. I’m in the cage. There’s an expectant buzz in the air as the audience take their seats. I stare my opponent in the eyes and don’t look away as the referee asks us if we’re ready. The adrenaline starts pumping. My concentration levels heighten. The bell sounds…