Weekly Warfare – 6 – The Bulgarian Death March

Fighting in the Society follows a certain rhythm. This rhythm manifests itself most visibly at fighter practice. People will spend some time chattering on the sidelines & armouring up; then there is a time period of fighting, and then it seems that many of them will take a break at roughly the same time. This rhythm is partially determined by the current level of anaerobic capacity of the attendees at practice. It takes a certain amount of time to warm up & cool down, and recover yourself between exchanges. Improving your anaerobic system enables you to produce effort more quickly, recover more quickly, and resume effort more quickly. In other words, putting effort into training your anaerobic capacity means you warm up faster, you cool down more quickly, and you don’t have to rest as much between bouts. Thus, training your anaerobic capacity (along with aerobic capacity) can mean that you become more efficient at fighting. Becoming more efficient, generally means winning more – if all other things are equal.

This article will discuss ways to improve your anaerobic capacity. A previous article I authored discussed the development of explosive power. That article mentioned that it’s hard to work on developing explosive power without working on the development of your anaerobic cardiac conditioning. So as you are considering how to spend your training time, you can take solace in the fact that putting time into training your aerobic capacity will also train the amount of explosive power you can produce. Armored combatants will find this eminently desirable, but unarmored combatants must be careful to keep a lid on the amount of power that they hit their opponent with.

Developing anaerobic capacity is the latest weapon in the arsenal of knowledge in exercise science. And like any new, shiny, thing many fitness enthusiasts are quite enamored with these new discoveries. This is manifested at the slew of gyms that have sprung up across the country which have anaerobic capacity as their main focus. I’m talking primarily about Crossfit, but also the prevalence of such things as the Warrior Dash, Zombie run, and other types of anaerobic-focused types of exercise.

Training methodologies for anaerobic conditioning have a variety of names. HIIT (high intensity interval training), fartleks (no really), crossfit, tabatas, and hypoventilation training are all different labels with slightly different focii for achieving roughly the same thing. The good news is that you can train this capacity with measurable effects without a huge time commitment. The bad news is that since the majority of the population doesn’t train this physical capacity, in the beginning it is going to be pretty painful. However, the benefits of training anaerobic capacity are manifold. As mentioned above, not only will your body will become more efficient at attaining an elevated respiratory rate, and coming back down from it. Additionally, you will be less tired after these exertions. You won’t feel as run down after fighter practice or events, and you’ll be able to do more.

Some anaerobic training workouts are tremendously simple, and can be integrated into your daily practice with ease. For instance, fartleks are the easiest and most free-form. They were originally integrated with running; during your run, you pick a point in your run that’s further away than where you are now, and elevate your running pace to get there. Do that repeatedly. Intervals are a bit more structured; begin your workout, and specify time periods at which you work at a higher level. If you were going to do this during a fighter practice, you might pick a partner, and fight for 2 minutes. At the end of 2 minutes, transition immediately into a more active fight for 1 minute (perhaps see how many counted blows each of you can land in 1 minute), then rest for 2 minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat for 6 rounds.

If you are a member of a crossfit gym, please do be aware that many of those gyms have an admirable focus on both functional strength and anaerobic cardiac capacity, but may lack an emphasis on things like flexibility and aerobic capacity. When you become stabilized to their regimen (and it is a brutal one), seek out additional training in the things that crossfit lacks.

Tabatas and HIIT typically consist of separate workouts which, while not time consuming, are fairly monstrous. They place an emphasis on separate efforts which target anaerobic capacity. These workouts, if performed to capacity, can destroy you pretty well within 20 minutes. One of my favorites is what I call the Bulgarian Death March.

Obtain a willing partner, a grassy swath, two cones or markers, and a watch with a second hand. Place the cones approximately 10 meters apart. Partner 1 starts lying facedown on the ground at one marker. At the timer’s start, partner 1 jumps to their feet, sprints to the other marker, flings themselves facedown on the ground, jumps to their feet, and sprints back to the marker they started from, where they fling themselves once again on the ground. This action is repeated for 20 seconds, while partner 2 cheers them on. At the end of 20 seconds, roles are swapped and partner 2 performs the workout while partner 1 has a rest period. Repeat this again for a 30 second unit, then a 40 second unit, then down to 30 seconds, then 20 seconds to finish.

Make want die quick.

After a few weeks of doing this 2-3 times per week, add in a pushup at each marker. Beyond that, add in a 50 second unit in the middle (so the time intervals are 20, 30, 40, 50, 40, 30, 20). In the final evolution of this workout, the partner who is having a rest period is toted back & forth in a fireman’s carry by the active partner.

Aside from the Bulgarian Death March, a number of highly effective workouts can be sourced on YouTube.

If you devote time and effort into developing your anaerobic capacity, interesting things start to happen. One of those has to do with safety – a lot of fighters (armored and unarmored) get sloppy when they get tired. Depending on what discipline you’re fighting in, fighting is typically halted when sloppy starts to happen. However, time spent in developing your anaerobic capacity means that you are used to putting out focused effort when your capacity begins to wane. To put it plainly, you won’t get sloppy when you get tired. This is widely considered favorable in fighters. It can mean keeping your opponent safe from your own uncalibrated blows, and it can also mean victory because you can effectively block and return blows when your opponent begins to flag.

Being the imaginative sort that you are (you wouldn’t be in the Society if you were a person of little imagination), find creative ways to integrate the development of anaerobic capacity into your life. There almost isn’t a wrong way to do it. At the very, very least; if you take nothing else away from this article; restrict the amount of time you spend socializing on the sidelines at practice; you become good at what you practice – if you practice talking & resting, you’ll become good at those things. Even if you only stick to a structured rotation of effort such as; 2 minute low effort, 1 minute high effort, 2 minute rest, repeat – in any activity you do, you will see results. And those results can typically take the form of increased safety, increased victories, less time flapping your jaws at fighter practice and more time becoming the tip of the spear.

2 comments to Weekly Warfare – 6 – The Bulgarian Death March

  • Ruairc

    “Less talk, more stab” is never bad advice. I’m thinking we should time talk:stab ratios. Might be illuminating.

    I really like the HIIT model, but some studies suggest (I’ll find the links, promise) it’s best integrated with other, less intense workouts or you may risk injury (particularly, the cardiovascular system doesn’t seem to like being jerked around, and its response is maladaptive). As touched on above, varying one’s workout is important.

    It’s funny. In my research, I see a lot of fitness discussions provoking macho attitudes. Kinda like HEMA. People like to think that lifting weights is a “real” workout (or plyometrics, or running, or whatever). But doing one thing makes you really good at just that one thing – super-buff gym-going manly-men, who can bench 500 easy, often can’t complete a basic rings workout, or run an 8-minute mile, or touch their toes. Overall fitness requires you step out of your comfort zone.

    I look forward to trying this out.

  • Indy

    To help train your fighting skills during anaerobic stress, instead of a ‘rest period’ between sets, where you do nothing, make it an ‘active recovery’ period. Try your point control. Practice your lunges, slowly. Do something; remain gently moving and focus upon getting your heart rate down during that interval by calmly controlling your breathing. It will begin to innoculate your fine motor skills against the ‘stress’ of low O2 saturation, and help keep you from losing them when you encounter similar stress. If you never experience the loss of your fine motor skills (which begins as your heart rate increases over 100 beats per minute or so, and is usally totally knackered at 80% HR max) in training, you will never retain them when you need to. It’s another form of pushing your neurological envelope, so to speak.

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