Swimming can even be meditative.
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Competing in mixed martial arts puts a beating, literally, on your body and your mind. If you continue to train at a high intensity day after day in MMA, you will experience some chronic pain and injury. Swimming is a multifaceted supplemental activity that you can work into your weekly MMA training. Recovery and rehabilitation, cardiorespiratory endurance, mind control and muscle endurance are all beneficial side effects of adding swimming to your MMA training.
Swim to Recover
One of the most beneficial ways to use swimming for MMA is as a recovery tool. Whenever there is inflammation in the body, your lymphatic system has to flush it out. The lymphatic system depends on movement through muscle contractions to work. So any pain-inducing inflammation from MMA training -- whether it be muscle soreness, contusions or joint pain from submission attempts -- has to be flushed out of the area. Because you float in water, you can work your muscles and engage in movement, intense or relaxed, while submerged without adding further wear and tear to the troubled areas as you would on land.
Master Cardiorespiratory Control
Sprints, 30-minute sparring sessions and circuit weightlifting to build your muscle and lung capacity are all musts for MMA. But when you swim, your breathing control is put under the microscope. Because humans cannot breathe underwater, you are forced to control your breathing and your mind while exerting. It's similar to being in a fight, where if you panic you will likely be taken down and lose control. Your lung capacity will increase substantially because of this new-found control. And because many submission attempts take place around the neck in MMA, learning to manage that lack of free breathing is a must, and swimming does just that.
All skills being equal, a stronger fighter will win. As evidence, look at the way Johny Hendricks physically dominated one of the best fighters ever, George St. Pierre. Keep in mind that strength without strength endurance -- the ability to express strength for extended periods of time -- is useless in MMA. For example, Shane Carwin has insane strength, but when taken past the first-round with Brock Lesnar, he gassed out and got submitted. Swimming forces you to keep moving or sink. Take on some long-distance swims and you will build incredible muscle endurance.
The Aquatic Version of Hill Sprints
The hill sprint provides a resistance-effect relative to flat-ground sprints. In the same way, because of the density of water, every aquatic movement is a resisted effort. Swim 25 meters sprints on-the-minute for 10 to 20 minutes. Get in the shallow end of the pool and perform 10 sets of six max-height jumps, or do 20 seconds of maximal work followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight consecutive rounds. You can also mix dryland and water training. One example is to swim 25 meters, get out of the pool and do 20 squats or 10 burpees, then dive back in the pool and repeat for 20 repetitions.