Should You Be Doing Roadwork For Cardio?

First, let’s define what ROADWORK is traditionally defined as…

“Roadwork is jogging at a slow, steady pace for 3-5 miles, often at a frequency of 3-6 times per week used by boxers and other combat athletes to develop cardio.”

I’d like to add that roadwork keeps your HR in the 140-150 bpm range, giving you lots of room before you hit the anaerobic threshold. You’ll know you’re doing it at the right intensity if you can talk fairly easily during it.

Now, the classic definition may or may not include a gang of Filipinos joining you…

Manny Pacquiao Running

If you don’t have access to a group of Filipinos who want to follow you on your runs, don’t sweat it. I’m pretty sure it’s not a requirement.

Roadwork has been used in boxing forever, but has received a backlash since the emergence of Tabata’s and HIIT methods, which alternate moderate-to-high intensity intervals with recovery intervals.

Let’s talk about the benefits of each…

Benefits of Roadwork

Roadwork provides a few different benefits that interval training methods don’t:

  • Develops cardiac volume, which helps your heart's chambers get bigger, which allows the heart to fill with more blood and then have more blood pumped through your body
  • Can do it without getting sore or taking too much out of the nervous system, allowing you to get more training in without hurting recovery too much
  • Can speed recovery from more intense training and even serve as a form of meditation for you

So you see, it’s not useless or pointless and can help you reach your fitness goals.

Now, let’s look at interval training…

Benefits of Interval Training

  • Develops cardiac power, which helps your heart get stronger and pump more blood through your body
  • Takes less time and can go by super fast because you're forced to be focused on the task at hand
  • Increases strength and power of the muscles involved

When it comes to interval training, there are many different methods to use, with anywhere from 5 second super high-intensity work intervals to up to 8-10 minute moderate-intensity work intervals.

Recovery intervals can also range anywhere from 10 seconds to 2-3 minutes.

The exact method to use depends on the phase of training you’re in, i.e. how far out from a fight/competition you are.

If you’re not training for a fight or competition, the key is to strategically order the phases so each builds upon the last.

Enough background.

Let’s cut to the chase.

The bottom line is (drum roll please)…

Roadwork is useful for boxers and other combat sport athletes, as are intervals.

I know everyone likes cut and dry answers like, “You pussy, you don’t need to run slow. Just do HIIT!”

But I’m not like that.

yin-yang-ganjaMaybe it comes from my Chinese-Canadian-Jamaican background (Google – you’ve got every image I could ever ask for and more), or maybe it comes from reading Tao of JKD and The Importance of Living (by Lin Yutang) over and over that influenced my thought patterns to avoid black and white and dogmatic thinking and be open and free to all possibilities.

Actually, it’s all of that (and more).

Either way, while it can be more complicated to adopt this mindset, do so, commit to educating yourself and you’ll learn to fine-tune to get better results in less time.

Now, when it comes to roadwork, you don’t need to be doing it everyday.

In fact, I recommend you do traditional roadwork 1-3 times per week, max.

Much of your actual combat training, especially more technical classes, will give you similar benefits to roadwork, so you don’t need to be doing them for conditioning.

However, if you need to drop a lot of weight (put those cheezies down, NOW), a higher frequency is beneficial because it helps you burn fat without smoking your muscles and nervous system.

Just know that there are minimal conditioning benefits beyond 1-2 times per week, as long as your sessions are 40-60 minutes long (the less time you spend, the more sessions you need – aim for 1-2 hours of total roadwork per week).

Because your main goal is making your heart adapt, you can use any type of cardiovascular exercise or even other exercises (like my A+A workouts) – so when doing a more traditional form of roadwork, switch it up between things like jogging, boxing, stairclimber, skipping, etc in 10 minute blocks. I first learned this method from Joel Jamieson, who is a brilliant strength and conditioning coach.

Here’s an email I got from Rocci Williams, a bloke who I’ve profiled on this site before, about his experience with roadwork:

Dude, so as I informed you I aint followed your program since last year in fact exactly a year a go, and yesterday I joined an MMA club for a “fitness assessment” now I kind of guessed what this was gonna entail

A personal trainer trying to fuck me up with various pieces of equipment and make me give up, now the thought of this did make me panic a little, but however I have been doing over the last 2 months 2- 3 sessions a week on the stationary bike 30-45mins at 150bpm just as you outlined.

you said that cyclists have a good cardiac output, well this got tested last night and I am pleased to say I felt awesome, there was at one point a little sick coming on up, but on the whole I kept on it and pushed through harder on the ten second countdown at every station.

he basically had me do a minute on everything, then 1min, 45s, 30, 15 then back up again over and over changes the exercises every round.

just want to say a massive thank you, for helping with my fitness, preventing me from looking like a complete bellend in front the rest of the team and also helping me gain a new confidence in my ‘cardio’


As you can see, the hype behind the, “Cardio is DEAD” movement is not built on solid ground.

Next comes interval training, which I generally recommend you do twice per week. [The right # of intervals, work and recovery periods depend on the phase of training and I outline exactly what to do in all of my programs]

powerful-heartDo this and your heart and lungs will get stronger and more powerful.

And don’t forget, circuit training is another thing to throw into the mix.

Depending on how you setup your circuits, they can be more like interval training or more like roadwork.

Not to mention resistance training… But now we’re getting off topic.

The key thing is that you’ve got to have an open mind and take a wholistic approach to your training.

You’ve got to use the best available methods at the right time, not just throw workouts and training phases together randomly, hoping to come out on top.

Yes, doing something and training hard will get you in shape.

But there’s a way to refine it all down to the minimum necessary so that you can train less while achieving more.

And that’s what I’ve done with all of the programs I’ve created.

I’ve applied the best of science and experience and laid it out in a step-by-step format that you can easily follow.

So if you want to take your training to the next level, choose one and follow it through to the end and you’ll see what it feels like when you train smart.

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MMA: Ultimate MMA S&C Program

Boxing: The Program 4 Pugilists

Advanced Conditioning Methods: CAGE Cardio Bodyweight Edition


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Gavin Stone
Gavin Stone
5 years ago

85% LSD Roadwork, 15% HIIT. Roadwork is absolutely essential. I understand all the reasons for HIIT (been a PT for 15 years) and it definitely applies to other sports. But LSD roadwork for boxing is absolutely essential. 8-12km in a shuffle jog 3-4 times pw. Its time tested. Sure it has the aerobic benefits, and boxing is a beast of all energy systems. But it goes way beyond that; there is the conditioning of the feet, ankles and lower legs- to be able to move for 6-12 roundshhaving the foot/lower leg stamina to even be able to do the quick pivots etc (without stamina you wont even be still there to use explosive foot speed; an oxymoron but thats fighting); and then there is the mind, its tough to do roadwork taking so much time, and as said in article it is a form of meditation, in the LSD roadwork… Read more »

6 years ago

Hey Eric. What about fartlek training? It can benefit both, right?

9 years ago

Hey Eric, great post, really useful.

I was wondering about something you said though. “when doing a more traditional form of roadwork, switch it up between things like jogging, boxing, stairclimber, skipping, etc in 10 minute blocks.”
Firstly, what do you mean by doing these in 10 minute blocks?
And secondly, I don’t see how you can do roadwork with any method other than running, I thought that’s why it’s called roadwork because you run on the road.

Thanks and keep up the amazing posts.

9 years ago
Reply to  Cassidy

“Roadwork” is referred to as running, but the theory behind is low intensity steady state training, it’s more about the HR response than the mode of exercise.

So skip for 10, then run for 10, then shadowbox for 10. That’s 30 minutes of mixed low intensity cardio.

9 years ago

Hi Eric,

Great article, as always. One thing I have not clear is the target bpm.
You specify 140-150, you gave this target in other occasions and I saw other resources gave the same.

Now I’m 43, so 150 near my max more than my anaerobic threshold. In my case I guess that would be mote 130-140.

So for us older folks, should we go for the range you give or try to stay in the 70-80% of the max bpm?

9 years ago
Reply to  Riccardo

Your max based on the 220-age formula = 177, so not near 150 at all.

Your Anaerobic Threshold is the point at which you can maintain your pace and you’re breathing hard, but you can say about 3 words between breaths.

9 years ago

I’ve read cage cardio and never gas over a few times,and I have to say..EXCELLENT,,E.XCEL.LENT.Bravo on such good instructions and thank you very much.

7 years ago
Reply to  pheonix1756

Is this OK for 70 year olds?

Michael Bol
Michael Bol
6 years ago
Reply to  colin

Get your MP(DR) to sign off on it, start slow and adjust your HR to your age accordingly. You’ll be fine and feel great