Strength Training Concepts for Martial Artists

I have two main passions in my life besides my wife and daughter. Martial arts and strength training. Of course I like other things as well but I make my living from strength training and martial arts. What can I tell you.

I have spent over 30 years involved in the martial arts in one way or another. While I do not train as often as I would like to I still can't help but gravitate towards anything related to the martial arts.

Over the years I have noticed that most martial artists do not know how to train correctly. They know their art but are "challenged" when it comes to the appropriate, effective application of functional training principles.

Too many martial artists still rely on the "bodybuilding" model. This type of training works great for bodybuilders. If you want to get big then bodybuilding can teach you a lot. If you want to be a better athlete (I consider martial artists to be athletes whether or not they compete) then you must train like one.

I had an old friend that was a highly competitive mixed martial artist and submission grappler. He was huge, but when I watched his training I noticed that he did almost no functional movements.

We spoke and planned on training together. Unfortunately for me, but thankfully for him, his sponsor sent him to a great training academy in New Jersey before we could solidify our plans. His training improved and so did his performance.

Ultimately martial artists should not be sitting on machines or doing endless sets of curls. Worse yet are the leg extensions done with the mistaken belief that they will help improve kicking ability or the long slow jogging intended to improve conditioning levels.

Strength training and physical conditioning should prepare the martial artist for the chaos of combat. That can only be done by varying the strength training stimuli. I am referring to the training tools and the energy systems used.

Martial arts are explosive. They are not intended to be done slowly, with the exception of tai chi training. Self-defense applications are powerful. Punching, kicking and take downs(in grappling arts) are performed with power and conviction.

Strength training and conditioning should mimic these elements to be effective. Rather than slow jogging, sprint intervals, agility training and the appropriate plyometric training should be added to the routine.

Rather than strength training on machines the martial artist should use dumbbells, barbells, bodyweight exercises,medicine balls, resistance bands, sandbags and kettlebells. Kettlebells and sandbags as well as other alternative training methods are two of my favorites for getting the most out of a fighter.

Training should be performed standing up when possible, or in another gravity and "core" dependent position. Training should mimic many of the same movement patterns seen in the particular martial art and the unpredictable type of movements seen in actual fighting. Various lunges, presses and pulls should be used in varying movement planes. Movements can be compounded rather that isolated.

That means that a lunge can be performed going forward, sideways or backwards. The same lunge can be formed with an added pressing movement. This is very similar to a lunging reverse punch seen in karate.

I have applied these principles to members of the US karate team (back in the 1990's) and other martial artists with great success. I have trained this way for decades.

I realize that the striking arts and the grappling arts have different physical requirements. These can and will be addressed in future articles. For those of you new to the martial arts or interested in training effectively and athletically take these pointers to heart.

As a long-time martial artists and one time competitor I can say that this type of training does work. When I decided to come out of "retirement" at the age of 35 I decided to apply the same strength training and conditioning concepts that I used with my athletes. I was fighting under traditional karate rules for the first time and competing against younger, faster and highly competitive fighters. Guess what happened. I went from getting hit(a lot)to getting hit much less. I actually got respect from many of the fighters I faced.

Many of the training concepts I have noticed on the "Ultimate Fighter" reality series (I love that show) follow these guidelines, although at a more intense level appropriate for professional martial artists. If this training can work for me, and other fighters it will work for you. Have fun,train hard, train smart and stay safe.

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