Strength Training Program for the Striking Arts

Martial arts that rely more heavily on striking require great strength, power, endurance, agility, balance, timing and skill. In order to design an effective strength training program all these traits and characteristic movement patterns must be addressed.

These martial arts include karate, tae kwon do, muay thai and kung fu. I approach them in basically the same way as I would approach any sport that requires these same traits.

Don’t rely to heavily on any one type of strength training approach since this limited point of view will not help during a match or a street conflict.

Many competitive athletes get by on skill but lack true core stability and are often imbalanced in some way. I first check to see if the athlete knows how to move properly. Sounds crazy, I know, since martial artists are masters of movement. Many excellent athletes have trouble performing basic movement patterns. I also check their core stability, balance and overall strength. I assess first then prescribe the training program.

In strength training everything relies on proper progression and proper intensity. Even great athletes can improve in some areas. I believe that you are only as strong as your weakest link and it is my job to find the deficits and deal them.

Martial artists are usually a little different from other athletes. Martial arts training requires one to train both extremities equally. It also develops great balance, physical and mental. Their mindset is a bit intense and relaxed at the same time. This is especially true of guys that fight a lot. Can’t really explain it, but I understand it.

If you are a martial artists and you still body build exclusively then try this routine. If you already train functionally, and ‘athletically, then hopefully this will still help. First take a look at what your “sport” does. You punch, kick, block, evade and jump. You must be agile and powerful. You need to hit hard and often, without taking a beating yourself. Train sitting down too often and you will regret it. With that in mind we train functionally, dynamically and intensly.

I usually train total body on every workout. Some workouts will have different emphasis, depending on how many training days per week.

Dynamic flexibility training

Prepare for movement with movement, not static stretching i.e. inch worms, standing quad stretches, “airplanes” etc. Take about 10 minutes.

Agility drills

I use various drills on an agility ladder or agility rings. I don’t spend more than five to ten minutes on these drills, unless it is a day where agility is the main focus.

Core Activation

Try some planks, bridges or some other exercises to “wake up” the core. You can do some more core exercises at the end as well. Most of my training routines require the core to be engaged for the majority of the time anyway.

Sample Workout

I will use any training tool that works. My favorites for martial artists are kettlebells, sandbags, dumbbells, medicine balls, resistance bands and bodyweight training.

This is a basic workout that will develop strength, power and endurance. It will also address multiple planes of motion, so necessary for fighting. Use as much weight as you can handle without being stupid. This is in addition to your normal martial arts workout, so train hard but don’t neglect the skills training.

Deadlift: 3x5 each hand (moderate to heavy) Use a dumbbell and hold it with one hand.

Squat and push medicine ball out in front of your chest: 2x10 Go as deep as you can without losing form.

Kettlebell Swings (one handed): 3x15 This is an awesome exercise for developing overall power, hip drive and core strength.

Forward Lunge and Press: 3x8 each arm Use one dumbbell and press with the right when lunging with the left leg. Think of a reverse punch or a “cross”.

Band rows in a split stance: 3x15

Push-ups with one leg out to the side (knee bent or leg straight): 2x10 Great for developing core and hip strength. This will help with kicking believe it or not.

Lateral Lunge and Reach with a medicine ball: 2x10 each leg (touch the ball to the ground just in front of your toe)

Band trunk twists: 2x20 Hook a band to a stable surface, hold the handles in front of your chest and rotate at the waist. Keep the core engaged as you turn your body without torquing the knees.

There you have it. A basic program that addresses multiple training needs. Notice that I didn’t put in any biceps Curls or leg extensions? That’s because they are not always needed if you want to really perform better. Give this a shot. I vary my workouts often. I strive to enhance movement patterns necessary to the activity, in this case, martial arts like karate, tae kwon do, kung fu etc. Grappling arts training will vary a bit.

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