Monday, October 16, 2017


Strength & Conditioning for Amateur Martial Arts


As a martial artist you only need to look at a physique like that of Bruce Lee, to realise the impact of additional conditioning in support of your martial arts training. However, like all things in our modern times, the big question is which direction to choose considering your limited time available.

If you are serious about your martial art, you will also appreciate the importance of understanding the basics of how your body moves, how muscles contract and expand. How connections are made when we need to accelerate, rotate, jump or create a base of strength/power. Having an understanding will then give you an insight into which form of exercise to try in order to improve your combative movements.

In today’s world of easy access information and Google searches, finding ‘information overload’ is all too easy. At the cutting edge of conditioning for combat are organisations like the UFC and similar groups, however, professional fighters of any discipline have time and a support environment beyond the resources of AMA . As amateur martial artists with limited time and often limited resources, we need some direction to make the best of our opportunity. You may not want the physique of a weight lifter or bodybuilder but their sporting concepts can offer you a huge development opportunity. With this in mind I hope to give you some basic guidance to explore or take some qualified advice on in your local area:

Training in the Gym;
All current sports requiring explosive power and multi-muscle movements use some gym time to improve their main sport, so what methods can you use? From the strength world of Olympic lifting and Power Lifting we have taken the movements but reduced the loading, from maximum load for one or two lifts into moderate load for larger volume over sets of lifts. Exercises such as Dead Lift, Power Clean, Squat, Overhead Bar Squat, Military Press would form the bedrock of any strength program. In addition to loaded movements include bodyweight movements such as push-ups, pull-ups, dips and chin-ups, also box jumps both on and depth jump off the high box or bench. Put a sequence together such as:     Deadlift                                   5 x 5reps

                        Squats & box jumps               5 x 8 +5

                        Power Clean                           5 x 5

                        Military Press                          5 x 5

                        Dips & Push-ups…                4 x 10+10

 As always technique is all important, have someone coach you in the Power or Olympic lifts, if you feel your body out of line in the lift then stop, modify or take some weight off! An injury in the gym will take you off the mat or out of the dojo for 4-6weeks.

Also use different training methods, basic lifting will improve your overall strength but then look for muscle endurance training with the Tabata method and perform your exercise over 8 x 20second sets with only 10seconds between sets. Start off simple with one exercise in your plan, such as push-ups, using this method and then expand your program. Should you have more than 2 sessions per week in the gym split your plan into upper body and lower body focus, still retain some Power movement but mix in some further specific muscle group exercises. When working with dumbbells on chest or shoulders for example, increase your reps to create greater volume over the session: incline dumbbell press is a useful development exercise similar to a punch action and develops muscle tone which offers improved structural protection. With this type of exercise you would aim for 3 or 4 sets with 12-15reps range.

A productive way to manage your time in the gym is to keep a training diary. Simply keep a list of your exercises completed, set/reps and weight used, some guys even write rest time used. You can make subtle changes to your plan session by session, ensure you’re hitting your targets, look back on previous performance to set new targets. If you are pre-contest and making weight classes, use a diary to monitor your diet and calorie intake.

Training At Home;

If your home training and have zero equipment the two bits of kit to buy would be a skipping rope(if you have the room height) and an exercise resistance tube. The skipping rope is almost iconic of fitness endurance, timing, coordination and focus, whilst the tube is so versatile for offering resistance. An hour of full on conditioning can be developed using just these 2 items, your bodyweight and a clock for timing..

For example:  light warm-up (jog on the spot) soft square stance and rotate your trunk, move into stretching all major areas… 10mins

1                  Skipping “Tabata” style (8 x 20sec rule)

2                  Standing Tube Squats 4 x 15reps (20sec resting)

3                  Squat with a lateral overhead tube pull (4 x 15reps 20sec resting)

4                  Skipping 4 x 20seconds

5                  Tube Squat and at the top of the move Overhead Arm Drive/Press (4 x 15)

6                  Push-Up 2 x 15 flat, 2 x 15 feet elevated to incline.

7                  Basic Crunch Sit-ups, feet supported, 4 x 20seconds

8                  Bodyweight Triceps Push-ups, hands close in, 4 x 15reps (20sec resting)

9                  Standing Tube Biceps Curl superset Triceps Kickbacks 4 x 15reps

10              Core Stability: Plank (prone) 3 x 30sec, Side Plank 3 x 20 seconds

                   Superman’s (hands & knees) 4 x 20seconds each hold

                   Reverse Bridge (feet & shoulders down, lift pelvis into bridge)

11              Stretching and light cool down.

If you have a home gym and need a plan, view our section on Home Training for further information.

Taking A Class;

As with a huge range of Martial Arts styles to chose from, there are equally as many fitness classes to chose from. However, with your AMA in mind what type of class could help? Kettle Bells are an outstanding strength endurance tool, traditional Chinese styles used similar resistance tools hundreds of years ago. A class can offer a logical flow to your training, improved skill level and a range of movements often not in the manual. Home training with KB’s can be equally productive. My wife, for example, has the home DVD & Kettle Bell package to support her running interest. Using this for 30mins 3 sessions per week she became faster over 10km, improved power when running up hill and developed an improving running style with improved leg and core strength.

With striking in mind, use a cross training class such a boxing or boxercise to improve core strength, striking coordination and overall fitness endurance.

As something quite different from AMA consider swimming as a physical training method without loading your structure. Great exercise for muscle endurance, breathing technique but also water support is great to stretch in.

Not to be underestimated, although not everybody’s cup of tea, is Yoga and Pilates developing an understanding true core strength and stability with that mind & muscle connection.

What’s Vogue?

Outdoor military style fitness endurance training, choosing an overall distance to jog, some using a loaded backpack but not more than 10kgs, taking key points in the run to add extra fitness tasks: push-up zones, sit-up zones, hill  sprints, overhead bag squats, static jump onto a bench etc.. Use your local park with ample facilities around you. With this type of training you could involve your AMA training group to further team spirit.

Also generally done outdoors is the Strongman style training, such as tractor tyre flipping and sledge hammer swings striking a single tyre, also load carrying or even better load dragging/pulling can have a huge impact on overall strength development. In rugby for example we improve a player’s acceleration using dragging drills with a loaded sled or running drills against a bungee cord for resistance, similar techniques would be used in athletics as well.


 If you are training both AMA and additional training as well, your nutritional demands should be very specific. Read our section on nutrition and “feed the machine” also on combating dehydration. Stay carb’s and protein rich in your diet, using 5 to 7 small meals per day and above all reload your body immediately after training.

Final Comment:
In terms of striving to be the best you can be of course the bulk of your training time has to be spent training your key activity, however, additional time training your body and mind in other skills can bring greater rewards in your AMA. Try different ideas and develop whatever gets your motor running, above all enjoy it!!

All the best, RA

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