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Taekwondo-Ameris Blog

Taekwondo-Ameris Blog

How To Pick a Strength Program for Martial Arts

Philip Ameris Jr.

Strength training for Martial Artists is a much debated topic that is flooded with many misnomers and dated wives tales. There is often no wiggle room between the "old school" (weight lifting is bad) and its opposing argument that lifting weights is mandatory.  Antagonists will tell you that weight training will slow you down, is terrible for your joints, and makes practitioners stiff and bulky.  Proponents of strength training will tell you that it's benefits will improve your technique.

To say that there is little to no truth to both of those statements would be misleading.  It is our belief that a  proper strength training regime will not slow you down, but actually allow you to move more swiftly while decreasing the risk of injury.  And although its benefits are plentiful, strength training will not improve actual "skill technique", only time spent on the mat can truly do that.  In order to fully comprehend the concept of what strength training truly is, what it is not, and how to effectively implement a proper strength program into your weekly routine - practitioners must understand why strength training is critical to both martial arts training and long term health.

Strength Programs for martial artists should be practiced as stated: Training to improve overall strength and muscle throughout  the entire body while increasing the integrity of both joints and bones in order to improve total output, counteract imbalances, and decrease the risk of injury.

Speaking in general terms - martial artists should not be training like body builders, where the primary focus is on individual body parts (Shoulders, Chest, Arms, etc.) Please note: if body building is a passion of yours and you enjoy it - dive in - who are we to tell you to discard something that you love.  Secondly, isolation exercises have their place. They are excellent for rehabbing injury, warming up, and fixing muscle imbalances but should not be the primary focus of general strength work for martial artists.

Martial artists are best served to focus their strength training around general movements -Pushing, Pulling, Squatting, Hinging, Rotating, and Stabilizing.  Not only do those movement patterns generally recruit the most muscle, but also serve as the basis of all basic movement patterns.  Always keep in mind, that proper technique in Martial Arts requires the entire body to move in unison.  A jab requires a boxer to drive with their feet, legs, hips, shoulders, and back - not just fling their arm out into space.

When deciding to implement a general strength program into their weekly routine, martial artists should consider the following criteria.

Time:  The ultimate commodity.  When considering any type of training program or activity, participants must be honest with the amount of time they have available, the amount of time they are willing to commit, and lastly - how to get the most out of that allotted time.

This is essential to implementing a proper strength program for martial artists.  Always remember, the development of technique is best served on the mat.  In most cases - strength work should be viewed as a supplement to an active martial arts training schedule and essential for optimum health.

For example: If you are a martial arts student, balancing between training and life's other obligations (family, work, etc) and can train 4 days a week total (both martial arts and supplemental strength) - it's paramount to decide the most efficient use of those 4 days to get the most of your potential.  To do that, you must determine legitimate goals.

Goals: At different times in every Martial Artists career, goals will change - that is a good thing.    Active competitors will have a much different path from someone who is training as a hobby.  But thinking in general terms, your particular goals should determine your overall training week.

When using the 4 day a week training model, with the goal being overall health and technique development - martial artists should consider a 2/2 split: 2 days a week martial arts training and 2 days a week general strength development.  Depending on goals, a 3/1 split can be considered.  For schedules with more time available to train (i.e. 5 days) use a 3/2 split.  For training schedules with less time (3 days) a 2/1 day split can be implemented.

Any time the martial artists goal is focused around belt grading or casual competition - more emphasis should be on technique.  For goals focused on building muscle and strength - more time should be spent on strength development.

Only the individual can determine what is most important, but understand that a healthy mix of both technique and strength combined with rest and recovery will maximize longevity.  Too much of one or the other will inevitably result in wear and tear, potential injury, or even mental burnout.

Method/Ability: Once time and individual goals are determined  - the next step is figuring out how to get there.

There are many methods to develop strength. Calisthenics, Bar and Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Sandbags, or some combination of them all.  Each modality has it's pluses and minuses.

When considering a method, first honestly assess your own ability.  If you have no experience with barbells then jumping into an Olympic Style Weight Lifting Program without any supervision may not be the best idea.

Another thing to consider when determining method is how much time is needed to develop the strength movements that you will use.  In terms of learning ability, the Push Up is a much easier exercise to implement than a Barbell Power Snatch.  It is not to downplay the benefits of the technical lifts, just understand what they are - highly technical skills.  Time spent perfecting Olympic Style Lifts could otherwise be spent training the same muscles with a less technical exercises, ultimately allowing for practitioners to make the most out of their allotted time by not using strength sessions to learn another skill.  Also keep in mind, the more technical and skillful any movement is leaves a greater margin for error in terms of potential injury.

Your Body's History: One caveat to picking the best suited method for any individual is addressing previous injury and current issues. Past injuries may lead to present problems and must be considered when diving into any method of training.  If any person looking to develop strength is hindered by a particular exercise, those movements should be adjusted accordingly.  There are many ways to develop strength using subtle tweaks and adjustments, it is important to not let ego get the best of you and train smart.

Enjoyability:  Lastly and arguably the most important aspect of implementing any type of exercise is enjoyability.

Fact is, everyone knows that they need some type of exercise for optimum health.  And for Martial Artists who are already active, they should understand that general strength training is a very important aspect to adding years to their martial arts practice by strengthening the body and reducing the risk of injury.  But no matter how important training is, if a practitioners does not enjoy a particular method the chances of long term commitment are slim to none.

No matter what method you choose, pick something that you enjoy - not what others tell you is "good" or "works for them" - choose what is most suitable for you.

Being a practicing Martial Artist requires a lot of time and yields many physical, mental, and even social benefits.  As a Martial Artist, you have already made a commitment to a certain type of lifestyle. Any additional supplementary strength training must be viewed as an opportunity to increase the length of your martial arts career, maintain your desired lifestyle, and  reach your maximum potential.