Many people train in martial arts as an active hobby which aids weight loss and improves strength and general fitness. This is great for health, confidence and self esteem.
However, if you wish to develop your martial arts further it can be very beneficial to do some complimentary weight training. Just about all sports persons and athletes do weight training to enhance their performance and martial arts should be no different. As good as the traditional martial arts exercises are in developing a fast, agile. flexible and fit body for fighting, a more modern approach to fitness and core training and really enhance your skills.
All martial artists will benefit most from these basic compound exercises. All of these weight training exercises will help you to develop more power and functional strength, which means you will be able to hit harder, grapple better and generally hold your own in a fight for longer.
- Squats – Squats are one of the most important exercises for just about any physical activity. They develop the glutes, the muscles in the backside, which provide you with a sold stance and powerful legs which can improve all martial skills from boxing through to wrestling and grappling.
- Deadlifts - Deadlifts strengthen the lower back and the core muscles as well as the hips and upper legs. They help you to develop a very solid waist and can improve the power of kicks. They will also work your forearm and grip strength.
- Clean and Press - This is one of the favorite power moves for martial artists. The clean and press is the biggest weight training exercise possible as you lift a bar from the floor and up into an overhead press. This means that for each repetition you are using maximum effort. It results in developing a very solid and explosive upper body and also further works the core and legs.
- Dips - Dips are an often forgotten exercise. The basic parallel bar dip using just your own bodyweight is most effective for martial artists. A great exercise for building powerful triceps and back, these can increase your punching power.
- Pull ups - Pulls are possibly the most powerful upper body exercise. Developing good pull up power means that your entire upper body has to not only be strong but also that all muscles work together in perfect harmony to allow yourself to repeatedly lift your bodyweight. Another great way to develop a powerful upper body.
The stabilizing muscles come into play in all of these exercises, producing greater core strength than can be achieved in isolation exercises, such as concentration curls, tricep extensions, leg presses. However, as well as performing these big compound movements it is still beneficial to include the following exercises:
- Bench press – the classic upper body strength training exercise. However, do not do too much as some fighters feel that excessive bench pressing opens the ribcage up too much resulting in weaker ribs. You want to be making your rib cage as solid as possible.
- Shoulder/military press - another classic move. If you are doing the clean and press a lot then this is not needed to much.
- Barbell curl - Bruce Lee was a great fan of curls. Essential for grappling styles especially, the biceps provide the pulling power in your arms.
- Bent over row - another great exercise for building a stronger back. If you are doing a lot of pull ups then these are not so important, but still a useful exercise to develop total body strength and power.
Martial arts requires full body strengthening and conditioning, you cannot afford to leave any part of yourself under developed. Equally important is flexibilty and tendon strengthening exercises to reduce injury risk and improve grappling and defence against joint manipulation attacks. Take a look at our Bruce Lee workouts to learn more about martial arts training for fitness and health.
Upper Body Stretches for Martial Artists
This video clip explains how to perform a series of stretches that are ideal for martial artists. Warming up the upper body, arms, shoulder, wrist and elbow joints is essential to prevent injuries and strains during training. Always warm up well before pad and bag work, and especially before sparring.
(Originally published September 12th, 2006, updated in 2011).