Strength Training for Martial Arts

women doing pull ups alongside punch bagMany 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 you need to start 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. If you struggle with squats because of your ankle positioning, or if you struggle with arthritis and you need some help getting the most out of your workout then try looking up the best treatment for ankle arthritis.
  • 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.

Martial Arts Workout Routine – 10 Moves All Martial Artists MUST DO!

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.



5 Comments on “Strength Training for Martial Arts”

  1. I have been doing kickboxing class for about 6 months and often spar against men. Will these exercises help to strengthen me without making me bulk up? I want to be strong but I do not want to be muscular. Really I am doing the kickboxing to get fit but am starting to have some fun with the sparring (only light sparring, but I still feel overpowered).

  2. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Marie, yes, these exercises should help you, although sparring is really all about confidence. As your skills, reflexes, strength and ability to read your opponent improve you will become a more confident fighter.

  3. Would P90X be a near perfect training schedule?
    It combines everything necessary and all I have to do is a separate bag workout a few days weekly.
    Your thoughts?
    Email reply appreciated.

  4. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi John, I am not overly familiar with P90X, but based on what I have seen it would be a good workout to help condition you for martial arts as it is mostly (or all) bodyweight based and works on developing functional strength, power and stamina. I guess it depends on how often you train in martial arts – if only once a week then something like P90X will compliment that. If you are training 3-4 times a week then weight training and/or running may be better to work on strength and stamina.

  5. I’m thinking of starting some martial arts training in the near future. I want to develop as quickly as possible, so I appreciated your tips on what I can do to build my strength. I’ll definitely start doing squats to help my stance and strength like you suggestion.

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