Strength & Conditioning Training for Martial Arts: Do You Need It?

Regardless of what most old-school martial artist says, strength and conditioning play a BIG factor when it comes to sport/survival performance. The old ways of only doing specific martial arts exercises are long gone. Like it or not you will have to supplement your martial arts training at home or academy by adding a strength and/or conditioning program. Whether you are doing MMA, BJJ, Muay Thai, or other martial arts.

There have been numerous scientific studies that connected improved sports performance with rigorous strength training exercises. You will hardly find a world-class athlete today that don’t do some type of strength training combined with sport-specific conditioning exercises. If executed correctly the added training will only benefit your martial arts skills. No doubt strength training for martial arts is necessary for this day and age.

Generally, strength training with weights or without will only bring positive changes even for a sedentary person. Older people can also benefit from strength training because it minimizes bone loss. Some of the best martial arts for fitness such as boxing and Muay Thai will also help develop overall health.

The martial artist can gain more positive changes by incorporating a strength/conditioning program. Because doing so will give these benefits:

  • Improve Flexibility (?)
  • Improve Maximal/Endurance Strength
  • Improve Cardiovascular threshold
  • Improve Explosivity

There is a quote from a famous martial artist that technique will beat strength and I approve that. If I am fighting someone with no martial arts skills I agree with it. But imagine if I’m fighting someone that has the same level of fighting experience like me? In those instances, the stronger one will win. Need more convincing? Please read more so I can convince you to start today.

The Correct Workout Program for Martial Arts

As a martial artist you do not necessarily need to be as jacked as a professional bodybuilder, nor you should have the insane cardio of a marathon runner. When it comes to combat sports and martial arts such as Mixed Martial Arts or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a combination of strength and endurance is ideal. Unless you are planning to be Rousimar Palhares then you need to create a specific strength program that will benefit your martial arts skills.

The correct training program will help you to increase muscle size AND endurance for your specific sport. That means every exercises and workout that you’ll do will translate into improved sports performance, that could mean rolling longer and better in BJJ, or lasting 5×5 rounds in MMA sparring without losing your breath. If done correctly you will have better cardio, agility, and flexibility when training. And by having those you will develop better techniques.

Again please do not follow training programs that are designed for people in another sport. There is a lot of material online that will help you in choosing the right program. Do not be lazy by following a random popular athlete’s workout programs and gaining little benefits at the end. Do the research to get an optimal result

Here are my personal reasons & tips on strength training that will benefit your martial arts training

1) Warm-Up & Stretching is A Must!

I am guilty of skipping any warm-ups or stretching. Even in my martial arts classes I often came late on purpose just because I want to skip the warm-up session. Do not do that anymore

By warming up properly you will reduce the risk of injury and prepare your muscle to work hard. Have you had a match where you do not warm up before? If so most likely you have experienced cramps after the match, right? Treat every workout with the same respect as a match and warm up properly!

An important thing to note is you do not need to do a long warm-up. 5-10 minutes of some type of cardio exercises like jump rope, shadow box, etc combined with dynamic stretching are all that you need. Do not get tired before your main training!

Regardless of whether you’re using weights when training or not. You should do a warm-up set for each different exercises before moving on to the main program. This will help your muscle in handling the much heavier weights later on. Aim to do 20-40 reps of light weights as a warm-up

2) Core Exercises Are Essential

In any type of martial arts, most movements are done by utilizing the core muscles in a direct/indirect way. When you are doing a spinning kick you can’t tell me that your core muscles are not working. Same thing when you are doing a half guard sweep to gain position in jiu-jitsu. Try to only do full-body exercises to make sure you are training your core muscles along with other targeted muscles in the specific training movement.

3) Combine Weights & Bodyweight

Have you ever tried training your legs to make it stronger and bigger without weights? It is painfully hard because our legs are accustomed to carrying our weights 24/7. Sure we can improve a lot by adding single-leg squats and isometric work but it will only take you to a certain level. To be the best martial artist you can be you need to incorporate weight training with calisthenics.

When I say weights, try to stick to free weights and barbell exercises. Avoid anything that involves a machine. The only right way to use a smith machine is to use it as a towel rack. Same goes for any type of machine-assisted training apparatus that you’ll find in most gyms.

A good strength and conditioning exercises will consist of both weights and calisthenics. How the exercises are structured is up to your personal preferences

4) Stay Hydrated

Do not be the tough guy/girl that told everyone that you don’t need a water break. Keep a gallon of water everywhere you go while training to make sure you can hydrate yourself when needed. There is no glory in passing out in the middle of your training, trust me.

5) Fix Your Diet

You can’t go eat Mcdonalds and pizza every day even if you’re training hard 7 days a week. To achieve optimal performance in any martial arts you will need to have clean and nutritious diet plan. No need to go crazy and cut carbs like a maniac (I’m looking at you keto). But an overall balanced meal plan with proteins, carbs, and fiber combined with the extra training will propel you into the next level.

6) Space out your workouts

Because you are not a bodybuilder and nor are you looking to be a powerlifter. There is no need to do strength training every day. Aim to get 3-4 workouts in a week with a day or two spaces between the workouts. Provided you are working hard enough and using the correct program, you will see the fastest progress by doing this. Unless you want to be a strongman.

7) Sleep Well and More

If your lifestyle enables you to do so then you should try to get more sleep or at least naps. Sleeping produces natural testosterone and this will help your muscle recovery after a hard workout. Combining the added strength program with your existing martial arts classes will make you need more rest than ever before. So rest!

8) Add Anaerobic Exercises

You need to add the occasional high-intensity training in your strength program to make sure your newly found power from strength training is usable in stressful conditions. When you are in a BJJ match you will need to have the ability to perform under stress and little oxygen. People that had more experience training in those conditions will prevail.

Anaerobic exercises are basically short and fun training sessions. By fun I mean intense. 10-15 minutes of high-intensity training such as TABATA or Dutch Drill will prepare you to stay composed in moments where you are deprived of oxygen. Actually you can also do your normal martial arts exercises but you need to do it with maximum intensity. At the end of the day the type of exercises that you’ll do depends on you so choose! The important thing is to do it instead of thinking about it.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, there are many positives for martial artists to add strength training into their life. Just remember to customize your workout for your specific style and incorporate anaerobic exercises often.