Simple Strength Training for Martial arts

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There comes a time in every martial artist/combat sports practitioners life when they receive a call from the gods of strength, it may be from a sparring session where they’ve sparred someone who was worse than them at the sport but their sheer strength made up for their lack of knowledge and they proceeded to get ragdolled like the child who was snatched by Harambe (R.I.P). Maybe they’re naturally weaker and their lack of strength is started to hamper their ability in the ring. Or maybe they just want to pursue some form of strength training for their own wellbeing. All noble pursuits.

Luckily the internet has an abundance of tried and tested strength training programs, Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler, 5×5 which has been popularised by Stronglifts, all of these are good places to start. However you should  keep in mind that all of them can really take a toll out on you an for quite a few reasons; its can be time consuming, lifting heavy weights requires adequate rest periods and if you have an exercise heavy program you often will spend more of your workout resting. 

It takes a toll on your body as well, so as well as adequate rest time in workout you also have to have adequate rest time out of the gym, which of course means you’ll either be sore for your other workouts or worst case scenario, you’ll perform worse. 

It can be quite hard to run strength programming alongside your martial arts training because of the problems I raised, however this doesn’t mean you should discount strength training entirely.  Finding out how to fit my strength training in with my martial arts training has made me progress hugely along my martial arts journey and I’m more than happy to share some of my tips ive learned from running all of the strength training programs ive mentioned, that’s right, IVE TRIED THEM ALL. 

Strength programs available

The best thing to do when finding a strength program for you is to research them all first, ive made strength gains using all of them, with some giving me HUGE GAINZ, while others only minor gains. 

Starting Strength: this is a good strength program, especially if you want to build strength, like almost all strength building programs it requires use of a barbell and compound lifts, however, for someone who is a martial artist I would say that it is weighty and takes up a lot of time, the workouts have an emphasis on 5 different lifts as well as pull ups, for a beginner to strength training I would say this is probably one of the best for starting out, Mark Rippetoe really knows his stuff and if you want to build strength, he is the man for you.

5/3/1: I made the least strength gains with this program, but it did have the most longevity, it worked quite well alongside martial arts training, I wasn’t sore all week and could actually do some accessory lifts and not want to shit or die or shit AND die. I think most of the reason for that is the submaximal lifting that you do while running it, meaning that you are pushing yourself, but not to the brink. 

Like I said before however I did make the least strength gains while on this,  I personally like a little bit more intensity out of my workouts and having only one strength lift per workout felt a little bit light for me. 

5×5: This was my favourite strength program for quite some time, I made the most strength gains while using this and also as a little surprise, I also gained more muscle than I did using the other programs, i think because of the relatively higher workout intensity with each workout being 3 lifts per session, my legs in particular blew up, to the point my thighs started wearing though my jeans. 

It only requires 3 workouts a week, across 6-12 weeks with weight being added every workout, which will pack on strength in no time at all. This program did wear me out after 12 weeks and I had  to take some time off from lifting, however for the amount of strength I gained in that time made it worth it to me.

Ive listed these programs for 2 reasons, 1, I’ve got experience running these programs and have had success with all of them and 2, it is way better to use a tested program if you don’t know what you’re doing, as long as you follow the guidelines the programs put down you will make gains.

I am currently running a different exercise program which encompasses all aspects of my training life, but I want to dedicate a whole blog post to that program so I will go into HUGE detail on that at a later date.

So how do you choose?

Well what goals do you have, I personally like to take a 6 -8 week block and dedicate that to training for strength which I then maintain across the year, which is why I like 5×5 so much, its quick, its dirty and it gets the job done. However if you are a competitive martial artist, it wouldn’t be a good idea to lose 2 to 3 months of valuable training time, so it may be better to choose a less taxing program like 5/3/1 as the longevity of this program would allow you to continue training strength alongside your regular training. 

Its all up to you and your preferences. If you want to get as strong you can as quickly as possible I would recommend 5×5, if you want longevity, I would say 5/3/. Of course you could even find your another program to follow or you could… design your own.

Designing your strength program... Sort of

Ok so i lied a bit, you wont be full on making your own program, you’d just be following the formula for strength lifting but  Funnily enough, once that’s done creating your own strength program isn’t too difficult. you just need to calculate your one rep max which can be done with this handy dandy website  which if you click on the button below, will do all the work for you. Well, almost all the work.

Once your one rep max is calculated, you can use a percentage of that max to train with for that week, so you can either sub maximally lift, starting at around 55 percent of your max  and do say 3 sets of 5 reps for each exercise, slowly each week raise that number by 2.5 kg each week, by the end of six weeks chances are you could blow through your one rep max, then you recalculate the one rep max and then go from there, a slow, measure progression of strength. or you could use a heavier gritty way to build strength, by lifting triples doubles and singles, basically, you get 95 percent of your max, and you lift it from 1 to 3 reps, and that’s it. super simple right, but also super taxing. If you did want to err on the heavier side of things, I would say just use a program that’s tested. 

it should really go with out saying but before you start strength training you really should see a doctor to confirm you’re ok to go ahead with training. Once that’s done, you have to pick your exercises.

What exercises to do


There is almost no debate in strength training when it comes to this, compound exercises are the court and squats are the king of that court. no matter what other exercises you choose to do, squats should always be on there. Your legs need to be strong for martial arts and squats will get you that strength. They work primarily the Hamstrings and the glute, but also use EVERY MUSCLE IN YOUR BODY, so do em, especially if you want a better looking bum, which would be nice. As Nicki Minaj once said ‘thick hair, thick ass, give them whiplash’.


Bench Press

Im fairly sure everyone who has ever lifted weights has been asked ‘how much do you bench?’. Commonly the bench press is the decider on if your strong or not,even though there are other exercises that may show strength better (cough overhead press cough)  The bench press is a great developer of pushing strength, works your chest back and shoulders as well as your core and legs which you use to stabilise yourself as you PRESS THE DEMONS AWAY. 


The Deadlift is a great exercise for demonstrating strength, many elite strength athletes say that after awhile, the strength gains you get from deadlifts aren’t worth the risks you take when deadlifting i.e the risk to reward ratio just isn’t worth it. But in terms of developing strength you need a good pull from the floor exercise and the deadlift is that exercise.

 Some might advise you that you can do more weight with a rack pull, but the rack pull starts up higher and as such needs less stabilisation as you really focus on upper body and not so much on the legs, for me personally  the deadlift wins out just because of the full range of motion you use to perform the movement, it also has more real world applications than the rack pull, which when training for combat sports, is probably a good thing.

 The strain a deadlift puts on your body makes you feel like your going to pass out and MANY DO don’t let that scare you though, that only happens when you start shifting heaaavy weights, if you’re just starting out you’ll just get the feeling of passing out which is good… I guess. The deadlift will work your calves, quads, hamstrings, core, forearms and back. 

Overhead press

The overhead press used to be the feat of strength back in the days of George Hackenschmidt, one of the O.G strongmen/bodybuilders, until the mantle of the biggest most bestest most handsomest lifts was taken by the bench press (booooo, hisssssss).

However just because its position of best exercise has been usurped, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great exercise, many lifters over look the overhead press. when really it is a premium builder of strength in the upper body. This exercise will build strength all up and down your body, primarily in your shoulders, back chest and core. 

Bent over row

The bent over row is a banger of a lift, using your lats and biceps primarily but also the rear delts, core and lower back to help stabilise you. if the idea of doing deadlifts gives you a big ol spook then you could use this exercise instead as a back builder. This is a lift you can take or leave, you don’t need to put this in your routine, the only one I would say is non negotiable is the squat, everything else, you don’t like it? don’t do it. 

Recovery and Injuries

In order to recover from these added sessions, you are going to have to eat a whole lot more  and move a lot less, if you cant move less, try to sleep a little more, that’s what I used as my fix when I was running a strength program and Muay Thai training.

You will be a little bit sore, but that’s fine, when it comes to lifting for strength LISTEN TO YOUR BODY, it behoves you to stop if you don’t feel right during a lift. Normally if you don’t listen to your body and continue with a lift, you end up with a one way ticket to snap city. listen to your body!

The key to the best recovery would be to eat more, mainly protein, protein contains all the key building blocks to recovering, building and maintaining muscles and muscular strength. Vegetables are important to ensure you get all the necessary vitamins to help with your recovery. Carbohydrates are also very crucial to your bodies recovery as well as to help fuel you during your workout. So make sure you STACK YOUR PLATE UP.

Finally, sticking to your training plan is most important, consistency, like with most things, is key here. You aren’t going to succeed long term with your strength training without consistency, so remember to follow your program as closely as you can and watch the gains roll in. 

To finish!

I have laid out the the necessary ingredients to add a strength program to your existing training regimes, it might seem like a lot and that’s because it is. I know multiple people who train, that will genuinely stop training their martial arts for a while to facilitate strength training.

You can of course absolutely do both at the same time, but that quickly becomes time consuming and unless you are a professional fighter, you probably aren’t going to have the time in the day to get to the gym, get to work and then get to the dojo too, with cooking your meals on top of that can get very tiring, it’s caused me to burn out once or twice before.

After training for a while though you should figure out what works for you and how to balance it with other aspects of your life.  its a very rewarding process to go through and once you have developed some basic strength, you can really see the difference it makes in your martial arts training, which is what allll this has been about, isn’t it? Remember to train hard, stay civilized and I’ll see you next time.