Is strength training an important when training for martial arts?

If you have been training martial arts for a while now, it is likely that you want to take your training to the next level. Unlike common belief, lifting weights and a balanced strength training regime can only be beneficial when training for martial arts.

Just like in any sport there is a balance to be found in how you prioritize your training. Martial arts has three core attributes that make a martial artist:

  • Skill
  • Endurance
  • Strength

Some are more important than others, but none can go overlooked. In this post, we are going to have a look at how we can structure your training so that you can get the best out of it.

Athletic performance

As a fighter, even if you are not training professionally, you are after a set of skills that will set you apart from other sports. Every sport requires skill, endurance and some sort of strength, but in martial arts, all three seem to hold a very important role.

A martial artist is after an athletic performance. Simply said, athletic performance is the combination of a set of skills and the efforts made by an athlete to attain specific performance objectives.

That means that it is important to progress in all the three key skills in order to achieve it.

Your skill comes from your martial training, the drills and the sparring. A crucial part that will have to be the base component of your training. Every other form of exercise is complementary and has to be done in regard to developing your athletic performance as a fighter.

Endurance and strength are equally important, but you cannot prioritize them if it means missing training sessions.

A fighter without endurance will have a very short run in the ring, octagon or on the mats. Lacking endurance and endurance-focused sessions will have an effect on the efficiency of your training sessions overall. Giving it your all in training is not giving that much really, if you constantly need to take it easy and catch your breath.

Strength on the other hand, not only will improve your athletic performance, but it might also be what will help you get the win over faster and sometimes even more skilled opponent. A strong body can overcome more obstacles, withstand more while taking less damage and even overwhelm an opponent.

Your strength training setup

If your goal is to improve your performance at a specific sport, chances are that time is a luxury. Understandably, you cannot be doing strength training as often as you train for martial arts.

What that means, is that your strength training sessions have to be as effective as possible. A regular push-pull legs regime might not be for you. You are looking for a versatile form of training that will allow each session to be calibrated according to your goal.

Your best option is going to be a full-body regime, where each session will be enough to work on your entire body. According to how many sessions you are looking to dedicate, that is how many times you are going to train each muscle group. If you were doing an upper-lower split, you need at least two sessions to target each muscle once. With full-body workouts, you only need to train once to train your entire body. Talk about efficiency!

Basics of strength

Whether you are strength training for boxing, grappling or straight up just weight lifting, stick to the basics.

There are many moving parts when you are training for a specific sport. Especially for MMA or other fighting sports, the different kinds of training that shape a good fighter are many. When it comes to training for strength though, things are not as complicated.

If you have been in the fitness game for a while you must have come across some of the analogies in repetitions such as:

  • Strength 1-6 reps
  • Hypertrophy 6-12 reps
  • Endurance 12+

This is going to be no exception for building up your training plan. Regarding sets, for strength, I would recommend between 3 and 5. When strength and power is your goal, you have to familiarize your self with the 5×5 programme.

Equally important, is going to be the kinds of exercises that you want to be doing for maximum strength gains. Full-body workouts allow you to put a lot of effort into every exercise because the muscles that are working are different each time.


The strength training exercises

The exercises to base your workout around:

Chest: 1 exercise

  • Floor press
  • Close grip bench press
  • Incline bench press
  • Dips

Back: 1 exercise

  • Pendlay rows
  • Pull-Ups (weighted if you can)
  • Chin Ups (weighted if you can)

Shoulders: 1-2 exercises

  • Overhead press (Primary)
  • Single-arm DB shoulder press (Primary)
  • Paused overhead press (Primary)
  • Face pulls
  • Upright Rows

Legs and core: 1-2 exercises

  • Box squats (Primary)
  • Dead-lift (Primary)
  • Good mornings
  • Romanian deadlift

Arms: 2 exercises

  • Preacher Curls
  • Hammer curls
  • Skull Crushers
  • Rope Push-down

Abs: 1-2 exercises

  • Plank (weighted if you can)
  • Hanging leg raises
  • Cable crunches

You will be training between two and three times a week considering is not going to be the only training you will be doing.

For every workout, you will be doing one exercise for each muscle group. In my training, I like having some secondary movements available for the shoulders and legs. Both exercises I have included as secondary, I believe offer a huge potential for strength but also for keeping you in good shape. If you build your lower back to be made out of steel, your chances of injury drop dramatically.

The workouts

If you put in the work, show up in training and do your cardio, chances are your programme is pretty full already. In the exercises section above, I have included enough exercises for you to be able to strength train up to 4 times a weak. In my case, I found that doing two to three sessions max work very well for me.

The breaks

A strength training workout will be pretty taxing while at the same time, requiring you to give it your all. That means that you should go plenty with your breaks, you are going to have to allow your body to prepare. I would recommend breaks between 2 and 5 minutes, the point of your breaks in this regime is to feel ready every time before you work again.

Repetitions and progression (only for compound lifts)

There is a set number of max and minimum reps here to allow you progress. By the completion of an exercise, your minimum reps should be 15 and your max should be 30.

What I try to do, is increase something whenever I have to decrease something else. If an exercise feels heavy and I can only do 3 reps, I will do at least 5 sets with generous breaks.

This is also how you progress. You start by picking a weight that you can do between 3 and 5 reps, by the time you reach the point that you can perform 30 reps in total for the exercise, that is in the form of 5 reps x 6 sets, not only have you gotten stronger, it is also time to increase the weight.

Workout A

  • Box Squat Rep 3-5 x Set 3-6
  • Pendlay Rows 3-5 x 3-6
  • Floor Press3-5 x 3-6
  • Single-arm DB shoulder press 3-5 x 3-6
  • Romanian Deadlift 4 x 10
  • Hammer Curls 4 x 10
  • Hanging Leg raises 4 x 12

Workout B

  • Deadlift 3-5 x 3-6
  • Pull-Ups(weighted if possible)3-5 x 3-6
  • Incline bench press3-5 x 3-6
  • Close-grip Bench press 4 x 10
  • Paused overhead press 3-5 x 3-6
  • Face-pulls 4 x 12
  • Plank (weighted if possible) 4 x 30s-1m


As a rule of thumb, when you train a lot you will need to take some time to allow for recovery. De-loading should be done at the end of the month or at the 4th week of your training when the 2nd and especially the third has been the most demanding ones.

What you do, is drop the weight down at 40% and 60% of your 1 rep max. The amount of reps should stay to the standard 5×5.

What to never ever Skip

Your warm-up before each and every session, and your your stretching after each and every session.

I cannot stress this enough. Your body at this stage is like a super performing machine. You want to be strong, agile, flexible and capable. Would it not be a shame to waste all of that by hurting yourself?

If you are asking a lot of your body, you should be giving a lot back as well. It is vital to muscle health that you prepare your body by warming up, every time before engaging into intense physical activity.

It is equally important that you stretch and aid your muscles to recover and avoid tightness.

I would prefer that you skip an entire workout, rather than skip warming up and stretching.


Verdict on strength training as a fighter

Being stronger is going to give you an edge when you are fighting. It can overwhelm and through your opponent off guard, even if he is more skilled than you, if you through some bombs when he least expects it.

Think about it, you can be a skilled fighter with tons of endurance. If you are weak, you are a skilled fighter that can be weak for longer than his opponent can. That is not what is going to determine a fight if your opponent is a lot stronger than you.

The workouts above can be modified according to your needs. You can train more and you can train less. If you are planning on training more than twice, I would recommend that you make an analogous mix to the ones I provided above. Use some of the exercises that I have given as alternative options to enrich and diversify your workouts.

References and Useful links

At Tnation:

Categories: WORKOUTS


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