Assessing Strength for Martial Arts | Strength Training for Martial Arts Part 1

04 Feb

Written by Crafted Coach Mizar Fuentes-Ortega

Too often we see that the martial artist’s mentality is to go HARD. No pain, no gain.

These individuals tend to do more work than their body can handle. In addition to this issue, we also see athletes not eating enough while trying to cut weight. This eventually leads them to burn out or to get injured.

So where does strength training fit into the martial arts practice?

Doing a ton of tough training in the weight room is only going to make it harder for the martial artist to recover if on top of that you are training at your specific art. It is essential that strength training is designed in an intelligent way, to build athletes up and prevent injury, rather than breaking the body down further. More is not necessarily better in this case

This TWO part blog series, we’ll break down how strength training can be a great complement to any martial artist along their journey. This series will discuss what strength training is and how to test for it (part 1). The second part will address training protocols for strength training and volume acquisition for martial arts specifically (part 2).

Before diving in, let's get something straight here. The intent of this text IS NOT to teach anyone how to throw kicks and punches or learn how to do an arm bar. Instead, the goal is to educate you on the space for strength training for a martial artist. 

What is strength training?

Strength training, also known as resistance training, involves the performance of physical exercises that are designed to improve strength and muscular endurance. It is often associated with the use of weights. It can also incorporate a variety of training techniques such as calisthenics, isometrics, and plyometrics.

Why is strength training important for martial arts?

While form and timing are important for an effective punch or kick, strength is also needed to ensure that your attack is powerful. Benefits include reducing the risk of injury, increasing the power of striking, making you more dominant during grappling exchanges and developing the muscles in your hips, quads, and calves to promote balance and stability. Strength training is a key component for your health and longevity as a Martial Artist. Other important benefits that strength training will bring to your daily living are maintaining muscle tissue, increased strength, improved bone health, controlled body fat and decreased risk of injury.

How much strength training does a martial artist need?

It depends. In martial arts, there is a belt system that has been implemented to identify the skill level for that specific individual. The same is NOT true for strength requirements. 

Often we see weekend warriors training like UFC fighters without the foundational pieces which will allow this individual to have a long journey as a martial artist. What we are proposing here is to define a “belt” system for strength and conditioning for the martial artist. If your belt is purple in your martial art, but you haven't developed the basic strength requirements for a white belt, then your strength progression should start there. Put your ego aside, and your body and life in the sport will thank you long term.

Where do we start?

Testing. Before you can move forward trying to design a plan, it is important to define some important milestones. This will give you a specific place to start and build from. Make sure to take the time to properly develop the strength requirements to move to the next level. Your body will thank you. Your martial arts practice will also thank you as you will see how much more in control of your body you will become. 

White belt 

The goal for these individuals would be to improve their martial art skill. To get “fit” or to look good naked. Often these individuals are predominantly sedentary or have not done much physical activity in the past months/years.

Male and Female standards:

  • Front & Reverse Plank - 2 min hold
  • Active Hang & Matador Support – 2 min hang and hold
  • Dumbbell Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFEES) – 10 reps/leg bodyweight  @32X1

Blue belt

These individuals want to continue refining their MMA skills. Doing 1-2 local competitions per year is very beneficial to gain experience. The goal here is more about performance in the sport and intentions to find yourself climbing the podium.

Male and Female standards:

  • Push up & Pull-up & Dip: 10 repetitions for quality
  • Dumbbell Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFEES): 8 reps/leg @ ⅓ Bodyweight @ 32X1
  • Strict Knees to Elbow – 10 repetitions @ 4sec down

Purple belt

These individuals have a greater understanding and control of the techniques and are refining these moves to be more efficient. The goal here is also to be competitive in 1-2 state/provincial events or fights. Weight categories are important so a greater awareness of nutrition and fueling is needed so that the body can recover from the hard training sessions.

Male standards:

  • Front & Back Squat - 1.5 x Bodyweight
  • Deadlift - 2 x Bodyweight
  • Bench Press - 1.25 x Bodyweight
  • Power Clean - 1 x Bodyweight
  • Weighted Pull-up & Dip - 1/3 Bodyweight @ 31X2 for 3 reps

Female standards:

  • Front & back squat - 1.25 x Bodyweight
  • Deadlift - 1.5 x Bodyweight
  • Bench Press - 1 x Bodyweight
  • Power Clean - .75 x Bodyweight
  • Weighted Pull-up & Dip - 1/4 Bodyweight @ 31X2 for 3 reps

Brown & Black

The goal here is to do 1-2 international competitions (PanAms, IBJJF Worlds). Depending where we are in the training cycle, this individual will need to focus more on the game plan that they will use during the fight. Less time should be spent in the gym as we approach the competition day. Doing curls and squats are not the same stimulus as trying to get an armbar under fatigue or doing punching and kicking combinations after 2-3 hard fighting rounds. Specific goal will be to win a podium in an IBJJF tournament. 

Male standards:

  • Front & Back Squat - 2 x Bodyweight
  • Deadlift - 2.5 x Bodyweight
  • Bench Press - 1.5 x Bodyweight
  • Power Clean - 1.5 x Bodyweight
  • Weighted Pull-up & Dip - 1/2 Bodyweight @ 31X2 for 1 rep

Female standards:

  • Front & Back Squat - 1.5 x Bodyweight
  • Deadlift - 2 x Bodyweight
  • Bench Press - 1.25 x Bodyweight
  • Power Clean - 1 x Bodyweight
  • Weighted Pull-up & Dip - 1/3 Bodyweight @ 31x2 for 1 rep

Based on the results you find from these tests, you will be able to establish a starting point. If you have trouble with a plank or push-up, spend some time developing these basic movements. You may also notice that you meet the standards for one area but be lacking in another. For example, you may be a purple belt and find that you are able to perform more than 1.5x your bodyweight in a back squat but unable to perform 3 strict  pull ups. This indicates that there is an imbalance of lower body to upper body strength.  

What is important to understand is that we all have a different starting point and goals. However, strength for martial arts, or even life in general, should be a stepping stone to express your physical potential.

Take time to identify your weak points and most important, to balance your strength requirements to fully express your true potential on the mats. In our next blog, we will discuss the training protocols to help you build your strength specifically for Martial Arts.

Are you a martial artist who is ready to reach their full potential with the support of a smarter fitness program? Click here to start your journey with Coach Mizar today.

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