Martial artists need to develop in many areas such as strength and power, endurance, flexibility, speed, balance core dynamics, structural stability, fast adaptation to change, sensitivity, mobility, conditioning, technique, mental clarity and focus. We're fortunate that some methods of training can tick multiple boxes for us, but you need to be constantly watchful in case what one day you call a 'supplementary' method starts to take over your whole schedule.
I began weight training many years ago and I really love the challenge. A number of years ago now I took the decision to become a qualified fitness instructor in order to ensure that I could confidently train and advise others in the correct way.
I have always had a rather small frame so the primary reason I began lifting weights was to gain strength and power so that it could apply these attributes more effectively in karate. Over the course of a few years, the urge to become stronger and more muscular took a primary place in my mind and I began to devote much more time to weight training. When I finally took the time to look back, I found that I was no longer a 'karate practitioner who supplemented with weights', but had become a 'weight trainer who also happened to practice karate'. What was first intended to supplement my primary objectives had morphed to become THE primary objective!
I realised that the time I was spending in one set of attributes was far too excessive and I was losing flexibility, mobility and consequently, my skill in karate was not improving. This was not due to the fact that I was weight training, but simply because I was doing little else. By the time I completed chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, Legs on Wednesday, shoulders on Thursday and arms on Friday, I was pretty much spent.
When I began to switch my resistance training over to kettlebells I noticed very quickly that I could achieve an effective workout in around half the time, leaving much more time to work on other skills and attributes. Furthermore, when I train with kettlebells it feels just like I'm practicing martial arts i.e. the crossover is exceptional. So my resistance workouts began to change in favour of kettlebell lifting and I began to see some impressive functional improvements. I naturally wanted to learn more so I decided to become a qualified kettlebell instructor and developed this further a couple of years later with my advanced coaching qualification.
So what happened to my standard weight training regime? Well, to begin with it was completely removed from my schedule. Then after a while, I began to incorporate more variance by re-introducing the use of compound free weight exercises using barbells and dumbbells. However this time my goal and targets was firmly set in mind and using some of the principles from kettlebell lifting I was able to better utilise my training time.
Weight training for body building is COMPLETELY different from weight training for power lifting and this is COMPLETELY different from weight training for strong man events and this is also COMPLETELY different from weight training for martial arts. Granted, they all use the same tools, but not in the same way. In karate we have to build skill in applying the attributes we develop for self-defence. Strength is no use unless it's functional strength and power is no use unless it can be utilised effectively. So the main focus for karate-ka is not simply building attributes, but also using them.
I currently undertake resistance workouts around three times per week and these sessions are almost always kept well within a 45-minute window. I prefer to work intensely over a short period of time and I incorporate many tools for variety including barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bulgarian bag, TRX, resistance bands, bodyweight and more traditional tools such as the chi-ishi and ishi-sashi. Furthermore, I try to ensure that the exercises I perform have got some sort of functional link back to karate.
With regards to a 'standard' weight lifting routine, I've found that it's far better to align to specific movement patterns than to single body parts. It's not good enough that we build strength and power, but we must also allow the body to work as intended - an integrated whole. Think about it for a moment...any action we perform in daily life is made up of a combination of muscle firing sequences and full body utilisation. Why then should we attempt to undo what is natural by specifically isolating body-parts? For a body builder, this approach can indeed be very useful, but for karate practitioners it can become counter-productive.
I generally base my barbell and dumbbell strength workouts on the gross movement patterns of:
- Push (horizontal and vertical)
- Pull (horizontal or vertical)
Other movements such as smash, rotate, carry and locomotion are taken care of using different tools utilising multiple patterns including of course the four above. I like to perform my 'standard' strength training separately from more functional training (as my emphasis is slightly different) and it's very seldom that I don't cover a full-body workout in every session, predominantly using compound exercises. This may seem too much in 'body building language' (and would be), but I've found that for martial arts, it's a good way to train. It makes full use of your training window, provides plenty of time in between workouts for rest and allows you to spend the remaining time throughout the week on other important attributes.
Here's a sample workout for you to try. Perform this workout twice per week alternating each time between the two exercises for each movement pattern (create any combination of exercises you like from the list).
Complete either three sets (10/8/6) or four sets (12/10/8/6) for each exercise. Make sure that you are thoroughly warmed up before challenging the load. You can incorporate a rest/pause protocol for the last set of each exercise or superset the exercises together using opposing muscles groups (this is something I often do). For example, you could perform flat bench press and one arm dumbbell rows back to back. This helps to save on rest times and makes the workout much more intense.
Just six exercises per workout...and you're done!
- Barbell dead lift
- Barbell cleans
- Barbell Squat (I personally use a heavy kettlebell for this exercise and emphasise full range of movement)
- Dumbbell walking lunges
- Flat barbell bench press
- Incline dumbbell bench press
- One arm dumbbell rows
- Bent over barbell rows
- Barbell military press or dumbbell shoulder press
- Dips (bodyweight or weighted)
- Pull ups or chin ups (bodyweight or weighted)
- Upright rows (I personally use a heavy kettlebell for this exercise)
When I get some time, I'll also look to publish a blog post on more functional barbell/dumbbell workouts plus of course, some kettlebell lifting exercises that are excellent for supplementing martial arts. Anyway, I hope you enjoy trying out the workout above.