Some martial artists believe that they do not need to lift weights to improve performance. They believe that simply practicing their martial art will give them enough resistance to build a physique that is well suited to their martial art.
True and false.
You can build up a strong body by thoroughly training mixed martial arts. The combinations of striking, grappling, and wrestling all have elements of strength training, explosive training, and cardio. The average person (who doesn’t do any physical training) will get into arguably the best shape of their life if they dedicated fully to the martial arts and be quite happy.
However, just working with body weight (your own or a partner’s) has it’s limits, particularly if you are trying to maximize strength.
Unfortunately, our bodies do not just build muscle on demand. The body has been designed to be energy efficient – meaning it does not want to expend more calories than it has to. This is something our body has learned over the years – that being energy efficient improves its chances of survival. So having lots of muscle also means the body needs more calories to support them. This is why your body atrophies (gets smaller) when you do not train.
Most science agrees that peak muscle growth occurs during high intensity training. This means high effort over a short interval of time. Certainly in martial arts training, there is a lot of that. So your body will definitely grow muscle and get stronger.
But in time, your body will have adjusted to the rigors of martial arts training and develop enough muscle to handle the peak loads you have imposed on it. If you are a hobbyist, or just someone that wants to be fit, this is probably enough.
The problem here is that while you are stronger than the average person, you can definitely be stronger than that. A 200lb man with advanced weight training can easily bench press 300lbs, squat 350lbs, and deadlift 400lbs.
These are weights that you would rarely be able to encounter in martial arts training, unless you regularly train with huge partners. That in itself puts you at greater danger of getting hurt, and is not advisable.
So for an athlete or a competitor, a weight training program is going to be something you want to incorporate to get the most out of your body. By following a proper weight training program, you will expose your body to loads that it would never encounter in a martial arts training scenario.
Some people will say that the strength gains you build from weight training don’t translate to functional strength. From experience, I heavily disagree. It definitely translates well. I can definitely feel the impact weight training has, especially when doing movements that are close to the exercises I do.
For example, framing and posting translate well to a bench press. I find it easier to throw people off when I have been working on my bench press, as I’m working with weights well over what my opponent’s weigh. Likewise, a good cable or bent over barbell row translates well into pulling motions like finishing arm bars and knee bars.
Another argument against weight training is that it makes you bulky and tight. This is another true and false scenario. If all you do is weight train and never stretch, for sure it will tighten you up. While everyone should have a stretching routine, you definitely want to stretch before, during, and after weight training. If you get too stiff, then for sure you lose range of motion and functional strength. But there are plenty of strong lifters than can do full splits and other feats of flexibility.
With all the common objections out of the way, I want to raise a lesser touted benefit to weight training – that being it can be a restorative activity and make you less injury prone.
Some of you might scratch your head at that statement, and if so, chances are you are a cross fitter, or a knuckle head that maxes out constantly lol.
My mindset when I’m weight training is to safely strengthen my body. I know exactly what movements I’m going to do, I know the direction of force, the angle that I will have to apply force, and know how difficult it will be. There are no unknown variables. This should make for a very safe workout.
Contrast that with sparring in martial arts. You have some idea what movements you will do, but are not sure as they are going to change depending on what your opponent does, which you have no clue what they will do. There are a ton of unknowns. The forces your body will be exposed to will literally come at all angles and have to be able to adapt on the fly. That is what can make sparring a dangerous activity.
I have been lifting for the past 6 months, averaging about 5 days a week for about 1.5-2 hour sessions with good intensity and not come close to injuring anything. I’m not a weight lifting expert by any measure. I simply follow programs laid out by experts and focus on having perfect technique.
With any new exercise I’m not familiar with, I start with low weight and focus on having clean form. I read about the exercise, watch videos, and ask more experienced lifters for advice on proper form. Once I have a better grasp of the technique and positioning, I then increase the weight gradually.
This is a different approach than what I had as a teenager, when I was just trying to lift as much as possible and max out regularly. I think that approach is likely to get your injured and also put more stress unnecessarily on your joints.
I’m also not doing Olympic lifts like clean and jerk, over head squats, or exercises like that. Nothing wrong with them, but I feel these types of dynamic and technical exercises with high loads definitely put a lot more stress on the body, and require a lot more technique and control. As I consider myself a beginner at this point, I’m not going to get into those lifts until perhaps later on.
I think Cross Fit gets a bad reputation for injury because people are doing these technical lifts without the proper experience, and doing them in a rushed manner – trying to beat a time or get x amount of reps in. It’s like a white belt jumping into the black belt division and trying to hit a berimbolo he just learned on YouTube – it’s a recipe for disaster.
So I keep it simple and have found adding a weight training program to be highly beneficial to my health. I haven’t felt this good in a long time, and when doing physical activity I feel much better moving around.
One thing I think everyone should do is follow an expert’s advice. I have lifted weights on and off since I was a kid, but I used to lift weights by just doing what I thought I should work on, which was more bro-science than science, lol.
As I already told you, I’m no expert in weight training. So I googled a few names, watched a few interviews, and ended up following Dr. Jim Stoppani.
One of the main reasons I followed him was that he offers a large variety of programs, both fitness and diet, and explains the reasons why you do everything. Some of the background info he gives is quite extensive, and can go over my head (and have to ask my girlfriend to clarify lol), but I appreciate that he put the effort to lay everything out.
He also provides a ton of articles covering all sorts of fitness, diet, and health topics, and has an app you can download on your phone to access everything. The app itself is loaded with all of the exercise routines, with a calendar to track your lifting progress and body measurements.
That brings me to another point he brought to my attention – the importance of changing up your strength training routine. If you are doing the same routine for months on end, at a certain point you will plateau. Your body adapts to the exercises you are doing, and it makes it harder to make progress. By changing your routine, it creates stresses at new angles, different tempos, and patterns that catches your body off guard. As a result, the new challenge gives you better odds at increasing strength.
So in the 6 months I have been lifting now, I have followed 4 different routines (each vary from 4 to 8 weeks). Besides changing exercises, he changes the amount of sets, reps, tempo (slow and controlled versus explosive), super sets, drop sets, adding cardio acceleration, tabatas, and a bunch more. I find the routines challenging and they keep me on my toes.
Here is a link to one of his programs on BodyFit, 6 Week Shortcut to Shred. Despite the gimmicky name, I can assure you it isn’t a shortcut or easy, lol.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?
Comment with your take on this. And if you like this article, please do me a solid and share it with your friends. Thanks!