Ever since the gravity-defying moves of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan hit the big screen, many of us have developed a fascination for martial arts.
Martial arts originally emerged out of a necessity for self-defence. These days, martial arts training is more about harnessing physical and mental strength. Whether you’re doing it for fun, or competitively, your stamina, flexibility and fitness level will all improve.
But what about non-training days? You want to maintain your fitness levels and focus on building your endurance and power. Finding the right exercises to complement your martial arts training is essential.
Check out this list of 6 exercises to strengthen and condition muscles for martial arts to ensure you’re in peak physical condition to perform at your best.
Popular Martial Arts Styles
While there are hundreds of variations, martial arts can generally be broken down into five distinct categories: (with some examples of popular styles):
Stand-up / Striking
- Kickboxing requires speed and agility, combining techniques such as punches, knees, and kicks to disarm an opponent.
- Kung Fu focuses on developing external strength – as well as internal strength through mental emphasis and chi manipulation. Techniques include using bare-hands and rudimentary weapons.
- Karate is an unarmed sport, where the practitioner uses hands and feet to strike, as well as defend against punches and kicks from their opponent.
- Taekwondo balances both self-defence and attack. Techniques involve high kicks and quick hand movements. Legs are the weapon of choice due to the power a kick can deliver as well as keeping the opponent at a distance.
- Muay Thai is the national sport of The Land of Smiles. Muay Thai fighters use knees, elbows, feet, shins and fists to strike their opponent.
- Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is known for its aggressive moves such as chokeholds, grappling, joint locks and hard striking. Once the opponent is forced to the ground, a limb can be manipulated at the joint until it breaks. Not for the faint-hearted.
Low Impact / Meditative
- Tai Chi is characterised by its breathing techniques that focus on balance and relieving stress.
- Kendo descended from swordsmanship and now uses bamboo swords and protective armour.
Throwing / Take Down
- Judo originated from Jiu-Jitsu and focuses on different holds and grappling techniques which are designed to unbalance an opponent where a joint-lock or chokehold forces him to submit.
Mixed Martial Arts
- MMA was born after UFC competitors began real fights using different fighting disciplines. Following fights incorporated more and more of the best techniques from various disciplines, leading to the development of MMA – Mixed Martial Arts.
Why Strengthen Muscles for Martial Arts?
These physically intense sports require the ultimate strength to perform at your best. Muscle building and cardio exercises are important for increasing your strength and endurance.
What Exercises Will Strengthen Muscles?
Mix up your martial arts training with strength training exercises. Remember, strength training doesn’t just mean weightlifting!
Also, make sure you build different muscles. Include exercises that get your heart pumping. Alternate your exercise focus days to allow for muscle recuperation.
Many exercises rely on body weight. You don’t always need to find a gym or purchase heavy, expensive equipment. Use whatever you have on hand. Strength bands are great for building strength safely and efficiently on a lower budget.
Minimal or No Equipment Exercises
Focusing on the development of the muscles in your upper back is essential for moves when you need pulling motions to control your opponent in Muay Thai, MMA and Jiujitsu.
Concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together rather than your biceps. This will activate the back muscles and build upper body strength.
Want more power behind your punches? You need to consider the humble push-up.
Change it up:
- Add a clapping push-up to build explosive chest power
- Push off against a wall or bench to work upper chest and shoulder muscles
- Knuckle push-ups to decrease sensitivity to knuckles when hitting hard targets
Boost your cardiovascular fitness with this fast-moving exercise. A fantastic bodyweight exercise, the action of sprawling and jumping helps you to train for martial arts that use grappling movements.
Burpees will get your heart rate up and build endurance.
Change it up:
- Add a star jump
- Single-leg push up (as you push up, alternate raising one leg straight up into the air)
- Spiderman burpee (alternate bringing your knee to your elbow on the push up)
With Basic Gym Equipment
Strengthen your deltoids by lifting dumbbells or kettlebells from your shoulders, over your head. This will help you keep your guard up, particularly when you’re feeling fatigued.
Keep your weights heavy enough to make the last 3 reps (out of 12) challenging.
Activate your hamstrings, core, lower back muscles and glutes. Deadlifts will also strengthen your grip.
Don’t start too heavy. If your form is spot on, you’ll notice the stretch in your hamstrings, rather than your quads.
Want to generate more power behind your kicks? Get some cycling in. You’ll also improve speed when moving forward or evading attacks. Cycling adds strength to your legs and core – not to mention your mental stamina.
Build cycling into your existing routine to ensure you have the upper edge in your next fight.
Make sure you adjust any exercises to suit your fitness level. Take a 30 to 45-second break between each set of your weightlifting routines. If you push through without proper rest, you may become too fatigued to continue with good form, which leads to injuries. Should you feel any pain, stop what you’re doing. This is not a place to form a “no pain, no gain” mindset. This is where “safety first” applies.
The stronger you are, the less chance you will have of injuring yourself in your martial arts training. Using these six exercises to strengthen and condition muscles for martial arts will improve your flexibility, speed and agility.
Maintain a mindset of your goals and strive to get better every day.