Strength & Conditioning for Martial Arts | Part 2: Strength Development

Strength & Conditioning for Martial Arts | Part 2: Strength Development

In the last article we discussed several important areas of Strength & Conditioning for Martial Arts;

  • who actually needs to supplement their martial arts training with extra conditioning sessions,
  • the number of sessions per week you need to be doing (for most people two is plenty)
  • the three phases of training our cycle will use.

In this article we’re going to take a more in depth look at the Phase 1 of our model; Strength Development for Martial Arts.

The Importance of Strength

It should go without saying that improving technique should be your number one goal, no matter what your level.

However, a weak fighter with great technique fighting a strong opponent with good technique runs the risk of being out-muscled and defeated.

Simply put, a stronger muscle will find it easier to move an object (in this case your own body or that of an opponent), it will be able to do so faster, and will expend less energy doing so.

How strong you are can have a dramatic effect your body’s level of conditioning.

For example, a man fighting in the 70 kilo weight category, who is only capable of deadlifting 60 kilos, will be working very close to his maximum strength capacity, expending huge amounts of effort and energy to complete a takedown.

If that same person increased his deadlift to 160 kilos he would require only a fraction of his total strength to perform the same movement, saving himself a huge amount of precious energy.

As a natural part of this phase you will also experience some hypertropy (muscle growth). This can help protect your joints and act like armour.

Montana throwing a spin heel kick during a Kickboxing class


Strength Workout Structure:

Each Strength workout should follow a similar structure, that we can divide into 6 sections;

1. Mobility, Activation, and Warm Up The goal of this is to prepare your body for the workout ahead.

2. Priming Circuit This part of the workout ‘fires up’ the neurological system ready to achieve maximum force.

3. Main Strength Exercise This is where the work begins. I would advise on one of your strength days using a squat variation and the other a deadlift variation. The squat will build more leg, hip and core strength than any other single exercise, and the deadlift will work more muscle throughout the body than any other, particularly the glutes, hamstrings, entire back and grip

4. Whole Body Circuit Supplementary exercises chosen to mimic the demands of your sport and give you a complete workout. You can also take this opportunity to incorporate some single leg and arm movements. These will help to balance your body as well as requiring increased core involvement.

5. Core Work Strong core is essential for efficient transmittance of force. A weak core will sap your strength and could lead to injury. Your core will already be fatigued from the previous sections of the workout, so this section can be included with section 6.

6. Whole Body Finisher This section will start to build your conditioning. However, the rest of the wokout can be quite challenging so this section is optional. This may seem like a lot, but in my experience your workouts should take less than an hour to complete.

Sample Workout:

Section 1 (less than 10 minutes)
6 x Prowler Sprints
3 sets of 10 meters spider man crawls followed by 10 meters inch worms
10 x Hip Circles each direction
10 x angry cats

Section 2 (less than 10 minutes)
3 Sets of 5 box jumps followed by 5 medicine ball slams and 5 medicine ball passes

Section 3 (less than 15 minutes)
Warm up to a weight you feel that you can squat for 8-10 reps with good form.
Set 1: Perform 5 good squats with this weight.
Set 2: perform 5 good squats with the same weight.
Set 3: Perform as many squats as possible with the same weight.

Section 4 (less than 15 minutes)
Three to five rounds. Use a weight you feel you can complete 8 – 10 reps of each exercise first time though;
8 x one arm dumbell press
10 x Bulgarian split squat
8 x Pull ups 10 Kettlebell swings

Section 5 (less than 10 minutes)
3 rounds of
10 x renegade rows
20 meters Waiter walks

Section 6 (less than 5 minutes)
4 minutes Rowing Tabata Intervals (20 seconds work / 10 seconds rest)


As you can see the work out is actually very simple, but can be very challenging.

As previously stated I would recommend adding two strength session a week for around 4 – 6 weeks before moving on to the power phase.

Each workout you should look to increase the weight or number of reps on each exercise.There is no need to change the exercises every week as it takes at lease six exposures for your body to adapt.

Remember these strength sessions are to supplement your training not replace them.

In our next article we’ll take a more in depth look at the the power phase.

About Will Badenoch

Will Badenoch is the Director and head Strength and Conditioning coach at Plymouth Performance Gym.

He has worked with athletes at regional, National and International level in a variety of sports, including professional boxing, MMA, Jiu Jitsu, Basketball, Rugby, Athletics, Bob sled, Powerlifting, Strongman and Taekwondo.

He has also trained athletes for ultra-endurance expeditions, as well as tailored training for members of elite branches of the British Armed Forces, including Royal Marine Commandos and Special Forces.

To learn more about the Grapple Strength Programme please visit http://www.grapplingstrength.com/