Strength & Conditioning for Martial Arts | Part 3: Power Development

Strength & Conditioning for Martial Arts | Part 3: Power Development

The previous article in this series covered strength development for Martial Arts and covered several important aspects;

  • The importance of strength
  • The basic 6 part strength workout structure
  • An example workout taken from Tom Barlow’s No Gi World Championship training camp.

In this article we will focus on the Phase 2 or our model; Power development.

You should look to move on to this phase after about 4 – 6 weeks of the strength development phase. It will consist of two sessions per week and last for only around 4 weeks.

A powerful uppercut thrown during a Kickboxing class

The Importance of Power

A ‘strong’ man who lacks power, is like a car jack, capable of moving incredibly heavy objects, but only at slow speeds.

On the flip side, an extremely ‘fast’ athlete who is weak can be likened to a bow and arrow, capable of moving light objects like the arrow at extremely high speeds, but without the strength to shoot anything heavier.

The most dangerous fighters will be able to combine both these qualities, allowing them to summon great strength in a fraction of a second.

The training methods used to become both strong and powerful are by no means mutually exclusive.

On the contrary, simply getting stronger will lead to rapid gains in power as we train the muscle to work more efficiently and ‘turn on’ quicker, especially in a person who is new to training with heavy weights.

It is, however, important to understand the difference between the two so that you can understand the reasons behind the training techniques we will employ to improve your ability in these areas.

The aim of our strength and conditioning training will not be to produce huge energy sapping muscles, but rather to maximise the efficiency of those you already have (although an improvement in muscle tone and size is almost inevitable!).

To do this we will be training the muscle to work more efficiently. To help you to understand how this is possible, here is a basic description of the mechanics involved.

Each muscle is made up of hundreds of muscle fibres. When you perform an action, such as shooting for a takedown, a signal is sent from your brain to the muscles required to perform that action, telling them to ‘switch on’ and contract.

The speed and force of that movement will depend on the number of muscle fibres that are recruited by the signal sent from your brain.

No one can voluntarily recruit or ‘switch on’ all of the fibres in a muscle at once under normal circumstances. This is a protective mechanism designed to prevent muscle damage.

Many of you will have heard stories of people thrown across rooms by electric shocks, or mothers who have lifted cars off their children after accidents.

In the case of an accidental electric shock the electricity has not ‘thrown’ the person but has acted in a similar way to the electric signals which travel from your brain to your muscles when you want to move. With an electric shock, however, the safety mechanisms are effectively overridden. When the shock is received the leg muscles suddenly tense up and every muscle fibre is switched on, contracting rapidly and forcefully, effectively causing the recipient to ‘jump’ distances they would otherwise not be able to cover.

In the case of the mother lifting a car off her child, adrenaline has essentially acted in the same way, overriding the muscles defences and unleashing their maximum potential.

In both cases there is likely to be extreme muscle damage after the event.

Both these examples illustrate the massive strength and power potential contained within the muscles of even an untrained mother, and should help you to understand how we are able to increase a fighter’s strength without necessarily increasing his size or weight.

An untrained person will be able to recruit no more than around 60% of their muscle’s potential strength voluntarily.

By training with heavy loads at relatively slow speeds we are able to train the muscle to ‘switch’ on more of its fibres without damaging them, tapping into strength reserves which were previously unavailable to us.

By also training with relatively lighter loads at very high speed we are able to teach these stronger muscles to contract extremely quickly, giving us the strength of the car jack with the speed of the bow and arrow!


Power Workout Structure

Each Power workout will be broken in to six sections similar to the strength phase.

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

2. Jumps and Throws
Choose one lateral and on linear jump variation and pair it with an explosive medicine ball movement. For the first few weeks I’d advise using only your body weight, as you progress you can start to add weight.

3. Main Power Movement
In this section you should choose one hip dominant and one quad dominant power exercise, such as Jump Deadlift (hip) and Speed Squat (quad). These should be lower under control and raised as fast as possible.

4. Whole Body Power Circuit
This will be similar to the strength circuit except using power exercises. .

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 continue to build your conditioning and can be used to maintain your strength. The rest of the wokout can be quite challenging so this section is optional.


Sample Power Workout:

Here is a sample Power workout. This is taken from a training programme I designed for Tom Barlow, to prepare him for the No Gi World Championships.

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 with regular deadlifts then perform
6 sets of 2 reps Trap Bar Jumps with 65% of 1 rep max

Your 1 rep max can be calculated with this simple equation;
(Weight x reps from the strength phase) x .0333 + weight = 1RM

Then take your 1rm and multiply by 0.65 to give 65%

Section 4 (less than 15 minutes)
Three to five rounds. Use a weight you feel you can explode into every rep;
5 x Push Press
5 x Sled Pulls
10 x 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)


These workout’s do not have to be long. However every rep should be performed at maximum power, and this can be very tiring.

I would recommend adding two power sessions a week for around 4 weeks before moving on to the conditioning phase. Each workout you should look to increase the weight or number of reps on each exercise.

Remember these power sessions are to supplement your training not replace them. If you perform them correctly you will experience a dramatic increase in Power.

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 visit http://www.grapplingstrength.com/