Martial arts strength training

Article by Dan Knight added on 26 Aug 2012. Last updated on 26 Aug 2012.

Facts about weight lifting and martial arts

This is a bit of a controversial subject. My aim with this article is to talk about some of the facts and myths about resistance training. By resistance training I mean weight lifting, body weight exercises like press ups (sometimes called calisthenics) and other forms of training designed to make the muscles of the body stronger and faster. I will then give some examples of training that will improve a persons ability to perform Wing Chun (or any martial art really). So lets kick off by busting open a common myth:

The Myth

Lifting weights will make you slow.

I see this on a lot both on the internet and in some martial arts classes. There is some credibility to it in the sense that lifting weights wrong or with the aim of being the worlds strongest woman/man may make you slower and damage your technique in martial arts. However this is true with Wing Chun specific training too. For instance repeatedly doing a drill wrong will make you worse not better at Wing Chun. I have even heard people say that weight lifting reduces flexibility. Rather than simply say these views are wrong I shall explain the facts about weight training from a martial arts perspective. Wing Chun and most martial arts use punches, kicks, blocking or deflections and footwork. These are all movements that require muscles. Lets look at the punch. This uses the lateral muscles in the back and the triceps in the arm to "throw" the punch out (and some of the smaller muscles in the shoulder area). You then use the bicep and some other muscles to pull the punch back. The faster these muscles can move the more damage the punch will do. If your not convinced about this, there is some good information about the science of striking that can be found here.

Weight training for martial arts

So for a powerful (or dangerous) strike you need to make your muscles move fast. Whats this got to do with weight training? Firstly the body is an adaptive organism. If you do something over and over your body gets better at doing it. For instance mental subjects like maths, the more you try the more you learn. Subjects that need coordination like Wing Chun, the more you do a drill the easier it becomes. This is also true for physical subjects, the more often you do press ups the more you will be able to do after time. Your body even adapts to what you eat, you eat too much you body gets fat, you don't eat enough you loose weight. So when you punch in the air or on a pad or punch bag a lot your body gets used to it. It adapts your muscles and you can punch for longer without getting tired. There then comes a point where your muscles (the ones involved in punching) can move fast enough to perform the exercise (punching) without the need to adapt anymore. Therefore in order to make your body get faster you need to add more resistance so that your body cant cope with the load you are forcing it to deal with easily, this in turn makes your body adapt again to deal with the extra resistance (weight). Thus your body makes your muscles change so they can push harder. Then when you take away the weight you should hopefully be able to strike faster (and therefore harder).

Improving your punch

Some extra points worth mentioning here is that your body will adapt to the specific resistance, so picking up some weights and punching with them is NOT going to improve your punch. Why? Because resistance from weight is gravity, so to stop the weight you punched with falling to the floor your arms lift up so the muscles required to lift get stronger. These are not the same as the muscles that push (as in push out a punch). To train these with weight you need to, for instance, lie on your back on a bench or gym ball, face up and punch the weight straight up into the air so that gravity is working against the punch making your muscles push harder. Ill explain this more in the section on training your arms.

Professional fighters

I know a lot of people have prejudice and the above 3 paragraphs may not be enough to persuade some people that weight training can be really good. However as a final ditch attempt to convince people, lets look at cage fighters and boxers. These are people whose income, health and career all depend on being fast with strikes and footwork etc. Professional fighters lift weights. You think if it slowed them down someone would enter a competition who did no weight training and beat everyone by being faster. But as I have said weight training slowing you down only happens if you do the wrong kind of weight training (trying to lift too much weight making your body get used to exerting force slowly on a regular basis).

Some Martial arts specific resistance training

These articles will all explain how and why you should train a certain muscle groups to improve your Wing Chun.

Sub categories for Martial arts strength training

Abdominal and Core Muscles

Martial Arts Abs. A complete guide to training you Abdominal Muscles for martial arts. Gain strength speed and power to fight!

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Weight TrainingStrengthPunchingMartial Arts

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