Strength Training 101

From personal experience I have found that most people when beginning strength training require similar training. I have worked with everyone from high school athletes all the way through to the elderly. They all have similar movement and muscular imbalances. And in the rare occasions that they don’t, the same exercises will build the perquisite strength and movement patterns for more advanced lifts.

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The Bro

The following was an attempt to appease both myself in terms of improving movement, general strength while fitting into a typical bro split and building some serious muscle. For whatever reason, people are attached to this type of split. It’s probably so culturally ingrained that everyone can relate what they are doing with each other. So I figured, why fight. Give the people what they want!

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The Kelvin Lau

This program was written as off season program for school boy rugby players.


I sought to build absolute strength, strength endurance and provide a program that motivates them to train. This last point is probably the most important point. I don’t care what your science says, getting a 100% buy-in is the most important thing in the success of a program. Strength is a motivating quality for these school boys, especially in the compound movements. Bragging rights is what its about.  Sport performance is a bonus. 

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Strength Training for Martial Arts

Strength Training for Martial Arts

This article relates to the lifestyle martial artist. By this I mean those of us who train in martial arts not for sports but rather as a way of life where longevity is just as important as combative skill. I enjoy combat sport very much but training like one of these elite athletes is not sustainable for the long term, and you will find that many of those successful excel in spite of their training and not because of it. This is the genetic advantage. I have been training in different combative arts for the last 10 years, mostly in muay thai, boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, with some experience in karate, judo, wrestling and modern combatives. I always seek out the highest level to learn from and have been fortunate to learn from many world champions and elite level coaches. It is in this pursuit that I began to learn about the physical conditioning of the body. In this article I will seek to clarify much of the basic understandings one must have on this path.


Skill is king. Nothing will help you more in developing as a martial artist as skill training. It is also your most important feedback on how to develop your training further. Firstly you have to achieve some sort mastery of the technique otherwise no amount of extra training is going to be of benefit. I have been told I have heavy hands by a few of my coaches. This has come about from a combination of favourable limb leverage and my relentless pursuit of technique. Even before I began strength training I had power. One of my mentors was said to have the hardest kick in kickboxing by a former K-1 World GP Champion. When asked where his power came from he said it was all technique. He liked to lift weights purely for vanity’s sake. I am not saying accessory training is of no value but technique is the focal point for which is all other training but help facilitate.


Through our technique training we will find physical qualities that will hinder our progress. Lacking strength, movement inefficiencies, or even our ability to recover are the areas which need to be addressed. Our first priority will in most cases will be bodybuilding, the goal of building the raw tissue to perform the specific activity. This is the most effective way of increasing all of the listed qualities. In itself most martial arts are not particularly great in this area as they are based on old dogmatic ideals or training that just doesn’t address it at all. Another issue is this type or training needs to be tailored to suit the individual. This training does not have to be complicated not should it take up a significant amount of time.


A fantastic protocol for most to start with is the single set twenty rep sumo deadlift. Use a stance with the feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. The movement is like picking up a stone between your legs. If you are new to weight training to weight training it is a fantastic movement because it requires less mobility and is easy to learn. With the arms between the legs, it helps keep the knees out in line with the toes. Leading further forward it will help prepare your hips for movements like the back squat, strengthening weaknesses that cause valgus collapse. It surprises me to the extent with prevalent even with relatively strong athletes. Twenty reps serve two purposes. It allows you to use a lighter weight in order to perfect technique, improves strength endurance and if performed to near momentary muscular failure (for this lift it means when your form gives out) will provide the benefits of heavy lifting as all fibers are brought into play.


Another good single set protocol with many of the same benefits of the sumo deadlift is the goblet squat. With the goblet squat you have a movement which is relatively safe to perform, helps build base for ensuring movements, and is absolutely brutal at developing a strong core. This is not to say this is a complete substitute for a barbell squat but it has been my experience that very few have the prerequisites to perform barbell squats with an acceptable technique. Though it is not one of my primary lift any more, whenever used, I am left with soreness in the abdominals the following day.


Loaded carries, in all forms, provide many unique benefits that will help improve combat strength but also correct the postural imbalances so prevalent. Heavy farmers’ walks have been a game changing movement for me. They overload the back in way I have found to quite unique, that I’ve only felt during the many manual labour jobs that I have done. Often class includes loaded carries such as bear hugs and fireman’s carries. I recommend performing movements that are not done during skill training.


Rotator cuff wear and tear is the all too common nemesis of the martial artist. Very simple drills like face pulls and YTI movements on a suspension device are sufficient. I personally got into strength training as a direct result of a rotator cuff tear. I also really like the face pull exercise.  It has been a mixed blessing having taken years to fully rehab, but providing an excellent education and passion for strength training.


Your neck will be exposed to all kinds of forces and trauma. People trying to choke you or punch you unconscious is not something to be taken lightly. Neck training is needed for injury prevention especially for competition and sparring.  Building strength will help you weather this storm.  Basic manual resistance exercises will provide much benefit. Neck bridging is also great however strict form is imperative. As you get stronger, neck harness training should be added. If you have the luxury of a four way neck machine I would highly recommend using one. Strict slow reps are what I advise.


Calf and tibia work is something that isn’t talked about much in combat strength and conditioning. When someone is putting you in a heel hook, the possible repercussions, even if you tap, can be devastating. By strengthening the calf and tibia we are giving ourselves somewhat of a chance. Calves also provide the added benefit improving endurance as they help pump the blood back up the body, complementing the heart. I recommend single leg calf raises with a weight to ensure sufficient development. Skipping rope is also great in this regard however for a beginner, strength training will be needed. For training tibia dorsiflexion either using a lying leg curl, band or manual resistance will work well.


As far as the rest of your workouts go you need a base off compound movements of pushing a pulling. Chins, dips, overhead pressing, bench press, rows etc. Writings by Dr Ken Leistner, Steve Maxwell and some guy named Dan john provide some excellent thoughts on this type of training. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here.


This type of training is very simple and fills in much of the missing pieces even for a competitive combat athlete. I often see the mistake of combat athletes following some sort of insane conditioning regime, simply destroying the body, in the pursuit of pain. Without this base of strength and muscle it is pointless. For those of you pursuing martial arts with the point of view of competition, this type of training may be sufficient, even at an elite level. However a more complex and system of training may be needed to address specific weaknesses. That is for another article.