7 Essential Strength And Conditioning Exercises For Martial Arts

Feb 3, 2017

Strength and conditioning workouts aren’t just great for all-round fitness; they may help with injury prevention as well. Alain Moggi, a personal trainer with 10 years of experience of training in karate, Muay Thai, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) tells us more about the essential exercises every martial artist needs to start doing right now.

Note: Weighted exercises should be adjusted according to whether you’re training for power and strength, or conditioning and endurance. Generally, if you want to get stronger, go for heavier weights and lower reps. For conditioning and endurance, do more reps at lower weights.

Minimal Or No Equipment

#1 Pull-ups

Pull-ups help build upper body strength by developing the muscles in your upper back. These are essential for those pulling motions in jiu-jitsu when you control your opponent, as well as for the clinch in Muay Thai and MMA.

If you’re unable to do a proper pull-up, start off with easier exercises such as jump pulls or negative pull ups (where you stand on a platform). Get your chin above the bar by jumping or stepping onto a platform, then lower yourself slowly.

Both of these progressions focus on the controlled downward motion of the pull up, which would help you build the strength you need to eventually perform a proper pull-up. Regardless of whether you’re doing proper pull-ups or the easier progressions, you should focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together to activate your back muscles, rather than your biceps.

#2 Push-ups

You can’t talk about strength and conditioning for martial arts without mentioning the humble push-up. This is useful for the striking arts, as the pushing motions help build strength so you can put more power behind your punches.

To do a proper push-up, make sure your arms are tucked in, with your hands beneath your shoulders. Your elbows should glide along your rib cage as you perform the motion. BJJ practitioners might want to try a variation of the push-up that uses the medicine ball. Push-up on a medicine ball then roll it over to your other hand and repeat the motion. This is great for training your balance for BJJ.

#3 Burpees

Very few people can claim to enjoy doing burpees, but they are still one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do for martial arts. The action of sprawling and jumping back up to your feet mimics many of the level changes you will have to do for grappling. As they also quickly get your heart rate up, burpees are also an efficient way to build endurance and cardiovascular fitness.

With Basic Gym Equipment

#4 Overhead Presses

Overhead presses – where you lift kettlebells or dumbbells over your head from your shoulders – will help strengthen those deltoids. You need strong shoulders to help you keep your guard up, especially when you’re fatigued.

Aim to do about eight to 12 reps. The weight should be heavy enough such that the last three reps are challenging to finish. Keep your forearms parallel to each other, and your biceps should be next to your ears in the top position.

#5 Deadlifts

Deadlifts activate your glutes, hamstrings, lower back muscles, and core, and are great for BJJ because they help strengthen your grip at the same time. For deadlifts, the focus should always be on good form, so don’t go too heavy when you first start out.

Your toes should be pointing forward as you look ahead of you, and ensure that you don’t round your back. As you lower the bar in a straight vertical motion, make sure to stick your buttocks back with your knees slightly bent. If your form is good, you should feel the stretch in your hamstrings, rather than your quads.

#6 Squats With A Barbell

Another essential workout for leg day, doing squats with a barbell activates your core, quads, glutes, and hamstrings. As always, the focus should be on form. Both front squats (where the barbell rests on your shoulders under your chin) and back squats (where you rest the barbell on your shoulders behind your neck and trapezius muscles) are equally beneficial, but you’d usually be able to use heavier weights with back squats.

Those with lower back issues, however, should stay away from the back squat. Lower yourself slowly (using a three-second count), ensuring that your knees do not collapse inwards and go further than your toes to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your joints. Explode upwards after you’ve reached a full squat before quickly lowering yourself again.

#7 Thrusters

Thrusters help train your explosiveness and cardiovascular fitness. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the barbell just in front of your shoulders. Your wrists should be positioned under the barbell. Do a full squat, and as you extend your hips and legs rapidly, use the momentum of the upward movement to push the bar up above your head.

Images: Mark Teo

Venue: Pure Fitness Asia Square