If I hear one more martial arts or self defence instructor tell their students, or even if I it repeated by hear their students, that strength is not important in martial arts, I might just lose the plot. For years I’ve been told (not by my original coach, Jack Parker, I must add but by many since) that lifting weight slows you down, you can never be the strongest person and other such bollocks.
Lets get this straight, right from the off:
Lifting heavy weights will not slow your strikes down.
Yes, we know that there is always someone bigger and stronger than you, but that does NOT negate the need for strength training.
Getting stronger will not necessarily bulk you up and put you in a higher weight category.
I’ve heard it too many times that strength is unnecessary in martial arts. Maybe it’s because most martial artists have never and will never get into a violent altercation out on the street. And you know what? Thats a good thing. It’s also indicative of the instructors lack of strength and conditioning knowledge, which is not a good thing.
So here and now I want to fix that. Lets start with some history.
People have fought other people since day dot. And we aren’t about to stop anytime soon. Somewhere along the line someone noticed that fighting stronger guys was harder than fighting weaker guys. No one in the village wanted a punch from the blacksmith, but they wouldn’t blink if the town scribe had a go. It’s the reason weight classes were introduced into the combat sports, so the big guys wouldn’t simply dominate over the smaller guys.
It didn’t take much for the smaller guys to think, well if was stronger, maybe I’d fight better. The Generals of armies thought, “if my lads are in better shape than my enemy’s lads, well we’ve a better chance of winning.”
So in the combat world, strength and conditioning became a staple. Since then the training of professional fighters has influenced the development of today’s fitness world. Even the very first Olympic Games revolved around the trials of a warrior.
So at what point the “strength is not important” attitude came about, I’ve no idea.
But lets now look at other athletes.
Are they slow?
Shot putters lift.
You wouldn’t say they’re slow when they launch that putt.
Professional Rugby Players lift, yet they can still run, jump, hit and get hit and do it for the duration of a match.
Strength is the foundation upon which all other attributes are built. If you desire power, you first need strength. If you are looking for endurance, well being strong means less effort needed to move your bodyweight around.
Watch this presentation from Eric Cressey on the Strength to Speed Continuum. Eric works mostly with baseball players, but his presentation is applicable to all sports:
Now have think about you as a fighter. You throw punches, not baseballs, but the principles are much the same. I bet a guy who throws a ball at 90mph is generating more than enough force to knock you clean out!
So are so many in the martial arts world still resistant? I’m baffled.
Here’s another video, this time from Bret Contreras, and believe me when I say that this dude is smart:
In all the years I’ve been training people, especially martial artists, I’ve yet to have anyone come to me and complain that I made them worse. Every single one of them have improved their game, be it fighting pro MMA, BJJ, full contact kick boxing or the mean streets and nightclub doors, have found that they move faster, with more power. They recover faster, both in fight and after the occasion.
Why and how? Well that’s a massive article, so I’ll give you the abridged version.
All movement comes about as a result of muscle contraction. Muscle contraction comes about due to the central nervous system firing.
So while training your specific skills is of the utmost importance, your nervous system needs to learn these moves and make them reflexive. We also need to train the nervous system to fire as fast, as completely and aggressively as possible. We need that signal to reach muscle fibres that are going to fire in a powerful coordinated fashion. You need the connective tissue around the muscle fibres, that forms the tendons and ligaments to be elastic and tough enough to uphold the structural integrity to transfer the power efficiently through the body and into you target.
This is best trained through specific strength & conditioning practices.
We’re talking about heavy squats, deadlifts and presses. We’re talking about powerful movements such as jumps, plyos and the ballistic kettlebell lifts. We’re talking big movements recruiting a massive amount of motor units, much in the manner you’ll be using them in combat.
Is strength important for martial arts?
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