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Strength Training for Combat

Martial Arts are full of myths.

One of the biggest myths ever propagated by the martial arts is that good technique is all you need to overcome a bigger, stronger opponent.

Well back when I worked the doors, I pretty soon realised that I required a little more than my martial arts skills and set about a hypertrophy program to put some extra meat on my bones.

Strangely enough, almost all competitive athletes, even those in the combat sports, seem to think that engaging in a decent strength training regime is not only helpful, but necessary. Anyone involved I competition has one thing on their mind, winning. Their loyalty is to the prize, not the coach, the style or the system.

So if the competitive guys realise this, then why don’t the rest of the martial arts world? Simple, they most likely have never put their body in any real danger.

There is however a man who has and that man’s name is Mick Coup.

Mick was just at Wild Geese teaching his Power Generation workshop, which while largely technical in nature did include a lot of talk about supplementary strength training.

It’s always interesting hearing other peoples opinions on the topic. I started strength training to become a better martial artist and fighter, and I became a strength & conditioning coach to train other martial artists. So when I get the opportunity to listen to other people share their methods, I listen. When the people talking are coming from such a depth of experience as Mick Coup, I listen very carefully.

As much as Mick plays down his knowledge, behind his big boy, military bravado is a razor sharp analytical mind. He looks at the body as an engineer would look at a machine. He examines the component parts of each movement and tries to identify the weak links so he can eliminate them.

Aesthetics don’t apply when Mick discusses training, it’s all about becoming a better machine and the a machine that has one purpose, delivering the most effective and destructive force possible.

My kind of guy.

But what does he have to say about getting strong?

He has a wide ranging philosophy. Much of what he does is influenced by track and field athletes, he is fascinated by throwers. Not surprisingly, it’s not a huge leap from throwing a punch to throwing a shot, or a javelin. So maybe looking into the training methods employed by some of the top level throwers could be useful to a fighter…?

So what do throwers do?

They do plyometrics, jump training, heavy lifting and weighted throws.

Should a fighter do the same?


Power is essentially strength AND speed. So while having a huge deadlift is useful, it’s no good if you get so strong as to slow yourself down. Hence the plyo’s and the jump training. The advantage of these training methods is that they eliminate the deceleration phase of a lift. So while a bench or floor press is the best way to overload the chest muscles, the top 20% of the movement is actually you slowing the weight down so as to maintain control and not injury yourself. Whereas if you flip over and perform a plyometric or even a simpler jumping push up, there is zero deceleration, you are powering right through to the end range of motion. The same goes for weighted throws. Mick has an old dumbbell that he hoofs around his local park, I’m a tad more civilised and use a medicine ball to throw. But as Eric Cressey often says, power is plane specific, and he’s one of the world’s foremost names in S&C specialising in baseball. Mick echoes this sentiment by telling us to throw the weight as flat as possible, your looking for a trajectory that is parallel to the ground for as far as possible, using a throw that is a s close to the punching technique as possible.

For brute strength work, Mick is a fan of the basics, Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Overhead press. Bilateral and unilateral variations of the big lifts feature prominently in any strong persons regime, why should a fighter be any different? No really, why?

Have you seen the recent trend in “MMA Conditioning” workouts flying round you-tube? More emphasis is put on chasing fatigue than on quality of work. Most competitive fighters would be better served with the basic compound lifts and leaving the conditioning to their sparring drills. For a non competitive fighter, the genre I refer to as professional self defence, ie police, military etc, these guys could do with some extra conditioning. Does this mean they should jump around like crazed monkeys? No, but structured high intensity circuits, the use of moderately heavy weight and callisthenic drills in well thought out circuits is an excellent way to train. As would be the battling rope and or sprint training.

It gets interesting when Mick talks about isometric training. He’s a big fan of this for replicating the contact point of a strike. The point of training the end point of the strike is to develop the structural integrity of the strike. I’m sure any of you that have landed a heavy hit have felt the shock wave travel back up the arm.

This is inevitable, but if the wrist, elbow, shoulder or even the spine is misaligned, that is where the power will leak from and injury is most likely to happen. Hopefully, with the development of isometric strength at the point of contact we can avoid this and allow the power to travel along an uninterrupted line of tension from the ground, right into the target.

You can see from this very brief post that the training of a fighter is about more than just waving the arms around and hitting the pads. You need to look at the component parts and develop them, you also need to look at the various attributes that make up the movements and train them. Then you need to add them all together and see what stands up to testing. Anything that isn’t up to scratch becomes the focus of the next training phase.

I’d like to thanks Mick for sharing his thoughts, of which I’ve only scratched the surface of in this post.

All going well I’ll have Mick back at Wild Geese again in the near future.

For more info on Mick Coup and his training methods, please check out his website:


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