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Weight Training for Martial Artists

Updated on January 14, 2015

Is weight training good for you?

Short answer? Yes. Long answer, Yes, with a small caveat.

Proper weight training, as in choosing the right lifts and performing them correctly can help you to be a more effective martial artist. My intention here will be to debunk some of the myths surrounding the issue in a concise manner. As usual with this sort of article, I want to put out that I'm not an expert, a trainer, a physician, or anyone who is qualified to offer medical advice. I am a martial arts and fitness enthusiast who has researched this topic and found it extremely difficult to come across an easy-to-read breakdown of the topic at hand. So, no law suits. If you hurt yourself, I take no responsibility.

Big muscles are bad for martial artists?  Tell that to Bolo Yeung.
Big muscles are bad for martial artists? Tell that to Bolo Yeung. | Source

The Myth: Big Muscles Slow you Down

The logic behind this is that larger muscles are heavier and therefore more difficult to move, essentially. Now, this may well be true if you spend all of your time doing biceps curls without developing your triceps, but with a proper full-body routine, it's entirely false. The gains in strength made by a proper lifting routine will always more than make up for any difficulty related to the increased weight of your muscles.

I can't overemphasize the importance of working corresponding muscle groups when lifting. I'll stick with biceps since they're one of the king "glamour muscles" as the example. When you punch, are you extending your arm or withdrawing it? Same question for when you're doing biceps curls. See my point? Pretty and practical aren't necessarily the same thing, and developing your core, shoulders, back, and triceps will do a lot more for your punching strength than six sets of preacher curls. I'm not saying that there's no value in the biceps, mind you, just driving home the point that a comprehensive routine is more important than appearances.


Do big muscles wear you out faster?

It's also often cited that larger muscles equal reduced endurance. That's... kind of silly, but for beginners I'll go ahead and explain. Let's say you do sets of 8 reps on the bench press with 180 pounds. After a bit, you'll notice that 8 reps no longer seems difficult. Congratulations, you gained endurance. It goes back to the same principle as the "big muscles slow you down" thing, of course, and you have to lift for all of the appropriate muscle groups or you'll lose overall endurance, but again with proper lifting and a good full-body routine, no, it will not wear you out faster.

Bruce Lee was ridiculously fast, strong, and had almost superhuman endurance, and he was said to "always have a weight in his hand." That should be all I really needed to say in this article and I probably wasted your time with every prior word, but hopefully you'll stay with me for a bit. I promise, I'll mention Bruce Lee again.

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Weight Training and Cardio

It has been cited that breathing and blood flow are negatively impacted by weight training. Again, not so. In fact, studies show that high-intensity weight training is roughly as effective at developing cardiovascular health as aerobic exercise. Thing is, as your muscles develop, so will your heart and lungs so long as you (here it comes again) stick to a proper comprehensive routine. Athleticism isn't one or the other when it comes to strength and endurance training, it's a combination of both.

Your goal isn't to become a professional body builder, right? If so, I'm sorry, but you're in the wrong place. You're training to make yourself a more effective martial artist. That does not necessarily equate to being built like Bolo in Enter the Dragon and simply throwing your opponents across the room. The idea is to FULLY develop. Donnie Yen cites full development of athleticism as one of the most neglected areas of martial arts today, and I'm inclined to agree.

Weight Training makes you less flexible

To a martial artist, flexibility is crucial. So much so that some Shaolin kung fu practitioners are capable of astonishing acts of flexibility that border on them being considered contortionists, such as rotating their ankles 180 degrees. Even the most basic martial arts techniques require at least a decent degree of flexibility, so who would want to risk becoming less flexible in their training?

Flexibility is an issue of range of motion, and the same concept is one you'll hear over and over again if you're looking for advice on resistance training. Developing a full range of motion lends itself to flexibility and more effective training in both cases. Each full-range rep is stretching your muscles to their full length, so it follows logically that it would serve to help your flexibility, not hinder it. Some studies even claim that weight training with a short pause at full extension develops flexibility more effectively than stretching.

Statue of Bruce Lee in Hong Kong.
Statue of Bruce Lee in Hong Kong. | Source

Bruce Lee on weight training

"One of the most neglected elements of martial arts is the physical workout. Too much time is spent in developing skill in techniques and not enough in physical participation"

"The athlete who is building muscles though weight training should be very sure to work adequately on speed and flexibility at the same time. In combat, without the prior attributes, a strong man will be like the bull with its colossal strength futilely pursuing the matador or like a low-geared truck chasing a rabbit.”

“Since weight training involves repetitions, a great deal of energy must be exerted. Therefore, weight training should be practiced only every other day."

See? Told you I'd mention Bruce Lee again.

In Conclusion: Martial Arts and Weightlifting

Just like practicing kata, what it's all about is performing the technique properly. If you can take the time or find the help to create a comprehensive lifting routine, it can be a great addition to your overall martial arts training. Note, I said addition, not replacement. Adding it to your routine doesn't mean skimping elsewhere. You should probably have known getting into martial arts that it would require dedication, and it's time to cash in if you really want to get better.

I suppose if I had to sum it all up, I'd say think about how you fight, and lift for that. Punching with weights in your hands doesn't do you much good considering that the resistance in weight training comes from gravity, catch my drift? Think about the motions, analyze what muscles drive those motions, and start building your routine based around that. It's really just the application of simple logic and a bit of common sense if you think about it. Do the homework, find the right lifts, do them right, and you're good to go.

Oh, and did I mention that if you screw up and hurt yourself that I won't be held responsible? That's pretty important, too.


I hope you enjoyed yourselves reading this far, and as always feel free to track me down on Facebook, or visit my home page for more information you didn't know you needed.


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    • JG11Bravo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you, I'm glad to have some validation from somebody who's been practicing as long as you have. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      7 years ago from California, United States of America

      This is a very good break-down of the benefits of weight training in martial arts and a good debunking of myths. Fact is, a bigger stronger fighter does have an advantage, depending on the level of skill of the opponent. also, weight training, or strengthening the muscles, is part of conditioning and helps to prevent injury, helping the body, particularly joints, endure work and stress and being pulled about and abused. Good subject, great write-up.


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