Weight-Training Routines for Martial Artists

group of athletic young people in sportswear doing push ups with dumbbells at the gym, group fitness concept
(Image: LightFieldStudios/iStock/GettyImages)

Strength training improves your athleticism when it comes to martial arts. While the amount of weight you can bench press or deadlift doesn't matter to the outcome of a match or the precision of your forms, it does improve your power, stability and stamina.

Weight-training routines should complement the version of martial arts that you practice. This doesn't mean, however, that you always load up in moves that mimic what you do in the ring or in the dojo. Use strength training to develop core strength and to work on other areas of weakness.

When a martial art is your priority, leave most of your training time to punching, form, and kicking drills. Take just a couple days per week to train with weights. The following workouts are examples of a day of upper body training and a day of lower body training. The core workout may be combined into your upper body workout day, or done on its own a couple times per week.

For best results, spread these workouts out over the course of the week so you have at least a day or two of drill training between them.

Upper-Body Training

Train your upper body with eight to 12 reps of these exercises. Work your way up to four sets total, with about 60 seconds of recovery between them. Warm up with 20 to 50 fast push-ups.

Close Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press works your triceps, as well as your chest and anterior deltoids — the fronts of the shoulders.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back on a bench with a barbell rack. Wrap your hands with an overhand grip over the bar, hands about shoulder-distance apart. Unload the bar and extend your elbows until the bar is directly over your chest. Bend and extend your elbows to complete one repetition. Allow the elbows to skim your ribs as you press up and down.

Chin-up

Chin-ups are a quality move for your biceps and back.

HOW TO DO IT: Stand underneath a pull-up bar and grasp it with an underhand, shoulder-width grip. Allow your legs to hover. Bend your elbows to pull your chin up and over the bar, then lower back down, to complete one rep.

Rear Deltoid Flye

Rear deltoid flyes work the muscles of the upper back to give you power and reach during punches.

HOW TO DO IT: Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Hinge forward from the hips so your back is at least at a 45-degree angle with the floor, or close to parallel. Allow the dumbbells to hang toward the floor. Open and closer your arms like you're preparing to give someone a big hug, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower the arms back to the floor to complete one rep.

Plank Rows

Plank rows give you the double benefit of creating a strong core that can field punches and a strong back.

HOW TO DO IT: Get into the top of a push-up position with your hands on dumbbells. Draw one arm up as you pull your elbow against your rib cage. Release and draw the other arm back into the row. Keep your core tight and your hips from rocking for the whole set.

Core Training

A strong core assists martial artists by keeping you stable when throwing kicks are receiving punches. Your core also puts a lot of power behind each strike you throw.

Medicine Ball Twist

The medicine ball twist works the muscles at the sides of the waist known as the obliques, as well as the rectus abdominus.

HOW TO DO IT: Get into a v-sit with your sit bones on the floor and your torso and legs making a 45-degree angle. Hold a medicine ball at your chest. Twist to the right and the left with controlled movements, keeping your hips from shifting. Bend your knees to modify the action.

Pallof Press

The Pallof press works stability, so you can stand up tall no matter what your opponent throws at you.

HOW TO DO IT: Attach a D-handle to a pulley machine and adjust it to chest height. Grasp the handle with both hands and face your right side to the machine. Walk out until you feel tension as you draw the handle to your chest. Your body is want to turn to the left. Stabilize through your core as you press the handle straight forward, resisting any rotation. Bring the handles back to your chest to complete one rep.

Medicine Ball Crunch

The medicine ball adds a little weight to the traditional crunch.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back and hold the medicine ball in both hands against your chest. Plant your feet in the floor with knees bent. Lift your torso up into a crunch, holding the ball at your chest the entire time. Slowly release back down.

Lower-Body Training

The lower body workout for a martial artists includes standard exercises that train the glutes, hips, and legs.

Split Squat

The split squat is also known as a stationary lunge.

HOW TO DO IT: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang alongside your hips. Stand with your feet staggered, as if on railroad tracks — one leg about 3 feet in front of the other. Bend the front knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor, then straighten back up. Do all the reps on one side and then switch lead legs.

Deadlift

The deadlift offers the added benefit of training the erector spinae, the stabilizing muscles of the spine.

HOW TO DO IT: Place a barbell on the ground and stand in front of it, with your toes just under the bar. Bend your knees and hips to lower down and grasp the bar with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-distance apart. Straighten your legs to stand up. Lower back down and tap the weights to the ground, but don't rest between sets.

Woman holding bar, doing squats, looking mirror
Use a barbell rack when you don't have a spotter for back squats. (Image: Khosrork/iStock/GettyImages)

Back Squat

Perform the back inside a squat rack or free on the gym floor with a spotter.

HOW TO DO IT: Place a loaded barbell across the backs of your shoulders. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Bend your knees and hips to lower your thighs parallel to the floor, or a little deeper. Straighten your legs to stand upright, finishing one rep.

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