Athletic Lifting 101: For all Martial Artists

Discussion in 'Strength & Conditioning Discussion' started by Matt Thornton, Sep 13, 2005.

  1. Matt Thornton

    Matt Thornton Amateur Fighter

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    Okay guys, I figured we'd put this together for people who need to learn the difference between basic bodybuilding exercises and functional, athletic movements. I'll put in my knowledge, but I know guys on here like Urban and Carnal will be able to tell you a lot more than me.

    -Bodybuilding gets trashed on here so much because it can actually be detrimental to sports performance. With isolation exercises like curls, you're, in effect, retraining your Central Nervous System (CNS) to use one specific muscle group. By nature, your CNS recruits multiple muscle groups to complete a task (hence why when you see beginner lifters, they try to put their back into doing curls). Your CNS isn't wrong for doing this. In any athletic movement, especially martial arts, you will never use just one muscle group. So why train your body to do this?

    -One of the things you should seek through lifting is balance training. Without balance, your stength pretty much has no use. Sacrifice some extra weight and instead work on balance training. For example, instead of a bench press, try using two dumbbells and a Swiss ball. Now, I didn't say replace your bench press with this, but every once in a while, switch over to the dumbbells and Swiss Ball. Personally, I believe dumbbells are better than barbells, because they force your weaker side to work as hard as your dominant side. Equal strength on both sides = greater athletic balance = greater performance.


    I have to go, but I'll add more. Feel free to chip in.
     
  2. Sean S

    Sean S Brown Belt

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    Ok here's the thing, I really don't see the point of having balance in a bench press position when the bench press itself is arguably pretty pointless in grappling and/or stand up. I really am not sure I get the whole dumbbells on a swiss ball thing. I'm glad it trains your body to have balance in those situations where someone is caught in your guard after you have fallen on a ball. Maybe there is some kind of core strength gained from this that you can't get from somewhere else?

    Can't argue with your first point though.
     
  3. Chad Hamilton

    Chad Hamilton Amateur Fighter

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    I bench people off me all the time.
     
  4. Sean S

    Sean S Brown Belt

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    Bench or close grip bench? I could see the second one (Mount escape for instance), but rarely could I see the second one. Press motions aren't useless, but I would say that there are better motions then the bench. Push press for example. Something that is more about say tricep strength then chest, even though there more then just chest is used in bench.
     
  5. Matt Thornton

    Matt Thornton Amateur Fighter

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    Sean - I see what you mean, but what you're referring to is called specific strength.

    From what I have read (I don't assume this to be written in stone; if anyone has a contradicting theory, feel free to say it), there are three types of strength: general strength, special strength, and specific strength.

    General strength refers to basic bodybuilding/weight training exercises. Movements like bench pressing, squats, etc.

    Special strength requires a greater degree of athleticism and explosiveness. For example, using dumbbells on a Swiss Ball. It's not attempting to mimic a movement done in fighting; it's just done to build strength, but the unstable environment forces you to use your sense of balance and your stabilizer muscles. To apply strength on a moving, resisting opponent, you need good kinesthetic awareness and an excellent sense of balance.

    Specific strength are specific athletic movements with resistance. For example, suplexing a dummy, or kicking with a resistance band. These directly strengthen certain techniques that you use.

    You don't need to do all specific strength exercises to have better strength in combat. Whatever way you look at it, stronger muscles = more strength. By building general strength, and using special strength to carry it over, in combination with specific strength, you have the complete package for a strong fighter.

    Again, you're thinking really specifically. Broaden your view a little bit. Imagine two guys on the mat; one of them is a fat, greasy, weak couch potato, and the other is one of those guys from that CrossFit website, who are masters at functional sports training. If neither one has done MMA before, which one do you think is going to pick it up faster, and have more natural ability?

    Athletic strength training increases athleticism. Athletic people are good at physical activity; it's the definition of athletic. MMA is a physical activity, therefore, the kind of people who are going to do best at it are athletic people. Now of course, this is excluding the other half of fighting: the mental side. But if two guys are equally dedicated and have equal experience, the more athletic of the two will do better.

    A lot of the traits of an athlete that people once believed were natural talent, are now being studied more carefully. Look at the guys at CrossFit, and what they're able to do. They're a factory for athletes. Exercises involving explosive movements, or done on an unstable surface, will increase athletic strength.

    You're not doing these to specifically strengthen a right straight or an armbar. It's just to increase your overall ability to excel in martial arts.
     
  6. Matt Thornton

    Matt Thornton Amateur Fighter

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    Alright, so moving on. Another thing we need to consider is cardio. Now I know, there's another forum for conditioning, but hear me out. As a martial artist, at ALL COSTS, you need to avoid long, lagging cardio. This will get in the way of your strength gains, and if done too much, will actually aid in making you weaker (muscle gets metabolized). During the weeks you weight train, you should reserve your cardio to 3 sessions a week. And, when you do those cardio sessions, try to make them of the interval variety. That is, a period of moderate activity followed by a period of all-out hauling.

    The core is an extremely important area to work when doing athletic strength training. All athletic movements originate from your core. Consider two of the most effective martial arts: Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In Muay Thai, you are told to keep your limbs loose whenever doing a strike. You keep your arms loose when punching (until impact), your legs remain dead when kicking, etc. All of the power from Muay Thai strikes come from violent rotation of the core. In Jiu-Jitsu, you'll find, the key to a lot of techniques is hip movement. The sprawl, the hip throw, the arm bar, the triangle choke, positional escapes; the movement of your core is crucial to these.

    When working your core, avoid doing endless crunches and situps. This really won't do anything for you. The muscles in your core (from what I have read) are actually usually of the fast-twitch variety, and will benefit more from weighted exercise.

    http://www.t-nation.com/findArticle.do?article=205abs

    This is a great article on functional core training. Also, pick up that medicine ball or weight plate, and add some resistance to your basic ab exercises.


    Of great importance is that you incorporate plenty of variety into your workouts. Read up on different lifts and strength training exercises (Ross Enamait's stuff is a goldmine for this), and mix up your training routines. When you continue with the same routine, you eventually plateau and stop making gains. Keep your muscles guessing.

    If you're worried about weight training because you think it might slow you down with big, bulky muscles, drop that myth immediately. If you become a bodybuilder, who does endless bicep curls and pec flys, you'd have to worry about this. But functional, athletic lifts, that require large muscles or muscle groups, done explosively with high weight and low reps, will actually increase your speed and explosive power. Doing lots of reps with low weight will do exactly the opposite of what you think it will: it will actually slow you down. You need to do exercises that activate your fast twitch muscle fibers. This is done through high-weight athletic lifting, and plyometrics (which I'll get into in my next post).
     
  7. Sean S

    Sean S Brown Belt

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    That's great and all but take the same situation except with someone who is more applicable strength oriented like me against someone who just does the crossfit thing (seems to be the flavor of the month). Chances are I am going to have a huge advantage strrength wise. Basically what I am saying is that in combat sports, bench can be replaced with much better exercises that fit a broad range of these sports. I am not doubting that in some way the balance training can have a positive effect, but balance training with an arguably non combat sport oriented motion really is wasted energy. That is unless it has some larger carry over like say core strength. You say I am being specific, but we are talking about a specific area in sports, martial arts. From traditional to MMA there are some basic exercises that just don't fit.

    Being that I had been a national competitor in sport karate for ten or so years, I can tell you that where things like most traditional martial arts, sport sparring, and really anything but full contact arts are concerned, strength training in this aspect is wasted really.
     
  8. Matt Thornton

    Matt Thornton Amateur Fighter

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    Point taken. But what about for general wellness and self-improvement? I think the majority of people who practice martial arts are doing it for self-improvement. Even competition; in the end, it's to prove how much you've improved yourself and how good you are. If self-defense was someone's only concern, they'd just buy a gun.

    Repeating the same movements over and over again, with no variety, will eventually lead to plateauing after peaking. For example, look at a pro boxer's training routine before a fight. It's usually a 12-week program, which begins with general exercise and slowly works its way to specific movement, until he peaks, which is at the time of the fight. You want to be able to "shock" your body with each workout, so that your body is always trying to adjust itself to the work you're giving it.

    Here's the way I look at it. If you're going to be doing a 12-week training program, separate it into phases. Phase 1 conists mainly of GPP (General Physical Preparation); the basic powerlifts, and a good roadwork program, with moderate training in your sport. Phase 2 ups the intensity and shortens the work period; you begin to shift over into Olympic and athletic lifts, and increase the amount of time spent in your sport. The final phase almost cuts cross-training out and focuses entirely on your sport. Your strength training consists of the movements done in your sport with weight or cable resistance. Your cardio consists of performing your sport with greater intensity.

    When done this way, you don't plateau. Your best gains are made when you're doing a new exercise. Also, by performing a variety of exercises, you also eliminate the problem of boredom, and injury. Strengthening different muscles in different ways helps to create a balance in your body, which will help you to avoid injury. For example, someone who wants stronger, bigger abdominal muscles will do a myriad of ab exercises. But if he continues to do this, eventually, down the road, he runs the risk of getting serious back problems; his lower back tries to compensate for the imbalance in strength.

    With your argument concerning using specific exercises only, a counter argument can be made that if you're doing the technique correctly, you shouldn't need a lot of strength. If you were to figure out the exact amount of force that need to be generated to knock someone out when hitting them in the jaw, the argument could be made that as long as you have this bare minimum of power, you shouldn't need to strengthen your punches. Timing and setups are the art of boxing; not brick-smashing power shots.

    A fight is totally unpredictable. You learn as many moves as you can, but in the end, you end up in positions that you didn't see coming. Because of this unpredictability, it helps to strengthen all of the muscles in your body.

    Look at it this way. Maybe someday, the Brazilian Top Team will invent this line of exercise equipment that directly resists all of your Jiu-Jitsu movements. There could be an armbar machine, a guard machine, a sprawl machine, a kimura machine, etc. That's great and all, but when was the last time you applied an armbar, and found that the guy's bicep was just too strong? I hope your answer is never. Techniques attack weaknesses, and defenses use strengths that cannot be attacked (or are at least extremely difficult to do). If you're fighting a guy who weighs the same as you, your hips are much stronger than his bicep. You have the strength to armbar him. Now, of course, in a fight, nothing is perfect, and most of the time you need to rely on some extra strength to muscle something in. But still, what I'm trying to say is, the argument could be made that it's a waste of time to try to strengthen movements that require timing and setups rather than power. An armbar machine won't strengthen your armbar. Sparring will.

    Weight training, therefore, is really just a form of cross-training. The direct way to get better at martial arts is to practice them. You're not getting any better at sparring or fighting by spending time in the weight room. Weight training is done to increase strength, which in turn is a component of fitness, which in turn is an attribute that will help you in a fight.


    What I mean is, the way to get directly better at techniques is to spar and train. Look at weight training like a supplement rather than a meal.

    I try to look at it like this: Building a fighter is like building a house. You need three things: Experience/Skill, Fitness/Physical Attributes, and Heart. Experience and skill (improved by sparring and drilling in the gym) are the materials you need to build the house. Without the materials (skills), the house doesn't exist. But even with the materials, the house is much stronger and sturdier when you have a solid foundation to build it on. Fitness/Physical attributes are the foundation that you build the house on. And of course, a house doesn't build itself. You need workers to build a house, and likewise, you need heart to develop a fighter. So, the way I see it, you're not trying to increase your skill and experience through athletic lifts. You're just building a more solid foundation to build your skill on.
     
  9. Bama Zulu

    Bama Zulu Blue Belt

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    Really good post man.
     
  10. Justin23452

    Justin23452 Guest

    Bump Bump Bump it up
     
  11. kingmonkey

    kingmonkey Orange Belt

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  12. Jeremy Henderson

    Jeremy Henderson Amateur Fighter

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  13. mogway

    mogway Blue Belt

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    great post and very useful
     
  14. hippiass

    hippiass Orange Belt

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    Awesome post. Thanks for all the info. You actually answered a few questions i had about weight training for MMA (namely using dumbells to help a weaker side "catchup")
     
  15. SwiftMcvay

    SwiftMcvay Brown Belt

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    For all of you saying bench press is useless in grappling. Pick two noobs. First, roll with the guy who benches 180 and squats 250. Then, go against the guy who benches 300+ and squats 400+. Now tell me if you can notice the strength difference, and tell me who is a lot harder to beat, and unless the weaker guy is phenomenal technique for a noob, the stronger guy will be MUCH harder to beat. Thats how it is from my experience anyway.

    Just because bench isn't a very common movement in MMA, it doesn't just train you for that movement. It strengthens your chest, triceps and shoulders, and that extra strength applies to any movement that involves those muscle groups.
     
  16. yomon

    yomon Green Belt

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    agreed. strength is strength no matter how you look at it. Athough there is much truth in the CNS recruitment comment. i get all my bicep work from pushups of 3 different types.
     
  17. i do and dont get the idea the initial post was talking about with muscle groups but isolation training isn't really a negative and is often the only way to hit target muscles from different angles.

    ex. curls-- when you're defending an armbar, you're probably wishing you did some more curls if you havent. im not saying you want to use that one muscle vs his whole body but a stronger bicept will enable you to defend it better until you can get your arm bent with your other hand, not to mention lesson the chance of injury.

    not saying size building curls, but curls for strength because strong arms like anything else is needed. i don't see too much of a diff from isolation and say curling your bodyweight on the chin-up bar. it's just another way of strengthening the links to the chain that is you as a fighter. weakest link is the chain.
     
  18. bicept work from pushups? if that's all your bicept work you need a new routine. armbar inc.
     
  19. yomon

    yomon Green Belt

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    why? there still growing like weeds and getting stronger.

    You must have never had the pleasure of feeling the burn from a plyometric pushup in your arms or forcing against the whole wieght of your body in a handstand pushup.

    EDIT: Ok you get me interested. I had to go test my curling strength. I'm proud to say that 60LB was no problem in booth standing and siting concentration curl. And i havn't tuched wieghts for atleast a year now and havn't done curls since even before that!

    now i wana see my deadlift and bench a squat wieghts. Maybe when i get back to my parents place some time :D. Don't have anything but dumbells in my apartment.
     
  20. wenispinkle

    wenispinkle Skankin' It Easy...

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    i love how bench press is the only lift that is ever getting ridiculed for being "not sport specific" and "not functional". theres no such thing as a sport specific lift. when was the last time you put a guy you were grappling with on your back and squatted him, or cleaned and push pressed him? youve never done it, but it doesnt mean these movements are useless, they are in fact very important. so stop acting like bench press is the only lift in the world thats not specific to fighting
     

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