Functional Training for Muay Thai, Boxing, Mixed Martial Arts

Weight Training for Fighters

Weight Training Tips for Combat Sports

Weight trainingWeight training has always been a controversial topic in the martial arts and boxing communities, especially the striking systems like Karate, Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Kickboxing. Many coaches and instructors resist the idea of incorporating weight training because of reasons such as “big muscles make your punches and kicks too slow” and “muscles get too tight for fighting.”  Many instructors will tell you that “fighting is about technique, not strength.” Wrestlers, however, easily incorporate weight training in their training program because of its benefits for strength and explosiveness for lifting, throwing and/or holding down their opponents.  Now, with the popularity of MMA, fighters are finding the benefits and necessity of weight training.

In actuality, weight training, if done properly, significantly benefits martial arts fighters, whether they are strikers or wrestlers. Muscle density helps in absorbing impact. Explosive strength improves knockout power. Lean muscle increases muscular endurance required to sustain prolonged combat.

The key is to use the right weight training system to develop your body for a specific purpose, whether is for bodybuilding or for boxing. In the case of fighters, here are some tips for establishing a weight training program that will significantly enhance your performance:

Strength training for martial artsStart slowly

Start on low weights so you can build up slowly and let your body adapt, rather than struggling to make the lifts from week to week. If you start off with weights you can hardly lift with good form you'll have serious problems progressing. There’s no need to train to failure either because if you continue doing this week after week, you will burn out for sure. You can still train very hard without training to failure.

Identify your correct training intensity

Pick a weight where you can lift at least 15 reps, but would still be able to squeeze 1 or 2 more reps out if forced. Watch your form and make sure it is perfect at all times. Rest one to two minutes between sets but not too short so you can’t recover. To build up muscular endurance take less time to rest but lift lighter weights.

Don't add too much weight

Think about the long term. Sure, you might be able to make good gains with big increases in weight for a few weeks, but you'll hit sticking point sooner rather than later and be forced to go back weeks in order to build up again. Add a small amount of weight, but aim to train consistently throughout the year. Say the weight you add on your deadlift is 1 kg a week for 40 weeks of the year, that's 40 kg extra you can lift in that time. It’s pretty significantly good to be able to make that much progress in a year.

Set targets

Use a spreadsheet to chart your anticipated gains over the next few months. This gives you an idea of what you can achieve over the period. Take the print-out to the gym rather than having to work everything out or guess the weight each time and risk making mistakes.

Keep a record

Keep a record of when you go to the gym and what lifts you are making. Make an entry in your records every week even if you don’t train. If this is the case state the reason you didn’t train. Compare your record to the gains you anticipated. If your performance falls short keeping a record can help you identify problems and make changes accordingly. The sense of achievement you get from ticking off each lift as the weeks pass and knowing you are making gains makes keeping a record well worth the effort.

Don't be tempted to add exercises & sets

There’s no need. Fighters should only perform exercises that benefit their sport. If you’re training MMA or Muay Thai throughout the week as well as lifting you’re probably performing enough accessory type exercises doing that anyway.

Don't chop & change routines too often

Pick a routine, plan out your anticipated progress and stick to it for 3 months. You really aren’t going to know if it is working if you only give it a go for a few weeks before changing to something else. If after 3 months has passed you are still progressing well then keep going with the same program — why change? If your progression is slowing down consider reducing the rate at which you increase the weights, for example 2.5 kg every 4 weeks rather than 5 kg.

You are sure to have people telling you that you are going about your training the wrong way and trying to get you to follow new advice from week to week. It’s great if you look at the advice out there and develop a thirst for knowledge. However, an even more important skill, is to look at everything with a critical eye and be able to politely ignore most of the advice that you’re bound to be bombarded with and just get on with your own training. At the end of the day, remember one thing: consistency rules.