Resistance Training for Martial Arts

"Bruce (Lee) was able to hold a 57 kg (125 lb) barbell at arms length in front of him (with elbows locked) for several seconds." (


Anyone reading this who has lifted close to 57kgs will know how hard it must be to hold it at arms length. As well as this, Bruce Lee could bicep curl 36kgs for 8 repetitions, do 1 handed push ups using only 2 fingers and break a 70kg punchbag with a sidekick! For a man standing at ony 5'7" and weighing around 140lbs (63.5kgs/10 stone) these are remarkable feats. One of the reasons for Lee being so physically strong was his use of weights training.


Types of Weight Training


There are several different types of weight training, a few of which are described below:-


Simple Sets e.g. 3 x 8 with 70% - meaning three sets of eight repetitions with a weight of 70% of maximum for one repetition. This is the system that all novice lifters should work on, because the high number of repetitions enables the lifter to learn correct technique, and thereby reduce the risk of injury.


Pyramid System Here the load is increased and the repetitions are reduced (e.g. 100kg x 10, 120kg x 5, 130kg x 4, 140kg x 3, 150kg x 2, 160kg x 1). Pyramid lifting is only for experienced lifters who have an established good technique.


Super Setting This consists of performing two or three exercises continuously, without rest in between sets, until all exercises have been performed. The normal 'between sets' rest is taken before the next circuit of exercises is commenced.



For anyone who is a bit confused, number of repetitions is the amount of times you continuously lift a weight and number of sets is the amount of times you repeat this ie. if you lift a weight 8 times then rest, you have completed 1 set of 8 reps.


As a rough guide, I have listed below which fitness area each number of repetitions is working.


12 - 20 repetitions = musce size and muscuar endurance

6 - 12 repetitions = muscle size with moderate gains in strength

4 - 6 repetitions = maximum strength

1 - 3 repetitions = neuromuscular strength


Resistance Training for the Martial Artist


The amount of reps that is most beneficial for a Martial Artist will vary from person to person based on what their goals are and what their body type is. You will find that most Martial Artists/Boxers etc. will use fairly low weights for high repetitions of around 8-20. This will mainly improve muscular endurance and muscle size with some moderate gains in strength.


There are exeptions though and it is becoming more and more common for Martial Artists and Boxers to use Power Lifting exercises and extremely heavy weights. As an example, World Boxing Champion Ricky Hatton uses Power Lifting to train for fights and lifts some pretty heavy weights in the process. Also as mentioned before, Bruce Lee was a firm believer in strength training for Martial Arts and was apparently appalled by the lack of conditioning used by Martial Arts Instructors of his time. Although both only weighing in at 10 stone, these men would have noticed tremendous gains in the strength of their respective strikes.


Other great ways of resistance training include exercises which use mainly body weight as resistance (Press Ups, Pull Ups, Plank, Squats, Sit Ups, Back Raises etc.) and Resistance Band training.


The main point to remember when lifting heavy weights is to eat as much healthy food as required to help the muscles repair stronger. A healthy, balanced meal is required within 2 hours of weights training containing protein (chicken, turkey, fish etc.) to help the muscles grow stronger and carbohydrates (wholemeal pasta, brown rice etc.) to replace lost energy. A good example is 1 or 2 chicken breasts with brown rice and vegetables.


The best way to eat while using weights training, and any training for that matter is to eat 6 meals per day. You should make sure to eat every 2-3 hours, this will speed up your metabolism therefore helping you burn more fat.


Remember this - you need at least 2 litres of water for your body to function correctly whilst lying in your bed all day, so you'll need alot more than that if you exercise!

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Bruce Lee performs barbell press

Jean Claude Van Damme Bicep curl


Bruce Lee Flexing

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