Individuals involved in Martial Arts require more than just high levels of aerobic conditioning. The days of long distance jogging are gone, and more advanced methods for getting in phenomenal “fighting” shape have proven to be superior. On the flip note, we have also gone way back in time, decades upon decades back in time, and also implemented these “age old” training methods that develop superior strength, power and conditioning!
One of the most important traits for fighters in any of the martial arts is to have a high degree of power, power endurance, strength and strength endurance. In addition, it is key that they are able to sustain their intensity at a high level throughout a match or fight, so their aerobic and anaerobic conditioning must be up to par as well. The ability to maintain strength, power and overall conditioning give the competitive fighter a superior advantage over the competition! Many fighters, grapplers, etc. come out strong for the first round or first period, but after that they lose their strength, power and stamina, often resulting in a loss.
Let’s take a look at some of the methods we use to develop these traits. One note I would like to emphasize is that we do not use one training tool in excess of other tools or methods. What we do use is the most effective methods and nothing less. Some coaches get overzealous or feel loyal to only one style of training and in the process leave out a lot of other effective methods and tools. Here is a list of some of our favorite training methods and tools for training martial artists and combat athletes:
- Strongman/Old School Training (sleds, sandbags, tire flipping, sledge hammers, truck pushing, farmer walks, logs, kegs)
- Russian Kettlebells
- Bodyweight Calisthenics
- Free Weights
- Bands (Jump Stretch)
In this article, I would like to discuss how we use strongman training and Russian Kettlebells. As you recall, I mentioned how some of our training methods have dated back many decades, if not centuries. The strongest men (as well as the strongest wrestlers) of all time performed lots of odd object lifting such as stone lifting, Russian Kettlebell training and lots of manual labor (which back then is very similar to our strongman lifting of today).
The performance of my athletes soared through the roof when we began implementing things such as sled dragging for 10 minutes during every workout, sandbag training, log training and sledge hammer work. Pushing trucks once a week and conditioning our athletes with six minutes of sledge hammer training at the end of most workouts has given enormous benefits to our combat athletes. I have watched our wrestlers dominate in competition, especially in the latter portion of their matches where the majority of athletes tend to fatigue.
Training with sandbags has become one of our favorite “go anywhere” gyms. We can take a sandbag to a track or the park and incorporate a mix of speed training, calisthenics and sandbag training for a phenomenal workout! Here is a list of some of our favorite sandbag exercises:
- Clean and press
- Squat with weight in front of body or on either shoulder
- Lunges and all lunge variations
- Bent over rows
- Military presses
- Rotational lifts onto a barrel or picnic table
- Farmer walks
Most coaches will implement the above exercises with specific set and rep parameters. Often times, we forgo these traditional set/rep schemes and go with a technique called “time under tension.” For example, a wrestler has three periods, each of which lasts two minutes. If overtime occurs, we add another minute to bring the time under tension to seven minutes. We will use a strongman or kettlebell exercise(s) for the same timeframes as they have in their actual match or event.
Here is an example of using our time under tension training methods for our combat athletes: Perform as many reps as possible of the sand bag clean and press for five reps, immediately followed by five pull ups in a two-minute time period. Rest 30 seconds after this two minute round and now move to another “couplet” (coupling two exercises together) or simply another movement. The next round might be one arm Kettlebell snatches for five reps per arm, alternating hands every five reps but NEVER placing the Kettlebell on the ground for the entire two minute period! This not only develops superior power endurance, but it also develops the mental toughness that a fighter needs to win those close matches. Conditioning a fighter with loaded implements is a great way to improve how the body handles the stress of competition. Traditional conditioning consists of jumping rope, jogging, or another movement activity. Conditioning with loaded implements resembles the activity that occurs during a match against another opponent and thus adds a highly effective component to a fighter’s arsenal of training methods. Getting back to the workout, the last two-minute round we will walk with the sand bag and perform three deep squats every 15 seconds - once again, never putting the sand bag down for the two-minute round. Carrying the bag itself is a difficult exercise, add squatting to the mix and you will have a very tough final two minutes!
After the above six minute “match,” we can perform one or two more six-minute matches to mimic the time under tension of a fight, match or event. Especially when preparing for a tournament where the athlete might have several matches in one day, this type of training prepares them for the multiple matches they will endure in that day.
Here is an example of another time under tension six-minute match using Russian Kettlebells and strongman/old school training:
|Double Kettlebell Clean
||Double Kettlebell Squat
|Double Kettlebell Clean, Squat and Press x 5 reps
|Kettlebell Snatch - Start
||Kettlebell Snatch - Mid point
||Kettlebell Snatch - Finish
||Overhead hits x 20 reps
The above exercises are done one immediately after another. Once the athlete finishes the sledge hammer work, he/she can rest 30 seconds or continue the circuit for a total of three to five rounds. The constant moving allows us to condition the athlete while working on strength endurance and power endurance.
Finishing the workout might involve tire flipping, performing one rep every 30 seconds for a total of five to 10 minutes. The time, intensity and load we use all depends on the overall conditioning and experience of this athlete. More often than not these athletes are not blessed with any fancy facilities or equipment and as a Coach you might begin to realize that we don’t use anything fancy to get these great results. Much of this training takes place in a garage, a park or at a playground so we can access a wide open field, monkey bars and parallel bars. This is a large reason why we began using “portable gyms” such as sandbags, sledgehammers, Russian Kettlebells and logs. These items were either easily made, easy to carry, already at the field or simply highly effective.
When speaking about Kettlebells, many people question if they are simply another fad. This is a perfectly legitimate question since athletes have been getting excellent training without them. But, incorporating them will supercharge the results your athletes get! One of my favorite qualities about Russian Kettlebells is the fact they are extremely versatile! Many times we only use one kettlebell during a workout (which should be good news for anyone thinking about purchasing one and in need of budgeting their expenses). The thick handles lend themselves to constant grip training which is an important factor for martial artists, especially grapplers, judo and jiu jitsu practitioners. The kettlebell exercises often attack the posterior chain which allows you to work what is most commonly the weakest area of any athlete’s body. Not to mention the fact that the posterior chain is largely responsible for strength, power and speed in an athlete’s body!
Let’s take a look at some of our favorite exercises that we perform using Russian Kettlebells:
- one arm snatches
- farmer walks of all types (hands at sides, rack position and overhead position)
- swings, single and double
- clean and press, single and double
- squats, single and double
- Lunges and all variations (walking, alternate forwards, reverse, side lunges, lunging on an angle)
- Military Press, single and double
- Alternating Floor Press, single and double
- Various throws (push passes, scoop tosses, one handed and two handed)
The above list is by no means an exhaustive list of all the exercises we do but many of them, especially the swings, snatches, presses and clean and press remain a staple in our workouts because they allow us to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. Martial artists, fighters, grapplers, etc. already do a lot of training on their own so we make sure that we remain slightly cautious with regards to the volume we use in our training sessions. The exercises we choose are highly “economical,” allowing us to get a great amount of benefit from each movement or exercise.
Exercises like a double clean and press allow us to work almost the entire body in one exercise. Done for high reps or longer periods of time we can also condition our athlete with this one simple yet highly effective movement. This is excellent because a martial artist uses their entire body while competing. They push, pull, lift, change levels and rotate. Kettlebells offer such versatility and ease to incorporate many movements together that it has great carry over to their actual needs. This is what we call truly “functional” training.
For example, one of my wrestlers started performing Kettlebell snatches for time during his in season workouts. We started by doing three to five reps per arm and switching off for a total of two minutes. Slowly we increased total reps to 12–20 per arm before switching off and extended the time to about five minutes. When I watched him wrestle a few weeks later, I saw how he acquired the power endurance and easily out conditioned his opponents. He easily lifted his opponent time after time through the entire match, especially towards the end of the match where the majority of these athletes become exhausted.
We have used high rep Kettlebell swings and snatches not only for the mere fact that they attack the posterior chain, but, when done with high reps it can help teach an athlete how to maintain intensity while maintaining composure under levels of stress; that stress being the fatigue they experience during exercise. This fatigue is very similar to what happens in a match or fight, they become fatigued and can mentally break down if they have not been trained to relax under this stress. So we use our performance training not only to improve the physical qualities necessary to be a successful fighter or grappler, but to also train the mind which is often the least trained part of their body!
If you are thinking of incorporating some old school training or Russian Kettlebells into your own program or into your athletes’ programs then here are a few suggestions:
- Start with the easiest exercises and movements before progressing to more complex movements and exercises: sand bag carry, log carry, forward and backward sled dragging
- Start with lighter weighted implements and progress slowly to heavier implements
- Incorporate plenty of variety (the variety speeds progress and helps avoid overuse injuries)
- If using Kettlebells, receive coaching from an RKC prior to coaching your clients with them
On a final note, these methods are not just for fighters, martial artists and combat athletes! They can be used for young athletes (or any athlete) as well as for general fitness clients! Performing sand bag carries mimic many of life’s daily activities! The creativity and application of old school/strongman training is only limited by your imagination. Simply apply safety and caution when introducing these activities to anyone and you will love seeing how much fun your clients have as well as seeing them reap the benefits physically and mentally!