Martial arts training will vary greatly from discipline to discipline. By understanding the physiological demands and movement patterns within the specific disciplines, and profiling elite martial artists, a suitable sport-specific conditioning program can be designed.
Not all exercises and modes of training are suitable for all martial artists. A comparison of two of the most popular disciplines (both Olympic events) demonstrates why:
The most popular martial art in the world, Taekwon-do is characterized by poomses – a series of movement sequences involving punching, kicking, blocking, jumping, twisting and leaping performed at high intensity (1). At an Olympic level, bouts in Taekwon-do involve 3-5 seconds of high intensity activity interspersed with lower intensity periods. During each 2-minute round heart rate can reach 100% maximum and the lactate response is high. Anaerobic power and anaerobic endurance must be excellent allowing competitors to repeat high intensity bouts of activity with minimal rest periods (2,3).
Aerobic endurance, while average in Taekwon-do athletes is less important than anaerobic endurance. In fact studies have shown that Taekwon-do practice has a minimal effect on cardiovascular fitness (1,2,4). Maximal strength is less important than explosive power.
Functional flexibility is essential in all martial arts training and disciplines. Functional in this context, simply means flexibility that can be applied to competition. For example, a Taekwondo competitor may be able to perform floor splits but lack strength and power in the hip flexors when raising the leg above 90 degrees.
Conditioning for Taekwon-do should develop functional flexibility and maintain a low body fat percentage (1,2). It should also develop explosive power and limb speed over maximal strength and a high level of anaerobic or power endurance is crucial.
Judo is characterized by short duration, high intensity, intermittent exercise lasting a just over 7 minutes (5 minutes at Olympic level) per match (5). Blood lactate and heart response is similar to Taekwon-do (6) giving it a significant anaerobic power element (6).
However, unlike Taekwon-do, the longer duration of contests places a more significant demand on the aerobic energy pathways making aerobic endurance training of greater importance (6). Profiles of elite Judoka show them to have a high level of aerobic power (7).
The grappling nature of Judo puts a greater priority on maximal strength compared with other martial arts. In particular Judoka need a high level of static strength (8). While limb speed may be less critical compared to Taekwon-do, anaerobic power and capacity in the upper and lower body should still be a goal of the training program.
The articles below cover various aspects within martial arts training and conditioning. Some training methods are common to all disciplines, while others are highly specific. Even within explosive power or flexibility training for example, certain drills and exercise are preferable over others for each discipline.
Check out also our boxing training and wrestling training section.
Martial Arts Training Articles
The Sport-Specific Approach to Strength Training Programs
If martial artists focus only on developing maximum strength and muscular size, the benefits of strength training become limited. Combat athletes must react with power to opponent’s attack and maintain that power over numerous rounds. Simply lifting weights is not the best approach…
How To Design Resistance Training Programs For Athletes
Here is the step-by-step process of developing a martial-arts-specific strength training program
Power Training for Athletes
Martial artists must be exceptionally powerful for their size. But how is explosive power best developed?
Plyometric Training for Sport-Specific Power
Plyometrics is a proven form of power training. Drills can be adapted for both upper and lower body power helping a martial artist to move with greater speed and force and land more decisive blows…
Muscular Endurance Training
Even bouts of 2 minutes (such as in Taekwon-do) or matches lasting just 5-7 minutes (as in Judo), strength endurance plays a important role in maintaining a high rate of work. But strength endurance training does not necessarily involve lifting weights of 20 reps or more
Core Strength Conditioning For Athletes
The muscles of the core region act as a link between the upper and lower body. The stronger and more conditioned they are, the greater the synergy of movement can be. Core strength is essential for all the martial arts disciplines
Medicine Ball Exercises
You might think that a medicine ball is only good for dropping onto a individuals stomach from a great height! Not the case. Medicine balls are excellent pieces of equipment for developing explosive power in ways that closely mimic the movement patterns involved in sports such as the martial arts
Kettlebell Training Program
Kettlebell training is becoming more popular with combat athletes. Provided they are used correctly they can be very effective training aids for developing explosive power and core strength…
Plyometric Training for Sport-Specific Power
Plyometrics is one very effective form of power training. Here are some important guidelines for setting up a plyometric program suitable for fighters…
Plyometrics For Martial Arts Training
Sample plyometric exercises and program for martial arts training and combat sports…
Flexibility is obviously of great importance to the martial artist. These stretching exercises will help you to increase your range of motion
Dynamic Stretches & Stretching Routine
Dynamic stretching is now recommended over static stretching before a fight or training session
Self Myofascial Release Exercises
Martial arts training is notoriously strenuous. Key to the success of any training program is adequate recovery and the avoidance of injury. Myofascial release may help to do just that…
1) A F Melhim. Aerobic and anaerobic power responses to the practice of taekwon-do. Br J Sports Med 2001; 35:231-234
2) Heller J, Peric T, Dlouha R, Kohlikova E, Melichna J, Novakova H. Physiological profiles of male and female taekwon-do (ITF) black belts. J Sports Sci. 1998 Apr;16(3):243-9
3) Toskovic NN, Blessing D, Williford HN. Physiologic profile of recreational male and female novice and experienced Tae Kwon Do practitioners. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2004 Jun;44(2):164-72
4) Thompson WR, Vinueza C. Physiologic profile of Tae kwon Do black belts. Sports Medicine and Training Rehabilitation. 1991;3:4953
5) Sikorski W, Mickiewicz B, Maole C, et al. Structure of the contest and work capacity of the judoist. Warsaw: Polish Judo Association Institute of Sports, 1987
6) F Degoutte, P Jouanel and E Filaire. Energy demands during a judo match and recovery. Br J Sports Med. 2003;37:245-249
7) Thomas SG, Cox MH, LeGal YM, Verde TJ, Smith HK. Physiological profiles of the Canadian National Judo Team. Can J Sport Sci. 1989 Sep;14(3):142-7
8) Little NG. Physical performance attributes of junior and senior women, juvenile, junior, and senior men judokas. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1991 Dec;31(4):510-20
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.