Fighting Series – Getting Ready to Get Fit to Fight

So I want to talk generally about training for martial arts but before getting into specifics I want to outline and qualify a few things. Firstly, I am not going to get into the physiology and science of training…I am happy to do that after if people would like me to but I don’t think it’s the best use of my time. The best way to do that if you are interested though is for me to point you in the right direction to get after it yourself because most of it is a matter of just reading up. Personally I have never stopped reading and never stopped studying either. I did yet another unit of advanced exercise physiology and neuroscience last semester and I was bored beyond believe talking about it and writing about it ‘academically’…it is boring as hell and I would much rather write and talk with you about the practical and real life implications of the material in question. I figure that we can define some terms and talk about the components of strength and conditioning along with some of the ‘traditional’ ways in which people approach there physical preparedness for martial arts.

One of the problems that some people have when they are considering the topic of strength and conditioning is that they don’t really know what they are looking at when they are looking at displays of what they think of as ‘fitness’. When some people say a particular athlete is ‘fit’ some people are talking about the appearance of their physique…and even then some people are saying they are ‘fit’ because they are super lean and yet others because the athlete in question is jakt. Some people think of fitness as speed and power and yet others as endurance. So we need to ensure that we are properly defining the terms. I always get people asking me ‘How can I improve my fitness?’ and what they are after is always some attribute on the athletic spectrum with power on one end and endurance on the other and with things like speed, anaerobic power and repeatability along with strength in between. Sometimes what they are after is improvements in EVERYTHING which is fine as well.

To save some time and so people can bail on this post now if I’ve already bored the hell out of them…I will get to the ‘take home’ points right up front:

1. You can’t improve everything at once.

2. You need to ensure you are focussing and prioritising the attributes that are going to give you the greatest returns with regards performance in your chosen martial art.

More on these take home points later.

So where to start….that’s simple.

Fitness Assessment

“If you are not assessing you are guessing.” – Someone awesome (Years Ago)

Put simply if you aren’t testing and measuring then you have no way of monitoring the effects of any intervention (training or training alterations) you put in place. Winning fights is not a way to measure the ‘effectiveness’ of your training…winning fights is how you measure the effectiveness of your fighting. You can be a bad athlete and a great fighter and vice versa.

So what comes first with regards fitness assessment.

Mobility and Stability

This is always where I start because it has by far the biggest impact on your overall performance.

I am planning to delve into all this area as with the others I outline here in detail but to start this series I just really want to give you an overview of where I am coming from.

If your mobility and stability is appropriate (again…I will define this in detail in later posts) then your chances of acquiring a chronic injury are almost non existent. Your chances of acquiring an acute injury are also greatly reduced…for sure freak accidents are unavoidable in contact sports but having appropriate mobility and stability will pretty much reduce your chance of injury to just that…freak accidents.

Here’s a really simple and easily repeatable test of functional mobility.

You can do it regularly and video it and monitor your progress.

Speed, Agility and Fitness Testing

This is what I think comes next because when it comes to martial arts…strength and power is great but if you are unprepared to ‘go the distance’ then your chances of being able to use your strength and power are severely limited. The spider test has always been my ‘go to’ test in this regard. I think for martial arts it’s hard to find a more economical test…in that you can test lots of attributes individually but this is a test that stresses all your attributes simultaneously. The spider test is 6 x 30 seconds efforts with 30 seconds recovery between efforts…the fastest and most agile get the furthest on the first effort and the fittest athletes get the biggest total. This test gives you both fantastic objective and subjective data.

This is a video of me discussing fitness testing

Here is a video of a GAA player doing a modified spider test…probably the most appropriate fitness test for martial arts.

Here is a video of some Camogie players doing a traditional spider test

Here is a full description of the test….this is a pretty exciting video…you might want to get some popcorn

Strength, Power and Muscular Endurance

Here is a video description of basic testing.

Then below you will find a video outlining my thoughts and rationales for testing and testing methodologies.

Lower Body

Standing Broad Jump – I think this test is easier to administer and more reliable than a vertical jump.

Bodyweight Squat – Your body weight rounded up to the nearest 5kg and done to a depth below parallel for repetitions.

1RM or 3RM – Squat, Deadlift or TrapBar Deadlift – I’ve traditionally done 2 different tests. A 1RM trapbar deadlift at the beginning and end of each training cycle and a 3RM squat test mid cycle.

Upper Body

Push Ups – Repetitions in 60 seconds.

Inverted Rows – Repetitions in 60 seconds.

Bench Press –  Your body weight rounded up to the nearest 5kg and done for repetitions.

Pull Ups – Done for repetitions.

1RM Bench Press – Everyone wants to know….how much do you bench.

3RM Pull Ups – Weighted pull ups.


So that’s Fitness Assessment outlined. Firstly, you need to assess your mobility and stability and look for any areas of weakness or imbalance. Secondly, I think you need to assess your speed, agility and endurance and a modified 30/30 test is a great way to do that. Thirdly, you need to assess your power, strength and muscular endurance and again look for areas of weakness and imbalance.




Fighting Series

As I said in a previous post I want to start exploring, expanding upon and explaining my thoughts and practices with regard training for martial arts and the differences in approaches I use depending on the martial art in question.

I am not going to discuss actually training martial arts as I certainly wouldn’t hold myself out as an expert or anywhere near close on any of the types of martial arts that I train in BUT I think I do think I have a very good idea about what some of the most efficient ways to improve your performance in the many different martial arts are…for example my approach is very different between training for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling versus Muay Thai and Boxing versus MMA.

Before I continue I want to briefly mention something…you all know why the strength and conditioning for these sports is very different? If you said because Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling is pretty much entirely a ‘closed kinetic chain’ sports and that Muay Thai and Boxing are pretty much entirely ‘open kinetic chain’ and that MMA is very much a mix of both open and closed chain dynamics you’d be right. If you also realised that these fundamental factors make the training needs for these sports very different you’d also be right. It is also very important that you have this clear in your head before we start talking training. Just in case you are unsure I will include the following definitions so you can have an epiphany 🙂

Open kinetic chain exercises (OKC) or open chain exercises are exercises that are performed where the hands and or the feet are free to move…think punching and kicking.

Closed kinetic chain exercises (CKC) or closed chain exercises  are exercises performed where the hands or feet are in a fixed position…think positioning of the hands with regard ‘grips’ and foot, knee, hip position regard sweeps or submissions.

Now this is a gross simplification but I wanted to keep it that way before we get into more detail in the future. If you have questions or want clarification feel free to ‘google’ the hell out of it or ask me here.

I thought just as a preamble to my next posts on actually training for different martial arts I would just collect and post links to all the other ‘fight’ related posts on the blog just so people can either catch up or review what’s been discussed in the past and get people in the right head space for what’s to follow. I will put them in what I think is a somewhat logical order.

Previous Posts in the Fighting Series

1. So you say you want to be a fighter? – The post that started off this series and outlined exactly what I wanted to do before I completely ignored it and did whatever took my fancy. It’s what I am going to try to get back to and expand on what’s detailed here.

2. 10 tips to know before starting a fight sport – A post about the things you need to know before you begin training.

3.10 tips for choosing the right martial art for you – A post about the different martial arts and what they have to offer.

4. So you decided you want to fight but don’t know where to go about it…here’s 4 things to think about – A post about choosing a gym and an instructor to suit your needs and mindset.

5. Fit to fight…fighting fit…fight training – A look at some different approached or methods of fight specific conditioning.