by Thomas Kurz
I have selected most of the following rules from books published by Stadion—the Science of Sports Training, Explosive Power and Jumping Ability for All Sports, Children and Sports Training—and some from the books of other publishers that are listed in references. Here are the rules:
- With rational training, visible gains in flexibility take a couple of days; in strength, about a week; and for endurance, several weeks.
- You need as much strength and endurance as it takes for you to do your drills correctly and safely—so you feel good during the drill and after.
- Pain, feeling of joint instability, or other abnormal sensations during or after exercise are signs that either you do it wrong or you do too much. Whether an exercise is good for you or not depends on your preparations and in some cases on peculiarities of your body. If you feel good during and after the exercise then it is most likely good for you and won’t hurt you. Make sure you do not do more than your body can tolerate.
- If a muscle group stressed in a previous workout still feels sore, you are not ready to exercise it again. If you do not feel soreness even when pressing hard into these muscles, you are ready.
Rules of Thumb for Strength Training
- The purpose of lifting weights in martial arts is to gain or maintain as much strength as needed for martial arts and not to lift more weights.
- Do a wide variety of exercises for overall strength, including exercises that strengthen you when you are not in optimal positions for your fighting techniques.
- In strength exercises initially use low weights or other means of resistance and do as many reps as comfortable. Increase resistance so gradually that you do not experience any discomfort.
- Strength depends on the total tonnage of weights lifted or resistance overcome; power depends on the power output during exercises (a combination of resistance and velocity of movement).
- To increase strength if you never have done any systematic strength training, you need to overcome resistance that exceeds 20% of 1RM (1 repetition maximum or personal best). Overcoming resistance that requires less effort than that increases your muscle endurance but not your maximal strength. Experienced athletes need to overcome resistance that exceeds 50% of 1RM. BUT NOTE: The more you exceed these percentages the more likely you are to sustain an injury or to overtrain yourself. So here is another rule: Use the minimum resistance that increases your strength or maintains it at a required level.
- Number of repetitions per set:
— For explosive power—as many as can be done maintaining maximal velocity of movements (permitted by the amount of resistance)
— For most strength increase with minimal muscle growth—1 to 3
— For most muscle growth—8 to 10
— For muscle endurance with minimal muscle growth—20 and up
- Number of sets of any one exercise should not exceed 6 when working with maximal intensity on strength. Doing more sets increases muscular endurance rather than strength.
- During the majority of strength workouts the number of sets should not exceed 70% of the number you could do while maintaining the maximal intensity.
- Duration of rest breaks between sets:
— For explosive power—rest as long as it takes to do the next set with maximal power output, usually 2 to 6 minutes in the case of whole body exercises, such as squats, pull-and-jerk, or snatch.
— For maximal strength with minimal muscle growth—rest as long as it takes to fully mobilize overcoming near maximal resistance, 2 to 6 minutes in the case of whole body exercises, such as squats, pull-and-jerk, deadlift, and 30 to 40 seconds for exercises focusing on one body part. (Do not develop maximal strength with children and youth younger than 16. The reasons for not doing strenuous strength training with children and what type of strength exercises to do before puberty are explained in Józef Drabik’s book Children and Sports Training.)
— For maximal muscle growth, rest breaks are such that muscles are brought to exhaustion in each set—30 to 60 seconds in the case of whole body exercises, and 15 to 30 seconds for exercises focusing on one body part. Beginners may need longer rest breaks.
— For muscle endurance, rest breaks are short so each set starts with considerable fatigue still present. Rest breaks for muscle endurance of short duration (for activities lasting up to 60 seconds) last 30 to 90 seconds depending on the number of muscle groups stressed or when the heart rate descends to 110 beats per minute. Muscle endurance of long duration is developed by exercises lasting longer and so the rest breaks are longer too—2 minutes or more.
- Recovery time after strength workouts depends on the mass of exercised muscles. Small muscle groups such as those of the forearm or the calf can recover in less than 12 hours. After intense strength exercises such as squats with heavy weights, which fatigue a large mass of muscles, the recovery takes about 48 hours. (The fact that recovery may take two days or more does not mean you cannot train every day. Fatigue from strength exercises is exercise-specific, so if you rotate exercises of different movement patterns and thus muscle group involvement, you can work out every day. Also your body’s various systems (nervous, muscular, cardiovascular) recover after different lengths of time after the same exercise. The right choice of subsequent workouts even speeds up the recovery, as explained in the Science of Sports Training.
- For martial artists and athletes of combat sports, 2 or 3 strength workouts per week are enough to build strength. A few weeks before the competitive season the number of workouts may be reduced to 1 or 2 per week.
- The more sharply you increase your strength training in the preceding weeks, the longer it will take for you to fully recover and to see your sport-specific performance improve. If the training was very hard, and the load (amount of resistance, number of reps) sharply increased, you may need 6 to 7 weeks of easier training for your top shape to surface. If the training load was increased very gradually, then it may take only two weeks of such reduced training for you to be in top shape for a contest. On the average it takes four weeks after you decrease strength training for improvements in your performance to show (Zatsiorsky 1995).
- The volume of strength training in a day with minimal loading should be around 60% of the volume of a day with maximal load (Zatsiorsky 1995).
- The amount of work needed for rebuilding lost strength is much less than the amount it took to build strength for the first time. Maintaining strength for some time takes even less work than rebuilding it.
Rules of Thumb for Endurance Training
- The purpose of endurance training in martial arts is to gain or maintain such endurance as needed for martial arts and not to beat running or swimming records.
- Run as much as you feel it helps with your martial arts training. Do not let your heart rate exceed the difference between 180 and your age, if you are older than 16. If you are 16 or younger you may run with a heart rate of 165 bpm (Maffetone 2010). This rule also applies to the majority of your training—such as most of your technical drills and sparring or grappling. The physiological reasons are explained in the Science of Sports Training.
- When during your workout or a run your heart rate starts to increase without relation to your effort—you exercise or run at the same pace or even slow down but the heart rate climbs up—you may as well end your run there. Doing more won’t be good for you.
- Continuous training (for example, running or cycling) is the best means of developing aerobic endurance. Interval training is best for developing anaerobic endurance (speed-endurance) and it should be done only after you have built an aerobic base with continuous training.
- The most increase of aerobic fitness (maximal oxygen uptake) occurs in the first two months of aerobic endurance training. Later such training does not significantly increase the maximal oxygen uptake but it improves the ability to work at an increasingly higher percentage of your maximal oxygen uptake.
- Full recovery after an intensive endurance workout takes from 48 to 72 hours. Again, this does not mean that you cannot train every day—you just have to know how. Actually, if you do the right type of a workout on the next day, you may speed up your recovery (see the Science of Sports Training).
Question: I can currently lift 2 sets of 15 repetitions in bent-knee deadlifts with my body weight (around 95 kg) and on advice from [your] articles I have changed to stiff-legged deadlifts, but I can’t lift anywhere near that weight. I assume this is due to lack of strength in my hamstrings. My question is, do I start over with a lower weight in stiff-legged deadlifts and work my way up again, or should I alternate the heavier bent-knee deadlift and lighter straight-leg deadlift?
Answer: Unless you are a weightlifter or a powerlifter, the purpose of lifting weights is to increase your strength and not to lift more weight. The stiff-legged deadlifts will give you more usable strength for you martial arts needs.
Question: I pulled the muscle in my left groin that connects my groin to the inside of my left leg. My doctor told me to stay off my legs and not walk around for 3 weeks. Three weeks will be up Friday and I want to start back working out Sunday. Is that a good idea? And if so, is exercise bike riding on a stationary cycle good? What about pushups and sit-ups and squats? And if they are okay, how much can I start doing?
Answer: My general principle of injury rehabilitation is: Do movements you can do without feeling any discomfort during or after, and do these movements in great quantities. Another way of putting it is: Do exercises that make you feel good and do a lot of them. This also holds true for laying a foundation (general preparation) for any sport-specific training.
Drabik, J. 1996. Children and Sports Training: How Your Future Champions Should Exercise to Be Healthy, Fit, and Happy. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Co., Inc.
Kurz, T. 2001. Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Co., Inc.
Maffetone, P. 2010. The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
Starzynski, T., and H. Sozanski. 1999. Explosive Power and Jumping Ability for All Sports: Atlas of Exercises. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Co., Inc.
Zatsiorsky, V. M. 1995. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
This article is based on Stadion books Children and Sports Training, Explosive Power and Jumping Ability for All Sports, and Science of Sports Training. Other books quoted in this article are available at the links from the References above. Get them now and have all of the info—not just the crumbs!
If you have any questions on training you can post them at Stadion’s Sports and Martial Arts Training Discussion Forum