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by Thomas Kurz
This is the second article in a series dealing with important concepts and principles you should keep in mind when designing and conducting your strength training. This one is about strength goals and the amount of strength training a fighter needs. The previous one was about fixing faults and a fighter’s priorities in training.
How much strength a fighter needs
A fighter needs as much strength as it takes to have effective techniques. For a striker, this means enough force to knock down an opponent (you realize that a knockout may take much less force than a knockdown?) and to withstand body shots when they cannot be evaded. A grappler needs as much strength as grappling techniques require, which is more than what a striker needs.
Examples of norms for boxers
Pull-ups: 15 reps
Long jump: 5.2 meters
100-meter sprint: 12 sec
Examples of norms for wrestlers
Pull-ups: 20 reps (for heavyweights: 13 reps)
Military press, barbell of a weight equal to the wrestler’s body weight: 1 rep
Squat, barbell of a weight equal to the wrestler’s body weight: 30 reps
Of course, doing better is better . . . but not at the expense of skills.
How much strength training a fighter needs
First a general rule: Strength depends on the total tonnage of weights lifted or other resistance overcome; power depends on the power output during exercises (a combination of resistance and velocity of movement).
Amount of resistance
To increase strength if you have never done any systematic strength training, you need to overcome resistance that exceeds 20% of 1RM (1 repetition maximum, or personal best). Experienced athletes, to increase strength, usually need to overcome resistance that exceeds 50% of 1RM, but for some even 80% of competition max. 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 (see the following principle of diminishing returns).
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 greatest strength increase with minimal muscle growth–1 to 3
— For greatest muscle growth–8 to 10
— For muscular endurance with minimal muscle growth–20 and up
Number of sets per workout
The number of sets of any one exercise should not exceed six when working with maximal intensity on strength. Doing more sets increases muscular endurance rather than strength. Doing two or three sets gives the best ratio of input to output (again, see the principle of diminishing returns).
During the majority of strength workouts, the number of sets should not exceed 70% of the number you could do while maintaining the assigned maximal intensity.
Number of strength workouts per week
For martial artists and athletes of combat sports, two or three strength workouts per week are enough to build strength. A few weeks before the competitive season, the number of workouts may be reduced to one or two per week.
Principle of diminishing returns
Incremental increases in strength do not provide the same returns in fitness for your sport. The more you lift the less it benefits you. For example, building up strength to increase the weight on a bar from 100 lb to 200 lb will improve your fitness by a greater margin than increasing the weight from 200 lb to 300 lb, and the more resistance you overcome the greater is your risk of injury. Further, the first set of any exercise is the most valuable–brings you the most return for your effort (has the best ratio of input to output); the second set is not as profitable but is close to the first one; the third is further behind; and so on. But the more sets you perform, the more tired you become, and the greater your risk of injury. So, observe yourself and stay in the sweet spot of training’s benefits. By the way, this principle applies to training for any and all abilities and skills.
Remember: 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.
The next article deals with a danger of forming bias to rely on strength.
This article is based on the book Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance. Get the book now and have all of the info—not just the crumbs! Order now!
If you have any questions on training you can post them at Stadion’s Sports and Martial Arts Training Discussion Forum