By Lisa Stone | 2 November 2019
Alternative advanced conditioning techniques are not for the faint of heart. They are tough. They will test your strength and commitment to the limit. But at the end of it all—you'll be a winner. And that is a good thing.
How Bad Do You Want It?
Really ask yourself that question. Because you can get it—but may find yourself doing some unusual training techniques to make it happen. These types of techniques have been termed 'Medieval' by some fighters. The truth is many of these techniques have been used to train fighters since before the Roman Empire.
MMA, UFC, and Strikeforce Fighters Tune In
MMA, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and Strikeforce fights—you must admit these combat fighters know how to train. These professionals train to win and dominate opponents, and they don't get there by using typical methods.
Different approaches to fight training with professionals shows a fascinating array of training techniques. Former lightweight and welterweight champion BJ "The Prodigy" Penn uses swimming and water resistance, jumping straight up out of three feet of water to train his strength and explosive power. This video shows Penn, Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, and other MMA fighters doing alternative advanced strength training.
Former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar uses tire pushes, medicine ball tosses, jump rope, sledgehammer drills, swimming, and stairs in his training techniques. Here's a video showing Hall of Famer Randy "The Natural" Couture training using pushup plyometrics, box jumps, resistance running, and medicine ball tosses.
Top lightweight UFC fighter Tony "El Cucuy" Ferguson trains by kicking a colossal steel pipe. "This is about a 10,000 PSI pipe. It's steel braided. This is my conditioning for my shins. Or elbows. It's hard body, if you all want a demonstration," he says.
In the video on Bloody Elbow, he kicks the hell out of the pipe and says: "no blood," and grins. Check it out here.
Women Train Hard
Let's not leave out the amazing UFC women. Chris "Cyborg" Justino is using alternative movement drills, sled pulling, tire flipping, box jumps, a great hanging resistance band routine, and more. See her here.
Tecia "Tiny Tornado" Torres became a black belt in taekwondo at age 15, uses tire flipping and sledgehammer strikes as part of her training techniques. UFC fighter Angela Lee says she grew up in a family of fighters, has been fighting since she could walk. Her dream as a child was to become a champion fighter.
Well, she got it, becoming the world's youngest MMA champion at the age of 20 and the only woman on the list of 10 youngest world champions. She learned fighting with her family.
In a CNN interview, Lee said: "If you take me, for example. I'm just a kid, practically. A 20-year-old girl. I'm a professional MMA fighter and a world champion.
I'm pretty much a living testimony to breaking these stereotypes that fighters are supposed to look a certain way, act a certain way."
But regardless of whether a woman wants to step into a cage and fight or not, Lee says it's important for females to know how to defend themselves. She uses resistance bands as part of her alternative strength workout.
Peak Body Control
Gaining ultimate body control is what separates good from great in this game. Training aggressively, attacking the fundamentals of movement with agility and movement drilling… strengthening and toughening up every muscle in the body, while teaching the mind to stay clear will get you there.
Never sacrifice quality for quantity.
Don't believe the 'more is always better' hype. More lifts or drills done poorly are just wasted time and energy. Know what your strengths and weaknesses are and train around them. If you are stiff, train for flexibility. If you're very fast and agile, but not as strong, train for strength and endurance. Don't overtrain what you've already got—focus time effectively to train on gaining more of what you lack.
Wear Your Mouthpiece While Training!
This little trick can push the fighter farther while training in a way nothing else can since a mouthpiece restricts airflow. Getting your breath and keeping it will up your game in many ways on fight nights. It gives real-life practice and lets the fighter become comfortable wearing a mouthpiece under all circumstances, allowing easy adaptation that mimics the sparring and fight event situation.
4,030 Pullups in 17 Hours
Navy Seal David Goggins is the Guinness World Record holder for the most pullups in 24 hours, with an insane number of 4,030 in 17 hours. This is inspiration! Goggins failed his first attempt, tore his hands apart until gloves were added, then set his record after training for five months.
David Goggins had a tough childhood, which he overcame, dealt with serious health issues, jumped into military service, and now is the only U.S. Armed Forces member to complete SEAL training, Army Ranger School, and Air Force tactical air controller training.
And he didn't stop there. David Goggins has completed over 50 endurance races, coming in first place several times, has set new world records and new course records for some of the triathlons, ultra-marathons, ultra-triathlons, mountain ascents, and bike races he has competed in.
His phenomenal physical condition is the result of über-intense, radical alternative training techniques. Check out Goggins and his inspirational life, achievements, and fitness approach here.
Shaolin Kung Fu Monks Train in Unbelievable Ways!
Shaolin monks doing incredible feats of strength show what the body can achieve. Most of their training techniques involve secret martial arts knowledge, but they give a few tips in the video below on how the monks get started with training their bodies to perform tremendous feats of strength effortlessly. Every hour of training Shaolin monks do would be considered 'alternative,' or 'Medieval' in approach.
And look how successful they are! Much of alternative training involves starting small and slow, letting the body adapt, then gradually picking up speed, increasing weight, adding reps, ramping up power…a little at a time, so muscles, tendons, and joints are slowly strengthened, toughened, and eventually become tough as trees--literally.
Try following the methods given in this video for training finger strength using trees. Think of it as 'inspiration squared!' It gets you out of the box and accepts that our bodies are incredible tools able to handle just about anything demanded of them. Even if you're not into punching and poking trees, go here to watch their superlative feats of strength highlighted in this short video.
Make Sure Exercises are Added and Subtracted
Back to the 'more is not always better' strategy approach. There are so many possible techniques out there that an easy mistake to make is to keep adding more methods without ever taking any out. Martial artists only have so many hours to train and only so much energy—notice which techniques are really working for your body and goals and amplify them. Rotate techniques, try new approaches, then keep the best, and jettison the rest.
Recovery Time from Training is Key
Powerful, successful athletes must just train, train, train all the time to get that powerful and effective, right? Wrong. The most powerful athletes on earth do a lot of brutal training, and that's a fact. Another fact is they also spend more time recovering than they ever do in actual training.
The importance of this fundamental reality cannot be overstated since the body builds muscle, strengthens joints, and creates iron bone density during rest and recovery. See articles on Recovery for more information on how to optimize training through primo recovery techniques.
Alternative Advanced Strength Training Techniques
Imagine this scenario. You pay for advanced training, show up ready to go, and are led over to a regular wheelbarrow stacked full of weights and told to run it up and down a hill. What do you do? Start pushing that wheelbarrow up and down the hill and see just how blasted out your muscles get from it!
The trained fighter fills the wheelbarrow with 100 to 300-pounds of free weights, bricks, or pre-measured rocks. Start slower and go farther to build grip strength, endurance, and muscle strength by slowly jogging 100 yards up to a mile. Or build power, explosive power, grip strength, and speed by sprinting 50 to 100 yards on a flat straight track, or up a minimum 10-degree incline hill, then back down again.
Take a 1 to 5-minute rest period, then do it again, minimum three times up to five times. Always do this on a soft track to protect joints and feet. Be sure to stay very aware of the proper knee and foot placement when running with the unfamiliar bulk of the wheelbarrow to minimize the chance of injury.
John Hackleman of The Pit says this about the wheelbarrow training technique: "It takes endurance and leg strength to push that weight up the hill, but it's a killer for your grip and shoulders going down. Down is just as important because in ultimate fighting you constantly use those muscles to pull your opponent to the mat or off of you."
Movement Drills Rule
Jackie Chan, Conor "The Notorious" McGregor, Gunnar Nelson, Rickson Gracie, Bruce Lee, Chris "Cyborg" Justino, along with the Shaolin kung fu monks, and kalaripayattu martial artists are all phenomenal fighters—and they have all utilized movement drills as part of their training.
Kalaripayattu is the oldest continually practiced martial art globally, dating back to the 3rd century BCE. Kalaripayattu is an Indian martial art system that is also called Kalari. Kung fu, jujutsu, judo, muay Thai, and karate are all considered to be descended from this older martial art form.
Kalaripayattu martial artists use movement drills as one of their basic training methods. It allows the Kalari martial artist to practice a continual flow of movement that simultaneously provides flexibility, agility, speed, strength, endurance, power, and explosive power to be developed.
See this video for a quick taste of how they practice movement drills with kicking while creating flexibility, agility, power, and speed. Kalaripayattu has three different aspects of learning. This video shows some basic kalarippayattu movement drills more specific to practicing knife fighting.
Traditional Strength Training Overrated?
Rickson Gracie back in the 80s raved about movement drills, and he also dominated on the mats. Coincidence? Gracie and McGregor would say no. Rickson Gracie, Royler Gracie, Marcelo Bhering, and others at that time participated in movement drills at Ginastica Natural in Brazil. This excellent video with Alvaro Romano at Ginastica Natural, in the beginning, compares animal and snake movements with Romano demonstrating using those movements through drills and flows.
These movement flows were dedicated to reteaching the body more natural ways of moving for humans, along with animal movements taken from gorillas, and other creatures such as snakes, returning the human body back to the type of easy, natural movement found in aboriginal peoples but typically forgotten in a modern world of chairs, shoes, and cars. Watch this video of Romano with his movement teaching drills.
Work with the Ground
"Live Life Dynamically. Move. More." ~Ido Portal
Watch Romano's movement videos and then see those by Ido Portal, and it is easy to see the incredible progression there and similarities of approach. There are definite echoes between the two in the movement drills and full-body conditioning of McGregor's Israeli movement specialist coach, Ido Portal.
Portal has taken it much further, however. Portal started his training in capoeira, which is also a social interaction, incorporated hanging rings, heavy climbing ropes, crawling, breakdancing, and weights into his movement training. It quickly becomes obvious watching him move that he also takes elements from dance, circus, tumbling, martial arts, sports, along with animals, nature, plants, and other flows that he has melded into one system.
Watch Ido Portal work with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson in this video. It's an exciting new direction for fighters. 'Working with the ground' was an essential new element McGregor learned from Portal to defeat his opponents.
Conor said: "People are so caught up in routine, doing the same thing over and over. I want to be an expert in many different things."
Israeli Movement Coach Ido Portal Talks about Teaching Fighters
The movement game takes the technical side, and takes the strength and conditioning side, and takes the mobility, and takes the pattern and the re-patterning work, and it blends everything together," he said. "So at times I was taking some technical aspects of the game and tuning them up, working and refining that, and other times I was more of the strength and conditioning guy, and at other times I was the therapist, and at other times I was the nutritionist.
You're not a specialist, you're a generalist, but you see the big picture much better than anyone else in many ways. That requires a lot of study into a variety of fields. The movement teacher must be a martial artist. The movement teacher must be a dancer. The movement teacher must be a strength and conditioning coach. The movement teacher must be an acrobat.
The movement teacher must be a therapist. It's a lot of work, and it's a lot of study into these fields, learning to see the everyday things and to see the essential things and to let go of the less important things." Want more? Go to his website and sign up for videos, ideas, and inspiration.
Jog with a Backpack Full of Rocks or Weights
This powerful strengthening technique is an old military method for strengthening the body, building core, and increasing endurance. It is important to begin with low weight, and use a backpack that fits correctly, close to the body, with a waist belt to keep the weight balanced on the hips and not bouncing around or pulling on shoulders.
Never use this technique on pavement or hard surfaces, only on dirt, soft ground, or a track to protect knees and feet. Charles Miske is a mountain climber who has some great tips on getting started using a backpack full of weights. Check out his fascinating site here. He says if you're not already in great shape, begin this training using an empty backpack with an old pillow stuck in it, so it stays stable during use.
He recommends using bags of rice or beans for weights in the beginning and switching to jugs of water once you hit 30 or 40 pounds. Also, use rocks, free weight steel plates, dumbbells, wood chunks, or kettlebells, all padded with pillows or sheets to keep them still and not bouncing around.
You must go slow with this technique since the potential for injury is high if not already in excellent condition. If you're in good condition, try slow jogging, staying careful of knee and foot placement, on flat land, uphill, up and down mountains. This backpack method also works with various machines such as elliptical, stair stepper, and treadmill. Just use caution.
A heavy backpack means weight in a strange place at strange angles with the potential of straining joints, rotator cuff, etc. When using a machine for your workout, never hang on since that means the machine speed is set too fast, and you need to turn it down.
The jump rope is simple to use, cheap, travels with you, easy to add into HIIT or circuit training, and gives a great workout quick and easy. Research has shown the jump rope to be the workout tool of choice, which offers excellent benefits for little time spent.
It turns out jumping rope is one of the most efficient cardio exercises around, with 10 minutes a day as effective as 30 minutes a day of jogging for improving cardiovascular health, fat loss, aerobic conditioning, and more.
WebMD's Peter Schulman, MD, who works as an associate professor of Cardiology/Pulmonary Medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington says: "It strengthens the upper and lower body and burns a lot of calories in a short time, but other considerations will determine if it's appropriate for an individual."
Stay in Horse Stance for Minutes to an Hour to Kick Like a Mule
How Hard Can It Be? Brutal! The horse stance is a traditional martial arts exercise used in many styles, which is designed to strengthen legs, quads, ankles, and back. An isometric exercise, it gives 14 to 40 percent more strength gains faster than more typical exercises such as lunges or squats. Another great thing about horse stance is it strengthens the adductors or inner thigh muscles, quadriceps, abductors, sartorious, and vastus lasteralis muscles, which will help prevent injuries for runners and from knee strikes.
Horse stance makes your legs amazingly strong, quickly increases kicking power, endurance, resistance to pain, and makes your knees less likely to get injured in workouts, sparring, events, and fights since this exercise strengthens ligaments, tendons, and muscles holding the knee in place.
This stance also opens up the hips, giving greater flexibility and power to this essential base of the body. Holding horse stance increases blood flow to the tendons and ligaments in hips, knees, and ankles, which significantly quickens strengthening and speeding up recovery time when training.
Horse stance practice significantly increases overall endurance, inner strength, and focus, and supercharges leg strength, all of which transfers directly over into martial arts practice. Go here for more detailed information and a guide to foot and body placement for correct horse stance alignment.
300-Pound Bag Challenge
Take a giant bag and fill it with shot, pebbles, sand, etc. to make a giant 200 or 300-pound bag. Pull, push, kick, punch, wrestle, climb, and drag it. Try using a very heavy construction-weight vinyl sheet that is doubled or tripled over, and sealed with zip ties, duct tape, etc. Or make a huge, long bag 15 to 25 feet high for climbing up with hand and feet tabs.
Use an army duffle bag filled with shot pellets or sand—or use two or three, up to 20 of these duffle bags—cut open and flattened out, then sewn together to make one colossal bag, or a huge, long, high bag to climb and hang from for increasing grip strength, arm, back and core strength and power. Try doing that while wearing weights. These bags are great for pushing, pulling, dragging, climbing, wrestling, carrying, etc.
Battle ropes give you a lean, chiseled muscle mass, working each arm independently, along with grip strength, legs, back muscles, and obliques. These huge ropes are easy to use for a power-packed, fast workout that gets results.
In Men's Health, John Brookfield, creator of the original battle ropes system, said: "The key to their effectiveness is that they work each arm independently, eliminating strength imbalances as they sculpt your muscle." Go here for more tips on setting up your rope system, exercises for beginners and advanced, and videos for incredible fat-blasting workouts.
Grip Strength – Crush Rocks with Your Bare Hands
This is an easy and cheap technique for improving agility, speed, hand, and grip strength. This training technique pushes martial artists' grip strength, which is so essential for holds, throws, and taking down an opponent. Take different sizes and weight plastic bottles and fill them partially up to full for different weights and grips. Now, have two or more participants up to a group in a circle of people tossing or throwing them to each other in random fast and slow patterns.
Depending upon the group's size, there can be only one or two bottles, up to 10 or 20 different shapes, sizes, and weights of bottles. The different sizes and weight bottles will push gripping strength, speed, spatial awareness, agility, and dexterity for martial artists, and it's also a really fun group or family activity and training exercise. Kids love it because it's fun, and adults love it because it's effective.
Box Jumps to Increase Your Explosive Power
Primary factors in martial arts success include speed, strength, and explosive power. Research by Garcia-Pallares et al. in 2009 investigated the results of doing each repetition of training exercises using explosive power. The results were clear: putting training emphasis on using explosive power significantly improved power and strength for every movement.
Increase explosive power by including sets and sessions training only in this way. Every exercise is performed with explosive power. Increase speed and explosive power, and you've got a winning strategy. Speed can be increase by using plyometric exercises such as box jumps, etc.
Enhance Speed & Power using Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are one of the easiest and cheapest but most incredibly effective training techniques out there. They can be used at home, in the gym or dojo, and travel everywhere. Resistance bands can be attached to a wall, doorknob, or equipment stand and then on hands, arms, legs, feet, head, and body in variable positions such as standing, sitting, and lying down to give resistance when striking, kicking, rolling, crawling, sitting up, jumping up, for takedowns, and training neck.
For punching, the correct weight of the band will barely allow full extension of the arm.
This 8-week study showed using a resistance band of at least 7 pounds up to 25 or more pounds and training using maximum velocity movements while doing 3 to 4 sets of 10 reps to begin, raising that to 5 sets of 10 reps or more, and resting a minute between sets significantly increased punching movement speed, measured by an up to 17.6 percent decrease in movement time.
Do this technique by punching as fast as possible, and gradually increasing band weight for added difficulty. This technique can also be used to increase explosive power by first contracting, then moving explosively and combining the use of resistance bands with maximal velocity training. Get yours here.
Shifu Yan Lei
Kung Fu Master
"Iron Leg needs to have flexibility, speed, power, and it also needs to be hard as well as soft. But how can a leg be soft and hard at the same time? This paradox is at the heart of every one of the Shaolin techniques."
Iron Bone Conditioning
Think about it…your opponent slams you with a strike and retreats in pain after hitting iron bone-conditioned shins, arms, hands, etc. This stuff is real, and it is amazing. It will give you rock hard hands and arms for blocking and striking, and an iron body that absorbs blows.
These advanced techniques for creating bones that are so hard they feel like iron has not been available to the public until recently.
Martial arts masters have hidden them away as secret advanced strength training techniques. These secret techniques are finally being shared but are best approached with caution.
Shifus recommend that these techniques be practiced using liniments and ointments from recipes specially created over centuries to provide physical support, protection and strengthen the body during training.
These recipes differ in the details, but most have similar base ingredients proven over generations to help the body adapt to aggressive and brutal physical conditioning methods.
Dit da jow is one herbal medication commonly used for martial arts recovery from bruises, swelling, skin, muscle, tendon, and ligament trauma.
It has been used for centuries to support the body and protect the skin during the iron bone conditioning process. There are other types of oils and ointments specially made for iron bone conditioning. It is highly recommended to apply them when using these techniques.
It is also essential for the martial artist to have support and direction from a shifu while training iron bone techniques. If done incorrectly, these advanced strength techniques may harm rather than help the martial artist new to their usage.
This iron bone section will include information gathered from several different shifus expounding on the process. The similarities in approach are interesting. Please honor all cautionary advice given by shifus and masters and use them when training this extremely specialized technique.
Iron Hand Conditioning Video
Look up Lee Yakota and Mantis Mechanics for the Kung Fu Grip and Iron Hand Conditioning videos. These videos are an excellent place to get started with improving hand grip and beginning iron hand conditioning with safe but highly effective techniques that have been proven to work for fighters over the centuries.
What is Iron Bone Conditioning
Iron bone conditioning is a warrior combat preparation used for many centuries in individual martial arts styles. It consists of a series of techniques that include physical applications and training methods, herbal conditioning and medicating applications, and other proven techniques that over time produce extreme microtrauma in muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones that are then healed with the herbal applications again and again until that bone, limb, or area becomes hard as iron or stone.
Iron bone training is an ancient technique used by martial arts masters to prepare the entire body for combat. Iron bone conditioning can be applied to fingers, hands, forearms, torso, and legs. A martial artist who has iron bone conditioned shins, for example, can kick metal bars, trees, etc., and feel no pain, induce no trauma or blood from the action.
If you touch their iron bone shins, they feel artificial, as if replaced with metal or rock rather than made of flesh and bone. If a normal fighter kicks an iron bone conditioned limb—it hurts! It feels like you just kicked an iron bar. Very effective. And yet, the resulting limb is still alive and fully functional, hard and yet soft, tough like iron, yet still responsive. These techniques are truly amazing.
Does Iron Bone Training Require a Boiling Cauldron
Forget about the movie hype. The truth is most of these techniques use ordinary materials, relatively simple techniques, healing treatments, a lot of work, patience, and time. Oh yes, don't leave out determination. An older version of Iron Palm training shows it is only one part of a larger group of training techniques.
Kung Fu Master James Yim Lee in 1957 wrote Modern Kung-Fu Karate: Iron Poison Hand Training, Book 1 (Break Brick in 100 Days). This powerful, amazing book is still completely relevant, written by James Yimm Lee, who died in 1972. It is packed full of original historical photographs, which alone are worth the admission price and gives excellent direction from a martial arts master.
Modern version, now in steps Dale Dugas and his book, Fundamental Iron Skills. Dr. Dale Dugas is a shifu who is an expert in acupuncture, Tieh Sha Zhang Gong, or Iron Palm, Tieh Be Shan Gong, or Iron Vest, and traditional Dit Da Ke, or Chinese trauma medicine. He has written extensively, including a book on iron bone techniques called Fundamental Iron Skills, Tempering Body and Limbs with Ancient Methods.
Dale Dugas shows how to develop these ancient skills in a safe, step-by-step manner. Dugas includes herbal training and physical support medication recipes for external use while discussing usage and methods in detail.
He shows with text and photos for clarity how to document and test your iron bone success by breaking objects such as coconuts, etc. Dugas also includes exciting fighting techniques from Jook Lum Southern Mantis and Baguazhang, which utilize different Iron skills and pressure points to take down opponents.
Iron Shirt and Iron Body Training
Meet Shifu Yan Lei, who teaches Iron Shirt and Iron Body Training. It is interesting to hear how his body confounded modern science. He describes having his muscles tested by the Dana Centre in the London Science Museum. Lei says they used one type of machinery that tested his stomach muscles.
The machine showed that when he contracted his muscles, they became "bouncy," not just hard, but actually deflecting the testing machine's power and 'bouncing' the power back at it. Shifu Lei says: "This is the aim of Iron Body and one of the keys as to why Shaolin masters can take such heavy blows. Our body acts as a mirror reflecting our opponent's power back to them."
He says Iron Shirt or Iron Leg involves using Qi along with developing muscle strength and toughening limbs. Shifu Lei describes Iron Shirt and Iron body training: "When you kick, your kick is incredibly powerful, it also means that when someone kicks your leg, your leg is like a tree." He says the Shaolin monks accomplish this through using six specific elements of training, which include a secret healing tincture.
Shifu Yan Lei said: "I could never have endured this hard training without the aid of my body conditioning tincture." It uses a secret recipe blend of twenty-five natural herbs, roots, and barks brewed for four years.
Shifu Lei has made an Iron Shirt DVD on hard Qigong called Iron Shirt Body Conditioning—Shaolin Steel Jacket, which is only recommended for advanced martial artists. He produced this DVD originally because his students pointed out the prevalence of incorrect information to be found.
According to Lei, this training is grueling, painful, and absolutely worth doing. It can be compared to tempering the Japanese sword by pounding, superheating, and sudden cooling. This process takes the average human body, or even the superbly conditioned martial arts master, and applies iron shirt techniques that are guaranteed to push that body to the limit.
Lei says: "Shaolin Iron Body Training is the fire we put our mind and body through so we can mold ourselves into the martial artist we want to be. If it's not difficult, if it's not challenging, there can be no transformation."
Shifu Lee cautions that his DVDs and training materials do not replace having a teacher, and should be used as supplemental training devices only, since these techniques may cause harm to the body if misused. Check out his website to get the DVD and training materials.