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Strength Training Routines

The importance of strength training, giving increased performance, increased output, decreased injury risk, better power, better recovery, better body composition and how it can help on the mats is no doubt clear. 

There are many amazing strength training routines and strength and conditioning programs available, depending on what focus is desired, for instance, only martial arts strength training programs, or weight lifting focus, or MMA, UFC professional fighter focus, or a program that utilizes a mix of above. These also vary based on time commitments, goals, sports specific outcomes, availability, home, dojo or martial arts studio, or gym, etc.

There are many approaches to this issue, so other articles will address other program approaches. This article will lay out 5 of the most popular and effective S&C programs around and give examples of how these could be used to become the best martial artist possible.

Beyond 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler

This first strength training approaches uses a weight lifting approach. This program requires a gym or weight room to implement, and a buddy for lifting support. This first approach has a great record for massively increasing brute physical strength.

This is an incredible and very popular strength and conditioning program developed by Jim Wendler, author of the popular book, 5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System to Increase Raw Strength, and his excellent follow up, Beyond 5/3/1: Simple Training for Extraordinary Results. Wendler is known for his body busting 5/3/1 power program. Jim played football and graduated from the University of  Arizona where he was a three-time letter winner.

He went on to squat 1000 pounds in competition and is an accomplished Elite Lifter with a 2,375 pound total - safe to say he knows a thing or two about strength training. The beauty of Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is that it is simple and will get you strong as a bull.

You need to assess your 1 rep max on each of the “Big 4” lifts (Squat, bench press, deadlift and over head press) and then take 90% of said 1 rep max. You will build your routine around these numbers.

5/3/1: Three to Fours Days a Week

Typically, a traditional 5/3/1 program will require training three or four days a week. Each workout day will be centered around one core lift, so for example, Monday work squats, Wednesday do bench presses, etc., so that each workout day will focus on a different area.

Each training cycle lasts four weeks, with the following set/rep goals for each key lift:

Week

Activity

1

3 x 5, or 65%, 75%, and 85% for five reps each + assistance work

2

3 x 3, or 70%, 80%, and 90% for three reps + assistance work

3

3 x 5, at 75%, 85%, and 95% for five + assistance work

4

Deload - slash intensity by lowering weight to avoid over-training and recover.

After using this program for a month, increasing optimal max by five to 10 pounds for the next month, each month, is a reasonable goal. Rinse and Repeat.

If this sounds like too much workload on top of regular Martial arts training, then use a scaled version, created by the man himself, specifically designed for MMA athletes. Jim Wendler says:

“As with any sport, MMA requires that you are strong in the low back, legs, arms, chest, shoulders and abs. Like all sports, strength is one of many things that need to be trained. This is unlike the strength sports – thus more abilities must be trained and MORE TIME must be spent on them. So you can’t spend all day in the weight room. You have to be efficient in the weight room; you have to choose exercises that mean something and that carry over. Since there are many abilities that must be trained and much time devoted to practice (and this practice being very difficult), he proposes the following.”

5/3/1: Two Days a Week

Day One - Squat and Bench Press plus assistance work

Day Two - Deadlift and Over-head press plus assistance work

“Assistance work should be plenty of lat and upper back work, arm work or anything that you need personally for injury prevention”

“The farther away from fight, you can do more work that makes you tired, sore and effects your skill training. Closer to fight, you can do LESS work (or none at all) that makes you tired, sore and effects your skill training.”.”

Jim Wendler

"Starting Strength System" by Mark Rippetoe

This second strength training approach was developed by legendary strength and conditioning coach and author, Mark Rippetoe. It gives total body strength that lasts and translates straight into martial arts training, mats practice, and intense events.

The Starting Strength System makes use of the body's most basic movement patterns – barbell exercises that involve all the body’s muscle mass – utilized over the longest effective range of motion and loaded progressively, to force the adaptations necessary for increased strength.

Unlike other popular exercise protocols, Starting Strength is a training system – a long-term process designed for getting stronger over time, not a random collection of exercises that just make you hot, sweaty, sore, confused, and tired today.”

Perform the program on a 3 days per week schedule, on non-consecutive days, i.e., Mon/Wed/Fri, Tues/Thurs/Sat or similar, following a workout A, B, A, B, rotation.

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Starting Strength System: Workout A

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Barbell Squats

3

5

Bench Press

3

5

Dead Lift

1

5

Starting Strength System: Workout B

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Barbell Squats

3

5

Standing Military Press

3

5

Bent Over Rows

3

5

Starting Strength System Workout Structure

Workout Plan: Week One

Day

Workout

Monday

A

Wednesday

B

Friday

A

Workout Plan: Week Two

Day

Workout

Monday

B

Wednesday

A

Friday

B

This may seem incredibly simple, and it is! It’s also very effective. The no thrills programming and exercise choice make it a great routine for those who don’t want to have to dive deep into crazy programming and confusing routines. Starting Strength is a great program to develop full body strength that carries over onto the mats, giving results without the fuss.

Combat Strength 101

The third approach to kicking strength ability way up comes from a top professional fighter coach. Joel Jamieson was coach to former UFC Middleweight Champion, Richard Jay "Rich" Franklin II, and Demetrious Khrisna Johnson, first and the current Flyweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, along with many other great fighters. 

He is an elite MMA coach and author of Ultimate MMA Conditioning.  Joel Jamieson lays out a great 6-week program and some tips on how to optimize strength training.
Joel's top Hacks include:
  • Rest 2 to 4 minutes between sets
  • Rest 3 to 5 minutes between exercises
  • Doing 1-2 sets of light weight warm up sets
  • Set target weight between 80-90% of your 1 rep max
  • Aim to increase weight lifted each week in small increments
  • 4 hours rest after strength workouts before training martial arts

6 Week Sample Strength Training Program

Week 1 - 2

Exercise

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Barbell Squats

4 x 5

-

2 x 5

Pull - Ups

 3 x 6

3 x 5

-

Bench Press

-

3 x 5

2 x 6

Bent-Over Rows

3 x 5

-

-

Shoulder Press

-

3 x 8

2 x 5

Stiff Leg Deadlift

-

2 x 5

-

Week 3 - 4

Exercise

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Barbell Squats

5 x 5

-

3 x 3

Pull - Ups

4 x 6

-

3 x 6

Bench Press

-

3 x 8

-

Bent-Over Rows

3 x 5

-

2 x 5

Shoulder Press

-

3 x 8

-

Stiff Leg Deadlift

-

3 x 8

2 x 6

Week 5 - 6

Exercise

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Barbell Squats

-

5 x 5

-

Pull - Ups

2  x 8

-

2 x 6

Bench Press

4 x 6

2 x 6

-

Bent-Over Rows

3 x 5

-

2 x 5

Shoulder Press

-

3 x 8

-

Stiff Leg Deadlift

4 x 5

-

3 x 8

Alternatives to Gym Training

There are plenty of ways to get strong, lean, and move better with other methods such as bodyweight training programs and unconventional methods such as kettlebells. This section will dive into some of these strength training modalities.

Unlock Your True Potential and Discover the Difference With Strength Training!

Body Weight Strength Training

To get strong using only body weight will require more stimulus once a good level of baseline strength has been established. Travis Stoetzel, strength and conditioning coach who owns and operates, The Forged Athlete Gym, in Omaha, NE, has a certain protocol of self-monitoring tests using the ability to perform a number of exercises to ascertain baseline strengthTest yourself on the movements below to get your baseline. You should easily be able to perform the following first. If the exercises below are easy, then move on to loaded movements. 

If these are difficult, or not quite there yet, practice these until easy, before moving onto loaded movements:

  • Standing poses. Builds leg strength as well as flexibility in the hips and hamstring
  • "Ass to Grass" body weight squats - 25
  • Chest to bar pull ups (any variation) - 5
  • Chest to deck push ups - 25
  • Lunges - 25 per leg non-stop
  • Recline rows - 20
  • Hanging knee tucks - 10
  • Basic plank holds - 90 seconds

Working on these prerequisites of strength will give a great starting point and get you savagely strong. Once these are easy, it is time to move onto advanced variations or add in weights.

Body Weight Workout

Master the basics! Squats, push-ups, pull us, rows, lunges, along with sprints, jumping, climbing, and crawling. These provide the foundation for all further skill development. Once those are down, then move on to the more advanced movements and look at incorporating more than just body weight, for example, add in ankle or wrist weights.

An example of a basic body weight workout is as follows:

  • 20 Body weight squats
  • 10 Push ups
  • 20 Walking lunges - 10 each leg
  • Max out on pull ups and chin ups
  • 30 Second plank
  •  30 Jumping jacks

Repeat this routine times through, with 120 seconds rest between sets, for an effective, full-body, body weight training program to get strong and mobile.

Kettlebell Workout

Some people like to break the monotony of linear training programs that often contain the same movements and exercises repeated time and again. This is where unconventional tools can come into play. Only one item is required to use a Kettlebell exercise program, along with a little moving space in the house, garage, outside, etc. Kettlebells are convenient, travel with you, all-inclusive training program, and the investment for a kettle bell is very reasonable, and one time only.

Kettle ball on beach | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Kettlebells are not a new exercise approach. Kettlebells originated in Russia about 350 years ago. They build muscle quickly but burn fat a little slower than some other routines, so weight on the scale may not go down that quick since muscle is swiftly being built, keeping weight higher, even though conditioning is occurring. 

The kettlebell swing is an ideal place for a new user to begin. It works the entire body, including arms, legs, abs, glutes, shoulders, wrists, etc. The Swing builds muscles and strength fast, cuts fat, boosts endurance, improves posture, and increases cardiovascular health. The kettlebell swing is a movement that should be in everyone’s arsenal. The investment in these tools can be reasonable given the level of effort put into utilizing and perfecting form.

The Elite are elite because they get nail the basics. That said, here are a few workout moves to start with, but direct training by an expert kettlebell coach is advised to ensure optimized workout results and reduced risk of injury.

Kettlebell Swing Routine

Begin in a squat position, feet slightly wider than shoulder width, upper back contracted and strong, spine neutral and gaze ahead.

Brushing your arms on your inner thighs, forcefully extend the knees and hips to accelerate the kettlebell up. Keep your arms straight while you project the kettlebell up and away from the body. At the top position, the kettlebell should be pointing forward, arms straight or slightly bent at the elbows, cushion the moments weightlessness and brace of the deceleration as the bell travels down.

Absorb the kettlebell weight as it follows the same path back to the starting position. Make sure to keep your arms straight the entire time.

Kettle Ball Swing | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Repeat immediately! Try 3 sets of 20 swings to get that posterior chain firing.

The Turkish Get-Up

The Kettlebell Swing and the Kettlebell Turkish Get Up are super effective for strengthening core, legs, back muscles, and an excellent place to begin a kettlebell strength and conditioning routine. The Turkish Get focuses on small stabilizing muscles and creates a rock-solid foundation. Beginners often push too quickly and end with injuries. The Kettlebell Turkish Get Up slows you down, shows if a weak core, poor mobility, or weak stabilizing muscles need strengthening. Go here to watch a video illustrating the correct technique. 

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