5 Upper Body Circuits for a Fighter’s Physique

You can’t beat a fighter’s workout for a lean, strong upper body.

Many athletes wonder how to develop a lean, powerful, and practical physique. Having a powerful upper body is important not only to look good, but also to help maintain posture, protect the vital organs, and transmit power. Fighters, especially strikers such as Muay Thai athletes and kickboxers, require this more than any other athlete. Their upper body is the bridge to transition power to their punches, kicks, and elbow and knee strikes. At the same time, they must be able to maintain a certain weight while developing enough muscle to protect the body’s vital organs against attacks.

The strength and conditioning programs that elite fighters use to accomplish these goals are just as effective in helping non-fighters get in shape. For everyday practical purposes, a strong upper body helps prevent injuries, keeps you pain-free, and at the same time helps develop muscle to burn fat. Resistance training helps you increase your BMR (basal metabolic rate), which will allow you to burn fat when not working out. Of course, a lean, powerful upper body is also beneficial for aesthetic purposes and a confidence booster.

Kickboxers fight rounds between 2-5 minutes, sometimes throwing up to 100 punches per round. This output requires serious upper body strength and endurance. For this purpose, having massive, bulky arms is not beneficial nor practical. Too much muscle on a fighter becomes a burden to carry around, reducing their mobility, which is critical to generating punching power. However, it is still very important to develop strength so that you can actually punch hard!

Today I am going to show you exercises that I (and my other fighters) use. I have broken them down into five kickboxing-based strength and conditioning sequences that you may perform 2-3 times a week. These circuits will help you develop a lean, powerful and healthy-looking upper body. Let’s get started!

5 Kickboxing Conditioning Circuits

The exercises in each workout are completed in a three-round circuit, similar to how fighters fight. It is suggested to take a 1-minute break between rounds. However, if you feel like you need more, you should take it. Each exercise in the round should be completed as fast as possible, unless otherwise specified.

Circuit 1: Shoulder Drills, Part 1

You can perform the following exercises in a fighting stance (one foot forward and one back), or you can stand with your feet shoulder width apart and side-by-side. These exercises will be difficult and burn your arms. It is important that you keep pushing through and when it gets hard. Keep working! This is not an easy routine.

Perform two 3-minute rounds with a 1-minute break between rounds, using 1-3lb dumbbells.

Exercise 1: Straight Punches (30 seconds)

Keep your shoulders relaxed and don’t extend your arms all the way. Keep loose and let your arms flow. Punch out with a continuous 1-2 (jab cross) combination.

Exercise 2: Overhead punches (30 seconds)

Keep your shoulders relaxed and extend your hands directly over your head. Keep your elbows tucked in. Continuously punch above your head until the time runs out.

Exercise 3: Back Fly (30 seconds)

Bend over and keep your spine neutral. As you bring your arms back, try to keep your chest out and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Circuit 2: Shoulder Drills, Part 2

Perform two 3-minute rounds with a 1 minute break between rounds, using 1-3lb dumbbells.

Exercise 1: Front Raises (30 seconds)

Keep your shoulders relaxed and bring your arms up at a quick rate. You should try to do around 20 reps every 30 seconds.

Exercise 2: Side Raises (30 seconds)

Keep your shoulders relaxed and extend your hands up directly to the side of you. Keep your arms straight and get to work.

Exercise 3: Forward Arm Circles (30 seconds)

Keep your arm as straight as possible in front of you. Then move your arms in a small circle in front of you. Change directions every 15 seconds.

Circuit 3: Pressing Moves, Part 1

Perform two 3-minute rounds with a 1-minute break between rounds.

Exercise 1: Normal Push-Ups (20 seconds, 10 seconds rest) 

If you are comfortable with push ups, perform regular push ups and make sure to touch your nose to the floor. If you need to make an adjustment, perform push ups on your knees. The key here is to focus on keeping your chest open and back straight. Perform as many full push ups as possible.

Exercise 2: Explosive Push-ups (20 seconds, 10 seconds rest) 

This set is similar to set 1, except now you will push off as high as possible. Don’t rush it; focus on quality over quantity, and make sure you get as high as possible when you perform each push up. Take a rest if you need to. If you need to make an adjustment, do the push up on your knees.

Exercise 3: Pulsing Push ups (sets of 10 for 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest) 

Keep your elbows as close to you as possible and hold the push up at the middle position. Pulse by doing half push ups in sets of 10. If you need to make an adjustment, perform these from your knees.

Circuit 4: Pressing Moves, Part 2

Perform two 3-minute rounds with a 1-minute break between rounds.

Exercise 1: SAS (Single Arm Stability) Bench Press (20 seconds, 10 seconds rest)

This exercise is an an adjustment of a single-arm dumbbell bench press. You will slide half of your body off the bench (the side that you have the weight). When you perform the press, your body is going to naturally try to turn, so you must engage your entire core so that you body does not flop. It is very important that your shoulders and hips do not flop around. Keep everything engaged. This exercise will not only work your chest muscles as a normal dumbbell press, but also engage your core as it transitions power.

Exercise 2: Explosive Bench Press (20 seconds, 10 seconds rest)

This is similar to the first exercise, with the exception that you are going to do the press with a medicine ball (or light weight) that you can throw up as high as possible. You can have someone standing over you to catch the medicine ball, or catch it as it falls back down.

Note: Be very careful and start slowly, do not drop the ball on your own face.

Exercise 3: Medicine Ball Wall Throws (30 seconds) 

Take a medicine ball (approximate 3 lbs) and stand approximately 10 feet away from a solid wall (make sure it is solid). Stand facing perpendicular to the wall. Using your whole body to turn, throw the ball as hard as you can into the wall. Catch the ball when it bounces back, and turn back to your original position to stop the ball (resistance both ways). As you get more and more comfortable, you may adjust the distance.

Circuit 5: Pressing Moves, Part 3

Perform two 3-minute rounds with a 1-minute break between rounds.

Exercise 1: Farmers Walk (20 seconds, 10 second rest) 

Grab two weights, one in each hand. Keeping your back perfectly neutral (shoulders back, core tight, chest up), lean forward slowly and allow the weight to almost “tip” you forward. In order to prevent yourself from falling over, walk with small steps on your forefoot. It is critical to keep your spine straight. Do not flex your spine; keep your chest up, shoulders back, and squeeze your core the whole time as if someone were about to punch you. As you walk, you will tend to tip side-to-side to compensate for the weight. You must prevent yourself from doing this in order to get the full benefit of this exercise.

Exercise 2: Briefcase Carry (20 seconds, 10 second rest, alternating hands) 

The briefcase carry is similar to the first exercise, except now you only have a weight on one side. The focus is still on keeping your back straight. When you have a weight in one hand you will tend to lean toward one side, but you must resist that tendency.

Why train like a fighter?

Prepare for Life’s Challenges: Train Martial Arts

Leave a Comment