Strength Training For the Fighter

One of the biggest mistakes combat athletes make is how they apply strength training. Here’s why you need a good strength training program, plus a few workouts I’ve done with my fighters.

One of the biggest mistakes fighters make in the gym is how they choose to apply strength training. More often than not, upon entering the gym fighters can be seen performing box jumps, slamming sledge hammers into tires, doing super long sets with battle ropes, and burpees – all under the assumption that harder is better.

Now while these exercises are fine for the general population, athletes need to carefully select what exercises they are performing to maximize performance and improve their weaknesses. I feel that for the most part combat athletes have forgotten about the strength portion of a strength and conditioning program.

Muay Thai as a sport is very demanding of the cardiovascular system. Any fighter worth his or her weight in salt already has good cardio. Daily training includes running, shadow boxing, hitting pads, hitting the bag, clinching, and sparring. These activities are amazing at building skill, endurance, speed, and power. The only missing link in this equation is strength. Therefore, it is my belief that when adding a training element to your current regimen, strength should be the main focus.

That being said, a good strength and conditioning program should not be easy. I believe one of the great gurus of strength training Dan John put it best when he says:

To me, the sign of a really excellent routine is one which places great demands on the athlete, yet produces long term improvement without soreness, injuries, or the athlete ever feeling throughly depleted. Any fool can create a program that is so demanding that it would kill the toughest Marines or the hardest of elite athletes, but not any fool can create a tough program that produces progress without unnecessary pain.

Below is a routine I’ve used to great success both with myself and with my athletes. This routine was performed 2-3 times per week, depending on how close the upcoming competition was. Rest time between sets and exercises was left to the athlete’s discretion.

Day 1

  • Heavy Kettlebell Swing: 20×5 reps/sets
  • Deadlift x5,3,2
  • Kettlebell Military Press + Weighted Pull Up Ladder: 3×1,2,3
  • Front Squat or Zercher Squat x5,3,2
  • Renegade Rows x5,3,2

On the sets marked 5,3,2 weight is increased with each set.

Day 2

  • Kettlebell Snatch 5x5R/5L
  • Deadlift 3×3
  • Kettlebell Military Press + Weighted Pull Up Ladder: 3×1,2,3
  • Front Squat or Zercher Squat 3×3
  • Renegade Row 3×3

If this routine is the last training session of the day or there are no upcoming competitions within the next week, feel free to have your athletes do a couple sprints with the weight sled. Sprinting can pay huge dividends for combat athletes. If they have another session or day of training, stick to the above routine and practice sparring instead of the sled sprints.

Photo courtesy of Orion Lee.

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