At an early stage of my development as an athlete, I identified components necessary to grow, evolve and develop as a martial artist. As my enthusiasm grew, my belts changed colour, my training regime intensified and had become smarter each day as I actively sought to better myself.
In early 1965, Bruce Lee emerged in superb physical condition. At the age of 13 Bruce Lee began to study Wing Chun (Kung Fu) under Master Yip Man, Bruce trained arduously and continuously on a daily basis so that by the time he reached his 20’s he appeared to be in a great shape as most will recall from his early movies.
Bruce’s martial art, Jeet Kune Do, which is an all-encompassing approach to living life at the pinnacle of developed potential, naturally includes training the physical body to achieve peak performance. It is fascinating that more than a quarter of a century has elapsed since Bruce Lee’s passing in July 1973 from a cerebral edema yet people are still talking about the physique of a man who stood five feet seven and a half inches tall and weighed around 135 pounds.
Martial artists to this day continue to revere his physical dexterity, power and speed as well as the genius he displayed in bringing science to bear on the world of unarmed combat. Moviegoers are impressed with the man’s animal magnetism and the fact that he single handedly created a new genre of action film, opening the door for the Sylvester Stallones and Arnold Schwarzeneggers who followed in his footsteps.
Weight Training Vs Martial Arts. East Meets West. Martial Arts merge into Martial Science
Bodybuilding luminaries like Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno, Rachel McLish, Flex Wheeler, Shawn Ray, Lenda Murray, Dorian Yates and Lee Haney all pay homage to the impact Bruce Lee’s physique had on their bodybuilding career.
One of the reasons for the difference in musculature between the typical bodybuilder and Bruce Lee was that Lee’s muscles were not built simply for the purpose of show, as are many bodybuilders; above all, he was concerned with FUNCTION!
The standard of technical excellence in the martial arts is based on the evolution of traditional techniques. However, many of the training methods that were used in the past would be unacceptable today. Although much of the current state of martial arts is firmly rooted in history, its continued development and credibility depend upon a willingness to adopt new practices and methods.
So, what are these functions of muscle? What are the components that make a sports person complete? What makes up a complete martial athlete? This notion is often referred to as the S-Factor.
I see many martial artists who put most of their time, commitment and focus into developing the skill. It is crucial to have the skill, however, you may have the driving skills of Michael Schumacher but if you are driving an old, rusty one llitre vehicle, you don’t stand much of a chance of completing your race! This is when you take your car into the garage to make some alterations, install a bigger engine, twin turbo injection, new exhaust etc…. You see where I am coming from?
From the S-Factor we can identify the different components that are required in different ratios to different sports. Each of the S-Factors should be included in any training session, irrespective of their degree of importance. Ignoring one or completely taking it out of the equation is like pulling a component out of a transistor radio. No matter how small or insignificant it may seem, the radio will cease to work.
Sport in the 21st century has evolved to a higher level of performance than ever imagined by our predecessors. Sports performance today is a result of many variables, not the least of which is greatly improved strength and conditioning programs. Creating a stronger, faster, more powerful body is the priority of most athletes and coaches.
Strength training is an accepted part of training for most sports. In a quest to use the best form of strength training, coaches as well as sports scientists have closely examined the sport of weightlifting. After all, weightlifters are among the strongest, most powerful athletes in the sporting world.
Until about 1960, athletes from other sports generally shunned the idea of lifting weights for improved athletic performance. For the most part, runners ran, swimmers swam, divers dove and martial artists performed their drills.
Learned properly however, explosive weight lifting movements should contribute to improved sports performance.
Strength is a key component of success in many sports. However, just adding resistance training does not guarantee improved strength. Why some forms of resistance training may not produce gains in strength becomes clear when we define the term strength. Strength is the ability to exert a maximal force against a resistance. Strength gains are fairly easily achieved with the appropriate use of resistance training of a sufficiently high intensity. Actual gains in strength normally require the use of either free weights or resistance machines.
Another key ingredient for success in many sports is power. We can clearly identify different types of strength. Explosive strength, speed strength and isometric strength. The two ways to evaluate strength is absolute strength and relative strength. Absolute strength is crucial for most sports, however particularly for those that involve moving a heavy resistance such as in wrestling and powerlifting. The other important form of strength that is important to identify, is relative strength. Relative strength is easily defined as your strength to weight ratio. How strong are you when your strength is expressed as a percentage of your body weight?
In some sports that involve quick movements however, the ability to accelerate a weight or mass, is the key to success. This may involve only your own body weight with no additional resistance as with martial arts movements.
Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity identifies that EVERYTHING in the Universe is energy which he nicely illustrated with the equation E=MC2. Energy cannot be created, nor destroyed. It can only be passed on from one form to another. Therefore, the more we give, the more we get back and we must give first. This not only applies to training but all aspects of our lives.
Isaac Newton’s second Law of Motion deals with acceleration. It states that for bodies of constant mass, acceleration is proportional to the force that causes it and takes place in the direction in which the force acts. Gaining strength improves your ability to accelerate a mass provided you specifically train your acceleration skills as well.
To make continued gains in strength, you need to use a progressive over-load. The theory of progressive resistance, which relates to all aspects of physical conditioning, not just resistance training, states that you must periodically make the effort more difficult in order to coax the muscles to a higher level of response.
Power is the one ingredient that often spells success in many sports. Simply following strength / power athlete training programs is not always the complete answer. A boxer or a martial artist for instance may benefit from performing explosive, weightlifting-specific exercises, however, neither athlete is going to perform in any way resembling a weightlifter. The amount of transfer to their sport may be less than, say that of a volleyball player. Therefore the boxer or the martial artist would need to include other exercises more specific to their activities. In theory, plyometric training enables a muscle or muscle group to reach its maximum force in the shortest possible time. This evidently has a direct application to sport.
For an exercise activity to be plyometric, it must include what is known as a stretch shortening cycle. This refers to the process of loading a muscle eccentrically (the muscle lengthens against tension), followed rapidly by a concentric muscle action (the muscle shortens against resistance). The initial rapid eccentric motion allows the subsequent concentric action to exceed that which it could produce alone. Plyometric training includes ballistic components not available in many resistance exercises. Ballistic refers to launching an object (medicine ball, barbell, body weight) explosively into space.
Because of this ballistic nature of exercise, a stretch reflex kicks in upon detecting a rapid initiation of the stretch, thus limiting the amount of stretch. But since the muscle is elastic, this stretching (much like an elastic rubber band) stores elastic energy that can be released when and if the muscle contracts quickly after the stretch. Bear in mind that if the contraction does not follow quickly after the stretch, the energy is dissipated.
Let’s say a martial artist wanted to develop more explosive power in his punches. Traditionally we’d look to the bench press or incline press for the strengthening component. Let’s take a look at some of the core exercises that martial artists should incorporate into their existing training in order to take their performance to new heights.
The Snatch consists of rapidly lifting a barbell from its starting position on the floor to an overhead position in one continuous motion. There are different types of snatch technique but the technique illustrated in the photo is the Squat Snatch. The Squat Snatch is a preferred manner for lifting the most weight in the snatch. After your legs and hips lift the weight from the floor, you execute a powerful jump, immediately followed by a pulling motion with your upper body and arms. Stand up from the squat position to complete the lift.
CLEAN AND JERK
After you have successfully cleaned the barbell, all that remains is to quickly “jerk” the weight overhead. As most martial arts exponents will appreciate, you are only as strong as your weakest link therefore weakness should be eliminated in the first year of resistance training. In many cases the beginning, power athletes should prepare through more of a body building orientated program than a weightlifting specific program. This means making use of many different exercises and developing muscles not necessarily used in your chosen discipline such as biceps, pectorals and triceps. Multiple sets of repetitions in the 8-12 range are recommended. This prepares the body for the more specific work related to explosive, weight lifting type training.
Squat is the foundation for not only weightlifting but also nearly every athletic movement in sport today. The squat is performed with the bar resting on the upper back and shoulders. Place the bar in a squat or power rack at about shoulder height. Grip the bar with an overhand, closed grip and step under the bar so that it rests solidly on the trapezius muscles of you upper back and your posterior deltoids.
Place your feet flat about shoulder width apart with your toes pointed either straight ahead or 10 – 15 degrees out. Take a breath, flex your ankles, knees and hips and lower your body to a position in which the tops of your thighs are at least parallel with the floor. This lowering motion should take two to three seconds. Keep your spine straight, your chest up and look straight ahead.
The split squat is an advanced form of squatting that is not necessary for newcomers but may certainly be useful for advanced martial artists. Get into a position with either the barbell on your shoulders or a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Flex (bend) your forward ankle, knee and hip until your rear knee lightly contacts the floor. Stand and repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Switch legs and perform the desired number of reps on the other leg.
All athletes can use the lunge to strengthen their legs individually. The bar may be placed either on your upper back or on your collarbones and shoulders. Alternatively you can use a pair of dumbbells. Take a breath and step forward with your right foot a distance of about 30 inches. Bend your front ankle, knee and hip and lower your body with a forward decent until the top of your thigh is parallel to the floor. Your left knee is nearly straight, your hips are directly under you and your torso is perpendicular to the floor.
The step up is similar to the split squat and the lunge, but still has enough differences to make for an interesting diversion. The barbell is most conveniently located in a squat, across your upper back and shoulders. Step back from the rack and position yourself about 6 inches away from a secure bench or step that allows your right thigh to be approximately parallel to the floor when your right foot is on top of the surface. Straighten your right knee and hip until you are standing on top of the step. Bring your left foot alongside your right. Repeat with your left leg going up first this time, followed by your right.
The back extension is a very effective exercise to develop the lower back muscles. The start and finish are with your torso parallel with the floor. It can be performed on a special bench or simply on an elevated surface with the training partner holding your feet in place. Regardless which method you follow, be sure to have padding under your hips or thighs.
INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS
Adjust an incline bench to a 45-degree angle. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and sit on the bench, back supported by the backrest. With palms facing forward, straighten arms and dumbbells up over your chest. Lower back to the starting position, weights even with your chest.
FLAT DUMBBELL PRESS
Lie flat on a bench on your back. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and extend arms over your chest, palms facing your feet. Slowly lower the weights by bending your elbows. Bring weights down to shoulder level- your elbows should be bent to 90 degrees. Slowly push weights back up to the starting position over your chest.
MACHINE PEC DECK
Adjust seat so that when elbows are on the arm pad they are at chest level. Select appropriate weight. With arms on the pads out to the side and elbows bent at 90 degrees, bring elbows in front of chest by pushing on the pads. Your elbows should meet directly in front of your middle chest. Slowly bring your elbows back to the starting position.
SEATED MACHINE PRESS
Adjust seat height to appropriate height so that the handles are at chest level. Select appropriate weight. Grasp the handles and push to full arms extension. Slowly lower back to starting position. Refer to instructions on machine as machines vary.
Plyometrics is the number one method for developing sports specific power and speed. Maximum strength takes 0.5 to 0.7 seconds to produce. Yet most explosive, athletic movements occur much more rapidly. Whether your objective is to accelerate faster, hit the ball harder, kick faster, move around the court more quickly, jump higher or throw further.
The key to improving your power and performance lies in generating the highest possible force in the shortest possible time. Plyometrics plays a primary role in this training objective. Ideally you would first develop a high level of maximal strength before starting a plyometrics program. This gives you the greatest potential for peak power. Plyometric training is no fad. The word “plyometrics” has been around since the 1960’s but athletes were using the technique many years before that. So how does plyometric training work exactly?
WHAT IS PLYOMETRICS?
The underlying principle of plyometric training is the stretch-shortening cycle. Very simply, as a muscle stretches and contracts eccentrically (lengthens while it contracts) it produces elastic energy, which it can store. If the muscle then contracts concentrically (shortens while it contracts) this elastic energy can be used to increase the force of the contraction. A good example is jumping. If an athlete jumps vertically they will always dip down just before take off. Quickly lowering their centre of gravity stretches the working muscle groups allowing them to contract more forcefully for the jump. In essence a muscle stretched before it contracts will contract much more forcefully.
What role does plyometrics play in all of this?
Plyometric training places increased stretch loads on the working muscles. As the muscles become more tolerant to the increased loads the stretch-shortening cycle becomes more efficient. The muscle stores more elastic energy. It can transfer from the eccentric or stretching phase to the concentric or lengthening phase more rapidly. This is the key to generating peak power The following guidelines will help to make your plyometric training safer and more effective.
Sports scientists have identified a very specific area, which requires particular attention, but the committed Martial Athlete has to apply theories to the “real world”.Skillful performance results from muscles producing force in a precise way that is appropriate to the action. This may vary from generating maximum power in the shortest possible time in breaking techniques to the sustained delicate movements of Tai Chi. For the correct application of all S-Factors “p”sychology is essential. The individual must have the appropriate level of commitment, dedication, enthusiasm and persistence for his or her own style.
When designing a training program you must consider carefully both the technical requirements as well as the level of strength required to achieve the desired level of excellence. Each of the S-Factor components should be taken into account in any training session irrespective of the degree of their importance to your discipline. However, one of the fundamental elements is “STRENGTH” since all activity in one’s life depends on the contraction of muscles for its source of power.
No journey is too long or too hard once you find what you had been looking for! Each journey, each step begins with a thought process so start by thinking positive. Think BIG and work hard and you will achieve HUGE! Plan your journey, identify where you stand and give yourself realistic, time specific goals. Monitor your progress along the way. Just remember, by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
“Don’t dream your life…Live your dream!”