Thoughts on Combat: The role of Strength

Ever wondered how it is that the martial arts are organized in weight divisions, just as weightlifting and powerlifting, but then tennis, soccer or volleyball are not? Well, I do, from time to time…

Preamble

Today I was ultra-busy sorting out some stuff that’s remotely linked to my dojo, so I simply haven’t had a chance to make it to the gym. I was like „don’t fret“ decided to go for a run instead. Now I usually don’t run a lot because my knees give me issues, so the decision might not have been particularly wise. Funny how rope skipping never causes problems, regardless of speed and duration…

Then again my knees are actually getting better – I guess all those squats and deadlifts are paying off. In fact, I actually enjoyed the run. Still, running probably won’t become a major staple in my training anywhere soon. I know boxers, kickboxers and thaiboxers swear by it. Rocky did it all the time, so there must be something to it, right? (Caution: sarcasm)

There’s another side to it as well, though. Bill Judd from KO muay thai London, whom I had the honor to train with during a workshop in cracow, told us that his fighter never run for more than an hour. After all, they’re fighters, not runners. Makes sense, huh?

Now obviously I do realize the benefits to proper aerobic  cardio training. Improved capillarization, increased aerobic capacity, faster regeneration, … If you’ve been following my blog, especially over the last couple of months, you might have realized that I’m a huge proponent of shadow sparring. As a matter of fact, I consider it the most valuable tool for technique training, along with padwork. While padwork rather tends to be anaerobic in nature, I really believe that most shadow sparring should be done in the aerobic zone. So that’s that.

Light sparring (call it flow if you wish), shadow sparring, technique drills, partner drills, … seems like as martial artists, we’re doing quite a lot of aerobic stuff already. Devoting even more sessions to aerobic long distance road work seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

As martial artists, we’re allrounders. I dare say that on the average,  fighters are the best allrounders amongst all types of athletes. Still, there’s attributes that contribute more to success than others…

The fighter’s performance profile

I mean,  let’s face it: Fighting isn’t an aerobic sport. You hear people talk about how strong a fighter is, how fast he is, and how can just keep the pace. Keep in mind that we’re talking about very high-intensity efforts here.

Despite all it’s great benefits, aerobic training just doesn’t cut it when it comes to preparing for combat. What counts is anaerobic lactic capacity. Rounds are relatively short, so most of the expended energy can be covered by the anaerobic system. This is especially true for 2-minute kickboxing rounds. Even during those 15-minute MMA rounds there’s distinct phases of violent intensity, followed by lower-intensity stepping and maneuvering.

If the above said is true, – and I really believe it is – then a fighter needs speed, strength and lactic acid tolerance. Lots of it.

Strength

If you don’t believe in strength as a great equalizer, you’re a dreamer. I’m sorry, but it’s true.Although I could go on here and elaborate on the laws of mechanics to prove the point, there’s more than enough anecdotal evidence. Just take a look at guys like Semmy Schilt or Alistair Overeem in the K-1 circus. Both men possess some skill, but then their victories mostly come from their superior strength and bodyweight. Mariusz Pudzianowski is another example. In his later bouts, he was beaten up pretty bad. Still, in his first couple of bouts, he declassed (real) fighters that outskilled him by lightyears.There’s no real secret behind those wins – tons of muscle and plenty of strength.

That’s where we arrive at the initial question. Simply put, martial arts are organized in weightclasses to protect the smaller fighter. Now why wouldn’t a fighter need such rules if strength wasn’t a huge factor? In light- and semi-contact events that might not necessarily be an issue, but in full-contact competitions, increased striking power and more muscle to absorb strikes gives a huge advantage.

Training implications

Now there’s a positive thing to be said about the above. Both strength and speed are attributes that rely on well developed fast-twitch muscles. HIIT (high intensity interval) session also target FT muscles or at least shift the hybrid fibres towards speed. Hence, by focussing on strenght during S&C sessions – of course on top of a solid foundation of low-to-moderate intensity skill-work -, the truly relevant performance markers are adressed.

Obviously, there’s some fighters that are definately in need of proper cardio training. Think Butterbean. Still, I do believe that a S&C regime that aims at building more muscle, along with some reasonable amount of moderate-intensity interval work (such as rope skipping) to actually move all that muscle would do wonders here. In any case, it beats jogging and the like by lightyears.

I believe so firmly in the role of strength, that I’m planning on adding a third weekly S&C session. Obviously, I won’t do so before my upcoming fight on May 19th, as I can’t judge the effects on recuperation yet. However, beginning on May 21st, I’ll start a new 5/3/1 cycle. In addition to what I’m currently doing (Deadlift + Bench Press on session 1, Squat + Clean and Press on session 2), I’ll do snatches and power cleans in a third session. Since I feel that Wendler’s original 5/3/1 program is somewhat lacking in the field of pulling movements, I’ll add suspended rows and pull-ups as assistence work.

Since I’m doing my assistance work while skipping rope, that’ll give me two strength sessions, one explosivity session and three lactic acid sessions in just under three hours a week. While explosivity is important for a fighter, the strength sessions will basically target the same qualities, as they’re improving the fast twitch muscles (as mentioned above). While three S&C sessions might sound a lot, considering that I’m usually doing skill-work on a daily base (~six sessions / week) that only makes about one third of my total training volume anyhow.

All of the above said basically outlines a thought I’ve been having quite often in the last couple of months. Could be that things are actually totally different. Maybe I’m missing a point here. Wouldn’t be for the first time. Still, I’m really enthusiastic about the increased S&C volume I’ll soon be doing. Of course, I’ll be keeping you up-to-date on the results.

So long,

take care

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