4 Strength techniques that would benefit a kickboxer’s training
By: James Hutchinson
4 Strength techniques that would benefit a kickboxer’s training
Kickboxer’s need power, speed and strength during fights. Having a combination of these helps to improve technique and performance. That is why weight training and body weight exercises can prove to be very useful in the long term. To increase kicking and punching power it is vital they focus on building strength through bodyweight and weight training alongside pad/bag work. In turn this will also increase endurance levels to last through intense bouts. A kickboxer’s focus when training is on building core strength and strong legs.
Bruce Lee was one of my heroes growing up, he was a very disciplined martial artist, instructor and actor. He was a big fan of strength training using weights and incorporated it into his daily workout regime alongside his martial arts training. He apparently regularly performed the clean and press which is a very good strength and conditioning exercise that works the full body. (“Workout,” 2017).
He knew that the extra work and hours he put into his training at the gym would improve his craft in martial arts. However, he also knew that overtraining could regress and affect his martial arts performance. (He injured his back once due to over training!). (“Motley Health,” 2018).
“Above all, never cheat on any exercise; use the amount of weight that you can handle without undue strain.” – Bruce Lee (Khedun, 2013).
His views were sometimes controversial but also very influential. Alongside Jeet Kune Do and Wing Chun he also embraced Western fighting styles. He was a big fan of boxing which influenced his development of Jeet Kune Do. So if a martial arts legend like Bruce Lee believed in strength training in order to improve as a martial artist who are we to argue!
There are 4 vital strength techniques that will help a kickboxer build their strength and endurance and increase performance.
Plyometric training –
Explosive movements really help the kickboxer with power, speed, strength, balance and body awareness. Jump training means muscles exert maximum force in short intervals and mimic a kickboxer’s movements, for example the step jump would be an ideal exercise. Exerting a lot of movement and force from a standing or squat position at close range. Over time this will increase strength, movement and power in glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Exercises such as burpees and skipping with jump ropes have a similar effect. Building strength in the anterior and posterior chain increasing balance and stability, plyometric training also helps to increase endurance levels.
Weight training –
Ideal for building strength and muscular endurance levels. There are arguments to suggest lifting heavy weight is not good for a kickboxer, especially on the lead up to a fight as it can increase weight (muscle weighs more than fat). However, if the kickboxer focuses on lower repetitions and lower sets of weight training this will be more beneficial to their strength gains. Andrew Read provides an insight into this method of weight training in his blog. He states that the athlete should keep the reps very low to a maximum of 3 per set. He suggests a total of 10 reps per exercise would benefit an athlete’s performance. This form of training is called neural training. (Reed, 2019).
If reps are more than 8 per set then this would be classed as metabolic training. This is where you are working the muscles to fatigue and building hypertrophy, when muscles are under tension for long periods of time. (Reed, 2019). It could be argued that the neural form of strength training is more applicable to kickboxer’s who are wanting to compete in fights/tournaments; nevertheless it is important to find that right balance where you are increasing strength through weight training but also not sacrificing your kickboxing form or risking injury. The key to an athlete’s training is adding strength and minimising body weight.
The recommended and ideal weight strength training program for kickboxers is using medium to heavy weights (around 80% 1RM for well trained individuals) and low repetitions (3-5 reps) with long periods of rest. (Wilson, 2016). Performing a bench press for example using this method would maximise strength development whilst limiting hypertrophy.
Boxing and kicking involves unilateral movements (the movement of one limb), so imitating these movements when weight training would be very useful to a kickboxer’s technique. Doing single leg raises or leg presses for example would help to alleviate imbalances. If a combination of these weight training techniques are properly managed and maintained they can be very beneficial to a kickboxer’s form in the long term.
Speed Play –
This form of exercise is also known as fartlek training. It is ideal for kickboxer’s because it is an exercise that keeps the mind and body guessing, the fighter can never relax or get too comfortable during a fight. They need to be continually engaged. A kickboxer needs to have quick reactions to be able to react and think quickly. The constant unpredictable movements in a fight, from slow to fast to slow, means the body has to switch from fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibres.
This is where fartlek training will help a kickboxer as it mirrors the unpredictability of a fight. It can help improve endurance levels, speed, power and strength. In turn this improves a fighter’s anaerobic threshold. After all it is important to have the strength and endurance to last a full fight!
An example of a fartlek training method would be short sharp sprints, I shout jog or side sprints and the athlete follows my commands. The athlete can also do this exercise alone, interspersing short runs with slow jogs at random over a given time frame. And to make it more challenging, at the same time throwing jabs or uppercuts.
Fartlek can be incorporated into many different exercises. The prowler sled push for example, you can change weights at random on each push, going up then down then up. Going faster, pushing harder and then slower. On the treadmill you can switch the speed and gradient up and down or on an exercise bike changing the incline and speed. Fartlek is also used when a kickboxer is training with pads. The stop-start routine when the partner is throwing jabs or kicks etc, the kickboxer needs to be constantly engaged and have good awareness.
You can be very creative and imaginative with this training method. It engages the athlete physiologically and psychologically. The unpredictability can make it fun and challenging, and the rewards will be evident.
Functional training –
involves performing exercises that train the body to perform better or function better in every-day activities. Functional training is ideal, especially in helping an athlete improve their performance in their chosen sport. They mainly consist of compound exercises such as a squat, deadlift, push ups, lunges etc, which requires the body to utilise more than one muscle group to work together.
It is an extremely useful training method for kickboxers as it involves a lot of sports-specific exercises. A kickboxer is constantly moving, twisting and turning, jumping and squatting. They are working multiple muscle groups when training or fighting, and flexibility is essential in order to perform the moves efficiently. The more efficient they can do functional exercises where the mind and the muscles are learning to recruit multiple muscle groups to complete a job, the more efficient they will be as a kickboxer. The exercises improve coordination, balance, focus, core strength and stability.
The exercises can be performed with body weight or with weight such as kettle bells or dumbbells. For kickboxers there are a variety of exercises that would be very beneficial, burpees help develop explosive power and endurance, squats help improve lower body strength and lunges can help improve balance and coordination. The prowler sled push is another very good functional move for kickboxers as it greatly improves leg strength along with the core and glutes. It improves power, strength, muscle endurance, and can be modified to fit the needs and physiology of the athlete.
To conclude, there are many benefits to introducing different strength training methods to your program as a kickboxer. Kickboxing is a sport that requires great strength. A combination of these strength training methods gives you more energy and increases endurance levels as you are working aerobically and anaerobically (without oxygen) as intensity increases. Over time this will improve your anaerobic threshold (the point when the aerobic system can no longer keep up with the body’s energy demand) and thus helping you to work longer and harder. The improvement in endurance due to strength training is ideal for long intense fights/training, that little bit of extra energy can prove all the difference.
Despite many views to the contrary, weight training can benefit the kickboxer if they are sensible and manage their strength routine successfully with the appropriate exercise, weight, repetitions, sets and rest for the nervous system to adequately recover.
If they can successfully find the right balance of high weight accompanied with low reps and sets they will reap the rewards in strength gains. And remember, Bruce Lee believed that training with weight improved his overall strength, performance and ability in his martial art! But equally it is also important to remember that overtraining with weights will potentially not only increase weight gain due to increased muscle mass but also cause injury and affect form.
By incorporating these strength training methods into your workout alongside your daily pad/work or drills will make you a more efficient, stronger and well-rounded fighter.
Reed, A. (2019). 3-Day Strength Program For Kickboxers, MMA Fighters, And Grapplers [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/3-day-strength-program-for-kickboxers-mma-fighters-and-grapplers
Wilson, M. (2016). Boxing Tips Strength Training Techniques & Workout Design [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.myprotein.com/thezone/training/boxing-tips-strength-training-techniques-workout/
Khedun, R. (2013). Profile of Bruce Lee. [online] Kung Fu Kingdom. Available at: https://kungfukingdom.com/profile-of-bruce-lee/ [Accessed 23 July 2019].
Workout Like Bruce Lee, (2017). Bruce Lee Body Training Routine For Strength, Power & Muscle Definition. [online] Available at: http://www.workoutlikebrucelee.com/bruce-lee-body-strength-workout/ [Accessed 23 July 2019].
Motley Health No Nonsense Fitness, (2018). The Bruce Lee Workout Page – Fitness and Strength Training. [online] Available at: https://www.motleyhealth.com/fitness/bruce-lee-workout [Accessed 23 July 2019].