"I have tried lifting weights to add power to my striking and grappling techniques. Since I want to build endurance, as well as strength, I do three sets of ten to twenty reps to failure on all my exercises. The problem is, I get so sore and tired, that I have no energy left for my martial arts practice! What am I doing wrong?"
Everything. The punch bag who came up with the light weights/high reps formula for martial artists did not have a slightest clue about either strength training or martial arts.
The best strength training formula for a fighting man or woman is heavy, 80-95% 1RM, weights, and low, 1-5, repetitions. There are at least five reasons why:
1. Heavy weights build strength.
It is the muscular tension, not fatigue, that you should maximize in training if strength is your goal. There are plenty of studies, for instance Goldberg et. al (1975), to support this notion. The heavier is the weight you are lifting, the higher is the tension. It is that simple.
2. Strength endurance gained with ten, twenty, or more, reps is not specific to hand to hand combat.
You would be a lot better off doing a few rounds on a heavy bag or Thai pads. Iron is just for strength, period. Leave the sissy high rep stuff to aerobic instructors.
3. Low rep training causes minimal fatigue and muscle soreness.
Strength endurance work of the kind that you and most martial artists favour takes a lot longer to recover from that one to five rep strength work (Roman, 1962). High repetitions also make you a lot more sore. Does not it make sense to perform your conditioning in a manner which does not interfere with the practice of your fighting art?
4. High reps build useless tissue and break down real muscle.
One of the reasons bodybuilders are generally a lot weaker than they look is that their muscles aint real. Repetition lifting of a submaximal weight, the bodybuilding choice, promotes sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, or an increase in the volume of worthless jello like filler inside the muscle, while breaking down the contractile proteins, the "real" muscle (Nikityuk & Samoylov, 1990).
5. Heavy low rep training is the safest way to lift.
No, I have not been hit on the head a few times too many. I will give you at least two reasons why heavy, low rep weight training is much safer than lifting a light weight a lot of times. First, the stabilizing muscles get tired before the prime movers in high rep sets, which sets you up for an injury. When you do a set of twenty squats, your back gets tired before your legs and sooner or later you will get hurt! On a five rep set your legs will be first to go. Second, when you lift a weight which is heavier than eighty percent of your maximum, you can get superstrong without training to failure. Ed Coan who posted the highest powerlifting total of all time not long ago always racks his monstrous weights a rep or two short of his limit! If you want to know the hows and whys, check out my new book Power to the People!: Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American.
With all of the above in mind, here is the program of choice. Perform three core lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Squat and bench on Monday, then press again and deadlift on Thursday. Upper body exercises tax your body less than leg and back work, that is why you get to bench twice a week.
Finish both power workouts with abdominal work in the same heavy weight, low rep mode. Use your favourite exercise, or take your pick of the full contact ab drills from my book Beyond Crunches: Hard Science. Hard Abs. It will do you good to visit my seminar on ab training at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic 2000 as well.
Do five sets of five, four, three, two, and, one reps. Add a little weight, 2,5-10 pounds after every set. Rest for as many minutes as the number of reps you have just done: 5 reps, 5 min, 4 reps, 4 min, 3 reps, 3 min, 2 reps, 2 min, 1 rep, go home.
Start the program with weights you can easily lift for the prescribed number of repetitions. Add a little weight every third workout until you can barely make your reps, then take a week off lifting. When you come back to the gym, start another power cycle with comfortable weights, and build up to your new personal best in eight to twelve weeks.
The results will be spectacular. You will build great strength without stealing time or energy from your martial art practice. Who can expect more from a conditioning program?
Pavel Tsatsouline, Master of Sports, is a former physical training instructor for Spetsnaz, the Soviet Special Forces. He has a degree in coaching and physiology from IFK, the Physical Culture Institute, in the Soviet Union. Pavel was nationally ranked in the Russian ethnic strength sport of kettle-bell lifting and has authored three books, Beyond Stretching, Beyond Crunches, and Power to the People! Go to dragondoor.com or call (800) 899-5111 for a free catalogue.