5 Essentials for Building a Solid Physical Foundation for Martial Arts

Martial Arts training is extremely demanding on the mind and body.  Every training session pushes you to your mental and physical limits.  There are many techniques, exercises and moves that are extremely difficult to execute well.  A strong, fit and flexible body really helps with being able to effectively and effortlessly execute these techniques and exercises.  Preparing the body for the physical demands of Martial Arts will definitely help you maximise your Martial Arts potential.

Physical Foundation for Martial Arts


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What are the physical skills required to maximise your Martial Arts fitness?  We take a look at the areas you can focus on to take your Martial Arts to the next level.


Core Strength

First and foremost is Core Strength.  The core is responsible for stabilising your body and is the base from which you execute techniques with power and precision.  The core helps you maintain control of your body.  If you are able to control your core, then you will be able to execute crisp and powerful techniques with minimal effort.

There are a large variety of exercises that you can perform such as the Plank, Side-plank, Dog-bird hold and Hollow Body hold. These are designed to hit the core from varying angles and directions.

core exercises

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Stamina and Conditioning

As a Martial Artist, stamina is extremely important.  Fighting for minutes at a time at full speed with minimal rest between rounds is common.  The better your conditioning, the longer and harder you are able to fight.  This may make all the difference between fighters that are similarly skilled.  Fighters that are not well conditioned will eventually run out of energy.  With all their energy depleted, they are not able to attack and defend with speed and power and will eventually be defeated.

To improve your stamina, you need to improve the strength of your cardiovascular system which means stronger heart and lungs.

Boxers are well-known for getting up as early as 4AM to do road work which increases their aerobic capacity so that their muscles will receive enough oxygen to generate energy and help them keep up the tempo for long periods of time.

Personally, I find the intensity created by burpees helps me increase my aerobic capacity quickly.  It also serves to increase my energy levels whilst not impacting my joints as severely as prolonged running does.

In addition, I have found heavy bag work and a speed rope to be very advantageous to Martial Arts conditioning and fighting.  You need to put in quality heavy bag hours to improve your stamina and performance for fighting.

The heavy bag and speed rope compliment each other well as they provide different forms of cardiovascular training.  The heavy bag can be used to really ramp up your heart rate through High-Intensity-Interval-Training (HIIT).  You can follow a Tabata format for this type of training:

  • Striking the heavy bag as hard and as fast as you can for 20 seconds 
  • Resting for 10 seconds
  • Repeat for 8 rounds

As you progress and get fitter you should be able to exert more power for the 20 seconds of work.

The speed rope on the other hand will give your body the steady state cardio that it needs to perform steady work for long periods of time. Apply the principle of progressive overload of time to this.  Begin with 3 minutes of jump rope and increase by 30 seconds each week or go as long as you can.

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A good foundation of strength will allow you to exert maximum force with minimal effort.  The ability to recruit as many muscle fibres as possible into your technique will allow you to unleash devastating force and, in many respects, enable you to overwhelm your opponent.  However, I advise that you pursue strength with caution.  Martial Arts require specialised movements, so you want to train for strength with movements that mimic your Martial Art.  Also, do not sacrifice mobility for musculature.  This will only serve to increase the effort required to execute techniques effectively.

Resistance training is great for strength and this involves moving heavy weight through controlled movements.  Your body will adapt to this need to move large amounts of weight by developing new neuromuscular pathways helping you to recruit more muscle for the movements that you are training.  It is important to focus on movements that are similar to your Martial Art because you want to become more powerful and efficient in these movements.  If your Martial Art requires you to do straight punches, make sure you keep your elbows in when performing push-ups.

Martial Arts requires explosive strength and I have acquired massive explosive gains through plyometric exercises such as plyometric push-ups and box jumps.  This Plyo-box is great to train whole-body explosiveness and coordination.  This particular one provides 3 jumping heights to allow you to progressively improve your lower body explosiveness.

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If you need a better strength base in general, opt for compound movements like Squats, Bench Press, Deadlifts and Overhead Presses.


Mobility or Flexibility

Many Martial Arts, such as Taekwondo, require high kicks.  The ability to execute movements like these effectively and efficiently requires lots of mobility.  More importantly, having a good amount of flexibility makes you less susceptible to injuries.

Supplementary training such as Yoga will improve joint mobility and suppleness in the body.  You may benefit from using a Yoga Strap to get into those challenging positions

This will help you achieve efficiency in your movements. 

Lately, I have been focusing on mobility and stretching every day.  It only takes a few minutes in your day and the basic stretches that have helped me in my Martial Arts are the Front Split, Side Split (left and right), Back Arch and the Seated Butterfly.  Stretch as far as you can go and hold that position for 30 seconds.  Remember to breathe deeply as this will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help you relax in that position.  When breathing deeply, remember to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth in a slow and controlled manner.


Agility and Speed

The ability to evade attacks and change your direction is critical to defend yourself through slips and parries.  Counter attacks require lots of agility so that you can shift your body weight and change direction quickly between defence and attack.

Speed is a great attribute to have as a fighter, since it enables you to land strikes and get into great attacking positions with little or no detection.  It can be the determinant of a fight between fighters of similar strength and skill.

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Final Thoughts...

Martial Arts is a lifestyle and requires a lot of training, dedication and effort.  These 5 essentials will help you reach a level of strength and fitness to excel in your Martial Art and ensure that you are training for many years to come.


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