Strength training program

Strength training

Strength is built by resistance training, ie, weight training – the use of weights to strengthen the muscles. The training we are interested in meets the middle ground between powerlifting and bodybuilding. We are interested in making the muscle as strong as possible, while accentuating it’s functionality. The goal is not to overly increase the size of the muscle, nor do we train for cosmetic effect, nor are we looking for raw power for the sake of it.

A kick is achieved by use of various leg muscles – the quadriceps, biceps femoris and gastocnemius, while punching is a combination of upper body muscles to push the fist forward – the pectorals, front deltoids and triceps – the same muscles we use when doing press-ups.

In grappling we use the pulling muscles of the body – those of the back – the lats, traps, rear delts, also the biceps. Part of grappling is grip, and this involves the forearm muscles and wrist flexors.

The recommended training routine is to do three workouts a week, each taking less than an hour. The body is worked over the entire week, on a 3 way split.

An example programme:

MONDAY – Quads and delts
WEDNESDAY – Chest and arms
FRIDAY – Hams and back

This splits the different groups, and each workout is based on one big compond exercise – squats for quads, bench press for chest, and deadlifts for hamstrings and back.

An alternate program:

MONDAY – Legs (both quads and hams)
WEDNESDAY – Chest and back
FRIDAY – Shoulders and arms

Those who advocate this split find that these parts go together.

With this programme you never work three days in a row. It fits in well with a martial arts programme, so you can do your karate and kickboxing on your off days. Or, the other view is that you can do your weight training on your days off from martial art. I’m lucky that my gym has a room with bags and plenty of space, so I can do both bagwork and kata when I go for my workout. This maximises the time I have in class for more partner work, such as sparring.

Those with less time may like to use a two way split, working the body over two workouts:

WORKOUT ONE: The “pulling” muscles – hams, back, rear delts, traps, biceps
WORKOUT TWO: The “Push” muscles – quads, calves, chest, delts, triceps

For those doing more intense martial arts or boxing training, this workout schedule will probably suffice. You will not be able to generate the same intensity as with a three way split due to being able to do less work because of the extra bodyparts and therefore exercises on each workout. However, you will probably want to use weight training as a backseater if you are doing intense martial arts and that will work out well for you.

It is important to stretch the muscle to be used for five minutes before and after the workout. As well as warming the muscle up, and keeping the elasticity that a fighter needs in his muscles, it helps stop the muscle cramping and shortening, and flushes the toxins out.

When deciding on sets and reps, it is best to do 3 sets – one light to warmup, one medium, and then one heavy working set. For the lower body it is best to use a weight that will allow you 10 to 12 reps, for the upper body 6 to 8. That means you fail on the last rep – the muscle has been worked to it’s limits and will respond by growing stronger.

A pumping set can be a good idea – you halve the weight of the set you have just failed on and again pump til failure. For example, if you are using a 100lb bench press and have just failed on 6 reps, quickly strip off 50lbs and pump to failure with the remaining 50lbs. This helps engorge the muscle with blood.


The goal here is to develop power in the legs . We break the legs down into 3 sections – quads, hams and calves
The action of the leg muscles is the flexing and extending of the legs at the knee. The quadricep muscle at the front controls the extension, the bicep femoris, or hamstring, controls the contraction. The two muscles are antagonostic and work opposite sides of the joint, opposite actions. To work the thighs, we use leg extensions, squats and leg press. To work the hams we use leg curls and deadlifts. Squats do have an effect on the hams, but it is indirect and minimal.

The gastrocnemius works in a very specific manner. It extends and flexes the foot at the ankle. Therefore, calf raises are the exercises for this muscle. Both standing and seated versions of the calf press are needed for overall development. The standing version is where we can really add weight and increase power, but the seated version brings into play the soleus, the muscle that covers the front of the leg, adjacent to the shin.

Leg extension

Sitting on the machine, extend the legs and lock them out. Lower the weight and extend again. That is one rep. Do not lock the knees out as this will place stress on the joint, but do squeeze the quad for maximum tension. When the leg is totally flexed there will be no pressure on the quad and it will be relaxed. To avoid this, do not lower the legs all the way, but continue to hold the pad at the bottom of the movement.

Leg Press

The alternative to the squat is the leg press. While squatting involves moving the body, plus the added weight of the plates, the leg press works on the opposite principle. The student lies on the bench and presses the weight away from his body with his legs, much the same as with bench press for chest and shoulder press for shoulders.


“The King of Exercises”

The action of squatting is very simple. Standing upright with a barbell behind the neck, resting on the shoulders, supported by the hands, slowly lower the body, bending at the knees, until the glutes are nearly touching the heels, then press the body back up again. That is one rep. The squat works the entire leg, but specifically the thigh. What many people fail to realise is that the squat works the entire body. The back, shoulders and arms get direct tension caused by supporting the weight and even the chest and abs come under stress. Squats are considered the king of bodybuilding exercises, the basic mass builder for the legs, which has the secondary effect of hitting the whole body. Each rep of a squat should make the student feel sick, right down to the pit of his stomach, if he performs it right.

Squats can be done with a barbell, and this is the traditional method. Squats can also be done on the Smith machine, for variety. A variation on the squat is to hold the barbell across the front of the shoulders, concentrating the stress on the front of the thighs.

Hack squat is a method where the barbell is held low, behind the legs, and a special hack squat machine exists to take advantage of this type of tension.


Holding the barbell in front of the body at arms length. Bend forward, keeping legs straight, go as low as you can, then straighten up. That is one rep. Keep the back arched throughout the movement and do not allow the spine to round, otherwise you will damage it. Do not lock the knees out or back into place at the top of the movement – keep the pressure on the hamstrings.

Leg curl

Lying on the machine, curl the leg up towards the body so that the pad touches the glutes. Give them a good squeeze. This move is the opposite of extensions, and can be used as a superset. Try to get a proper stretch at the end of the movement without putting a squeeze on the knee joints. Remember – to squeeze the knees does not please!

Standing calf raise

With the toes pointing slightly out from straight forward, with the heels hanging off the back of the platform, so the calf muscles are at maximum stretch. Push up so you are standing on the balls of the feet and squeeze the calves. Then lower. That is one rep.
For variety, and to hit the muscles from different directions, some people do three sets – toes forward, then out, then in, the “three positions” as they are known. I haven’t noticed a lot of difference in doing these, but if doing three sets standing and three sets sitting, with a different position, that means you can do six sets, each one varied.

The problem of reps is different for calves. Each time you take a step during the day, you do a rep. As a practising martial artist, you will be subjecting your calves to greater than normal stress. High reps with low weights just aren’t going to make a difference. For this reason, you will want to use heavy weight and hit the calves that way.

Seated calf raise

Same as for standing, but sitting down.


A big part of the body and antagonistic to both the chest and the shoulders in it’s movement. It works by contraction – by pulling the weight towards the body in the same manner as the weight is pushed away by the chest and shoulder press. The pulldown, or it’s bodyweight version the chin up, work in opposition to shoulder presses, while rowing, either with cables, or bent over with a barbell, works in opposition to the bench press.

Just as flyes works the chest, lying on the chest, raising dumbells backwards, will hit the back and rear delts, as does the reverse of the cable crossover exercise.


The opposite action from the barbell press. Whereas lifting the weight, pressing away from the body, exercises the deltoid, pulling the weight down towards the body exercises the lats. This movement is what gives the bodybuilder’s back it’s impressive width.

Take a wide grip on the lat bar and pull down so that it touches the chest, then resist the tension as the bar raises. That is one rep.

An alternate is the reverse grip, same as the one used for barbell curls, which requires the hands to be shoulder width apart. Builders who favour this grip claim that it hits the entire back and is a better exercise than the traditional wide grip.


Chin-ups use the body weight to effect the same exercise as the pulldown, in the same way as pressups are the same as bench press. Some builders like to use chins as a warmup exercise, as they move many times more than their bodyweight on pulldowns.

Cable row

Sitting facing the cable machine, pull the grips towards the waist and let them out again. That is one rep. Remember to get a full stretch and squeeze on contraction. This exercise will build back strength and thickness. Keep the elbows into the body and squeeze the shoulder blades together.

Bent over row

Standing bent at an incline, pull the barbell in towards the waist, then lower. That is one rep. This exercise helps build thickness, especially lower down where the lats meet the spinal erectors. Some people prefer an overhand grip, some prefer a reverse grip with the hands closer together.


The pectoral muscles are worked by pressing weight straight outwards from the body, at a 90 degree angle to the body. Bench press with barbells or dumbells is the exercise that works the pecs. Pressups work the pecs in the same way, but do so by raising and lowering the bodyweight rather than pressing weights away from the body. The press-up is to benching what squatting is to leg presses.

Bench press

Perhaps the best known of the basic mass builders for chest, the bench press will add size and thickness to the pectorals.

Lie on the bench with the arms locked out, the barbell in the hands. Lower the bar and press up and away from the body. That is one rep. Lower slowly, resisting the weight, and make sure that the bar doesn’t rest against the chest at the bottom of the movement. Press away, but don’t lock the elbow out, so that the tension remains on the muscle and is not taken on the joint. The width of the grip on the bar can be varied to change the way that the muscle is hit.

The press-up is a body weight exercise that hits the muscle in exactly the same way as the bench press. It can provide a great pump for the chest to perform a set of pressups immediately after the benching routine.

Dumbell press

The same as the bench press, but the student uses two dumbells instead of a barbell to achieve the press. Dumbells have the added advantage of allowing a change of hand position during the press, and of lowering the weight to a position lower than chest level, giving a greater stretch at the bottom of the movement, an action that is obviously impossible with a barbell.

Lie as with the bench press, arms locked out, a dumbell in each hand. Lower the dumbbell down and slightly out, then press up again. That is one rep. Squeezing the muscle at the top is a good idea, but a full contraction is not possible without crossing the hands – not recommended for this type of exercise! As with the bench press, do not lock the elbows out at the top of the movement.


Similar to the dumbbell press, but instead of lowering the weights straight down, open the hands, so that the dumbbells arrive at bench height, the arms spread out to the side, giving a full stretch to the pecs. Once the weights are down, curl them in, so they arrive at the top, together. That is one rep. In this exercise keep the arms bent and don’t move them at all. The stress is given by the stretch of the muscle, and the pressing together of the weights.

Cable crossover

Using the cable machines, standing between them, hold a single grip in each hand and pull them down so that they are held in front of the body. Raise the grips to shoulder height, then bring together in front of the body, as with the flyes. The difference here is that the student can cross the hands, squeezing the muscle fully at the point of contraction. This helps to bring out the seperation between the pecs.


Pressing again, this time pressing weight straight up above the head. There is no real alternative, except maybe handstand pressups! The deltoid muscle is made up of three heads. Raising weights to the front and side will build the front and side heads. The rear head is a “pulling” muscle. The trapezius is also a pulling muscle, and is worked by shrugs. I prefer to work rear delts and traps in with back, rather than with delts, to keep the pushing and pulling exercises seperate.

Shoulder press

The basic mass builder. Some people like press behind the neck, but I always found it puts unnecessary tension on the vertebrae and puts the shoulders into an unnatural and less beneficial position. I prefer to press the barbell in front of my face, emphasising tension on the front heads. There is a point where lowering the incline of the bench for shoulders and raising it for chest become the same thing.

Sitting upright with the barbell supported by the hands, press the weight up and away from the body and then lower again. That is one rep. Do not lock the elbows when the arm is extended, keeping the stress on the muscles.

The width of the grip changes thee way in which the stress is put upon the muscles. Experiment to find which variation suits you best.

Front raise

Hold the dumbbells in each hand. Raise the dumbbell so that it is horizontal and lower again. That is one rep. Keep the arm perfectly straight to maintain stress on the muscle. Some students prefer to raise the weights individually, some prefer to raise them simultaneously. In theory the exercise could be performed with a barbell, although this is not commonly done.

Side raise

Hold the dumbbells to the side of the body and raise out sideways, then lower again. That is one rep. As with the front laterals, keep the arms straight to keep the stress on the deltoid.

Rear delt cable crossover

Hold a grip from one end of the cable crossover machine, but with your arms already crossed. Pull your arms back into the spread position. This is the same action as the cable crossover, but uses the rear delts to open the arms, rather than using the chest to pull them in.


Standing or seated, holding a dumbbell in either hand at your side, shrug your shoulders up and then down. That is one rep. Hold the shoulder up at the point of contraction and tense the muscles. An alternate is the rotation tecnhique. Move the shoulders forward, up, back, then down, tracing a square. This can be done either forward or backward. Personally I have never noticed any benefit from this variation. The purpose of the muscle is to contract and that is what the basic shrug does.


The biceps which contract the arm and the tricep which extend the arm.
Curling is the action which works the bicep. There are many ways to do this – barbell curls, dumbbell curls, preacher curls, barbell preacher curls, cable curls, one arm cable curls, seated dumbbell curls, etc. The list is extensive and a bit silly. Curling is curling and will build biceps.

The biceps have three functions 1) to bring the forearm up 2) to raise the shoulder 3) to turn out (supinate) the wrist. Most people only use the first function when curling, but it is good to bring the second action into play on the second exercise, and the third by use of dumbbells, so the wrist can be rotated at the top of the curling action.
One type of curling worth noting is the hammer curl, which will hit the brachioradialis, the muscle that ties the bicep in with the forearm. Reverse grip curls, especially on the EZ bar, will also hit this muscle.

Triceps can be worked by extending the arm. The tricep has three heads, and all three need to be accounted for. As well as the mass builder such as pushdowns or lying tricep press, islolation exercises such as french press and kickback account for the other two heads.


This is the major triceps movement, the explosive mass builder. A lot of people talk about using the lying or seated triceps extension exercise, but that exercise, if performed with sufficient weight to work the muscle, will put extensive stress on the elbow joint. The long term effect will be to wear away the elbow cartiledge as the triceps muscle is built up. The pressdown is a far superior exercise and far safer.

Using the V bar on the cable machine, press the bar down until the arms are fully extended and locked out. That is the starting position. Let the weight up slowly, resisting the tension and lower again, locking the elbows out. That is one rep. When raising, keep the upper arms locked into the sides of the body, so that only the triceps muscle is used to carry out the movement. If the shoulders come out or the arms come out, other muscles will be brought into the exercise and will take the stress off the muscle. Press the weight down and fully lock out, squeezing the triceps.

French press

Seated or standing, take a moderately sized dumbbell and press straight above the head. Lower the weight by bending the arm at the elbow and the raise it again. That is one rep. Lower the weight slowly and squeeze the muscle at the top when fully extended. Once a full set has been performed, transfer the dumbbell to the other hand. This exercise will really work the long head of the tricep.

An alternative is the two handed version. In this exercise, use a heavier weight and use two hands to lower and raise the dumbbell behind the head. It has the advantage of working both arms together, but tends to throw off the “groove” of the exercise by determining the course of the motion.


Stand upright, holding a light dumbbell in one hand. Keeping the arm locked straight, bend the body forwards at the waist, and hold the position. The arm should be sticking out behind the body. Lower the weight forward so that the stress is relieved, then push the arm backwards – kick it back – so that it locks out. Hold the position and squeeze. That is one rep. When the set is complete, switch the dumbbell to the other hand.

Barbell curl

This is the major explosive movement for the biceps, the basic mass builder. Hold the barbell in both hands and curl up towards the chest, then return. That is one rep. Be sure to have the elbow fully extended so that the stress is taken to the bottom of the muscle, where it inserts at the elbow, and so that the biceps is stretched out fully. When the weight has been curled to the top position, squeeze the muscles tightly before lowering. Make sure that you do not bend the wrists in towards the body as that will take the stress off the muscle. Lower the weight slowly and make sure that you feel the movement.

Make sure that you do not use more weight than you can handle so that you cheat. Cheating takes the strain off the moving muscle. Also, too much weight will make it impossible to complete six full reps.

Dumbbell curl

Sitting on a bench fully upright, or at a slight incline, hold the dumbbells locked at your side, upper arms pressed against the body. Curl the weight up and lower. That is one rep. Make sure that the dumbbell is raised using the motion of the elbow only, using the biceps to make the move. Raise slowly and squeeze the muscle at the top, then lower slowly. Make sure that the elbow is fully extended at the bottom of the motion so that a full stretch is achieved. As this is an isolation movement, it is necessary to use only a moderately heavy weight.

Hammer curl

This movement gives an added pump to the biceps, as well as taking the pressure to the brachioradialis, and also hits the forearm flexors. Holding the dumbbell vertically, curl the weight up, squeezing at the top, and lower, fully extending the muscle.

Midsection – the seat of power

The abs are an important part of an athlete’s physique. They are also a strange part to work because they don’t move around in the same way as other body parts do, and have no real extent of contract positions to work with.

Unlike other muscles, you don’t actually build size and shape with abs. You don’t really build definition either, as that comes with work anyway. And you don’t get to see that six pack look until you are cut up, when there is no fat around the stomach. And contrary to some belief, ab exercises won’t actually remove that fat, you have to do it with diet and exercise.

So why work your abs and how?

As for why – they are your guts, the centre of your body. They provide protection for your internal organs where there are no ribs. As for how – you do not have to work them through a full range of motion. In fact, that would be counter productive to ab development. And you don’t have to lift heavy weights either, such as doing sit-ups in a Roman Chair with a barbell plate on your chest (which is terribly bad for the lower spine).

The movement is no more than a couple of inches, practically isometric in fact, which is precisely what the abs need. They don’t grow to bigger proportions the way that the pecs or biceps do, but they do get thicker and deeper, and that is precisely what we want.

An ab workout doesn’t actually need any weights or equipment. It is not the range of motion that puts the stress on the abdominals, but the tension that they are put under.


The classic stomach exercise. The traditional way to perform them is to lie flat and then sit right up before lowering again. Not only is this movement unnecessary for ab stress, it is dangerous because it redirects the stress on the weak bones of the lower spine. This redirection of tension takes the stress away from the abs at the top of the motion, so it s actually counter productive to muscle stimulation.

The correct way to perform a sit-up is to lie flat on your back on the floor with the feet flat on the ground, knees raised. Raise the head from the floor slightly so that the neck and shoulders clear the floor. Pull the head as far forward as it will go, creating maximum tension in the abs. There is no need to continue the movement until the body is raised – you are already at maximum tension. Then lower, but do not allow the head to touch the floor. That is one rep. This slight movement, which may be as little as two inches, will create maximum stress on the abs and will promote best development.

When performing the sit up, place the hands at the side of the head. Do not hold the back of the head as this will encourage you to pull at the head and put strain on the vertebrae.


Lie on the back with the feet crossed and with the hands by the head. Pull the head and feet clear and touch the elbows and knees together, using the upper abs to pull the head in, and the lower abs to pull the legs in, creating tension in the entire abdominal wall. When lowering, do not allow the head or feet to touch the floor.

Leg raise

In this exercise the student uses the lower ab muscles to raise the legs from the ground. Lie flat on the ground and cross the ankles, clearing the legs entirely from the floor. Raise the legs but do not lift them higher than forty five degrees, thus keeping maximum tension on the abs. Lower again, but do not let the feet touch the floor.


This an exercise that can be done on the floor, or on the special bench that most gyms have for the purpose. The exercise is to work the spinal erectors, the muscles that support the lower back, running next to the lumbar vertebrae. They are naturally thick and protect the kidneys in lieu of ribs.

This is similar to the deadlift, the legs staying fixed and the body moving, but the lumbar muscles doing the work, rather than the hamstrings.

Side bends

This is to exercise the oblique muscles at the sides of the body.

Stand upright and place the hands behind the head. Bend sideways so that the side of the body, between the ribs and the pelvis, is fully stretched. Come straight up and then bend over to the other side. Then straighten up. That is one rep. Perform three sets of ten reps.

As with the ab exercises, there is no need to hold weights in the hand for extra stress, due to the nature of the muscle and the function it performs.