I am 25 years old female, doing WTF taekwondo(Olympic) for over 10 years(black belt). My height is 165 cm, weight 53 kg.

My question is - what to do in the gym to help my sparring? Especially I want to increase speed of my movements and kicks.

Currently I have 2 taekwondo and 3 gym sessions per week.

My routine is such:

Mon: Taekwondo

Tue: Gym - shoulders and abs, stretching

Wed: Taekwondo

Thu: Gym - back and legs (machines, experimenting with weights and reps - not sure what is best type of doing exercises)

Fri: Gym - chest, biceps, triceps, plyometric exercises - box jumps, jumps from squat. Goblet squats,lunges.

My goals are:

  1. Improve my taekwondo performance
  2. Build some upper body muscles, because they are not used much in taekwondo
  3. Look good :)

Any help and examples of taekwondo -specific workouts appreciated!


My leg flexibility is quite good, I have full right split, almost have left, and around 10 cm to cross split. I stretch before every Tkd training and on Tuesdays. Pretty standard stretching routine.

But I have bad spine flexibility, so I recently started doing yoga-style exercises for spine, I do it 15 minutes every day. Will see if it helps.

Doing more taekwondo and plyo is logical, but I am really tired after Tkd(we have hard trainings), can't do it two days straight. Only if one of these is light training.

But I love any kind of training, so I added strength sessions to do something of other kind and not overtrain. Also I obviously need some rest days.

  • I've got a meeting, but I'm also a TKD guy, and there are a couple others here as well. I'll have something tonight that I use quite a bit. What do you do for flexibility training? If you could add that into your question, it would help.
    – JohnP
    Apr 15, 2016 at 18:57
  • 2
    You would probably be interested in Tom Kurz' work. He was a TKD/kickboxer for many years and has written several books on lifting and sports science. The basic gist (but not a full answer) is to lift like any novice strength lifter: squats, deadlifts, presses, chin-ups, power cleans, with reps ~5 or less for the first three and 3 or less for the power cleans. Apr 16, 2016 at 7:08
  • 1
    Can you share your training routine, JohnP?
    – Yb0
    Apr 18, 2016 at 8:27
  • @Yb0 - See my expanded answer.
    – JohnP
    Apr 26, 2016 at 16:13

4 Answers 4


I am not a TKD practitioner, but I train in several other martial arts. Here are some things to consider when developing a workout program for martial artists:

  • Since you are female, you don't need to worry about this, but I'm dropping a note for any men who may find the question later: Carefully manage bulking. Women won't bulk the way men do, but men should be mindful bulking, because overbulking can impair martial arts movements. "Overbulking" in this context means "taking on muscle size without an adequate increase in flexibility to preserve quality of movement". You've probably seen bodybuilders who walk like stiff old men -- that's what I'm talking about here. Men: to maintain your martial arts performance, you should consider programming to keep your size increases slow and easy (so that normal martial arts training is enough to provide needed flexibility gains), or make flexibility work part of your regular routine.

    The research in unclear as to why women with normal hormone profiles don't bulk the way men do. This is even more confusing since we develop about as much muscle fiber for the same amount of strength increase. Some folks have argued that it's a perception difference: that a 14% increase on a woman doesn't look as big as a 14% increase on a man because she started out smaller. Others have argued (couldn't find a cite for this one) that the difference has to do with how much intramuscular adipose tissue (fat mixed among the muscle fibers) the typical strength athlete retains depending on whether they are male or female.

    Male-female isn't the only marked difference, by the way: bodybuilders tend to be bigger and less mobile, on average, than strength athletes (powerlifters, etc.) with the same lifting maximums. There's some discussion around sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, i.e. the idea that adding sarcoplasm faster than fiber to muscle fiber to muscle tissue gives more size than strength, but I'm not sure how well-founded those ideas are. More interesting, and mentioned in passing in that article, is the fact that strength is a combination of muscle and skill. This is one of the reasons that, for a martial artist who cares about performance more than figure competition and so on, I recommend freeweights and compound movements below. Generating more muscle is only one part of the puzzle: for maximum efficacy in martial arts, one must also have reasonably balanced muscle development, and train kinetic chaining, body awareness, and other skills relevant to coordinating that muscle.

  • Martial artists need to be strong everywhere. I highly recommend getting into barbell work and focusing on the "big lifts", that is compound movements that use many muscles together. Squats, deadlifts, rows, overhead press, and bench press are examples of these. Avoid using strength machines too much, because unlike freeweights they don't make you work the small stabilizer muscles along with the big ones. Avoid isolation exercises, such as bicep curls, because they don't improve your kinetic chaining ability (your ability to coordinate many muscles together, like when you use your core muscles to put more oomph behind a punch or kick) and take a lot of time to try to cover everything you need to work out.

  • High weight, few reps. There's a myth out there that multi-discipline athletes like martial artists (we need strength AND endurance AND flexibility AND dexterity) should do very little weight and a ton of reps in order to avoid getting too...I have no idea what. People keep repeating it anyway. You will progress the fastest in your strength training if you do small sets at a high (for you) amount of weight in a few compound exercises, then get on with your day. You have skill drills and other stuff to do besides lifting.

  • Don't just repeat the same routine endlessly. Prepping for a belt test vs. focusing on strength vs. trimming or adding fat vs. building work capacity...we all have different goals at different times. Break down your training into a number of weeks that makes sense to you (I do 6 or 8 week blocks, YMMV) and force yourself to re-assess your program regularly. Sometimes I lift 4x/week. Sometimes I lift 2x/week. It depends on what I'm working on. Additionally, there's a concept called "periodization" that's a bit complicated to thoroughly cover in this post, but the gist is: sometimes you can help your progress by backing off your lifting loads and then increasing them again. In any case, figure out what you most want to work on RIGHT NOW and then re-assess regularly based on your progress and changing goals.

  • Consider that significantly upping any aspect of your training regimen will suck for a few weeks. How long depends on a number of factors...anything between a few days and six weeks of increased DOMS (delay-onset muscle soreness) and decreased energy levels is normal. If that sort of thing really bothers you, consider introducing strength training in smaller increments. OTOH, if you are the "I want progress RIGHT NOW" type, consider hitting it hard (within safe limits) and powering through the discomfort with the knowledge that it will end.

When I revamped my training program a couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to work with an excellent personal trainer. However, since then I've had to become more independent with planning my programming. My favorite resources are the forums at http://rebellion.nerdfitness.com and the excellent Tactical Barbell books available at http://tacticalbarbell.com . The former is a useful community of folks with a lot of knowledge. The latter are books by a former selected unit member and personal trainer that outline some heuristics for developing strength training (book one) and conditioning (book two) programs for various types of field operators, such as military, SWAT, SAR, and so on. Most of the principles also hold true for martial artists.

  • Thank you, HedgeMage! So I will substitute my machine exercises with barbell and do around 5 reps per set. That is new to me, need to develop proper technic.
    – Yb0
    Apr 18, 2016 at 8:23
  • Great answer, can you give evidence for your statement "Women won't bulk"?
    – John
    Apr 18, 2016 at 8:54
  • @JJosaur Added some info on the bulking question, just for you. :)
    – HedgeMage
    Apr 26, 2016 at 14:21

If you want to increase your speed of movement and kicks, then HIIT type training is going to be your friend.

Your muscles have basically two different types of fibers, Type I, and Type II. Type I are traditionally known as the "slow twitch" muscle fibers, and they are much more efficient at using oxygen (aerobic) metabolism to produce energy. These are generally used in the slower, endurance type of training (light weight/high rep, or such things as distance running, cycling, etc).

Type II fibers can be subclassified into Type IIa and IIb. IIa (Fast twitch oxidative) is somewhat in between type I and type IIb, in that it has slightly higher endurance than IIB. IIB (Fast twitch glycolytic) is the short duration, high force/power output muscles.

So to increase the speed, you need to increase the efficiency of the type II fibers, which is going to result from high intensity, short burst activities. Plyometrics, sprints, explosive lifts, things like this will help recruit your fast twitch fibers.

Here is a decent short article on gym lifting to support fast twitch development, I would recommend something like this once or twice a week. The rest of the time I would devote to high intensity technique training, with speed bags, reflex kicks, spped kicks, etc. You can also add resistance bands to your thighs/ankles to increase complexity.

This is a good video demonstrating the type of drills I'm talking about, and you can look at this question for some stretching ideas, as limber muscles will react faster and have a greater reach.

Just a note: I can't find them at the moment, but I have read studies that suggest you can turn slow twitch fibers into fast twitch. As soon as I can find that, I will add it into the answer.

Workout routine

Note: I am in TKD class 4 hours a week. Two hours on traditional forms, 1 on weapons, 1 on groundfighting/knife defense/similar topic.

During the week, I do a lot of bodyweight and bag work at home. Generally I do 1/2 hour to an hour of HIIT type training, followed by 30 mins of stretching. The exercises that I do are as follows, mixed up pretty much by whatever I feel like doing that day. I do this 4-5 times a week.

  1. Medicine ball toss - I lay on my back, and push throw a medicine ball (8 lbs) straight up from the chest. I emphasize as little time as possible between catch and throw, and really work on an explosive push. Usually 6 sets of 30 tosses.
  2. Medicine ball slam - I stand with feet close together, and slam the ball down to one side by twisting my torso. As the ball comes back up I immediately twist and slam it down (both hands) on the other side. 6 sets of 30 slams.
  3. Medicine ball twists - I hold the medicine ball in my hands, and get into a V-up position and twist with straight legs, again emphasizing speed. 6 sets 30 reps
  4. Situps - Put legs in a butterfly stretch position. Lay back, hands over head on ground. Sit up and touch floor past feet with hands, making sure to curl torso on way up/down. I usually do 10-15 in between punch or kick sets (See below)
  5. Pushups - Lower body to ground completely, lift hands off floor then place hands and press. I also vary with clapping pushups, medicine ball under one hand with a roll every pushup, etc.
  6. Punch sets - Generally it's a single to four punch combo (one, one two, one two three, one two three four), then drop for either pushups or situps. Lather rinse repeat, 10 run throughs is one set, generally 3-6 sets.
  7. Kick sets - We have a specific 6 kick combination that we do as part of a fitness test, so I'll do that kick combo 10 times with pushups/situps in between each combo.
  8. Punch/kick combos - 30 seconds of full out combinations, 6-10 sets.
  9. Agility - I have small agility hurdles and ladders, and I will work on plyometrics and foot speed/movement. Generally 5-15 minutes.
  10. Plyometrics - Along with the hurdles, I have aerobic steps and I do a lot of the same drills that can be seen in the video and variations thereof.

I also have the Skilz ankle cuffs with bands that I use, exercise bands, and I recently got a wall mounted bodyweight set similar to this that I will incorporate. I also do a lot of exercises such as lunges with weights, burpees, etc. While I advocate lifting, I am not lifting at the moment as I'm still trying to get rid of some muscle mass in my legs from when I was cycling and doing triathlons quite a bit. Our sparring style (Both regular and stick sparring) are very much speed games, rather than the WTF "trembling shock" style of scoring.


I'm not qualified to give a full answer, this originally started out as a comment, but got too long.

One thing I would add to HedgeMage's answer is, that risk assessment and fixing possible issues of eg. symmetry and core bracing would be a good idea before starting with a weight program aimed at explosiveness. Do not assume that you are ready for explosive lifts, because you have experience in another sport.

Weight training is not inherently more risky than any other sport, but any major change in the way you train assumes risk (that is, you can do everything right and still get hurt).

Assessing and managing possible risks is therefore a good idea. For example, issues of symmetry, one side weaker or less flexible, is a risk. Excess mobility is also a risk. Lack of spinal stability is a risk (therefore, working on yoga-style spinal twists might be good or counter productive - it depends).

In any case, building up your new weight routine gradually makes sense. You can check out the work of Dan John, he has many good introduction books to strength training for athletes. To quote him:

If an athlete needs explosive movements, check patterns, grids and symmetry.


Don’t ignore that ‘if.’ Throwers, collision athletes and jumpers might need to snatch and clean & jerk. Grandma probably doesn’t. Take the time to really search and deal with gaps, asymmetries and poor movement patterns before tossing bodyweight overhead at an Olympic lifting meet. The injuries come fast and hard in the quick lifts.

Spend quality time mastering the push press, the swing and the Litvinov family. For many of us, these three will be enough to break through any physical barriers or limitations. The O lifts changed my career, but I was physically, mentally and emotionally ready for the challenge. I also had months to master the movements before I had to compete in my main sport, too.

You may not have the years it takes to walk up the path to explosive movements in the weightroom.

If you do, get going.

  • 1
    I like Dan John but I find his advice here a bit misplaced. A TKD athlete does want explosive movements, but the way to get ready for them isn't to "check patterns, grids, and symmetry"—which is a bit vague—but to do the slow lifts for a while first: squat, deadlift, press. After a month or three getting acclimated to those, introduce the explosive variants: power clean, push press. Maybe use DB or KB versions of the Oly lifts first. Apr 20, 2016 at 20:32

If you want to be better at Taekwondo, do more of that. Training twice a week is not enough. When I was training at junior level, I was doing 4 brutal training sessions a week plus a plyo/cardio weekend.

I am no coach, but I think that random weight training could make you actually worse at taekwondo because being strong an slow is a thing you don't want. I'm sure you can find taekwondo-specific exercise program on-line.

  • 2
    Downvote, a properly designed weight training program will surely improve both strength and speed.
    – BKE
    Apr 15, 2016 at 19:33
  • That's why I wrote "random".
    – OSoto
    Apr 15, 2016 at 19:54
  • 4
    This is a Q&A site, answers are kind of expected to be complete, not consist of "Do more of what you are doing and look at google for stuff".
    – JohnP
    Apr 15, 2016 at 20:01
  • No need to get pedantic JohnP. I stand behind my answer and I don't see a problem with pointing out that training volume might be a problem.
    – OSoto
    Apr 15, 2016 at 20:11
  • 1
    Thanks for answer, OSoto, I plan to incorporate more Tkd gradually. As for "random" - it is the main part of my question - how to do strength training for tkd. Also I tried to Google it - haven't found anything useful specifically for advanced tkd practitioner, who is not a pro sportsman.
    – Yb0
    Apr 15, 2016 at 21:01

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