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I started lifting weights in August 2020 to get stronger for my martial arts. I have been training Muay Thai/Kick Boxing and Boxing for a little while, and I intend to train Jiujutsu and Judo once this Covid19 pandemic comes under control and gyms reopen.

Strength training is absolutely necessary for martial arts.

"Strength and power are essential components of the physicality necessary to execute any technique properly." See Is weight training useful in martial arts?

I am not currently following any specific training program because of certain limitations (e.g., gym time restricted to 60 mins, not enough sleep on most days, stress, lack of a proper diet for weight-training, etc.). But I picked up bits and pieces from Starting Strength, and I feel like my weight training sessions lean towards power-lifting. Because I am not following any specific program, I often get confused in the gym. Is this working? Wait, should I do that instead?

I am looking for some help in designing a training plan that would build strength in general but more importantly would make me "stronger" (= more power, explosiveness, strength, speed, endurance, etc.) for the purposes of martial arts.

Here is what I have been doing:

Main movements:

Barbell Back Squats: 3s x 5r
Conventional Deadlifts: 1s x 5r
Barbell Bench Press: 3s x 5r

Alternates/Accessories: 

Romanian Deadlifts: 2s x 8r
Dumbbell Bench Press: 3s x 5r
Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3s x 5r
Seated Rows: 3s x 5r

I should add that I am not consistent in terms of the movements: somedays I will do squats and bench; some days deadlifts, bench, and shoulders; and some days squats and deadlifts. I try to keep a balance though. For example, I make sure that I don't do two deadlift sessions back to back and miss out on squats. They all get their fair share. I can only manage two big movements in a single workout session. So, the conventional squat-bench-deadlift method is not possible for me to finish in a 60 min session right now.

I have been really wanting to do power cleans and snatches. And not just for the purposes of martial arts, but also because I really like the movements. I have collected (watched?) some authoritative Olympic lifting training videos (e.g., those by Alan Thrall, Juggernaut Training Systems, etc.) and am considering incorporating these lifts in my training routine. But I am not sure how to do that, the Olympic lifts are very technical, and it would require a good amount of time to just get the techniques down.

Is there a way to modify my current program so I can continue to build strength but also get to build power? Also, what other movements/exercises should I include for my specific goals? Are kettlebell-swings useful?

I want to keep things simple. Maybe three movements per session (powercleans-squats-bench?) or occasionally four (powercleans-deadlifts-snatch-shoulderpress?) if they are not time consuming. There is no way I am not doing squats and deadlifts.

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  • @DaveLiepmann Hi Dave, thanks. Those two posts did not come up on my search on MA.SE, maybe because the questions are very different to what I am asking here. In the first link, there are just too many exercises and I really don't want to experiment now. For example, "Exercises would include snatches, jerks, push presses, broad jumps, height jumps, sprints, and increasing the priority of power cleans." is informative but does not answer my question. How will I program, say two Olympic lifts, in addition to the strength building squats and deadlifts? – RoundHouse Jan 1 at 13:48
  • Which two Olympic lifts are indispensable for MA? The second link has something that I am looking for in an answer: "A basic template might be back squats, pull-ups, and dips on one day, and deadlifts, Turkish get-ups, and lunges on the other day." Your posts are very helpful, and I will read them again thoroughly. But for now, I need a simple program that is going to be effective and can be done in 60 mins. I have two hours in a day I can put towards training. One hour is strictly for MA (shadow, bags, pushups, planks, sprints) and the other hour for strength+power training. – RoundHouse Jan 1 at 13:49
  • Let's say I can hit the weight gym 4 times a week. That is 4 sessions. How will I go about putting together squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press, power cleans, snatches, and rows? Something like this would be nice: Day 1 (Squat-Bench-A), Day 2 (DL-Shoulder-B-C), Day 3 (Squat-Bench-A), Day 4 (DL-Shoulder-B-C) - where A, B, C, are power training exercises. – RoundHouse Jan 1 at 13:57
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This is simultaneously an easy problem and a hard problem.

The easy part is that it sounds like you're a novice without other training to work around. Programming for novices is easy. Many times an off-the-shelf program is sufficient. (The hardest part about this is finding a program that suits your goal. You're right that many so-called "strength" programs are powerlifting templates, not appropriate for general athletes. Oly lifting and Strongman programs fail similarly. We want strength and power exercises/programs that don't require going down unproductive rabbit holes of technique.)

The hard part is that martial arts require all dimensions of athleticism. One must be flexible, fit, strong, quick, agile, and so on. There is no aspect of physicality that a martial artist can skimp on.

Solutions

There are three broad ways to attack this problem.

  • frequent strengthy cardio circuits (best exemplified by Ross Enamait's materials)
  • separate workouts for strength/power & conditioning & skill
  • strength/power workouts; combine conditioning & skill in martial arts workouts

All three approaches work. It sounds like the second is closest to your current program, so let's improve it rather than switch gears drastically.

The goal is a concise strength/power program you can do consistently. The current switching around and skipping exercises is your greatest obstacle.

Constraints determine outcomes

If I had four gym workouts a week strictly allocated for strength/power (and not conditioning or skill) I would reach for either an A/B plan or a 4-day split in the style of 5/3/1 (meaning, with each day based on a single primary lift).

Since you have trouble finishing 3 main lifts within your 60 minute limit, I would prefer the 4-day split. The alternative is to cut back on the number of sets and to shorten the length of your rest periods. It might look like this:

  • Day 1: box jumps, front squat 3x5, other stuff
  • Day 2: dumbbell power snatch, Romanian deadlift 3x12, other stuff
  • Day 3: dumbbell power clean & jerk, overhead press 3x5, other stuff
  • Day 4: box jumps, rows 3x8 or so?, other stuff

(This is just a sketch, don't take it literally. I'm also stretching the "one primary lift per day" to make room for the power exercise.)

Each day is a quick power exercise (maximum 3 short sets of 3-5 reps, without long rests) then a strength movement, then assistance exercises that can be omitted. "Other stuff" for me almost always involves pull-ups, push-ups, and dips. I didn't include bench press, lunges, Turkish get-ups, barbell Olympic lifts, snatches, push presses, broad jumps, height jumps, sprints, or back squats but it would be reasonable to rejigger the plan to swap them in. The key to program design is not to include every exercise but to include an exercise for most types of exercise. Types of exercise in this scenario are (in order) "power development", "strength development", and "general movement & muscle development".

The workouts are structured in the order they are structured because the order of exercises should be, unless there's a good reason not to, something like explosive >> high-skill >> maximal strength >> high-intensity cardio / sub-maximal strength >> cyclical cardio.

I left out the regular deadlift because you're currently doing two kinds, and you don't have time for both. The cue I use to switch myself from RDLs to DLs is when I feel totally comfortable with 100kg (roughly 1.25x my bodyweight) for 3 sets of 12.

Another totally reasonable template:

  • A: box jumps, squat, pull-ups
  • B: box jumps, deadlift, dips

Is it a lot less exercise variety? Yes. That's okay; you can push very hard on these 5 exercises for three to six months and then swap, for instance, dips for overhead press and box jumps for dumbbell power cleans. Consistency is more important than doing everything.

the Olympic lifts are very technical and would require a good amount of time to just get the techniques down

The full-squat barbell versions are very technical. The power variations, which are all a general-purpose athlete needs, are much easier. The dumbbell variations are easier still, and still effective.

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  • Very nice, Dave. About the only thing I might add in is some plyo exercises other than the box jumps, and a blurb about adherence to form being better than "muscling" extra weight (for the most part). – JohnP Jan 1 at 15:08
  • Dave, why I am doing the dumbbell variations of the power exercises? Because the striking arts almost always involve loading/striking with a single limb at a time? Does dumbbell power exercises transfer over to punches more effectively than the barbell ones? – RoundHouse Jan 6 at 11:07
  • @RoundHouse No, they're just simpler than the barbell versions, and provide most of the same benefits. Less risk of error/injury/misunderstanding. – Dave Liepmann Jan 6 at 11:14

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