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How To Increase Your Speed For Martial Arts

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Speed is a necessary ingredient to any fighter's arsenal. If you want to develop your speed for martial arts, there are many approaches to take. Although speed and power are essentials for any fighter to be good, they are meaningless without the technical foundation to back them up. Whether we're talking about JKD, boxing, Muay Thai, is irrelevant for now. The best method to develop speed is to take a scientific approach to testing, experimentation and training and re-testing.

A Definition Of Speed

The Oxford English Dictionary defines speed as 'a fast rate of movement or action'. That's a pretty straightforward definition, but for our purposes, we'll need to know the factors which affect one's speed. Here are three important concepts you should know to enhance your speed:


A report was presented in 2002 at the International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sport which related stance to speed.

The report, entitled The Effect Of Karate Stance On Attack-Time, concludes that attack time significantly affects attack-time. Stance plays a large factor in the ability of a fighter to exert a larger impulse, meaning they can leap forward quicker from a standstill.

Obviously, everyone moves a little different and what works for someone doesn't necessarily work for everyone. The bottom line is that you'll have to experiment to find the most efficient stance for you. Practice!

Breathing & Muscle Tension

Proper breathing is a commonly known key to relaxation. As many veteran martial artists will tell you, the relaxation allows for the speed and even power. The optimal punch or kick behaves much like the crack of a whip, or the strike of a recoiled snake.

In his book, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee has this to say:

An important aspect of this multiple action of acceleration is the introduction of each segment movement as late as possible in order to take full advantage of the peak acceleration of its fulcrum...The principle is to preserve the maximum acceleration up to the last instant of contact.

In order to achieve this result, one must be relaxed which means controlling breathing (and muscle tension/contraction).

According to a more recent article in Runner's World about breathing, establishing good patterns can reduce the workload or stress placed on the respiratory system.

Reaction, Perception, Angle, and Timing

Speed is not as straightforward as you might think.

Now, the ultimate objective of your desire to be faster is probably to have an edge over an opponent. However, being faster alone does not necessarily guarantee victory. Speed then is no about being faster as much as it is about being first.  That's all about economy of motion.

I must turn again to Bruce Lee who describes how speed can further break down into these areas/types:

Perceptual speed - Ability to see openings and opportunities.

Mental speed - Ability to select the right move in a given situation.

Initiation speed - Economical starting from the right posture and correct mental attitude.

Performance speed - Actual muscle contraction speed. The ability to execute the select move quickly and efficiently.

Alteration speed - This speaks to adaptability or the ability to switch direction/tempo midstream.

Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers

In your body, skeletal muscle fibers can be divided into two categories: slow twitch or fast twitch. When we're talking about developing speed, we're largely interested in the development of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Generally speaking, an exercise that requires short, intense bursts of activity uses fast-twitch fibers. More specifically, exercises that focus on generating maximum force in short time intervals are known as plyometrics. Focus on explosive exercises like:

Clapping Push-Ups




Box Jumps


Medicine Ball Throws

https://youtu.be/7xIEGwaQ21I There is a huge list of things you could do. I highly recommend you check out this list.

Testing Your Speed

The most scientific way of developing your speed for martial arts involves the use of a speed timer. Speed timers will help you to accurately gauge your speed over a specific distance. Rather than have me explain it, watch this good video by James DeMile about using speed timers in your martial arts training: https://youtu.be/WbtVberYhhw

More Resources

Developing your speed for the martial arts may take you several years. Like anything, it takes practice and there will always be room for improvement. If you're interested in diving deeper into this subject, I recommend checking out the following articles: Methods of Developing Speed and Agility from the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning by the NCSA Martial Arts Speed Training Absolute Speed and Power Training for Martial Arts!  
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