Fashion or Function: How Can Lifting Weights Help Your Martial Arts Training?

Fashion or Function: How Can Lifting Weights Help Your Martial Arts Training?

We all want to look good and feel good.  That’s a no-brainier.  But when you include weight training in your martial arts program, do you train for fashion or function? Do you train to look pretty, or to be practical?


UFC Fighter Jon Jones implemented a 7 month powerlifting program to change his body composition AND increase strength.

Both take a lot of work! But only one really carries over well to martial arts.  It’s important to recognize this, because you can be totally wasting your time in the gym.  For example, it’s nice to have big bulging biceps, after all it’s aesthetically pleasing and can command a lot of stares. However having big biceps can really impede you in the martial arts.  It takes A LOT of energy to keep your hands up, a lot of energy to swing those punches (which will probably be slower) and because they are so big, it will probably affect your stance. How? Sooner or later it’s going to be tough keeping those arms close together to block those punches, and sooner or later your opponents shots are going to find their true aim.  And depending on the size and shape of your arms, it might hamper your chance of getting a quick choke on someone.  This is one of many examples were it doesn’t make sense to train to be pretty for the martial arts.

Training to look aesthetically pleasing (pretty) usually means following a body building, or body sculpting routine.  The goal is sometimes to gain muscular size, then shape those muscles by attacking that muscle from different angles.  Our goal for martial arts is to be functional.  Mobile, flexible, fast, strong and powerful.  And we have to be able to maintain those traits for as long as possible.

A bodybuilding routine is usually made up of with single joint exercises, or exercises that basically isolate one body part.  A program more suitable for martial arts would involve multi joint exercises, or exercises that challenge one system or the body as a whole.  Not to say that body building programs don’t have multi joint exercises, or vice versa; just that the majority of the program has a majority of those types of exercises.  A bodybuilding program might involve 2-3 exercises to work your biceps.  A program for martial artists would involve multi joint exercises, like the dead lift, squat or snatch.

Now can people who pursue bodybuilding protocols do martial arts? Of course, and a few are awesome at both.  Very rarely though will you see someone be a good martial artist, if they strictly follow a bodybuilding regimen.  And can martial artists that pursue a functional strength training program get an aesthetically pleasing body.  They can, depending on genetics and nutrition.  But remember, this is all a matter of perspective, standards and expectations.

So, do you want to look pretty or be practical? Both paths will leave you feeling good.  Bodybuilding is the fast track to be aesthetically appealing.  And a functional strength training program is one way to quickly make you into better martial artist.  Know your “whys” and follow the best path for you.

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