Strength Training for the Martial Artist
One of my associates made a very good observation; there are a lot of martial artists that spend a lot of time on conditioning, but not so much on developing strength. Typically you will see most practitioners of the martial arts doing tons of pushups, skipping rope and maybe some “functional training” stuff like tire flipping, sledge hammer, med balls drills…all typically conditioning drills, but none of that stuff really develops their strength.
When most martial artists think of strength training, they think of the massive muscles of a body builder, and that scares them, because they do not want to lose their speed, power or flexibility. But a properly done strength training program can make a martial artist faster, more powerful, more flexible, and resilient to damage.
The question is what type of strength training? There are a lot of different forms of strength training, and this article will help explain the difference between two of them; absolute and relative strength. Do you know the difference? Which one would you choose? Absolute strength or relative strength training?
Before you make a choice, you might want to learn the definitions for each before choosing any particular training program. The differences might surprise you. The person you may think is the strongest in the room, might not be after all.
Absolute strength is the maximum amount of weight you can pick up…period. It is not associated with your body weight, type or size. Are you a big and strong weightlifter with bulging muscles who can bench press a lot of weight at one time? Are you the person everyone calls whenever they need help on moving day? Chances are you are very good at lifting heavy televisions, dining room tables and sofa sectionals. You are the type of person most people consider to be strong. You have great absolute strength, but does this mean you are the strongest person in the room?
On the flip side, there is relative strength. Relative strength is the amount of weight that can be lifted at one time in relation to your weight or size. A smaller person can be stronger than a hefty person if he has relative strength as opposed to absolute strength. Your relative strength is calculated by taking the maximum amount of weight you can lift and dividing it by your weight. For instance, if you weigh 178 pounds and can bench press 250 pounds, then your relative weight is 1.40.
But, let’s take this a little bit farther. What if you have a friend and he only weighs 130 pounds? Does this mean that you are automatically stronger than he is just because you weight more than he does, and you can bench press 250 pounds? What if he can only bench press 200 pounds as opposed to your 250 pounds? Does this automatically give you bragging rights because he weighs less and bench presses 50 pounds less than you do?
Well, no it doesn’t, because your friend might not be as hefty as you are, and he might not bench press as much as you can, but he is stronger than you are. Your friend has a relative strength of 1.54, which is higher. Therefore, it looks as if your friend gets bragging rights because he is technically stronger than you are pound for pound.
But, which would you rather have in the end? Absolute strength will give you the ability to lift heavier things and move them from one place to the other. Those who have relative strength usually start with building up their absolute strength because it is the foundation of all strength training.
However, relative strength will give you more power. It gives you the ability to move faster and endure things longer. Especially if you are a competitive martial artist, and you have to compete at a certain body weight. But what if you do not care about competitions?
For simplicity sakes, let us say you weigh in at 150lbs. But you had the strength of a 200lb man. How does that sound? Would that be useful?
In conclusion, if your goal is to remain a weightlifter and move big-ticket items, regardless of your weight, then absolute strength is right for you. However, if you want to be an agile martial artist, and stay within a certain body weight range, yet have the strength of a larger person, relative strength training is the way to go.
All in all, the right strength training can make you a considerably powerful and strong athlete, even if you are the smallest person in the room.
Here is an ancient video of me when I used to lift heavy and trying to increase my relative strength. I am approximately 155lbs and deadlifting 415lbs.