Strength training is important for your karate because it helps build a stronger and healthier body, increase the power and speed of your techniques, build an iron body that can withstand heavy hits, improves your endurance, balance and stability, and reduces risks of injury.
A common misconception about strength training is that it will bulk you up too much, reduce your speed and flexibility, and therefore diminish your martial arts ability. However, the right type of strength training exercises will do the opposite and make you a better karateka and a better fighter.
Strength training has been an important part of the training regime of karate masters and champions alike. Motobu Choki lifted stones. Bruce Lee used weight training to add 35lb of lean muscles to his 5’7” frame. Weights, resistance bands, box jumps, clapping push-ups, etc. were used by the multiple-time world kata champion, Sandra Sanchez, to add speed and power to her techniques.
In this post, we will look at what strength training is, why it is important for your karate, and some examples of strength training that might benefit your karate.
What Is Strength Training?
Strength training refers to activities that increase your muscle strength.
Strength training is also known as resistance training because activities that increase muscle strength require muscles to work against an external resistance such as a weight or force.
Examples of strength training are:
- Exercises using your own body weight (e.g. push-ups, chin-ups, squats, and lunges)
- Lifting with weight machines
- Lifting free weights such as dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells
- Exercises using weighted tools and resistance bands
- Household tasks that involve carrying, pushing, lifting, or moving heavy objects.
Why Is Strength Training Important for Your Karate?
Strength training is important for your karate because it helps build a stronger and healthier body, increase the power and speed of your techniques, build an iron body that can withstand heavy hits, and improve your endurance, balance, and stability while reducing risks of injury.
1. Strength training builds a stronger and healthier body
Strength training helps build a stronger and healthier body.
Strength training in addition to a good diet is what helps build and maintain one’s muscle mass.
In addition to giving your body strength and stability, muscle plays many important roles including balancing hormones, regulating blood sugar, fat burning, nutrient metabolism, and anti-inflammation. 
In fact, muscle has been referred to as “the organ of longevity” because skeletal muscle mass has been found to be strongly correlated with aging and age-related diseases. 
In addition to building and maintaining muscle, strength training has many other health benefits, including: 
- Better bone and joint health
- Reducing body fat
- Reducing diabetes risks
- Improving cardiovascular health
- Better cognitive function
- Improving mental health
- Healthy aging
- Slowing down the aging process.
A stronger and healthier body will no doubt benefit all aspects of your karate training, from participation, concentration, listening, understanding, and information retention to technique execution and, ultimately, overall fighting ability.
2. Strength training can increase the power of your karate techniques
Improving your muscle mass through strength training can improve the power of your karate techniques.
There are a number of factors affecting the power of your karate techniques (e.g. speed, mass, balance, tension-free) and the amount of body mass involved in a technique is an important one.
All things being equal, the more body mass is involved, the more powerful your technique will become.
For example, if you weigh 200 lb, the power of your punch can double that of someone weighing just 100 lb, assuming all other variables are constant.
You certainly can involve a lot of fat mass (instead of muscle) in a technique and still produce awesome power (like the way a sumo wrestler does) but putting on muscle mass is definitely a better way for a karateka.
Muscle is more compact and that can help with your speed. You surely don’t want to move around the way sumotoris move in a street fight.
3. Strength training can improve the speed of your karate techniques
Strength training can also improve the speed of your karate techniques if you do it right.
A common misconception is that strength training will slow you down. But this is not true, whether strength training improves your speed or slows you down all depends on the type of exercises you do and the kind of muscle fibers those exercises stimulate. 
Human muscle fibers can be classified into fast-twitch fibers and slow-twitch fibers.
Fast-twitch muscle fibers generate powerful forces quickly but also become tired more quickly. They are responsible for producing rapid, explosive movements, such as those seen in sprinting, jumping, powerlifting, and high-intensity cycling. Elite power athletes such as weightlifters and sprinters have an abundance of fast-twitch muscle fibers. 
Slow-twitch muscle fibers, on the other hand, have a high endurance capacity and are more suited for producing sustained and small contractions. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are responsible for endurance activities such as running, cycling, and rowing. Elite endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners and cyclists are found to have an abundance of slow-twitch muscle fibers. 
Therefore, if you engage in short and intense exercises like clapping push-ups, sprints, box jumps, jump squats, and medicine ball throwing, you will make use of fast twitch muscles, stimulate their growth and improve the speed of your techniques in karate.
4. Strength training helps build an iron body
Strength training will increase muscle mass and improve bone and joint health and help build a stronger body that is capable of withstanding heavy hits and keeping going in a fight.
Some people with small stature or with not a lot of muscle can still do that with the right techniques but size still does matter a lot in a fight. The more muscle you have, all else being equal, the more power you can potentially generate and the heavier blows you can withstand.
At 270 lb, The Rock Dwayne Johnson probably would likely be able to withstand punches from someone like Muhammad Ali better than Bruce Lee who weighed just around 160lb.
5. Strength training improves endurance and reduces risks of injury
In addition to power and speed, strength training can improve endurance and reduce the risk of injury in your karate training and competition.
Research has shown that strength training improves both long-term (>30 min) and short-term (<15 min) endurance capacity in well-trained individuals as well as highly-trained elite athletes. 
In addition, strength training can help prevent injury by strengthening the muscles, connective tissues and bones while increasing the flexibility of the ligaments.
This will result in lower risks of strains, sprains, and other types of injuries that can occur during training or competition.
In several well-designed studies, strength training has been found to be associated with a reduction in risks of sports-related injury. 
6. Strength training improves your balance and stability
Strength training can help improve balance and stability, which are important for your daily life as well as your karate training and competition. 
Stronger muscles, joints and bones through strength training will improve your balance and stability which will help your karate in multiple aspects, from staying upright, having a solid base to launch your attacks, and generating more power to avoiding getting swept or taking down an opponent.
Strength training becomes even more important for older karate practitioners in order to maintain good balance and stability.
You are expected to lose around 3-8% of muscle mass per decade after the age of 30 and a lot more after the age of 60. If you do nothing about it, this involuntary loss of muscle mass will result in decreases in strength and function and lead to an increased risk of falls and injury as you age. 
Strength Training Exercises for Karate
Strength training benefits your karate, however, the ideal physical training program for karate fighters is not the typical, traditional bodybuilding routine.
Rather, strength training for karatekas and martial artists in general is more similar to the kind of strength training appropriate for other athletes, as it centers around developing specific aptitudes required for specific sports.
The strength training routine to support your karate should be one that strengthens and supports fast-twitch muscle fibers to make your movements more explosive as well as promote muscle growth and improve your strength, speed, balance, endurance, and overall fitness.
While strength training for bodybuilding is often about isolating various individual muscles and muscle groups, strength training for karate is more about developing the entire body at once. Not only do you need to have muscle power and strength to make impactful movements, but you need to deftly jump, squat, run, twist, push, and pull as well.
Below are a few examples of basic but effective strength exercises that can help with your karate training because they tend to challenge your entire body as well as support your karate techniques.
The basic push-up is helpful for striking, as it lets you build strength via pushing motions that help to increase the power of your punches.
To perform a push-up properly, keep your arms tucked in and your hands below your shoulders. As you perform the movement, let your elbows glide over your ribcage.
As an alternative, you could perform push-ups on a medicine ball.
Clapping push-ups is the next level challenge that targets the growth of fast twitch muscle fibers mentioned above.
This type of push-up not only helps with chest muscle growth but also improves the explosiveness of your karate techniques.
Pull-ups are invaluable for supporting pulling motions in karate. With pull-ups, you develop your upper back muscles, which helps you build strength in the upper body.
If you can’t perform a pull-up properly yet, begin with negative pull-ups, or jump pulls, in which you step or jump onto a platform to reach your chin above the pull-up bar, then lower yourself gently and slowly back down. This version of the pull-up concentrates on the downward movement of the exercise, thereby helping to build the strength required to perform a pull-up properly.
Whichever version of pull-ups you perform, concentrate on activating your back muscles instead of your biceps by squeezing together your shoulder blades.
Thrusters build both cardiovascular fitness and muscular force. To perform them, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell directly in front of your shoulders; be sure to keep your wrists below the barbell. Now, perform a full squat. Then, to return to standing, rapidly extend your legs and hips while utilizing the upward motion’s momentum to push the barbell overhead.
Your movement should be slow on the way down but explosive on the way up. If you don’t have a barbell at home, a couple of dumbbells can also work.
Thruster is a full-body exercise that helps with muscle, endurance, and coordination as well as supports explosive techniques.
An overhead press is when you hold dumbbells or kettlebells at your shoulders, then raise them overhead.
Use overhead presses to help build up your deltoids, which you need to hold your guard up even if you’re fatigued. While performing the exercise, make sure your forearms remain parallel to one another and your biceps remain beside your ears when your arms are fully extended overhead.
Rather than trying to increase the number of reps you can perform over time, you’ll want to perform around 8 to 12 of them with a weight that’s sufficiently heavy to make the last three a challenge to complete.
Use deadlifts to activate your core and lower back muscles as well as your hamstrings and glutes. Not only do they help you build strength in those muscle groups, but they also help make your grip stronger.
Whenever you do deadlifts, you should always concentrate on proper form. Therefore, you should avoid using too much weight when initially starting out. Good form for deadlifts includes toes pointing forward, gaze ahead and back straight, not rounded.
While lowering the bar straight in a vertical motion, bend your knees slightly and push back your buttocks. Provided you use proper form, the stretch should not be in your quadriceps muscles but in your hamstrings.
Performing squats using a barbell activates your hamstrings, glutes, quads, and core.
There are two forms of squats you can perform: front squats, in which you rest the barbell on your shoulders beneath your chin; and back squats, in which you rest it on your shoulders behind your traps and neck on your shoulders.
Note that, if you have issues with your lower back, you should stay away from back squats.
Either way, barbell squats allow you to work with heavier weights than many of the other exercises in this routine.
After getting yourself into this starting position, slowly lower yourself while counting to three. Be sure you don’t collapse your knees inward or extend them past your toes; this prevents you from needlessly straining your joints. After you reach the bottom of the squat (aka the full squat) at the end of the three-second count, move back upwards to standing and starting position in a quick but controlled, “explosive” motion.
Though they may have gone by a different name (they used to be called “squat thrusts”), burpees have been a part of many people’s lives since elementary school gym class. That’s because of how well they’re known to build strength, speed, dexterity and endurance. And, that’s what makes them one of the greatest exercises a karateka can practice.
There are many variations in how you may perform a burpee, but essentially:
- Squat down
- Place your hands on the ground and kick your feet back together behind you
- Perform a push-up
- Jump your feet back in under you.
- Stand up (sometimes people jump to standing with hands in the air overhead)
Burpees can help you with jumping, sprawling, and grappling, as well as outlasting your opponent.
Karate Workout Tips to Remember
As you proceed through this workout routine remember a few key tips for getting the most value out of the exercise while avoiding doing yourself harm:
- Warm up before strength training and cool down afterward
- Avoid training when you’ve experienced a serious injury, whether chronic or acute
- Take a break from training for several weeks before any competition in which you plan to participate. After a season of competition ends, take a few weeks off from training as well in order to recover
- Be consistent if you want to see good results. It is always easy to get started but staying committed to a training regime is a challenge for almost everyone. However, an iron body, a six-pack, or an athletic physique all requires a lot of dedication and hard work for over an extended period of time.
Other posts you might be interested in:
How to Generate Explosive Power in Your Karate Punches
How to Systematically Improve Your Karate Sparring
Motobu Choki’s Fight with a Boxer that Brought Him Fame
Karate vs BJJ: Which One Is Better for Self-Defense?
Photo credit: Daniel Apocada on Unsplash
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