How to Do CrossFit While Practicing Martial Arts Skills at the Same Time

Martial artists need to hone their skills every day. But we also need strength, agility, endurance, explosiveness, and flexibility.

Training even one of these attributes can take a lot of time out of your day. But as Bruce Lee said, “If you’re talking about combat–as it is–well then, baby you’d better train every part of your body!” So what’s a busy, non-professional martial artist to do?

bruce lee, quote, inspiration, martial arts

We can’t forget to train our skills, right?

I harbor this fantasy that I might someday be able keep up with all the CrossFitters out there. That’s why I devised some ideas about combining workouts that I experimented with and described on the Jacked Dad blog. I felt great doing these workouts, but they’re not sport specific–especially for martial arts. I didn’t feel like I was getting enough skill work in, and that’s a problem.  Here’s how I’m trying to get fit while practicing martial arts skills at the same time. 

Over the past few weeks, I tried something new. I started splitting exercises by what works for striking and what works for grappling. This is different than a strength and conditioning coach’s approach because it adds skill-work into the mix. It also differs from most other programs because improving an athlete’s fitness isn’t the main goal; improving martial arts performance is.

I’ve been alternating between workouts to better my striking and workouts to enhance my grappling. What I do is pick several items from the following “menus” and then chose exercises that I know will fit together.

  • Striking: explosive lifts, plyometrics, strength/plyo sets, interval training, agility drills, bagwork, shadowboxing, footwork, kata, core torquing/twisting, forearm strength, bone and muscle pounding
  • Grappling: heavy lifts, gymnastics, body weight exercises, static holds, isometrics, muscle endurance circuits, complexes, grappling dummy, Ginastica Natural, yoga, grip strength, grip endurance, core crunching and flexing, neck strength

So far, by combining these exercises into separate days dedicated to either striking or grappling, I have started becoming fitter and more adept at the skills I need to practice.

If you’re looking for a great way to incorporate fitness and skills training, here are some sample workouts to get you started!

Striking Workout A

1. Explosive strength:
390lbs sumo deadlift x3 / 5 squat jumps
100lbs one-arm bench press x2 / 50lbs x5
320 sumo deadlift x5 / 5 squat jumps
75 one-arm bench press x5 / 50# x5

This segment of the workout improves explosiveness by actually recruiting slow twitch muscle fibers to act as fast twitch muscle fibers.  Doing a super set of heavy lifting followed by plyometrics is an extremely effective way to improve speed and power.  Ever see a baseball player on deck swing his bat with a weight on it?  That makes his swing faster when he steps up to the plate!

2. Skills and conditioning:
two tabata intervals of alternating kicks and punching band pulls

3. Core torque:
sledgehammer twists 3 sets x 10 per side (this video isn’t exactly how I do it: I twist less and explode more)

4. Forearms:
wrist roller

Grappling Workout A
1. Cardiovascular endurance:
one mile run (as fast as possible)

2. Muscular endurance:
5 minutes burn machine

3. Grappling skills and core:
guard spins
triangle set-ups
running man escapes
mount and knee-on-belly stability ball

4. Core flex:
stability ball crunches

5. Grip:
towel pull-ups (assisted or hangs are okay)

6. neck:
“yes sir, no sirs” (For this, lie on a bench or on the floor, nod your head up and down and side to side.  Then lie on your stomach and repeat the same motions.  Don’t go crazy; just try to feel a burn.)

Striking Workout B

1. Explosive strength:
5×4 dumbbell snatches @60lbs
4×4 dumbell clean and jerk @100lbs
slow kata for active rest between sets

2. Skills and conditioning:
kata with training mask on red

3. Core torque:
torture twist

4. Forearms:
dumbbell wrist twist

Grappling Workout B

1. Max strength, muscle endurance, cardio conditioning:
barbell squats, 50 reps @ 145
barbell bench press, 50 reps @ 145

2. Grappling skills and core flex:
10 minutes unscripted grappling drills and tumbling

3. Grip:
300lbs. hand gripper 3×3

4. Neck:
wrestler’s bridge

wrestler's bridge, fitness, workout, crossfit, martial arts

As an additional note, these workouts take about an hour each.  This includes warming up and static stretching afterwards.  I usually train six days per week–sometimes seven.  When I teach a martial arts class or visit the gym or dojo, I don’t usually do any supplemental training, as I consider it an active rest/recovery day.

I hope the ideas and workouts in this article inspire you to make up some of your own.  If you do, please share them with us in the comments!

About moaimartialarts

Lucky enough to grow up with the martial arts, I have felt their positive influence throughout my life and am especially interested in sharing these experiences with others. I enjoy working with youth and adults to give back some of what I've received. If you would like to learn more about Uechi-Ryu/Shohei-Ryu Karate, or if you want to find people to train with, please contact me. I am the head karate instructor for the Meriden Martial Arts Club.
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