Thursday, November 4, 2010

4 Barbell Drills Every Martial Artist and Fighter Needs!

I’ve already been over why it’s so important for you as a martial artist to take up a proper strength training routine. So, today I just want to talk about a simple but HIGHLY effective routine for building both max strength and explosive strength...Oh, and you’ll only need one piece of equipment – an Olympic Barbell.

Why the Olympic Barbell? Because they're relatively cheap, versatile, and will last a lifetime.

Now I’ve never been one for over complicating anything. So, I want you stick with 4 basic exercises: The Deadlift, The Standing Press, The Bent-Over Row, and the Power Clean. These exercises will strengthen your entire body – no other exercises required (so you can ditch the biceps curls).

Now, there are some who say that such a routine is too simplistic to produce any sort of real results. If that were true then why would elite level coaches and trainers, like Dan John, Pavel Tsatsouline, Mark Rippetoe, and Martin Rooney, put so much emphasis on those four lifts in the programs they create? Not to mention the countless professional level fighters and strength athletes who make these drills the cornerstone of their programs. Also, let’s not forget that most lifters who would scoff at such a routine are usually beginners themselves.

The bottom line is these drills work! The Deadlift, the Press, the Row, and the Clean are compound exercises which train all the major muscle groups in highly functional motion patterns (unlike triceps kickbacks and dumbbell flys).

 Click here to find out more about why The Deadlift, Press, Row, and Clean are so Effective!

So, What Does this Mean to You as a Fighter and Martial Artist?

Well, the Deadlift and Power Clean build strong legs and backs as well as extreme power in the hips. This means more powerful kicks, effortless throws, and a stronger root. The Standing Press builds pushing strength for striking and grapping (especially if you’re opponent is on top). The Bent-Over Row builds the strength necessary keep your opponents close when grappling (an essential skill) and keep them under control (when in the clinch or when applying a submission or some other control technique).

So, here’s the Routine –

You’ll be doing this routine 3 times a week. Keep the weights heavy and the reps low (5 rep range) to emphasize strength and explosive power. You’ll be doing two versions of this workout. They’re pretty much the same with one slight variation in the Deadlift.

A Day –
1. Conventional Deadlift* – 5 reps x 2-3 sets^
2. Standing Press – 5 reps x 2- 3 sets
3. Bent-Over Row – 5 reps x 2-3 sets
4. Power Clean – 5 reps x 2-3 sets

B Day –
1. Sumo Style Deadlift* – 5 reps x 2-3 sets
2. Standing Press – 5 reps x 2-3 sets
3. Bent-Over Row – 5 reps x 2-3 sets
4. Power Clean – 5 reps x 2-3 sets

As I stated above, you’ll be training 3 days a week – most likely on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Each day you’ll alternate between A Day and B Day. So a typical two week period will look like this:

                    Mon.                      Wed.                        Fri.

Week 1  -    A Day                     B Day                     A Day

Week 2 -     B Day                    A Day                      B Day

This routine is simple and effective. It will allow you time to also work on perfecting your martial art and developing your fighting skills. A beginner or someone who isn’t accustomed to intense barbell training will notice rapid progress. Mark Rippetoe notes that it isn’t uncommon for trainees to see improvement every workout (assuming adequate recovery and lots of food). Contrary to popular wisdom you can stay on this routine for up to 6 months and still experience significant gain on a regular basis - especially if you don't regularly do intense barbell training. In fact, I would recommend staying on such a routine for an extended period to build a proper base in max and explosive strength. Doing so will put you light years ahead of your competition who, most likely, can't stick to a proper program for more than a few weeks.

Train Hard,
Josh Skinner (donjitsu2)

*The conventional deadlift places more emphasis hamstrings while the sumo style (with its much wider stance) works the quads a bit more. Doing them both gives you a more well rounded development.

^ Use 2 sets and about 2 minutes worth of rest between sets to focus solely on strength and explosive power. If you want to add size do 3 sets, rest 1-1.5 minutes, and eat a lot of food (mainly protein and fat).


  1. Very basic and very effective routine. The only thing I'd say is that if someone was only going to do 2 sets, I'd add another workout or two per week (5 days at 2x5, of course, being very close to Dan John's 40 Day Program).

  2. That's a good point. However, I'm also assuming the person following this program will be training his/her martial art. Lifting daily and doing fight training is an option, but for many it isn't a reality.
    But, you are right if someone can train 2x a day M-F that would be optimal. As long as the daily volume is a bit lower a person can typically deal with more weekly volume.

    Good Point. Thanks for bringing it up.