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  • Writer's pictureAmerican Karate Institute

Essential Exercises That Will Help You Become A Better Martial Artist

Strength and conditioning workouts are not just great for all-round fitness – they may help with your martial arts game.

Weighted exercises should be adjusted according to whether you are training for power and strength, or conditioning and endurance.

Generally, if you want to get stronger, go for heavier weights and lower reps. For conditioning and endurance, do more reps at lower weights.

Today, American Karate Institute will share several essential exercises every martial artist needs to start doing right now to take their skills to the next level.


Pull-ups help build upper body strength by developing the muscles in your upper back. These are essential for those pulling motions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu when you control your opponent, as well as for the clinch in Muay Thai and mixed martial arts.

If you are unable to do a proper pull-up, start off with easier exercises such as jump pulls or negative pull-ups, where you stand on a platform. Get your chin above the bar by jumping or stepping onto a platform, then lower yourself slowly.

Both of these progressions focus on the controlled downward motion of the pull-up, which will help you build the strength you need to eventually perform a proper pull-up.

Regardless of whether you are doing proper pull-ups or the easier progressions, you should focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together to activate your back muscles, rather than your biceps.


You cannot talk about strength and conditioning for martial arts without mentioning the humble push-up. This is useful for the striking arts, as the pushing motions help build strength so you can put more power behind your punches.

To do a proper push-up, make sure your arms are tucked in, with your hands beneath your shoulders. Your elbows should glide along your rib cage as you perform the motion.

BJJ practitioners might want to try a variation of the push-up that uses the medicine ball.

Push-up on a medicine ball, then roll it over to your other hand and repeat the motion. This is great for training your balance.


Thrusters help train your explosiveness and cardiovascular fitness. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the barbell just in front of your shoulders. Your wrists should be positioned under the barbell. Do a full squat, and as you extend your hips and legs rapidly, use the momentum of the upward movement to push the bar up above your head.

Overhead Presses

Overhead presses – where you lift kettlebells or dumbbells over your head from your shoulders – will help strengthen those deltoids. You need strong shoulders to help you keep your guard up, especially when you are fatigued.

Aim to do about eight to 12 reps. The weight should be heavy enough such that the last three reps are challenging to finish. Keep your forearms parallel to each other, and your biceps should be next to your ears in the top position.


Deadlifts activate your glutes, hamstrings, lower back muscles, and core, and are great for BJJ because they help strengthen your grip at the same time.

For deadlifts, the focus should always be on good form, so do not go too heavy when you first start out.

Your toes should be pointing forward as you look ahead of you, and ensure that you do not round your back. As you lower the bar in a straight vertical motion, stick your buttocks back with your knees slightly bent. If your form is good, you should feel the stretch in your hamstrings, rather than your quads.

Squats With A Barbell

Another essential workout for leg day, doing squats with a barbell activates your core, quads, glutes, and hamstrings. As always, the focus should be on form.

Both front squats – where the barbell rests on your shoulders under your chin – and back squats – where you rest the barbell on your shoulders behind your neck and trapezius muscles – are equally beneficial. But you will usually be able to use heavier weights with back squats.

Those with lower back issues, however, should stay away from the back squat. Lower yourself slowly using a three-second count, ensuring your knees do not collapse inwards and go further than your toes to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your joints. Explode upwards after you have reached a full squat before quickly lowering yourself again.


Very few people can claim to enjoy doing burpees, but they are still one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do for martial arts. The action of sprawling and jumping back up to your feet mimics many of the level changes you will have to do for grappling.

As they also quickly get your heart rate up, burpees are also an efficient way to build endurance and cardiovascular fitness.


At the American Karate Institute, we teach a way of life. Our Miami martial arts school and MMA Classes has developed a well thought out curriculum that teaches more than just the art of self-defense. We delve deep into our students’ technique, skill set, intelligence, intuition and overall physical fitness. Contact us today if you’re interested in mixed martial arts and self-defense classes and schedule your free-trial class!


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