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15 Minutes to Big Improvement: Essential Strength

Updated: Nov 4, 2023


As Martial Artists, we know that great technique has the potential to defeat raw strength in an altercation. However, for the practitioner to accomplish what he must, a reasonable baseline of physical prowess must be present. A Martial Artist must have the strength to block or redirect a violent assault and the ability to generate enough power to subdue an attacker who wishes to do him harm. How you defend yourself will vary depending upon your Art of choice, but strength plays into your action one way or another.

I’m not saying that strength training is a substitute for training in the dojo. I’m simply stating the fact that working out with weights is an excellent supplement to our Martial Arts training. You don’t have to take my word for it. If you look at the writings of Grandmaster Ed Parker, you’ll see that he was a proponent of resistance training. If you’re not a “Kenpo guy,” then look no further than Bruce Lee, and you’ll see the same. One would never say that either of these men skimped on their technique work in favor of lifting weights, but at the same time, they knew the great power of adding it to the Marital Artist’s training regimen.

If you’re not an avid gym goer, how can you get the most out of adding a simple weight training routine while not take too much time away from your training in the dojo? Well, rather than get confused by trying to learn a ton of exercises and doing 90-minute workouts five times a week, I suggest keeping it short, simple, and effective. You can do enough in 15-30 minutes a week to create measurable results. We don’t even have to reinvent the wheel to reap the many benefits of increased strength. Powerlifters have been doing a few basic exercises that massively increase total body strength for decades. They specialize in barbell Bench Press, Deadlift, and Squat. These three exercises increase your pushing, pulling, and leg strength respectively. I imagine that you can see how stronger legs support more powerful stances. Similarly, pushing strength supports a stronger punch, and pulling power is necessary for throwing a non-compliant adversary.

“So, what’s the routine and how do you get it done in as little as 15 minutes per week?” I’m glad you asked. The Routine*: Barbell Bench Press 5 x 5 Barbell Squat 5 x 5 Barbell Deadlift 5 x 5

I know it doesn’t look like much, but if you’re new to the gym, it’ll make huge changes in your strength. If you’re already a gym rat, adding this to your routine will power up your results. Rather than give some longwinded explanation of how to do each of these exercises, I will operate under the impression that you know how to do them or can easily look up the technique. Compared to other elaborate exercises like Olympic lifts, one of the nice things about these movements is their relative simplicity.

Let’s dig in! As we look at the routine, we see “5 x 5.” This means that you perform FIVE SETS, and in each SET, you do FIVE REPETITIONS. When performing a repetition (rep for short), you lift the weight upward powerfully in roughly a 1-second timeframe and lower it down in 2 seconds totaling 3 seconds for each rep. So, a set of 5 reps should take 15 seconds to complete. After you finish a set, rest for 45-75 seconds and do the next set of the same exercise. Once you complete the five sets for the first exercise, you move onto the next exercise and continue in the same fashion until finishing all five sets for the second exercise. From there, you’ll move on to the final exercise and finish the routine. If you observe the 45 second rest-period between sets you complete the entire workout in just 15 minutes.

“How much weight do I use?” I like to start with a weight of medium challenge and then increase it each set so that by the last set I’m pushing to failure or at least really struggling with the final rep for each exercise. If you want to make it even simpler, just keep the weight the same for all five sets for a given exercise and then increase it a bit weekly. It is important to note that the weight you use for each of these exercises will be different from one to another.

An important point to remember when lifting weights is to warm-up before jumping into your strength training routine. There are many ways to warm-up before starting your lift. You can do some katas, techniques, push-ups, bodyweight squats, go for a jog, etcetera. My favorite way to warm up for a heavy lift is to start with the very same exercise using a light weight for a couple sets of high reps to get the blood flowing and the muscle primed.

The choice is up to you. The main thing is that you don’t get under heavy weight cold and try to go all out. That is a recipe for strained muscles or worse. As for breathing when lifting, exhale as you lift the weight up and inhale as you lower the weight down. There are other breathing techniques, but this is the preferred method. If you find yourself holding your breath, which is normal, remember to blow it out when the going gets tough. This is not unlike expelling the breath in the form of a kiai when throwing a strike.

There you have it! You can do enough weight training in as little as 15 minutes per week to experience noticeable changes in your total body strength. And in just a few months, you will substantially improve your ability to defend yourself or your loved ones. Increasing your essential strength provides an amazing return for such a small investment of time!


Ian Lauer CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist)

*Always consult your physician before beginning any new training or exercise plan.

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