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Explosive Conditioning for Martial Arts

This week, we have another guest post from Chris Smith – Explosive Conditioning for Martial Arts.


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Pretty much every sport requires some degree of explosive power. For the martial artist, being explosive is vital. If you are a martial artist and you cannot throw a punch or kick explosively you are not going to get very far.

So you need to train to be explosive, right?


So you incorporate some traditional explosive power training into your program. You grab a lighter weight and lift it explosively for the prescribed 3-5 reps.

Great. You’re developing explosiveness and power.

Being explosive isn’t everything in martial arts though. They say conditioning is king. The ability to throw a good punch doesn’t mean much if you are exhausted after a couple of combinations. So you work on your conditioning. Maybe you do some interval sprints or some circuits. You get your heart racing and learn to fight off the fatigue.

Now you’re on your way to developing the traits of a fighter.

The problem with always training these traits separately is that you do not develop power endurance. Being able to throw a powerful punch doesn’t mean much if after a few combinations all your power is gone.

The way to combat this is to train your body to remain powerful through fatigue. Keep in mind here that there is a difference between training your body to function through fatigue and training your body to remain powerful through fatigue.

Hopefully if you are doing some decent high intensity conditioning work you have already trained your body (and mind) to work through fatigue without quitting. What you want to do, however, is develop power endurance so that your fiftieth punch has as much power behind it as your first punch.

The easy part is over: you’ve identified the trait you want to improve upon with your training. So how do you do it?

Enter explosive conditioning.

Just like training for any sport, you want to try and replicate the specific demands that you will encounter in competition during your training in some way. In martial arts competition, you are constantly moving around, often with little or no break (aside from the designated rest between rounds), heart pounding and you have another guy trying to cave in your head.

So you can see why being able to fight off exhaustion and remain an effective fighter is important. That is exactly what explosive conditioning does.

An explosive conditioning workout consists of a couple of main components: an intense, initial fatigue causing exercise, main explosive exercises and little or no rest periods.

All of the exercises in an explosive conditioning workout need to be done with no rest between them, circuit style. This is important! If you start taking 30 second breaks between exercises you are no longer training your body to build power when it is in a state of exhaustion.

In between sets of the circuit, you are permitted a short break, but keep this break under one minute. Ideally the rest period between sets should be 30 seconds or less but until you become more accustomed to the level of intensity required you can use a full minute and gradually lessen the rest time.

The initial fatigue exercise should be something relatively tough to make sure your body has to learn to be powerful when it’s tired. It’s also a plus to use something that has some kind of explosive component to it as well. For your main exercises, be sure to choose ones that require explosiveness like plyometric pushups, squat jumps and so on. Do this circuit style for 3 to 5 sets. Here is a sample explosive conditioning workout to give you an idea.

    • 10 Burpees
    • 5 Explosive Pushups (Don’t worry about doing clapping pushups, just focus on exploding off of the ground)
    • 5 Explosive Pullups (Explode upwards like you are trying to shoot off of the bar)
    • 30 sec. Wall Squat
    • 5 Squat Jumps
    • 5 Push Presses

Keep the reps low to make sure you are focusing on getting the most power on each rep, and also to make sure your form doesn’t start to fail. This is an intense workout already without the high reps, so there is no need to do higher reps.

The burpees are your initial fatigue exercise. Notice that it is a fairly challenging exercise, and also has an explosive component to it.

The 30 second wall squat exploits the static-dynamic complex to get the most power out of the jump squats.

Due to the nature of the exercises used and the circuit style, this is a fairly intense workout so I wouldn’t recommend using explosive conditioning-style workouts more than a couple of times a week, especially since any other training you are doing is probably already putting a high demand on your system.

Ease into using explosive conditioning and you’ll notice big results.


Chris Smith is the owner and head trainer of Train Better Fitness, a performance training company based in New York City offering training services to people of all fitness backgrounds. He is a certified personal trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, martial artist and overall fitness fanatic.

Thanks for another excellent guest post, Chris. Diesels, if you have a question for Chris, please leave a comment below. Chris will be checking in and willbe glad to hit you back on anything you ask. All the best in your training, everyone.


P.S. Check out the site Thursday night. Thursday is my birthday, and instead of going out to party, I am going to hit a huge workout in my garage. Don’t miss it – it is going to be intense!

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17 Responses to “Explosive Conditioning for Martial Arts”

  1. Joe Hashey Says:

    Killer post Chris! Keep up the good work.

  2. Chris Smith Says:

    Thanks Joe! And thanks to Jedd and the Diesel Crew for the chance to share this info.

  3. Jedd Says:

    Chris, great post. Keep up the great work.

    I am going to try your workout for my birthday training session tomorrow night. Thanks man!


  4. Chris Smith Says:

    Awesome bro I hope you enjoy it.

  5. KIra Says:

    Thanks dude!

    I will pimp this on my blog next week 🙂


  6. Dave Hedges Says:

    Wow, freaky…

    Thats thinking is exactly the way I’ve been leading my MMA conditiong sessions, took a few weeks to get them up to scratch but then earlier this week I hammered them through a protocol very similar to the one you prescribe, mixing explosive moves with strength moves.
    Next week I’m trying yours.
    Here’s the last one we did:
    Each drill was for 30 seconds, 10 seconds to change over. After 4 stations (2mins, a round in the amateur league here) we took a 30 second break and then resumed. 3 rounds total:
    BW row – Explosive positive
    Dble Kettlebell Clean & Jerk
    Towel Pull ups
    Medicine ball explosive push ups (where you try to hop over, switching hands on the ball)
    Sandbag shoulder & squat
    Knee jump to broad jump
    Sledghammer slams

    I’ll post how the boys get on with yours….


  7. Joe Hashey Says:

    Oh by the way, happy birthday Jedd…old man!


  8. Bill Jones Says:

    Very cool. I hate burpees myself but use them on me as well as our athletes. Hell last night was pure torture as we did an 11 station cycle with 5 burpees after each station for 2 cycles. The only rest was moving from one station to the next. 5 burpees does’t sound like much but they add up not only numerically but physically!

    Oh did I mention…I hate burpees…Think I’ll do them with a weighted vest this weekend.

  9. Matt "Wiggy" Wiggins Says:

    FINALLY….it’s good to see more guys saying that martial arts need power-conditioning. So many guys think it’s all just ‘cardio’, when it’s so much more than that.

    Even when some guys do something like complex training, they go too light and just ‘go through the motions’ more than anything. That training has to be explosive – just like you have to be in a fight.

    Great info!

    PS – Happy b-day Jedd!


  10. Shane Says:

    Chris, I’d love to see this on a video man.

    I actually had to do a youtube video search just to make sure I knew what a burbee is, so knowing this, there are probably other people wondering what several of the items might be.

    Diesel on,

  11. Max Shank Says:

    In my humble opinion, I think that this may be too much.
    Theoretically this article makes absolute sense, and I like what it has to say. I also think that the execution could be a little bit different. While I have no background on what else is going on with the fighters on this program, I think that learning to manage fatigue while striking is best done by…striking. Many fighters I have come across in my experience are weak. There is such a primary focus on conditioning in the gym that actual, raw strength gets completely ignored. When a fighter enters the gym you have to ask yourself: Why? So when I get someone who is going to compete in combat sports (mma, bjj, muay thai), I make him move better, I make him stronger, and I give him short bursts of appropriate conditioning.

    Ultimately it seems that this is a purposeful fatigue inducing training session, I’m curious as to what else you do with your fighters that complements this program.

    Disclaimer: This rant was only sparked by this post, not a direct response to it negatively in any way. I am eager to hear a response and a new take on training fighters.
    Seriously, I hope I don’t seem like a total dick but I do want to know the methodology that encompasses this.

  12. Daniel Marks Says:

    Great post. I look forward to trying this workout

  13. Chris Smith Says:

    Thanks everyone for the feedback, I’m glad you guys enjoyed the article.

    @ Shane – I’ll try to get a video on this and post it on my blog. Keep a lookout for it at

    @ Max – Don’t worry dude, you don’t come across as a dick, I always appreciate critcism. You’re right, the best way to train for fatigue while striking is striking. Nothing beats a solid sparring session for matching the realism of a fight.

    The logic behind explosive conditioning is simple: overload. While sparring, you are responding to the stress of a normal fight. You can naturally take breaks and go on the defensive if you need to. Most fighters will naturally hold back a little bit during sparring (or fighting) in order to preserve a little defense.

    During an explosive conditioning workout, you don’t have that concern. You are training your body to be explosive while fatigued, without the need to focus on skills. In other words it focuses your effort. Not to mention you can push yourself harder during a designated conditioning session than you might during a sparring session. And on top of that, you are performing plyometrics against resistance, which can help develop a little more power than just throwing unweighted punches during sparring.

    Hope that addresses your concerns, and thanks for the questions.

    And Happy Birthday Jedd!

  14. Dave Hedges Says:

    Another quick question:

    Would you advocate adding in some heavy lifts?
    ie A heavy dead before the burpees, or bench before plyo pushups?

    And, Jedd, Happy birthday


  15. Chris Smith Says:


    Although I don’t see any serious problems with throwing in some heavy lifts in the circuit, I believe that would be a little too much. Due to the already challenging nature of the workout and the explosive movements involved I think adding heavy compound lifts, especially those that really burn out the CNS like deadlifts would be more detrimental than good. I like to focus on developing max strength as a separate workout.

  16. Bernard Mizula Says:

    Nice post. I do have a question for you. I have always thought (through study of Westside, and Olympic lifting methods ) that power development must be done while you are fresh otherwise you teach your body to be slow? Any insight on this would be appreciated.

    Take care

  17. Chris Smith Says:


    It is true that you get the most benefit from explosive exercises when you are fresh. This way you can maximize the power you have without worrying about form breaking down and so on. The entire point of this workout (and method of conditioning) is to train your body to remain explosive WHILE fatigued. While this method isn’t really necessary or ideal for a power/olympic lifter because they need to be explosive for moving massive amounts of weight, what you need to realize is that being able to remain explosive for a long period of time isn’t necessarily a necessity for those sports. Both of those sports rely on maximum effort single attempts. A fighter on the other hand needs to remain explosive and unfatigued for the entire duration of the fight.

    Hope that answers your question.


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