Do you want to fight like Burns, Chimaev, or Holm? While every martial arts style has differences, the core principles of improvement remain the same. So, from practical training tips to the best nutrition, here’s how to become a better martial artist (and maybe one day reach the level of MMA pros).
Stay consistent in your martial arts training
Consistency is key to building a routine you’ll stick to. And a routine you’ll stick to is key to becoming a better martial artist. Your training schedule is entirely up to you - but ideally, you should have a ‘major’ training session (like your hour-long karate, judo, or BJJ class) 2-3 times a week and ‘minor’ training sessions of about 15-30 minutes every day you don’t have a class. Practising every day will lead to faster and better improvement.
Take it slow
When training, go at 50% or even 25% of your regular speed. Like with many sports, getting better at martial arts means building accurate muscle memory to cut down on some of the thinking processes. I.e., instead of thinking about dodging and then dodging, you instinctively dodge. Instead of planning where to hit, you build the memory so your muscles do it for you without waiting for input from your brain.
And to ensure that muscle memory is as accurate as possible, you must first train slowly and precisely. Mark your punches, monitor your movements, and build an awareness of your reach and power.
Control is key
All movement requires certain muscle groups to be active and others to be passive. For example, the quadriceps extend the leg while the hamstrings bend it. If the hamstrings are as active as the quads when extending your leg in a kick, they’ll act as a break rather than helping the kick. As you train, try to hone in on the muscles you’re using (and overusing). Strength is all well and good, but relaxed and controlled movements make for less fatigue and better precision.
You’ll also want to work on your proprioception and spatial awareness. These senses help you register how you move and position yourself in a certain space, which is crucial to precise strikes and balance.
Training will naturally help you improve your awareness as you progress, but you can help the process along by training in front of a mirror and recording your sessions to see how you FEEL you move versus how you actually move. You can also improve it by wearing compression.
Wear compression for martial arts
Compression has a ton of benefits for martial artists.
- It reduces the rate of muscle fatigue by boosting circulation and helping muscle fibres work more efficiently and effectively.
- Improves proprioception by helping your nerves speed up communication between muscle and brain.
- Boosts the rate of muscle recovery by minimising damage from oscillations (vibrations for running, jumping and kicking) and increasing circulation through the area.
- And it even minimises the risk of injury by warming up the muscles and improving proprioception.
Martial arts uses the whole body. And while nothing is stopping you from dressing in compression gear head to toe, it’s best to focus on a few key areas.
For martial arts requiring a lot of kicks and jumps, like taekwondo and karate, we’d recommend the Sports Ankle Support. Its compression knit fabric and stabilising figure 8 strap secure and protect the joint. Ankle sprains in sports are primarily caused by bad landings and sharp pivots. So adding more stability is a good step to minimising your risk.
Most martial arts require a good deal of balance, most of which is controlled by the core. While you will naturally gain better balance over time as your training progresses, you can help the process along by wearing a Sports Back Support. The proprioceptive benefits of its compression knit fabric will help your core better coordinate your movements.
Or if you feel like a particular muscle group isn’t quite keeping up with the rest of you (for example, your arms, wrists, or knees), compression can help it work harder for longer by minimising fatigue.
Sports Ankle Support
Don’t skip rest days
It might be surprising to learn, but rest is just as important as training! Not giving your muscles enough time to recover - and doing it repeatedly - will lead to muscle damage and potentially degeneration. Experts recommend taking at least 24 hours between training sessions and squeezing in one or two rest days a week.
On a rest day, you can still do some physical activity (including some martial arts practice); just don’t overexert yourself. If you find yourself running out of breath, slow down.
Build strength outside of martial arts training
Strength is vital to powerful kicks and punches. Your strengthening routine should consist of plyometrics and isometrics. The former will build explosive power, while the latter will improve your muscle endurance. Try the following exercises:
- Box jumps: jump up on a high surface using just your legs. Start low and go higher as you build strength and balance
- Burpees: this exercise combines a push-up and a jump into a full-body workout
- Jump squats: Squat down, then jump up as high as you can
- Clapping push-ups: while doing push-ups, push yourself off the floor hard and fast enough to clap your hands together
- Static chin-ups: Hold your chin-up at the highest point for 10-15 seconds, then slowly release. Repeat 3 times.
- Isometric lunges: while doing a regular set of lunges, hold your lunge at the lowest point for 5 seconds
- Planks: do a mix of standard and side planks to work your entire core
As you get stronger and the exercises become easier, gradually add reps. Experts advise increasing in increments of 10% a week.
Work on your flexibility
Flexibility is essential for reach, strength, and avoiding injury. Make sure to do a set of stretches for 10-15 minutes after training, as the ‘cool-down’ period is when your muscles are warmest and easier to stretch without risking injury. Good stretches to try include:
- Butterfly for your groin and inner thighs
- Forward bend for your hamstrings, lower back, and calves
- Figure 4 for the glutes
- Cobra for your abdominals and back
- Doorway stretch for your shoulders and pectorals
- Posterior cuff stretch for your supra and infraspinatus muscles
Make sure you’re eating the right foods and plenty of them. The average person needs around 2000 calories daily to do basic everyday tasks. You’ll need to add any calories you burn during sport, for which you can use the MET (metabolic equivalent) system. When you do sports, you burn MET x 3.5 x (your body weight in kilograms) / 200 = calories per minute. So, for example, sparring at a slower pace while training may net around 4.5 METs, meaning if you weigh 100 kg, you’ll burn 7.85 calories a minute, or 448 calories per hour. Remember, training on a calorie deficit can slow your reflexes and increase your rate of fatigue.
These calories should be made up of:
- Proteins to help build muscle tissues
- Carbs to replenish glycogen (your body’s energy reserve)
- Fats for an easy energy source and help in breaking down and absorbing nutrients
You should also get plenty of vitamins and nutrients to ensure muscle and joint tissues have everything they need to function well.
Don’t get stuck on the practical side
Practice is essential for getting better, but you shouldn’t discount theoretical knowledge. Learning more about human anatomy, watching and analysing fights, and even dipping into other martial arts styles will all play a role in helping you improve.
To sum up
To become a great martial artist, you’ll need to strength train, eat right, work on your flexibility, practice, and wear compression. While you can’t become a judo or karate pro in just a few weeks, research, practice, and consistency are key to eventually getting there.
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