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Have you ever been physically confronted by someone? Someone who posed a serious and immediate threat? What about by someone who is barrel-chested, broad-shouldered and 50 pounds heavier? In this situation, even the most well-trained among us begin to lose our advantage in a tussle. The Mr. Miyagis of the world – tiny guys that can destroy a platoon with their hands alone – are rare. Strength matters. Legendary strength trainer Mark Rippetoe states, “Bigger, stronger men are more valuable…in any field of employment in which there is a physical component.” Superior training can offset a strength advantage – that’s one of the reasons we train in the first place — but a stronger fighter is a better fighter. Here’s how to train for it.
One of the first additions that proper strength training can provide to self-defense is enhancing explosive power by development of the Type II, or fast twitch, muscle fibers. If you move 100 pounds 10 times, you’ll be pretty good at moving 100 pounds…but not 300 pounds. But if you can move 300 pounds ten times, then you’ll be very good at moving 100 pounds or, if kicking someone’s groin, knee, or head, 27.5 pounds, the weight of an average man’s leg.
Greater strength also means that moving your body weight becomes easier for longer periods of time (read: you’ll have greater stamina). Plus, as muscle mass increases, you’ll get the ancillary benefit of armor. The body responds by recruiting calcium to increase bone density and deal with the increased stress of higher weight. Larger muscles and denser bones translate to an armored structure that’s harder to break – an invaluable trait when fists and elbows are flying.
Self-defense training, if it’s good, will give you your techniques, mobility, flexibility, and cardio (from sparring, running, etc.). To get the most out of strength training for self-defense, you’ll need full-body workouts, heavy weights and explosive movements. You’re best with an Olympic barbell and rack but dumbbells and a pull-up bar can work in a pinch. These workouts are only a starting block and can be completed in 30-45 minutes. Also, these suggestions come in addition to your regular fight or self-defense training. There are plenty of shredded dudes that can’t punch worth a damn, and more than a few black belts whose knowledge of their style is only exceeded by their Body Mass Index score.
Barbell Squat 5/5
Broad Jump 4/20
Running 1 mile
Plyometric Push-Up 5/3
Jump Rope 500 skips
Military Press 5/5
Jump Rope 500 skips
Plyometric Push-Up 5/10
Kettlebell Swing 4/25
Broad Jump 4/20
The goal of this workout isn’t to get you ripped – it’s to give you larger, functional muscles that respond when you need them. All of the Olympic lifts will train multiple muscle groups at once, while the dumbbell swings, burpees and plyo push-ups will enhance the impact of your strikes. Strict, dead-hang pull-ups are indispensable and the short runs after heavy leg workouts maximize your fatigue.
Self-defense training without addressing an increase in strength and fitness is delusional. Self-defense training always operates under the worst possible assumption: the other guy is bigger, has a weapon, is drunk, and/or has three friends. When we train Krav Maga, we emphasize quick and brutal threat neutralization to enable an escape to safety: a 30-second fight that hurts or permanently injures the other guy but leaves you standing and looking for an exit. I can (and do) teach my students to target knees and throats and groins with heavy strikes but making the strikes land heavily is just as much a matter of power as it is control. Train hard to stay safe.