Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review: Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts

By Sean Cochran, CSCS
Published 2001
184 pages

Complete Strength and Conditioning for Martial Arts is a book aimed at beginners looking to add strength and conditioning work to support their martial arts training.

The book looks old. The layout, pictures, and even equipment depicted make it look like a book from the 70s or 80s, but it's relatively new. Although the book is aimed at "preparing the body to excel in karate, taekwondo, judo, aikido, jujutsu, kempo, and other martial arts forms" it's not really style-specific. It has enough basic information to help you get started in strength and conditioning for any martial art. It would be a useful resource for an MMA fighter as well - either a beginner looking to start up some conditioning or a more experienced practitioner looking to assemble a complete program from warmup to warmdown.

The exercises are laid out in a typical fashion - one per page, with a picture of a male or female athlete performing the exercise. Underneath is a description of the bodyparts involved, and the technique used to perform it. One minus is that while the text is complete, only one picture is provided for many of the exercises; this makes it less than clear what the proper range-of-motion or technique is.

The book's approach has the compound exercises (squat, deadlift, push press, bench press, pullups) strongly emphasized, with isolation exercises (curls, pushdowns, leg extensions and leg curls) firmly in a supporting roll. Oddly, the book includes lat pulldowns as an isolation exercise. EXRX and my own knowledge peg it as compound - it involves movement around more than one joint. It also defines "closed chain" and "open chain" exercises differently than other sources - making "closed chain" exercises ones with your feet on the floor. That's not the standard definition. Despite those oddities, though, the workout information is solid and useful.

The book also places a strong emphasis on warmup, mobility drills, shoulder and other joint pre-hab (or movement preparation, your choice of terms), and plyometrics.

The conditioning chapter is also very good. Steady-state aerobic exercise is included, but training is dominated by resistance training and anaerobic exercise - that is, exercise without oxygen. Sprints, hill sprints, cone drills - all are front-and-center in the conditioning routines and given a strong emphasis. This matches the prevailing thought that martial artists need to focus on explosive conditioning, not (often literally) marathon endurance, to compete successfully.

The final chapter covers both basic organization of a training plan, and periodization. The basic training plan is quite solid. It's based on one set of 10-15 for a mix of compound and isolation exercises, preceded by warmups, movement prep and pre-hab, and followed by sprint intervals for conditioning. It's solid, although it does take a somewhat hypertrophy-biased approach like most basic plans. The chapter also has an intermediate plan, but here I disagree with the book - if you've got 2-3 months of training under your belt, they recommend you start there...but the plan is a bit more advanced than most people need until their strength and conditioning gains begin to plateau. It's just a bit rushed to change programs before the first one stops showing you gains.

The periodization scheme provided is pure block periodization - first volume for hypertrophy, then strength, then power, then a competitive phase. But the explanation is rather underdone. It's enough to get you the basics but you wouldn't want to use it to build you own periodization scheme. If you are advanced enough to need that kind of training, you are advanced enough to need more than the book provides. But it does make the effort.

Content: 4 out of 5.
Presentation: 3 out of 5. While the pictures are clear, they are insufficient to demonstrate the exercises. The text and layout is also clear but uninspired, and it could use but lacks an index.

Overall: Essentially, this book teaches you how to fish. You can use the beginning routine straight out of the book. More importantly it gives you a foundation for understanding strength and conditioning for martial arts. For a martial artist looking for a beginner book on the subject, this is a good place to start. It's also not a bad read for a more experienced lifter training the martial arts, as it helps you organize a routine utilizing lifting, anaerobic conditioning, plyometrics, and pre-hab/warmup/warmdown routines.

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