Martial Arts And Gym: Can You Really Do Both?

Can you do martial arts and go to the gym? -

Martial arts are a great work out, but they don’t always work out your whole body. Should you supplement your martial arts routine with additional exercise programs in the gym? Does doing one ruin the other?

Can you do martial arts and go the gym? You can certainly do martial arts and go to the gym. At the gym you can develop strength and stamina, and you can target muscles that might otherwise be overlooked. As long as you don’t compromise your flexibility for mass, an overall fit body will help you in martial arts.

As always when it comes to matters of fitness, you must never overdo it. And you must always consult your doctor and your instructors. Let’s take a look at when it’s a good idea to hit the gym and what the best exercises for martial artists are when you get there.

Can You Do Martial Arts And Go To The Gym?

There are definite advantages to doing other forms of exercise when you practice martial arts. There are muscle groups that don’t get a complete workout when sparring or training and there’s not a martial artist out there that doesn’t do at least some cardio training.

But should you go to the gym? Well, a lot depends on your reasons for taking up martial arts and your reasons for wanting to go to the gym. If your sole objective is to be a great martial artist then a lot will depend on the art form that you currently study – will the exercises you do at the gym offer a greater level of benefit than doing cardio, stretching and calisthenics, for example?

This is often something that’s going to be best discussed between you and your martial arts instructor. For example, a judoka might find a little weight training valuable in order to gain better control of their throws.

Whereas a boxer might eschew weight training for the fear of building up too much sculpted muscle that looks amazing but doesn’t actually help them punch harder and might leave them open to injury.

If, on the other hand, you do martial arts as part of an overall program to stay fit and keep in shape – the decision as to whether to go to the gym and workout will come down to a matter of personal preference.

Not everyone who studies kickboxing or aikido wishes to compete at the highest levels, many students want something that is fun to do, and which helps them exercise and develop discipline. Yet, they find themselves casting an envious eye at the weightlifters and gym-bods because of the physical definition their workout routines bring.

In these instances, it is, of course, completely OK to go to the gym as part of your weekly fitness regime. It’s your body and it’s your choice.

One thing that almost all martial artists seem to agree on though is that it’s a good idea to develop some level of mastery in your chosen martial art before you start going to the gym. The argument is that in your early phase of development that you need more regular practice in order to improve your martial arts skills. This seems like a sensible argument to us.

Can You Do Karate And Go To The Gym?

In karate, strength is very much an important facet of being at the top of your game and that the easiest way to develop that strength is to undertake some training in the gym.

However, it’s important to talk this through with two people – firstly, your karate instructor so that they can work out what will benefit you the most and secondly, your trainer in the gym so that they fully understand the objectives you have for working out in the gym.

The risk to your karate is that if you go to the gym without doing this is that you will end up working on a specific set of muscles at the expense of all others. Not only will this not build strength, but it may even end up leaving you in a worse state than when you started.

Can You Lift Weights And Do Martial Arts?

Yes, many people will hit the gym for exactly this reason. However, you do need to work with a personal trainer to develop effective muscles for fighting. Bodybuilding trainers are not good trainers for fighters – they aren’t experienced in developing functional strength but rather they’re experienced in bulking people up.

As a general rule, you want to follow a high weight and low repetition pattern for strength building for fighters. This helps you build up resistance in your muscles. That means sticking to some fairly simple weight routines because you’re not going to be pumping iron for hours at a time but rather shifting some serious weight for a minute or two and then resting.

You should, of course, continue with stretching and flexibility exercises or you may find that over time, weightlifting even when it’s on a short-rep, high-weight basis can lead to stiffening up which won’t help you fight.

Great Gym Exercises For Martial Artists For Developing Strength

OK, with that said. Let’s take a look at some exercises for the gym that should help any fighter build strength without compromising their fighting abilities.

Pull Ups – Great For Pulling And Clinching

The best natural weight that any of us has to put into an exercise routine is ourselves. Pull ups are the gold standard of creating upper body strength. You’re going to find that over time they really help you build up the muscles of your upper back.

Don’t worry if you can’t do pull ups when you first hit the gym, you can use a platform to do a modified pull up until you get to the point where you feel confident to do full pull ups.

Check out how to do a pull up here:

Thrusters – Time To Explode

The ability to “explode” that is literally move straight into action is a huge advantage to any fighter and that’s what thrusters are for – to help you get that explosive movement.

To do thrusters you need to get used to using barbells, you should ask somebody to give you a hand the first time that you do these – there is a slight risk of injury when you’re not familiar with the exercise.

You can see how to pull off the perfect thrusters on YouTube here:

Push Ups – Power For Your Arms

The push up might look like yesterday’s exercise but if you’re involved in striking, there’s no better way to keep your arms fit and full of power. There’s also a clear relationship between life expectancy and the number of push-ups you can do.

However, it’s worth noting that it’s really easy to injure yourself if you don’t do your push ups with the right form and thus, we’d recommend checking out this video before you start:

Deadlifts – Lower Body Strength

If you want to build strength in your lower body then deadlifts are for you. Wrestlers and grapplers also find that deadlifts help them to build up the strength of their grip too.

It’s really important with deadlifts that you focus on getting the form right before you start adding a lot of weight. Ask somebody to monitor you as you tackle the first few. Take this slowly and you’ll soon be pumping serious iron.

Overhead Presses – All About The Deltoids

Building up your deltoids is very useful particularly in striking arts where tired shoulders are going to lead to a gap in your defenses. You want to be aiming to do around 8-12 reps of these, you want to make sure that the weight is heavy enough that the last couple of reps are a genuine challenge.

To master your overhead presses check this video out:

Burpees – Martial Arts Excellence

We all hate doing burpees. They’re no fun at all but if you want to be a better martial artist this is a super exercise. They’re basically simulating the acts of hitting the ground and getting straight up again.

On top of that burpees are brilliant for getting your heart pumping and building up cardio resistance. Check out the best way to do burpees below:

Barbell Squats – Leg Power Workout

You need to be very careful when doing barbell squats as they can cause serious injury if you don’t do them right, particularly if you find that you have lower back pain already.

However, you can’t get a better workout for your legs than these babies and they really do help you add power in the ring.


Can you do martial arts and go the gym? You definitely can! And many fighters will find it very useful to do so. If you can build strength without compromising your natural flexibility, you can make serious improvements to your ability to fight in your chosen martial art.

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