T Nation

Martial Arts Training


I wrote a shit load so I figured I should share this with everyone...

I've been into martial arts all my life and capoeira was one that I really found interesting, I'm from Belize (central america) and have an african bloodline (which capoeira is strongly tied to) So it helped connect me to some of my heritage.

In addition, I was also a gymnast for a while so it wasn't a large switch over.

Nothing really prepares you for capoeira, too much twisting, and unpredictable movement.

I think training plyometrics would be best, and maybe raquetball (to get your reaction time up). I haven't really even thought about it a LOT, but I do know what I've done.

I know I used to train movements a lot on a trampoline, or practice certain techniques on a low balance beam.

Rotational core development movements are KEY along with static strength and reactive strength.

1 arm landmines (google it along w/ the term: diesel crew), or 1 arm cross body snatches (start with the dumbbell on the side of your far leg). rotational cable pulldowns. Things of that nature

obviously handstands, planche variations, and holding various postures for static strength.

I would do front hand springs and roundoffs as they're both highly reactive, (ie hands touch they ground briefly but you exert a lot of force in that touch). If you can do them in a row...or just chain techniques together, you'd be clutch.

Also training movements that don't get 'work' within the realm of capoeira, so for example most pulling variations would solve any of those woes. Through this you can avoid most overuse injuries. So Pullups, deadlifts, variety of rows, curls,

Wrist strength is often overlooked as well. So grip strength should be something to look into (google dieselcrew for that!)

Shoulder health as well should be important to you but thats all a part of balanced training, if you balance it well you WILL have healthy joints, but in either case prehabbing your ankles, wrists, lower back and shoulders is something to keep in the front of your mind. If you already do capoeira you know how it is on your spine haha so a vigorous stretching regimen is important as well.

most of my time in the weight room if I was training explicitly for capoeira would be spent training what capoeira doesn't hit... rest of the time I'd utilize gymnastic type movments to train. Chaining simple techniques for conditioning (back tuck, back handspring, repeat-- front handspring, front roll into high tuck jump, front handspring, repeat)... static movements for strength or utilizing things like parallettes & other gymnastic specific movements.

If you can get your hands on the parisi warmup also thats money.

I train primarily for MMA (Cage fighting), at the moment I'm not competing so I train using a westside split or a three day a week full body split (similar to tier training). I'm going to go into a lot of detail about this just so you can take and use whatever you like in case i missed something earlier.

I'd like to have a high work capacity and large relative strength by the time I start fighting (and hopefully become a professional).

Some techniques I like to use:

For specific hypertrophy of certain muscle groups I like to use a superset utilizing 5sets of 10 or 10x10 if i have time to dedicate to it. This is often not necessary, but there are certain periods that call for it. If I'm obviously weaker in a muscle group and my strength just isn't increasing 2-3 weeks of higher repetitions usually cures that. I HATE high reps, but it is a nice break from lifting heavier all the time. Sometimes I might just need more horsepower from a certain muscle group this helps too. No way around the fact that bigger cross sectional area can create more force & tends to be less injury prone as well.

I love utilizing dumbbell or barbell complexes. Google Javorek complexes and then get imaginative and learn to make your own. I love to throw blows so I developed my own using dumbbells that's specifically for my upperbody endurance or density strength. For instance use a heavy load for 3-6 reps each movement, but utilize 8 different exercises back to back (no rest) w/o putting down the dumbbells is pretty much hell. Alternatively utilizing a medium load, with 5 movements but 10 reps is also hell but of a different sort :slight_smile:

1 thing I like to do is wave set these, so use say 170 for a barbell complex, rest, cut down to 115, rest, then up to 185.

Both will test your conditioning, increase your ability to remove lactic acid from your system, and raise your work capacity as well as promote some quite useful hypertrophy.

Some complex examples::

Upper body Conditioning (10 reps each):
OH Press
Armpit Raise (like a reverse dip)
Power Shrugs (or snatches)
Bent Row
Hammer Curls

Total Body complex (3-5 reps):

Power clean
front squat
push jerk
back squat
Sumo deadlift
Bent Row

3 to 5 sets of either of those with no more than 2 min. worth of rest. If you can use bodyweight (or the weight you fight at) on that last complex you are an ANIMAL. Depending the weight you begin with you may need to start with 3 min. of rest and gradually decrease that, or start with lower weight, but keep the 1 min rest and just raise the weight accordingly.

This is one complex that louie simmons used when training Kevin Randleman:

Louie would have him perform a 10 minute round of a 205 lb barbell complex that worked like this:

  1. Power clean from ground x 1 rep

  2. hang clean x 1 rep

  3. hang clean and press or jerk x 1 rep

After the 3 rep complex above, Kevin rested 30 seconds and would keep repeating for 10 minutes

You can do something as simple as switch between pullups, dips, and bodyweight squats (it would be better if you load)... no rest (or as little rest as possible) in 15 minutes.

With complexes you can be REALLY creative. Zach Even-Esh (one of my FAVORITE writers of all time dude is great, google him) and Alwyn Cosgrove (another EXCELLENT coach- he's doing wonders for dave tate) both wrote articles on these that you can find over at elitefts.com. Charles Staley also greatly influenced me regarding this as well, EDT is a fucking incredible system and I reccomend everyone try it at least once.

Imagine that this is just IN the gym stuff imagine what happens when you put it together with strong man equipment and the outdoors.

WOW talk about variation. You could do something different everyday for years lol

In MMA everything gets work, but certain motions & muscles get the most work.

Pulling movements are king, heavy chins and deads carry over hugely.

Squatting is obvious and if you're on t-nation and I have to emphasize squatting to you then you really need to re-read the entire site. Like, everything.....no really...now.

Continuing on-

If you strike, it's actually largely based on your single leg movement/initiation carried through your torso, and expressed through your fists.

1 arm pushups (or dumbbell bench) work, as well as (obviously) just bench pressing in general. It's shoulders/triceps mostly (not exclusively but, mostly) so I'd tend to do incline presses close grip and regular. Unilateral leg movements such as step ups, and bulgarian squats (the reverse lunge is probably most 'sport specific' but whatever). I think I mentioned some rotational movements before so I wont go into this again.

Again working on things that you don't normally use. I think that because pulling movements are king, a lot of mma athletes are strong in them already. Especially vertical type pulling (ie, clinch work) therefore overhead pressing should be something that an mma athlete makes a point to practice. It's not something you're using a whole bunch, incline press might be more "specific".

So I might set up a week something like this:

Incline ME Bench
Heavy Chins (6x4)
OH Press (4x6)
a1.Rows/a2.Cable Flyes (5x10)

Push jerk (keep below 85%) 8x3
Dumbbell bench 5x10
upperbody complex (wave set)

ME rack pull
front squats (5*5)
RDL from box (6*4)
unilateral leg work(5x8)

Lower day2:
heavy 1 arm snatches or prisoner squats
Lower/total body complex (heavy)
lower/total body complex (conditioning)
Torso/Core work

my basic method of training so far is summed up by something james smith from elitefts said in an article::
Accordingly, one should-

  1. Identify weaknesses

  2. Construct a program which will serve to develop the specific ability/abilities which are weak while concurrently maintaining and or developing all other sport-specific abilities

  3. Employ the optimal means and methods of sport-specific training which will serve to enhance strength and power development within the sport

What I may try for the next year is to stick to a year long olympic lifting schedule provided by qwa.org and simply do O-lifts with some assistance work whenever I feel up to it. I really dont do shit other than train mma & lift...everything else i do is basically sitting on my ass. Driving, being at work, being at home, school shit at the library...its all ass sitting.

My conditioning and workload is HIGH as hell now. So I'm going to include some extra work on the side when I feel particularly good. Or for instance if I feel bad...skip that day and just do the assistance work, which would include::

1 arm dumbbell overhead squats
over head squats
zercher shoot lunge
plate scoots across floor
bilateral work
heavy chins/dips
neck training
torso training (obviously)
grip work

probably utilizing the 5-8 range since that schedule doesn't do shit over 3-4reps.

Some resources for you::

T-Nation.com (your source to fucking everything...it is the end of the internet basically)

Elitefts (google) (that will link you to alyn cowsgrove, zach even-esh, james smith, and a bajillion other writers)

Dieselcrew (google) (really useful, really cool)


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Xen Nova,

Could you please post a description of the Zercher Lunges and Plate Scoots that you mentioned in your post?


WoW Xen,
thanks a bunch! When you've time, how did you work up to cartwheels in your capoiera? (I love the drums and music)


Xen Nova - thanks for the props brudda! Looks like you're training is kicking major ass :slight_smile:

Keep on keeping on brudda! Hope to meet you one day, the west coast is always calling me and my bro lives in SD - plus, Cosgrove is there! ha ha



I can't encourage you enough to get Training for Warriors by Martin Rooney he really runs through all of this stuff.

Zercher Shots: Set up a barbell with whatever weight you'd like to use... basically posture up, shoot to the bar and use the zercher hand position to capture the bar, stand up with it. You really SHOOT into the bar, so you might bruise up your bicep/inside elbow area. But its the most realistic exercise i've seen to improve the lift of a double leg. Guarantee you won't have a problem slamming opponents after you drill this for a while.

Plate Scoots: get a weight plate, put the flat side on the floor or some surface with some friction, and basically soccer kick it for distance. just scoot it with the inside edge of your foot. Works the inside of your leg (adducturs?) so you can resist groin tears and things of that nature.
Great on improving your guard.

Again I encourage you to check out Training For Warriors... these are just SOME of the stuff I got from there. I've seen them around before, but Martin really explained WHY you need to implement them and convinced me why.

A lot of my training stuff is influenced by westside writers (dave tate, james smith, defranco, wendler, etc), Christian Thibaudeau, Dan John, Waterbury, Polquin, Eric Cressey, and now Martin rooney, who really convinced me that a lot of the shit I had meshed together from these guys is good and WHY they are and taught me how to implement them better. I'm very grateful to those guys... They're the reason I'm going to fight in shooto (maybe Pride) someday hahahahaha. We all can dream can't we :-p

Um, I've been able to do a cartwheel since I can remember... not something I've ever had to work up to.


Thanks! I have to give credit where credit is due! I get a lot of my tricks from your newsletter!


Xen Nova,

REALLY GOOD Post!!! Worth saving and printing!
Good luck with your training/competing!

I Love your Stuff that I get in your newsletter !!
I am always very keen to see what's in it!
thank you!


holy hell, great post. I would have put in my 2 cents, but that was worth a couple g's.


How long have you been doing capoeira? I started up a couple years ago, but have only had 2 semesters of real practice. When I started out, my instructor was maybe 5'9 and built like a bulldog (like a lot of brazilian capoeiristas) whereas I'm 6'2. He made us ginga really low, so it killed my lower back. Back extensions for time helped me out. Also, getting used to being upside down helps.

It seems like you do some gymnastics as well. Personally I just got into tricking. Do you go to a gymnastics place to practice? I usually just work on the track pads at my school. I tried going everyday, but I burnt out fast. Now I just put some time in whenever I go to the gym, which is still about 5 days a week.


capoeira, tricking, le parkour... i'm into all of it off and on. My mestre was like 5'6, and pretty exposed to the fighting arts, so we'd mess around and I threw a high MT round kick and he blocked it with his shin.... Upside down. It was great exposure and helped my agility a lot. First time I ever did a back handspring with one hand was while we were in play. The rhythm, the music, and just going off of natural reactions really brings a lot out of you. Most people surprise themself in regard to what they can do.

Haven't really practiced in a while but previously I used to go to random gymnastic schools to practice.

Unbeknownst to most people, most gymnastic schools (that I've been to) have an "open" day. The few in my area were around 5 dollars, and you get to practice all day. As long as you stay out of people's way it's pretty enjoyable.

It helps to have a friend who trains there or make friends with a coach though so you dont feel completly out of place.

Most people are willing to give you some pointers and let you figure out the rest.