The Top 10 Bodyweight Movements For a Martial Arts Class

Episode 158 of Martial Arts Radio talked about resistance training and why it's a good thing for martial artists. As we put together the episode we realized there was a lot more we could say, specifically for the movements we suggest incorporating into martial arts classes. This is our list of the top 10 bodyweight resistance movements you should consider for your martial arts classes.

If you haven't listened to the episode, you might want to check it out here.

Without further ado, here they are in no particular order. Our top 10 bodyweight exercises for martial arts training. We've provided some videos that you may find helpful in learning each movement as well as some things to watch for in teaching them.

1. Lunging Kicks

You've likely seen or done these before. From a standing position, lunge forward into a front / extended stance but let the bag knee touch the ground (or come close. Don't bang your knee on the floor!) From this position, travel forward and throw a kick off the back leg. Or, travel backward and throw a kick off the forward leg.

You can use a lot of different kicks from this, but a front kick is the way most people will implement it. It's also the simplest. Make sure that when in the lunged position, the forward knee isn't out past the toes - that's a bad position to push off from and can cause injury.

2. Squat Kicks

Similar to lunging kicks, but you stay in place and perform a squat. When you come back up, throw a kick. Throw kicks to the front, back, side or even jumping for variety. Again, make sure the knee stays over the foot and not in front of it. Try to keep the chest as vertical as possible.

3. Pushups

Ah, the good old pushup - there's a reason so many martial arts classes do them. They work! Be sure that your pushups run through full range of motion - thighs and chest should touch the ground at the same time. Yes, it's harder, but it also helps to maintain flexibility while giving you the most explosive power for upper body movements.

It's far better for your body to do quality, full-range pushups on your knees than to do poor pushups from a planked position. Don't let your ego get in the way, do them well and progress to full pushups. 

For variety, you can spice it up with clapping pushups or all sorts of other plyometric pushups. Or, try hand release pushups - go all the way down and, when your body is in contact with the floor, remove your hands briefly while maintaining core tension. Then push back up!

Pushup video here and hand release video here. Proper hand placement video here.

4. Hollow Holds / Hollow Rocks

This is the staple of gymnastics movement for a great reason - nothing else brings the body together more than a hollow hold. Bring your arms overhead so that you're entirely flat. Tense your entire body, extending your fingers and pointing your toes. Your body should start to arch so that your butt and lower back are the only parts touching the ground. 

Getting into the position can be challenging enough, but the next step is holding it. From there, you can start to rock without losing the hold - this requires a lot of strength.

Hollow body position video here.

5. Stance Holds

I don't think I've seen a martial arts school that doesn't do these. Choose a stance and execute it with good form, and hold it in a deeper than normal position. Holding these positions has a lot of carryover for building strength and balance.

6. Planks

The king of abdominal exercises, planks are simple to understand and even perform... for a little while. Once you get beyond a shorter time, though, most people have trouble with them. Instead of having a class perform dozens of situps, which many of them cheat, try having them hold a plank. For variety you can throw in side planks.

See a video on planks here and one on side planks here.

7. Squats / One Legged Squats

Squat kicks are good, but squats by themselves can be better since they can be performed faster and with less complexity. You can mix it up a bit by making them jump squats or even one legged squats, sometimes called pistol squats or simply pistols.

Pistol video here.

8. Jumping

As martial artists, many of us love jumping techniques even though we know they're rarely an effective practical choice. The physical benefits to jumping movements, though, are huge! Whether you're jumping up, back, to the side, over things, jumping and spinning... and none of those even need a kick to be beneficial.

You can also practice jumping and tucking your knees to your chest - the aptly named tuck jump. Jumping is excellent for building power in the legs and building resilient joints.

9. Leg Raises

Planks may be the king of core exercises, but leg raises are great, too, especially for those that can't hold a plank for very long. Leg raises are simple, only requiring someone to lay on the floor, straighten their legs as much as possible and raising them so they're straight up.

The movement can be simplified by bending the knees a bit or made more difficult having someone stand by the head and push the legs back to the floor. The idea with the latter variation being that the person doing the leg raise doesn't let their legs hit the floor.

Leg raise video here.

10. Burpees

For some, the burpee is a dreaded movement that causes groans. Everyone else asks "what's a burpee?" Seriously, though, there's probably no quicker way to tire someone out than by having them do 10-20 burpees. Once someone gets the skill down, they can do them quickly, which only makes them harder.

A burpee is a fairly simple movement - from standing, lay down on your stomach then get back up and jump, extending your arms overhead (some people clap). Do this as quickly as possible and you'll see why they're so taxing. 

Burpee video here.

There you go! Enjoy.