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Fundamentals of Strength and Conditioning for the Filipino Martial Arts

Posted by Leslie Buck on

Developing prowess in the Filipino martial arts requires access to quality instruction, hours of training alone and with partners, and a real dedication to improvement. It requires the development of coordination, timing, and a variety of other skills specific to the application of the Filipino martial arts. However, there is some low hanging fruit that can greatly approve your capability to apply Kali. This low hanging fruit is simply developing well-rounded athletic fitness.

This is not ground breaking news, but it is significant. If you improve your ability to perform basic athletic movements (running, jumping, throwing, etc.), you will notice a significant improvement in your Filipino martial arts skills. If you develop strength, you will see it replicated in your strikes, takedowns, and other techniques. In fact, the stronger you are, the more force you can generate and the faster you can become.

When we brought strength and conditioning into our school, we quickly saw dramatic changes in the students. They could hit harder, move faster, and spar longer without a degradation of skill. They developed more confidence and coordination in their movements with improved proprioception and balance. It was clear that the added strength and conditioning was an excellent support system for the Filipino martial arts. It made them better.

Below are the basics of what we incorporated. Please note: The suggestions here are very general for fitness, but biased a little towards performance needs of the Filipino Martial Arts. The core of what worked for us includes building strength, developing power, and increasing the capacity for output. All three of these components are important.

Build Strength

More strength will help you hit harder. Strength is your ability to generate force. Whether you strike with a weapon or your empty hands, if you can hit with more force, you will increase the effectiveness of your strikes.

To move faster, you need more strength. You must generate high levels of force to propel your body. Strength is required to generate high levels of force. By developing more strength, you will be able to generate more force and therefore move your body faster. Though there is a limit, in general, the stronger you are, the faster you can be. This includes faster footwork and faster strikes.

More strength also translates into having better control of your opponent when you use locks, traps, and other controls. Though these are typically leverage based tools, if you are stronger, you have more margin for making the technique work, even when you are not at the perfect angle or position to apply it. Your strength will allow you to compensate more when your technique is not performed perfectly. Good technique is important, and there is no substitute for it. However, technique requires force. The more you have available to you, the more options you have. As the saying goes, stronger people are harder to kill.

To build strength, find a well-rounded program that incorporates presses, squats, deadlifts, pullups, dips, and other bodyweight exercises. Barbell training combined with bodyweight exercises can be very effective at building strength. Focus on training that is designed for strength and athletics, not bodybuilding. There is a difference.

Do your research. Make sure you are using a program that yields measurable increases in strength. In the beginning of your strength training, almost anything will work, but as time goes on, you need a well designed program to continue to see progress.

Develop Power

Power will help you perform your techniques more effectively. If you hit someone with your stick, you want the hit to be effective. You want to be able to stop your opponent with really hard hits. To do this, you must hit them using power. Power is not only useful when performing a strike, but also when performing other techniques, like throws and takedowns.

Power is the ability to produce maximal strength in minimal time. This means that you must have strength to have power. Once you have developed your strength to its potential, focus on reducing the time it takes to produce force. Reduce the time to develop more power.

To develop power, use exercises that allow you to work on maximum force output and speed. Incorporate olympic lifts, jumps, plyometrics, medicine ball throws and other explosive exercises in your training. Be sure to develop a good foundation of strength before trying to develop power. Starting power training too soon will lead to injury as will attempting these exercises without learning the right form.

To be able to produce power, develop strength in your core. The more stable your core is, the more speed and force you can use to move your limbs. In athletic movement, your core must absorb and transfer force through your body. Imagine how your arms and legs move as you swing a stick at full force. That force must be channeled from your legs, through your core, and delivered through your arm. If your core is weak, you will lose power during the transfer.

Exercises for strengthening your core should focus on resisting spinal flexion, extension, or rotation. Plank variations, fallouts, ab wheel or barbell rollouts, single arm presses, single arm carries, and suitcase deadlifts are a few. These exercises can all be used to improve your ability to stabilize your spine during movement and therefore increase your potential to generate power.

Increase Capacity for Output

The Filipino martial arts include explosive movements performed at high speed. Strikes and techniques are executed in explosive bursts. In a very short period of time, you may deliver multiple full speed strikes, evade attacks with quick footwork, and maybe perform a throw or takedown. Especially if you consider being prepared for multiple attackers, these high demand efforts may occur several times back to back. This type of high demand physical effort should be developed with your strength and conditioning.

To develop this level of output or capacity, you will need to take a specific approach to your training because of how your body fuels activity. Different types of physical efforts are fueled by your body differently. The way your body fuels a slow jog or casual bike ride is very different than how it fuels an all-out sprint, a jump for maximum height, or a really heavy lift. The different systems that fuel these efforts include the aerobic and anaerobic systems. Activities that are fueled by the aerobic system, tend to be more moderately paced, whereas activities fueled by the anaerobic systems tend to be very fast paced or include maximal efforts.

For general fitness, a balance of training both aerobic and anaerobic systems is useful, but if you are training specifically for better performance in the Filipino martial arts, spend more time training the anaerobic systems. Performing the Filipino martial arts at full speed requires more use of these high output systems where you challenge your anaerobic thresholds. You should therefore train the same systems in your strength and conditioning. This training can translate into delivering more strikes at full speed before your arm tires, being able to continually apply explosive movement for several rounds in a tournament, or even having the energy to fight off multiple attackers.

To develop this capacity, use a combination of interval training and high intensity workouts that are mostly 10 minutes or less. Circuit training, AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) style workouts, and other timed task oriented workouts that focus on completing your sets quickly (with good form and minimal rest) are some examples that may work for you. Include multiple maximal efforts with things like sprints, jumps, and medicine ball throws.

As you improve, the thresholds of how fast, intense, and long you can go before breaking down will improve. This improvement will result in you lasting longer before fatigue ruins your technique when performing Kali. Ultimately, this means you have a better chance of winning a match and surviving a violent encounter.

Additional Tips

- Use exercises that incorporate general athletic movements. Do not try to make them resemble the movements of Kali. Though in skill specific training, this may be valuable, in strength and resistance training, this can actually mess up your mechanics.

- Rather than focusing on developing a single muscle, think in terms of cultivating good movement. For the best results, use mostly exercises that involve multiple joints and muscle groups rather than isolating muscles.

- Train to improve your weaknesses. Don’t get lost in getting really good at the things you like the most. The point here is to improve your performance. Having a functional balance of strength and conditioning to support your FMA skills is important for your performance.

- Use variation in your training. To make significant improvement, you need consistency, but you also need variation. Progressively develop your strength and power, but avoid becoming overly acclimated to a single routine. Vary the exercises and routines that you do so that you can avoid leaving certain fitness aspects undertrained. When introducing variety, don’t give up your primary exercises - squats, presses and deadlifts.

- Get help designing a program, and be sure to learn how to do the exercises properly. Bad form and overly ambitious programs can lead to injury and poor results. Remember you are looking for performance results, not bragging rights or self penance. A good program will allow you to measure the results.

Though this is all very simple, it will give you an edge on your opponents and make you healthier at the same time. If you are not already doing strength and conditioning work, try it for a few months and see the difference for yourself.


No matter what type of training you are doing, a good stick is a staple for training the Filipino martial arts. Check out the sticks we have at Kali Gear. We have thin sticks, thick sticks, heavy sticks, hardwood sticks, and polymer sticks for you. Check them out below.

SEE STICKS FROM KALI GEAR

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