Does strength help in a fight?
“What is the point of being strong?”
“What’s the point of all this training? Who cares if you can lift 200 kgs or 100 kgs? In a fight it wouldn’t matter!”
I get this, sometimes, along the lines of “why are you putting so much effort into getting stronger? It’s all just vanity, because it doesn’t mean you’ll be better in a fight!”
And to be perfectly honest, I could never really disagree. I don’t know much about fighting. Aside from one or two ‘incidents’ I’ve been involved in outside of drinking establishments the crowning glory of my combat career to date has been coming second in the county judo under 35kg category when I was 10 (yeah I was a small kid).
In short, Mickey Mouse probably knows more about actual fighting than me.
Being a fan of training in most forms I have however always had a passing interest in fighting sports and particularly the training involved for fighting, which seems to be a lot of cardio, circuit training and of course, punching.
Not too much strength work in there. Fighters tend to be lean rather than muscular.
So what does that show? Is strength training really irrelevant in a ‘real-life’ situation where you have to defend yourself?
If it is, does it imply that strength training is not that important if it means you want to be better at a specific sport? Are you better off just practicing that sport?
Let’s ask someone who knows
I’m not equipped to answer my question but luckily I found someone who was. Over the weekend I got to have a go at a bit of Muay Thai training at The Beez Neez fighting gym in Bonn, Germany.
The session itself was pretty fun, involving some fitness work, practicing punching and kicking combinations and controlled sparring. As a form of training it’s definitely a good workout, with the satisfaction that can only come from getting to punch and kick someone without doing any lasting damage.
The place is owned by Rudy, who is probably exactly as you’d expect from someone who runs a fighting school: tall, ex-special forces, with the pleasant demeanour that only guys who could genuinely kick your ass seem to have.
After the session I got to discuss his training philosophy, his opinions on fighting and fighting sports and specifically whether my kind of training, strength training, is useful for combat or not.
The answer: yes. But it isn’t that important.
According to Rudy there are two types of fighting, which are totally different. He wasn’t talking the style differences between kung-fu and karate.
It’s fights with rules and fights without rules.
In a fight with rules, like MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), strength training can be more important: since you’re only going to be fighting a certain way then it obviously helps to be stronger in those particular movements.
If someone starts going below the belt, or does something ‘illegal’ there’s a referee to step in and save you.
Then there is actual fighting, or what Rudy calls combat, which is all about awareness, reading the situation and being ready.
And being prepared to kick through someone’s kneecap so they can’t run after you.
Because in a real street fight, there are no rules. This is when being able to bench press 300 pounds is not going to help you if someone sticks their thumb in your eye, or brings a weapon.
Technique wise it might be similar to sport fighting, but the big difference comes from the mindset. You’ve got to realise that your opponent could come from anywhere, and basically do anything to you.
So is strength training completely irrelevant in this case? Rudy said that it was about 15% of the package. In fighting sports, that percentage goes up slightly, depending on your speciality.
However the main thing he said was that, of course, being strong fit and flexible can help you be better, no matter which type of fighting you do.
Being ‘sized-up’ by others is something that happens to everyone, like it or not. And if you work out and look strong you’ll always get people who dismiss it as useless for real situations or sports, or try and talk down your chances in a so-called useful situation, like a fight.
Evidently strength is just a small factor in fighting sports. If you don’t have the rest of the 85%, then you’ll get your ass kicked by a weak person who knows what they’re doing.
But importantly it is something that can make you better at whatever physical activity you choose. It can complement and enhance the skills you have.
Strength can sometimes have a negative image of being ‘too’ muscular or that muscles slow you down and reduce your skills. This can lead to people avoiding it and just focusing on their chosen sport.
That’s fine. As with combat sports, at least 85% of your competence lies in having core skills and technique.
But why not add the 15% and maximise your potential?
As I keep stressing, strength training is not just for men, or for ‘hardcore’ gym rats. It’s for, and can help, literally anyone be better at whatever they want to do. Even something like walking: if you have a strong core and a good posture from lifting you’ll be able to walk for longer with better stride and cadence.
I’ve been helping a friend of mine with her pole-dancing by introducing her to lifting weights: through her consistent efforts with deadlifts, pull-ups and squats she has been able to move onto more complex movements and improved her skills in her chosen sport.
She’s added the 15% to her training kit, which is taking her towards her potential.
She recently blogged about how strength training has added to her pole-dancing: for my part it’s great to see that just by employing the basic core lifts I’m so fond of has proved to be so effective.
So does being strong help you in a fight? What’s the point of all this training to be stronger?
It’s not everything, but it WILL make you that much better. It will make you better than you would be without it.
And if you don’t care about that then yes, it does also make you look good!
If you’re into yoga and pole-dancing check out Lizzie’s blog, Reluctant Pole Dancer.
If you are in Bonn and want to check out a good fighting gym, have a look at Beez Neez.