Adding Exercise to Your Training – The Martial Artist’s Greatest Conundrum…Solved

by Steve Grogan

Many martial artists have a long way to go when it comes to physical fitness. This is due to the following:

  1. They are looking at exercise in the wrong way.
  2. They think that, with all the time they devote to martial arts training, there is no way they could fit an exercise routine into their schedule.

Their opinions on both of these fronts is misinformed. The goal of this article is to set the record straight.

First, you will be given an alternate way to look at exercise.

Second, you will learn about a method of exercise that not many people know about: High-Intensity Resistance Training.


There are many martial arts students who don’t see any benefit in strength training. This is because martial arts styles sell the promise that if a person knows more about body mechanics and the proper way to generate power, they will be able to hit harder than a bigger, stronger opponent.

This is true to a certain extent. However, this statement reveals that martial artists are missing the point of the exercise. Its purpose is not mainly to gain muscle (that is just a byproduct); its purpose is to make you healthy.

Many martial arts teachers look down on strength training because they believe in the myth that lifting weights will somehow make you tense all the time. (Nothing could be further from the truth, although that is a subject for another article.)

Lifting weights will not make you a muscle-bound oaf. That is an incorrect assumption for two reasons:

  1. Not everyone even has the genetic potential to gain as much muscle as the guys in bodybuilder competitions.
  2. Having more muscle is not a bad thing.

Stronger muscles allow you to perform your techniques with more explosiveness, which means more hitting power. Since hitting harder than your adversary is the name of the game, it is obvious how being stronger is ideal.

With that covered, we must now answer every martial artist’s greatest conundrum: “How could I possibly fit an exercise program into my schedule when I already spend so much time going to class, practicing forms, sparring, etc.?”


Most gyms and personal trainers push programs where you need to work out five to six days per week, for an hour or longer. Given the amount of time that a martial artist spends on going to class and training on their own, this is a tall order.

Plus, we cannot ignore the fact that martial artists have more in their lives than just their art. They have full-time jobs (complete with commute time), romantic partners, kids, friends, and errands. In other words, they are just as busy as everyone else.

Another problem with these programs is that there is not a lot of downtime between workouts and/or martial arts classes. If you go to a Gut-Busting Boot Camp on Monday night and then go spar on Tuesday night, you are more likely to get injured.

The more you exercise, the more wear and tear you put on your body. With each opening and closing of your joints, you run the risk of injury, not just in the form of hurting the joints themselves, but also of muscle pulls and the like.

Therefore, the answer must be the opposite of what the “experts” say: we need less exercise. This sounds counterintuitive, but if you change how you think about exercise, it will make sense.

Here is how you look at exercise: think of it as medicine.

Let’s say someone is diagnosed with some physical ailment that will require them to constantly take medicine for the rest of their lives. The doctor puts them on Medication A at a dosage of 10mg and says, “Take this twice a day.”

There is no effect.

The doctor says, “Try Medication B at 15mg, once per day.”

Still no change in the patient’s condition.

The doctor says, “Hmmm…you felt a little better on Medication A, right? Just not completely better. So…let’s put you back on that one at a dosage of 20mg, three times per day.”

The patient winds up in the ER. Feeling guilty over his error, the Doctor looks over the charts once more and says, “Okay, same medication, but 15mg twice per day.”

Suddenly, the patient is doing wonderful. In fact, they rebound so dramatically that no one suspects anything was ever wrong!

What is the lesson we can learn from this?

To paraphrase Dr. Doug McGuff (author of the book that got me interested in this method: Body by Science), it needs to be the right medication, the right dosage, and the right frequency.

The same holds true of exercise. Do too much, and you might overtrain. However, if you do too little, your muscles will atrophy (break down), and you’ll lose whatever gains you had.


Executive Decision: I am going to abbreviate this as “HIRT” going forward to save some space.

Go to the gym, and what do you see? There’s some guy in the corner doing bicep curls, making the weights go up and down as fast as he can so he can bang out some arbitrary number of repetitions within a certain time limit.

Not only is this dangerous (swinging super-heavy weights in a fast manner can definitely lead to ligament tears, muscle pulls, etc.), but it isn’t even really a workout because he’s making the weight go up and down via momentum instead of muscular work!

HIRT workouts consist of a series of anywhere from 5-12 moves. Usually, there is one exercise per muscle group. These are performed in a slow and controlled manner; ideally, you want to move the weight for at least five seconds in both directions. When your limbs are at their fullest extension, you do not lock them out. (Otherwise, this means your skeleton is supporting the load, and there is no tension on the muscle.)

Conversely, when you bring the limbs back, you do not set the weight all the way down. This is because your muscles are in their weakest position at that point, and it will be harder for you to get the weight moving again.

You do this for one set. Then you move to the next exercise. Keep going until you are done, and that is it.

Yes, you read that right. With HIRT, there is:

  • No warm-up. You move so slowly that there is no need.
  • No stretching. In fact, stretching can do more harm than good. (That would be best explored in another article.)
  • No cooldown. Actually, that isn’t 100% true: there is a cooldown portion: when you walk from the gym to your car.
  • Also, no need for a separation of strength training and cardio days. You will find that, aside from getting stronger, the HIRT method gives you cardio improvements.


Now that we’ve outlined the way to do a HIRT workout, let’s look at the reasons why this is perfect for martial artists.

  1. It is time-efficient. When you are doing only a half hour once a week, it should be easy to figure out how to fit martial arts training and exercise into your schedule.
  2. No risk of injury. Due to the slow and controlled manner of the exercises, there is no way you are going to pull or tear something. In fact, you won’t even need a warm-up!
  3. No risk of overtraining. The danger of the 6-days-per-week routines is that, when combined with martial arts training, the odds increase that you could hurt yourself. If you’re working out only once a week, that is nearly impossible.

The reason I say “nearly” impossible is because that depends on how strenuous your martial art training is.

The main concern here revolves around the activity of sparring. If your school has sparring, you’ll want to skip that activity for at least two days after your workout.

You can still practice forms and techniques, as well as run through some self-defense scenarios, but you will be far too drained to do anything as intense as sparring.


I am not asking anyone to watch this entire video. (It is 41 minutes.) However, it is here for those who want to know more.

Follow Me Through My High-Intensity Resistance Training Workout


After seeing all the fancy equipment in that video, you might wonder, “Can I do it if I don’t have access to all that gear?”

The answer: YES! In fact, here is another video where I show you how little gear you’d need to do this at home:

Gear Needed to Do HIRT at Home (Plus a Cat)


Hopefully, this article has presented a clear picture, showing why this training methodology is perfect for a martial artist.

Before leaving, I want to extend one final resource to you: namely, myself. If no facilities near you teach this exercise, and you really want to try it, you can contact me. (All contact information and links are in my Bio at the end of this article.)

Here’s to a fitter, happier, healthier you.

BIO: Steve Grogan has been a practitioner of Wing Chun Kung Fu since early 1995. He started doing High-Intensity Resistance Training in January 2020. At that time, he weighed 241 pounds. By July 2020, he was down to 175.

His passion for the effectiveness of this training method inspired Steve to become a Certified Personal Trainer, which he achieved in August 2022. If you are interested in learning more about High-Intensity Resistance Training and maybe even want to try a complementary lesson (Steve can do them in person or remotely), visit his site:

You can also reach him in the following ways:

EMAIL          –

TIKTOK         –


Fascia. What is it and why should I care?

by Luke Sherrell / Director of Operations class

AMN Academy


What do you think is more important, Strength and Power, or Coordination and Flexibility?

It depends on the goal I hear you cry! Plus, how strong or how flexible are we talking here? There is a big difference between achieving box splits when compared with touching your toes or bench pressing 200kg’s vs nailing a pull up.

These are fair comments so let me put this another way. If you could be naturally gifted with strength and power or coordination and flexibility, which would you choose?

In the absence of specific goals, the way I’d answer this question is to consider which of the movement qualities are the most difficult to acquire? Without wishing to upset vast numbers of strength and conditioning enthusiasts and coaches, having worked with hundreds of clients for many years, I am inclined to say that it is a simpler process to gain strength and power than it is to become more coordinated and flexible!

Note that I said simpler and NOT easier.

The pursuit of high levels of strength is hard work but if you utilise a progressive training system that involves the manipulation of intensity (load) and volume, over time, you will get stronger. If you also practice moving quickly while applying force, you will become more powerful. I would also like to point out that depending on the individual, the constant pursuit of these two qualities exclusively is often to the detriment of overall movement quality.

Flexibility, mobility and coordination are a little more complicated to acquire. Gaining large increases in flexibility for example is such a long and slow road that many trainers simply don’t include it in their programming. If a client came to you and said I want to become more coordinated, it would be understandable if you felt a little out of your depth. You would first need to understand why the individual is poorly coordinated, which systems to stimulate and which sort of movements are appropriate.

In the world of body weight training, people who are coordinated and flexible require less strength. They have the capacity to manipulate their bodies into angles of leverage that are advantageous instead of fighting against their own tensions and having to muscle their way through things.


Effortless coordination also suggests that someone also has a highly developed motor system. The peripheral nervous system, cerebellum, pre-motor and motor cortices are well educated, they have a large movement vocabulary, or as I like to call it they have a high level of Movement Intelligence.

So are the elusive skills we speak of more important than strength and power? That really is open to debate, a debate that I do not wish to get in to at this stage. Maybe it’s not that coordination and flexibility are vastly harder to achieve, rather most trainers are less comfortable with how to coach these qualities.

In the AMN system, skill work is the expression of all four qualities and I would like to make a case as to why we should start looking at skill movements as viable exercise options for clients.

Stuntman Olympics 

If there was such a thing, I would be there to watch every single year because of all the athletes I’ve worked with, stuntmen are simply the most awesome.

To be a successful stuntman in modern movies you need to be able to perform:


Martial Arts, Gymnastics, Parkour, Tricking, Diving, Deep sea diving and Swimming and at some point become comfortable with explosions and being set on fire. These guys are the most impressive athletes I’ve ever seen and their movement skills completely eclipse those of traditional sports.

Our skill based movement system is designed to give the novice trainee, that’s the vast majority of personal training clients and with all due respect, most trainers, somewhere to start learning skill based movement. But its not just friend impressing awesomeness that is up for grabs here.

Skill work combines the expression of strength, power, coordination, mobility, flexibility and balance. There are untold benefits to this kind of movement neurologically but in an industry obsessed with mechanics, many will be pleased to hear that its pretty good for the fascial system too.

Fascia is not simply a mechanical system, far from it! In fact there is no part of the human that is simply mechanical.


Fascia has had a pretty big push in the manual therapy and Health & Fitness literature over the last 10 years or so, putting it right at the top of the most popular and often talked about tissue in the human body, and quite rightly so, it’s very important and influential stuff.

Fascia is the primary connective tissue of the body and has many recognisable guises such as ligaments, retinacula, tendons, aponeuroses, fascial bands, plura, meninges, perimysium, epimysium and even the pericardial sac. It is the very fabric that makes the body one single unfathomable piece of genius engineering!

There are a several fascial researchers and therapists whom I greatly respect. Luigi Stecco of Fascial Manipulation is one of them;

Fascia, what is it?

“In medicine, it has always been considered to have a mere function, or role, of containment or restraint, a type of packing material. In recent times, this view has changed somewhat. Fascia actually extends within the muscle, via the perimysium and the endomysium. This continuity means that the contraction of each single muscle fibre transmits to the deep fascia, or the outer most layer of muscle compartments. It is now thought that the fascia could be considered as a conductor of an orchestra playing a symphony of movement, where it synchronises the crescendo of some muscles and the diminuendo of others. The result is harmonious motion.”

Interview of Luigi Stecco by Massimo Ilari

Since some very smart surgeons and anatomists realised that fascia may be more than just the white stuff you need to cut away to get to the muscles, research and hypotheses have come out thick and fast. While some of the claims of fascial based manual therapy techniques may still be unsubstantiated, one description of the fascial system seems to hold true.

Slipping and Sliding 

“Musculoskeletal dysfunction is considered to occur when muscular fascia no longer slides, stretches, and adapts correctly and fibrosis localises in the intersecting points of tension, known as cc and cf. Subsequent adaptive fibroses can develop as a consequence of unremitting non-physiological tension in a fascial segment”.

A Pilot Study: Application of Fascial Manipulation(c) technique in chronic shoulder pain – Anatomical basis and clinical implications. By Day JA, Stecco C, Stecco A (JBMT, 2009)

Whilst I would add a few different and influential factors to explain musculoskeletal dysfunction, I accept the fact that the fascial system works optimally when it is mobile.

Form follows function?

Is a principle associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose

We’ve all heard this phrase used within the health and fitness industry to promote a term I hate; ‘functional training’. Well, I don’t really like this statement about form and function either. In an evolutionary sense and with regards to movement, the function of the body was to be capable of interacting effectively with the environment.

Walk, Run, Jump, Hunt, (fight), Climb and Swim : Adaptable Locomotion 

A hypothesis as to why we have such incredibly powerful brains is due to our capacity for complex motion, the variance of the environment and a necessity to be able to predict outcomes of such interactions so as to promote our survival.

These days, the function of the human body is having the freedom and potential to do whatever we want with it. Our form, our design if you will, affords us near limitless movement potential.

Move in a manner that promotes and integrates our form and improved function will follow

Move in a manner that over simplifies our form and function can degrade


In response to regular physiological strain, collagen, the basic compound of our connective tissues adapts by altering its architectural properties to meet the imposed demand.

In healthy subjects 50% of collagen fibrils are replaced annually as part of the natural cycle of cellular life. There are hypotheses to suggest that certain movement practices can influence this cycle so as the renewal process promotes improved extensibility, hydration and sliding of fascia which is displayed via increased mobility through open joint angles.

As ever I shall point out that fascia is not alone in this process. In fact it is the proprioceptive sensory system that does the learning, the tissues do the adapting. 

If you’ve ever been amazed, annoyed or both at how incredibly mobile kids are, don’t worry. The example thrown around comparing adult mobility to that of a toddler is plain stupid and in fact, it annoys me! The connective tissue matrix of a child is structurally different to that of an adult. The collagen structure of a child is more undulating, making it naturally much springier. The elderly show fascia that is much flatter and less responsive and there’s even variability in these qualities from person to person.

My 3 year old may have a pretty sweet looking straddle with no training but ask him to jog on the spot as silently as possible and he’ll bash around like a baby rhino.. He may have springy fascia but it’s not all its cracked up to be without motor control!’

Whether it’s been proven in a lab or not, (and apparently it has been) anecdotally we see it all the time. Tissue extensibility improves with the right kind of movement practices. It’s no coincidence that the connective tissue AND nervous systems of Capoeiristas, Gymnasts and Dancers allow them to move with grace and fluidity through full ranges of motion and those of your average weights trainee does quite the opposite.

How we choose to move is important. 

Counter movement and elastic recoil

As if learning to be awesome wasn’t enough! The pursuit of athletic drills and movement skill practice is right on the money to enhance the energy store and release capacity of fascia.

The elastic storage capacity of fascial tissue can be enhanced with correct practice. When performing an athletic warm up we kick shoes off and coach clients to stay on the balls of the feet. We advise that ground contact time should be minimal and they should aim to be as quiet as possible.

Becoming fast and reactive through the lower limbs is a product of training. It strengthens the feet and goes a long way to improving athletic movement in ball sports such as tennis and squash. Some have it naturally while others have to earn it, but it can always be learned and improved.

The energy returning, recoil extensibility of the connective tissue matrix is subconsciously utilised any time we ever jump, throw or kick a ball, it’s also present in just about every one of the dynamic skill movements we provide in the fundamentals.


Flexibility is not gained with a single approach. It is the net result of several complimentary practices of which movement skills like cartwheels, handstands, rolling, athletic drills, bridges and scoots are part of.

With this in mind, let me conclude this article with another question.

“What is more useful and rewarding for you and your clients?”

1. Learning to move in complex patterns that build strength, mobility, coordination, are in tune with our form, improve the brain by engaging in the process of learning and make you look awesome at house parties?


2. Generic dumbbell rows and chest presses?

I’m a bit biased so I’ll leave you to decide on that one.