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martial arts
jean claude van damme
fast twitch fibers
push ups
high intensity
muscle growth
Does Training Martial Arts Make You Gain Muscle?
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Does Training Martial Arts Make You Gain Muscle?

Jean Claude van Damme, Jason Statham, Jackie Chan. These guys are all buff. Does this mean that training in martial arts will get you ripped to shreds? To clear this concept up, let’s look into exactly what goes on when training with various martial arts. We will break it down by different styles that each of these actors are disciplined in.

Jean Claude van Damme

Styles: Karate, Muy Thai Kickboxing, Taekwondo

Not all martial art schools are the same. But with that said, patterns are usually followed for an element of tradition. Both Karate and Taekwondo focus heavily on training and enforcing technique. These movements are rapid and hard. To perform them one would be activating the explosive fast twitch 2-B fibers. These fibers do have lots of potential for growth if stimulated properly.

However, these movements have little to no resistance and are performed for long durations at a time. The martial artist will only be increasing their body mechanics and endurance of their muscles. In high intensity cases, they would also be increasing their cardiovascular ability.

However, due to the lack of significant resistance, these movements will not result in muscle growth. At best, some limited hypertrophy may occur which in turn will help to burn fat due to the recovery process.

Of course this is not what these two martial strictly train. They typically also include some body weight circuit training. For example you would perform 60 push ups, then instantly do 100 sit ups, 50 leg raises, 40 suicides, and so on. These exercises do stimulate the explosive fast twitch fibers, but not with enough resistance to trigger significant muscle growth.

As for Muy Thai Kickboxing, this martial art is a little more demanding on the body. Explosive powerful movements are executed with every strike. But with that said, we’re dealing with the same problem. Due to the high number of repetitions and lack of intense resistance, these movements will only increase in endurance and speed.

Here’s Jean Claude van Damme’s secret. He was also a bodybuilder. In fact, he even entered into bodybuilding competitions and won the title of Mr. Belgium! Bottom line here, Jean didn’t build his extremely impressive physique from martial arts, it was from training with a workout routine to gain muscle.

Jason Statham

Styles: Wing Chung Kung Fu, Karate, Kickboxing

We have already covered karate and kickboxing, but what about wing chung kung fu? Wing chung is a beautiful martial art, this is probably why Hollywood loves it so much. The movements are very flowing and almost dance like. Wing chung focuses on relaxation, stance, balance, and short quick movements.

As for the training aspect, there are many different forms of training. A fair chunk of traditional training of wing chung is used with a wooden dummy. This is how kung fu artists practise their various blocks and counter attacks. If you have ever seen this, you know that their movements are extremely quick. Once again the type 2-B muscle is responsible for this movement. But like in the previous case, this type of training will not result in muscle growth due to lack of resistance.

Jackie Chan is also a strong practitioner of wing chung. So there’s no point in going over this again. It boils down to this. All three of these buff action stars trained with a workout routine to gain muscle. It’s as simple as that. Sure their training with martial arts would’ve helped them with the cardio end of their training, but not when it comes to increasing large amounts of muscle mass.

Explosive movements, which these martial arts depend on, are great for forcing the type 1 and type 2-B muscle fibers to hypertrophy. In turn, the body must consume calories to repair these muscle fibers over the course of a few days. While this is taking place, the body will use some fat cells as energy to perform this process. So thanks to the training, the martial artist will benefit from burning some fat off.

Now instead of looking at movie stars, let’s look at martial artists that use their trade as a way of life. I’m talking about mixed martial artists, like the ones that fight in the UFC. If you have ever watched a day in the life of a UFC fighter, you know how incredibly hard they train.

The thing is, they don’t just train one aspect of a martial art, they train them all and then some. As an example, let’s look at what GSP (George St. Pierre) does on a daily basis.

GSP trains on an average of 6-8 hours per day. These 6-8 hours are insanely intense. To give you an idea of what is involved in this time frame I’m going to breakdown the various training methods.

The first 15-30 minutes are all about working the pads. The trainer will use Muy Thai pads and get GSP to throw nasty combinations with bad intentions. After this sequence the average person would be gassed and ready to pass out (if training with the same intensity as GSP).

From there GSP immediately moves into sparring. If you have any personal experience with MMA (mixed martial arts) sparring, then you know it’s very physically demanding. George will train 5 minute rounds of padded up, close to full contact sparring. This alone is extremely demanding for someone who is fresh out of the gate. Sometimes GSP will take on multiple consecutive opponents resulting in 9-12 rounds.

After roughly an hour of sparring, GSP will move into practising jujitsu. Here he may be able to give his body a break and relax a bit, but only while working on singular techniques. After the first 15-20 minutes of technique work, he will once again go into sparring mode. This basically turns into a wrestling match which is an incredible cardiovascular workout in itself.

After that, GSP will go to the track. There he performs various sprinting drills for roughly an hour. These sprinting drills are incredible for type-2 muscle stimulation since they are high intensity short duration. However, this type of hypertrophy mainly trains the muscle to contract quicker and with more power, with only a little increase in size.

From there, it’s time to actually train with a workout routine to gain muscle. After all of that physically demanding training, GSP is now going to perform a workout that bodybuilders do strictly. That’s impressive. How he musters up the energy and motivation to accomplish this all is mind blowing. His weight training workouts usually last around 45 minutes.

The craziest part is, GSP isn’t even done yet. After performing his weightlifting workout, GSP hits a different kind of gymnasium. This is when he starts his Olympic gymnasium training. One of his favorite exercises is the rings. The amount of strength it takes to executes many of the movements that the rings require is absurd. The most amazing part is that GSP is doing this after all of the impossible previous training.

I think that we can all agree that GSP has an impressive physique. And I hope that you can now see why. It’s not just that he trains martial arts. It’s that he uses a workout routine to gain muscle and performs multiple variations of intense cardiovascular workouts.

In conclusion, training in martial arts, no matter what level, will not force your body to grow more muscle. You need to include a weight lifting program into your training as well if you’re looking to add mass to your body.


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