Thoughts about effective practice of martial arts. This is constantly under development.

Effective martial arts training:

  1. Apply Purposeful/Deliberate Practice (focus, goals, stretching the comfort zone, feedback, exercises focused on weaknesses, ….)
  2. Apply the latest sport science knowledge to achieve better results with less (wasted) effort - see Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training
  3. Build better “Mental Representations” of the key concepts and techniques

*) I haven’t read the books yet but they have been recommended and are high on my list

Purposeful practice of Tai Chi Chuan

To improve your movements and posture and your mental representations of these, while practicing, focus on one of:

  • relaxed, smooth movements
  • (perception/awareness of) the center of the body
  • the use of the whole body as a unit, starting and stopping together
  • being aware of your back (often overlooked) / neck/head (where most (?) tension and movements start)
  • the central line of the body (and its alignment with and spatial relations to hands/legs in various techniques)
  • feet, balance, being grounded through them, weight transfer
  • awareness of the 3D space all around and my movements in and in relation to it


How to train for martial arts

My favourite articles

Conditioning & strength

Wim Demeere - the most important resources about strength training for martial arts:

Sport Science study notes

Work in progress. Interesting tidbits of information - of varying degree of reliability - from the internet.

Words of warning:

  • I have no competency in this area so take everything here with a cup of salt.
  • Biochemistry and humans are very complex. All models we have are wrong but some less so.

I will mark the reliability as high when it comes from multiple sources and is backed by some research, medium when there seem to be at least two independent sources, and low when there is a single source of unknown quality.

  • Conditioning - Energy systems training
Breathing & Performance

(Reliability: high.)

Breathing has such a profound influence upon performance that it merits specific training to increase their strength, power, and endurance. That is because 1) the “breathing” muscles are used to stabilise the torso and turn the trunk and 2) when inspiratory muscles work hard, they are prioritised and blood flow to the limbs is restricted. In runners this lead up to 15% performance increase in one study. Source: and the book Breathe Strong, Perform Better.

Breathe less for greater performance and health - hypoxia (induced through breath holding and voluntarily reduced breathing - hypoventilation) improves oxygen supply of tissues, oxygen utilization by cells, aerobic metabolism. Hypoxic/hypoventilation training lead to significant increase in performance and endurance. Hypoxia tolerance tightly correlates with athletic performance. Beware: You can mess up badly so do this under professional supervision. Source:

When you inhale fully, the pulmonary stretch receptors in lungs are activated and an inhibitory signal is sent to the sympathetic nervous system (“gas”, SNS). When you exhale, blood returns to your body from your lungs and the heart slows back down as the parasympathetic nervous system (“brake”, PSNS) drive increases. So a slow, deep breathing with emphasized exhalation results in a relative increase in PSNS activity. Source:

2 ways of breathing

Biomechanical vs. Anatomical Breathing by Cameron Yuen

  • Biomechanical Breathing (for force) - ideal for short and intense exercise. Inhaling is matched with the eccentric phase of a movement, and exhalation is matched with the concentric phase in weight lifting. Breath is used to increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), and optimize force production and transfer by creating a rigid core. However, this strategy can be very fatiguing since you are using your diaphragm to create core stability and breathe at the same time. Therefore, biomechanical breathing should be reserved for anaerobic exercises requiring a large amount of core stability and tension.
  • Anatomical Breathing (for relaxation and endurance) - for endurance and efficiency, for any type of movement with a high endurance component and lower external loads. It matches breath with movement to decrease the amount of work needed for breathing. Simply put, any time a movement compresses the rib cage and lungs, you exhale, and naturally let the pressure exerted on your lungs drive the air out. Whenever a movement causes your rib cage and lungs to expand, or when the ribs spring back from being compressed, you inhale. It can also be used to facilitate mobility drills, especially those involving the rib cage and thoracic spine - e.g. the inhalation driving more thoracic rotation and shoulder flexion.

(Reliability: low.)

The speed of voluntary muscle relaxation is reportedly what differentiates medium and top athletes (in 17 out of 20 tested sports) and is more important than either strength or power at the elite level. Thus it makes sense to train it, to increase its speed, explosive power, endurance, coordination, decrease motor reaction time etc.


Strength training

A GOOD strength program addresses posture, stability of the joints, mobility, explosive movement, strength and conditioning, within a systematic plan of attack that allows the athlete to peak for competition.

  • Excessive exercise can cause gut problems, study finds - Strenuous exercise may damage cells in the intestine, causing short- and long-term digestion problems. Two or more hours of exercise at 60 per cent of a person’s maximum intensity level was the threshold at which gut problems appeared, “irrespective of fitness level,” said the study.
On energy systems

From Conditioning: You’re Doing It Wrong by Molly Galbraith

For years, it was thought that the alactic system would kick in for the first 30 seconds of intense work, then the glycolytic system would take over the for next 90 seconds, and anything longer than 2 minutes was using the oxidative/aerobic energy system. But more current research shows that all three energy systems actually start at the exact same time (the onset of activity), but they simply contribute to energy production at different levels based on the duration of the activity, the length of the recovery period, and the number of bouts of activity.

=> having a relatively well-developed oxidative energy system is beneficial to maintaining your power output.

Of course, as we all know, our body is constantly competing for resources and the last thing you want to do is devote the majority of your time to steady state aerobic training, and that is not at all what I am suggesting. What I am suggesting, however, is to spending some time building a solid aerobic/oxidative energy system foundation, and then simply do enough to maintain that foundation over time.

Anti-glycolic training

(Reliability: medium.)

DO: anti-glycolic training and why HIIT is bad -

  • instead of Glycolytic capacity training or “HIIT”, focus on building aerobic power plants — mitochondria — in our muscles
  • slow twitch fibers grow with new mitochondria pre-installed
  • “In intermediate and fast fibers, mitochondria are developed by pushing the fibers into light acidity (slight local fatigue), then backing off and recovering aerobically over and over. (Kettlebell Simple & Sinister does just that.)”
  • “If you let the “burn” in the muscle rise too high, you literally destroy the mitochondria, the very thing you tried to build.” -> “causes an accumulation of cellular damage that will express itself on a systemic level as daily lethargy, a lack of energy, and eventually, adrenal exhaustion/shutdown”; also floods with free radicals
  • To counter the side effects of acidosis Prof. Selouyanov insists on plenty of rest between sets. A 1:2-6 work to rest ratio is recommended, but, unless you are very well conditioned aerobically, play it safe with 1:4-6. the rest must be active — walk around and do “fast and loose” drills
  • intensity zones: 1. Maximal power exercises (90-100% intensity contraction, <20sec duration), 2. Nearmaximal power exercises (70-90% intensity contraction, 20-50sec duration), 3.Submaximal power exercises (50-70% intensity contraction, 1-5min duration).
  • note: “A true Tabata session is only 4 minutes of work, but often I see 10-30 minute versions. After a true, 4-minute Tabata session, you should have nothing left in the tank.”
  • note: If you can keep a conversation during a workout, then you are probably in the aerobic zone. If not, you’re probably in your glycolytic zone. Maffetone’s “180 Rule” is a simple method to use to know if you’re training in the right zone. The maximum heart rate you want to achieve to stay in the aerobic zone is 180 minus your age.
  • the goal is to expand the alactic (quick) and aerobic (long-term) energy system windows

The Anti-glycolytic Training for Crossfit? from Complementary Training provides a great perspective on this. Its conclusion is to indeed work most of the time at lower intensities, focusing on quality and “raising the floor,” and only occasionally doing a high-intensity training, “pushing the ceiling.” I.e. it disagrees somewhat and recommends some high-intensity in addition to competition events.

  • two principal pathways of adaptation: homeostatic regulation and stress adaptation mechanism:
  • homeostatic regulation is intended to maintain constancy of the body’s internal milieu. The wide spectrum of moderately intensive workloads broadens the limits and enhances the homeostatic regulation mechanism. In terms of training theory, these modalities refer to the parts of the workouts directed at developing basic athletic abilities, i.e. metabolic and neuromuscular conditioning, motor learning and techno-tactical enhancement.
  • When intensity exceeds 60-70% VO2max, catecholamine levels increase gradually and trigger the glycolytic metabolism. A further increase in intensity stimulates the secretion of cortisol, corticotrophin and B-endorphin, which assist in cardiovascular and metabolic adjustment to physical stress. Such exercises induce typical stress reactions as described in the classic works of Salye. They are highly characteristic of intense and severe conditioning programs
  • in training that includes both types of intensities, the more strained metabolic and hormonal background (due to the stress reaction) aggravates and suppresses homeostatic responses and diminishes the training of workloads directed at basic athletic abilities
  • => Sharpen/Saw (or Develop/Express) complementary pair
  • work on your skill and efficiency, over really “pushing it”, and always stop before getting REALLY tired
  • distinguish & separate “pushing the ceiling,” i.e. trying to increase the ability to tolerate fatigue, and “raising the floor,” i.e. ability to not induce fatigue at all; for example 20 : 80

DO: “Verkhoshansky (and Phil Maffetone in the west) created training systems that relied on the alactic and aerobic training systems completely.”