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Why Martial Artists Need to Develop Their Lower Body

There are many different kinds of martial arts: Karate, Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu, Taekwondo, HEMA, Muay Thai, MMA, etc. But they all have one thing in common: in order to perform at your best, your body needs to be fit! We’re not talking about bodybuilder “fit” here — we’re talking about martial artist fit, which prioritize muscle function over appearance. What’s the point of being jacked if your punches and kicks are slow, or if you’re always in pain? Lower body strength and conditioning is important whatever style you practice, but doubly so in a sport famous for explosive, powerful kicks like Taekwondo.

Never Skip Leg Day

Many martial artists know that they need a strong upper body for punching and grappling, but only working out your upper body and core will do more harm than good in the long run. You need your legs, too! The legs form for the foundation for all of your techniques. You need strong legs for strong kicks, quick movement, effective grappling, keeping balance, and maintaining good form. This requires a whole-body approach to your martial arts fitness routine.

Bruce Lee was well known for his holistic fitness philosophy. He prioritized muscle tone over muscle growth to maximize his freedom of movement. He balanced the muscle groups he trained to avoid injury, and rested when needed. Over-training is always worse than under-training. As you exercise to make yourself a more effective martial artist, channel your inner Bruce Lee, not Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Best Exercises for Working Your Lower Body

Before you exercise, take time to stretch and warm up. If you experience pain at any point in your workout, that’s a warning from your body that something isn’t right. Listen to your body and back off. If the pain persists, make an appointment with a sports physician and/or physical therapist to address the root of the issue before it gets worse.

  • Bear crawl

  • Box jumps

  • Burpees

  • Calf raises

  • Jumping rope

  • Kicking bag drills

  • Lateral “suicide” shuffles

  • Leg curls

  • Lunges

  • Mountain climbers

  • Running

  • Sprints

  • Squat thrusts

  • Tuck jumps

For descriptions of these exercises and ideas for routines, visit the following resources:

Tips for Success

If your goal is to get stronger, use heavier weights and fewer repetitions. If your goal is to last longer, use lighter weights and more repetitions. For best results, you need both in your routine.

But remember, you’re a martial artist, not a bodybuilder. You need functional strength, not a pretty body. So throw away that idea that you should work one body part per gym trip — every workout should work your body as a whole. It’s okay to focus in certain areas that you’re weak in, but even these exercises shouldn’t isolate those areas from the rest of the body, or else you will still be imbalanced.

Keep Going to Class

At the end of the day, the best way to strengthen your lower body and get better at martial arts is to get your butt to class. Practice your techniques repeatedly with good form, and you will get stronger. Remember, it’s not the martial artist who practices a thousand techniques, but the martial artist who practices a technique a thousand times.

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