by Steve Grogan, Founder of www.youtube.com/c/GeekWingChunInc
DISCLOSURE: This article contains an affiliate link for the book Body by Science.
I want to start this article with a bold statement: “High Intensity Resistance Training is a martial artist’s workout dream come true.”
Do you agree or disagree?
I must be honest with you there: I’m setting you up. It’s not really a trick question, so much as it is a way to lead into the main topic.
There are many statements about martial arts that can be disputed, like if there really is a “best style,” if forms are useless, and the like. However, there is one statement that cannot be denied: the better your physical health, the better you can execute your art.
So…what are you waiting for? Go out there and get fit!
Ah, yes. If it were only that easy.
Given the number of days and length of time that the fitness industry says you have to be in the gym, how can any martial artist ever hope to fulfill their potential?
I’ll tell you how.
The answer lies in one simple truth: the fitness industry has been lying to you. Maybe lying is a harsh word, but at the very least they have been keeping a secret from you. (Of course, some people believe a lie by omission is still a lie, but we’re not getting into that here.)
The truth is, you don’t need to spend all that time in the gym.
The answer, my friends, is High Intensity Resistance Training.
Time – Enemy of a Martial Artist’s Fitness
Why is it most martial artists aren’t fit?
The answer is right in the subheading of this section: time.
Look at the exercise programs that most gyms and fitness gurus push on us. They require you to be in the gym five to six days per week, often for anywhere from 45-70 minutes at a time.
This would be daunting enough if you were going to the gym on your own, but sometimes people sign up to go to gyms that have group classes. Those add another wrinkle to the fitness conundrum: those classes will be held when you are either at work or at your martial arts class.
Even on the nights you don’t have class, you might (if you are a martial arts fanatic like me) want to practice your forms, or your punches, or your kicks. You might want to get together and spar with your classmates outside of class.
In other words: given the amount of time we spend on practicing our art, who the hell has enough time left over to do these 6-days-per-week workout programs?
A Fighting Effort
To be fair, I think many people (even those who do martial arts casually) do attempt to be fit. They hear about the latest exercise program that Tony Horton is pushing, so they subscribe to Beachbody on Demand, and they dive into it.
Let me take one of Tony’s old programs as an example: good old P90X. For this program, you will be working out six days per week, anywhere from 45-70 minutes. (Do you remember those numbers from earlier in the article?) There is even one workout (Yoga X) that stretches beyond an outstanding 90 minutes in length.
You know that is a hell of a time commitment, but you are determined to get to it. The first thing you need to do is figure out when you can do it. Well, you work until 4:00pm. If you head straight home, you get there by 4:30pm. Ah, but there are some nights when your little one has piano lessons or soccer practice, and your spouse is too tied up to get them there.
You get back home from running the kids around, and you want to press “Play,” but guess what? Your stomach is growling so hard that you think it might eat itself! Knowing you can’t work out while that is going on, you chow down…and wind up feeling stuffed. If you were to lift weights or jump around now, you might vomit!
You settle into your favorite chair and turn on the TV, hoping it won’t take long before the bloated feeling goes away. Eventually it does subside, so you go to turn on P90X, and you realize something: it’s somehow become 11:47pm, and you get up at 6:00am to start your day. Sighing, you go to bed, swearing you will get to it tomorrow.
Tomorrow night comes, and there is no running around to be done, which of course means you have dinner at a sensible time. You excitedly change into your workout clothes and jump in front of the TV, ready to sweat, when your spouse asks you something.
“Don’t you have martial arts class tonight?”
DAMN! Yes, you do, and it’s in twenty minutes! You get dressed for that and head out. After taking a brutal beating during sparring, you head home and flop on the couch. It’s at that moment when you realize there will be no P90X tonight.
Sadly, this doesn’t need to be the case. There is an alternative.
Again, High Intensity Resistance Training.
What is This High Intensity Training You Speak Of?
This protocol is known simply as High Intensity Training in most literature. However, I took a cue from something Sam Fury (owner of the site on which you are reading this article) said to me: he suggested calling the article “High Intensity Resistance Training.” (AUTHOR’S NOTE: Going forward, I will be abbreviating this as “HIRT.” I like it because it rhymes with “hurt.”)
I thought: “That is genius.”
Because I am so tired of people thinking that I mean High Intensity Interval Training. Notice the word “Interval” is not present in what I said.
We will get into the differences later. First, I will explain what this exercise is.
Many people credit Arthur Jones (creator of the Nautilus equipment) as being the creator of High Intensity Resistance Training exercise. Whatever the case, here is how it works:
A practitioner picks a handful of exercises, which they will perform in a slow and controlled manner. If you are new or just getting back into exercise, you can pick as little as five. (Dr. Doug McGuff, author of Body by Science, calls these “the big 5.”) These exercises should include:
- A vertical pull (EXAMPLE: Lat Pulldown)
- A vertical push (EXAMPLE: Overhead Raise)
- A horizontal pull (EXAMPLE: Seated Row)
- A horizontal push (EXAMPLE: Seated Chest Press)
- Leg Press (self-explanatory)
The practitioner lifts and lowers the weights slowly. An ideal cadence is five seconds in both directions. When you lift up, you never lock out the limbs. On the way down, you stop just shy of setting them down. With this exercise program, the goal is not “number of reps,” but how much time you spend lifting; this is known as “Time Under Load,” or “TUL.”
At this point, most people have two questions on their mind.
QUESTION #1: How long are these workouts?
ANSWER #1: Approximately 30-45 minutes.
QUESTION #2: How often do you do these wonderful 30-minute high intensity workouts?
ANSWER #2: I hope you are ready for this – you’ll do it only once per week.
And that is where I lose most people.
Flying in the Face of Popularity, But Supported by Science
“Get out of town!” people say. “There is no way a workout that short and that infrequent can help someone get in better shape!”
Then they go off to their 10-hour Boot Camp class. Better them than you!
However, the results don’t lie. If high intensity training workouts did not get results, then Mike Mentzer (another proponent of HIRT) would not have won the title of Mr. Olympia. Here is Mike in all his glory:
Whether you admire his physique or find it “gross” is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that this man engaged in high intensity weight training workouts, and he got these results.
Also, let’s not forget yours truly. I have been doing HIRT since January 2020. You might wonder what kind of results I have seen, so here is my “before and after” shot:
When I started, I was at 241 pounds. By June 2021, I was down to 163. Not bad for an old timer, I’d say. (This also debunks the myth that once you are past your mid-thirties, your metabolism won’t allow you to lose this much fat. However, that’s a topic for another article.)
How were Mike and I able to get these results, even though it is the exact opposite of what every other personal trainer is pushing these days? The answer lies in a couple terms that we hear all the time but have grossly misunderstood.
Our Good Old Friends: Fast- and Slow-Twitch Muscle Fibers
These are two terms we hear a lot, but most people don’t realize what they really mean. People assume that “fast-twitch” fibers help control actions that require fast movement, and “slow twitch” control any slow movements. An understandable conclusion to reach, but wrong.
The “fast” and “slow” in their names have nothing to do with movement. What they indicate is the speed at which those muscles fatigue.
In other words, “slow-twitch” muscle fibers take a long time to fatigue, while “fast-twitch” fibers fatigue quickly. They also take longer to heal.
However, they are also harder to reach. They are embedded much deeper in the muscles than those slow-twitch fibers. In other words, you require a workout of great intensity to reach them. (This process is known as “in-roading.”)
You won’t get this with your average Zumba class, or most exercise programs. That is because most workouts are known as “steady-state,” which means they are not intense.
Ah, but what about that other thing I mentioned?
HIIT vs. HIRT – What’s the Diff?
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a cardiovascular workout protocol that didn’t become popular until the new millennium. It alternates between low-intensity, steady-state movements, followed by quick bursts of high-intensity action.
Here is why they don’t work: those bursts of high-intensity are not enough to reach and fatigue the fast-twitch muscle fibers. There is next to no in-roading.
How Does HIRT Benefit a Martial Artist? Let’s Count the Ways
I covered reason #1 earlier, but for the sake of having all the benefits in one spot, I will list it here again, along with all the other wonderful things that stem from this program:
- Above all else, it is a time-saver. No need to worry about somehow jamming your martial arts practice and exercise program into your schedule. When you are doing only a half hour once a week, it should be easy to figure out.
- 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!
- 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.
WARNING: There is a reason I say “nearly” impossible. It all depends on how strenuous you train in your martial art after doing a HIRT workout.
If there is any sparring at your school, you will want to avoid that activity for at least two days after a HIRT workout. You can still practice your forms and techniques, as well as run through some self-defense scenarios, but you will be far too drained to do any sparring.
Why is HIRT Such a Secret if It’s So Effective?
The answer to this question is one that pains most people: MONEY.
That’s right. The less time you spend with a personal trainer, the less he earns. Why would he show you something that actually gets results if it means he reduces his income?
Think about it: let’s say you have two trainers. One does a traditional workout program, while the other does HIRT. Both charge $50 per session.
Traditional Guy has a client who comes in and does an hour-long workout on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. That means he gets $150 from this client.
Our HIRT Trainer has a client who comes in once per week for his half-hour session. That means this trainer earns only $50. He needs two more clients to equal Traditional Guy.
Of course, HIRT Trainer can make up for that by saying, “Hey, since my high intensity exercise will actually get you what you want, I’m going to charge $150 per session.” Then again, he might wind up earning nothing instead of $50 because then his prices are too high!
At any rate, the reason why this answer causes most people pain is because they like to think of personal trainers as enlightened creatures who are taking time out of their day to help their clients get in better shape. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.
An Example of a HIRT Workout
By now you might be asking, “Steve, what do these workouts look like? I tried searching YouTube for videos, but all I get are High Intensity Interval Training videos!”
Well, you are in luck because I have a video of myself doing a workout while I also conduct an interview with my former coach Jay Vincent. It is over 40 minutes long, so make sure you have enough time to watch the whole thing because his answers are pure gold.
High Intensity Workout at Home
After watching that, you might feel disheartened because you don’t have access to the fancy equipment that I’m using. The good news is, you don’t need it.
To prove that, allow me to share another video with you. In this one, I show you the equipment you need to do a high intensity strength training workout from the comfort of your own home.
One Final Resource: The Author Himself
It is possible that there will be no facilities near you that teach this exercise protocol. However, since you are here reading this article, you are in luck: having done this routine for the last two years, I myself have decided to go for my personal trainer certification and start teaching it.
Odds are that most people who read this article won’t live anywhere near me. That’s okay though because, due to the wonders of modern-day technology, I can still teach you via Skype or Zoom or whatever video chat platform you prefer.
To start the process, send me an email. Put “HIRT article from Sam Fury’s site” in the subject line. That way, even if your message goes to spam, I’ll know it’s safe. Contact me here:
I hope this article has opened your eyes to a new world of possibilities. More than that, I hope to see you on the other end of a video chat someday.
About the Author
He is also the author of The Lone Warrior, which condenses his best tips into one neat and easily digestible e-book. In conjunction with this tome, he designed an app, which is available for both Androids and iPhones. You can find it here:
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