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Complex Training: How To Transfer Strength To Skill

January 19, 2012 05:30 PM

PrentissRhodes Article 
You need more power! You need more running! Sometimes, the words still ring in my head from my training partner at the time, Kestutis Arbocius. He was a world class Shidokan fighter from Lithuania who came into the gym to train. He would always say this to me after we had just finished sparring a few grueling rounds after which we would strike the focus pads for a few more rounds, and later finish with some heavy bag work. Always thinking I needed to dig deeper, I did what any fighter would do: I watched a montage of the training scenes in all of the Rocky movies. While I wasn’t exactly chasing chickens around a coop, my training started to look like a tribute to those Rocky movies and I wasn’t even a professional fighter. There was plenty of roadwork. I did thousands of pushups and sit-ups and trained in the dojo. My sparring sessions and pad work got harder. I was doing more of everything. But, I started to notice the MORE I did, the LESS I got in return. My results were less optimal, not more. In fact, the only thing I got in return was more injured. I was constantly stiff and in pain. I even suffered broken bones and concussions, which ultimately ended my aspirations as a kick boxer.
That experience left me dejected yet determined to find a new way of training. I knew I had to find new influences even if they were unconventional. So, with a little research, trail-by-error-training and some fate I set myself on a better path. The first fateful encounter I had was in grad school with a man who was a competitive power lifter. He corrected the technique of my squat and deadlift, teaching me a more efficient way of maximizing each rep so I could get more from doing less. That was the first of my many breakthroughs in how to train using specific movements not just isolated muscle.
Later, I just happened to be working with a man from Belarus who competed on the junior Olympic Weightlifting team. He taught me how to clean and do jerks using the same philosophy. I learned how to be more explosive when training. I was consumed by my newfound knowledge and wanted to study more. Later that year, I bought three books, Power to the People, Russian Kettlebell Challenge, and Scientific Stretching. My course was set, but my education and practice continues.
I liken my ongoing task as a martial artist to the 1970’s TV character Steve Austin, better known as The Six Million Dollar Man. I had to get better than I was before; better, stronger, and faster. The first task was to get better.
Getting better can be a pretty nebulous thing since there are many different approaches, but my goals were very specific.
1. Re-gain pain-free range of motion in my shoulders as well as the rest of my joints. For this, I drew from my time spent as a chiropractor and more recently from the tools and ideas that I gained from studying the CK-FMS.
2. Correct imbalances from years of over use. I, like many athletes, lived in the sport. There was the issue of a locked up t-spine, tight hip flexors and weak abs.
3. To continue to improve my martial skill. Punches and kicks needed to improve. I had to improve the leverage on the throws. I wanted to adapt new tactics, and improve upon them, since I don’t compete anymore. To do that, I studied Israeli Self-Defense systems.
Getting stronger was a matter of simplifying my weight training. To build a base, I went on a diet of deadlifts, presses, weighted pull-ups and squats. As a template I used the ‘3 to 5’ Method: Strength Training For Special Weapons and Tactics found in Beyond Bodybuilding. A typical week during a strength training cycle would go something like this:
• Monday - deadlift 3x5, barbell military press 5x3, weighted pull-up 5x5, dips on the rings, Russian twists.
• Thursday - Same drills as Monday but I’d work up to a ‘heavy’ single on the core lifts. On this day, I would also do a different assistance exercise and also a different abdominal exercise emphasizing a different pattern. For example, hanging leg lifts or back lever progressions.
It really was that easy and I didn‘t stray too much from the deadlift, press, and pull-ups. For the loading parameters, I used examples from Power to the People Professional. On variety days, I would do Turkish Get-ups, hammer swings and gymnastics drills. For conditioning it was the swing, the snatch and sprints. I used various interval training protocols gradually increasing my total training time to one hour.
Getting faster was a different animal. I always started a practice with Fast and Loose Drills. Then, I would take 3 techniques and practice reaction drills. To do this, I would have a partner flash a target. The trick was to hit it before it was removed. Guess what? You can’t be really tense and make that drill work. After a while, I would practice combinations, not really focusing on hitting ‘hard’ just getting fast and accurately to the target. The next phase of speed training is the ability to endure the speed. So, I gradually extended the time that I threw repetitive fast strikes up to 45 seconds. It doesn’t seem long but it is an eternity when going fast. Try running a 400 meter sprint and you’ll see what I mean.
The plan worked very well for me and I got stronger (injury free) and gained more endurance. The challenge then became trying to fit all of these things into a week of practice while still taking into consideration martial arts skills practice and recovery. Again, I took a concept outlined in Beyond Bodybuilding and demonstrated in The Fighter’s Workshop called Complex Training.
A short explanation of complex training is coordination of strength with the primary sport skill in a circuit. The goal as mentioned in Beyond Bodybuilding is to recruit "…neurons which regularly fire close together. The neurons can become cross-wired and become part of a single neural network." For the purposes of my practice, I did a relatively heavy lift followed by a plyometric or ballistic drill and finished up with a punch or kick combination. Here a couple of sample complexes:
Complex A
  • Deadlift 70-75% 1 RM x 3-5 repetitions
  • Tuck Jumps 3-5. (Quick turnover is key here)
  • Defensive side kicks or front kicks 5 reps- Just swing a heavy bag and fire your kick in there when the bag moves in range
  • Rest 5 minutes. You may rest up to 10 minutes if necessary especially if you are just starting out.
Complex B
  • Push Presses 70% 1RM x 3-5 repetitions
  • Total Body plyo pushup x 3 repetitons. Your entire body should leave the floor. If this is not possible, practice a variation to your skill level.
  • Defensive Cross- Hook punch combination x 3-5 repetitions
  • Rest
There are a few things to discuss about how to use the complex. I want to emphasize that this is only one supplement to training. I place the complex training after about 8 to 12 weeks of a strength training cycle. Speed is essential when doing the plyometric or ballistic drills. As Master RKC Geoff Neupert says, "Once the speed drills start to look like a grind, then the session is over." Once speed is achieved, practice in short intervals of 15-20 seconds. Keep it simple. You don’t want to experience any overload by adding too many exercises. Stay at three drills: Strength, explosiveness, and a specific skill.
If you feel that you need more save it for another day. If competition is your game, practice this very early in your training cycle. As you get closer to your event you’ll be practicing more sport specific drills and combative scenarios in which you’ll just have to endure the bout. But since the foundation has been created, strength and speed shouldn’t give you too much trouble. If you are a combat athlete then you can practice for a 2-week cycle every couple of months to supplement training. In either case, I hope that you can get a bit more snap in the kicks and pop in the punches.
This is just a small 1 to 2 week part of training and shouldn’t be done to the exclusion of the other components of your practice. Try it out and be creative. Using this as a template, find the drills and technique combinations that work for you, and put them to practice. But, remember train smarter, not longer and you’ll get some added benefits to your martial arts practice.

Prentiss Rhodes, DC, CSCS, RKC Team Leader, has been a martial artist for most of his life and has worked in the fitness and wellness industry for 14 years as a coach and a chiropractor. He is a former competitive martial artist and the owner of Rhodes Fusion Fitness in Chicago where he teaches kettlebell and self-defense classes. Visit him at