The journey to gain proficiency in a martial art is rewarding but difficult. One key aspect is you must consistently train as much as you can. But whether you do a striking art like Muay Thai or a grappling art like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you are going to need recovery time. Your body needs the time between classes to repair itself and rest up before you put it through the grinder again. One of the most frustrating time-management related challenges a martial artist can face is working strength and conditioning workouts into an already full training schedule. What gets sacrificed? Recovery time, or time on the mats honing your skills? If you’re going to do any kind of weight lifting or other body strengthening routines, then again, your body will need recovery time. So, do we sacrifice time on the mats to make time for weights?
Granted, many martial arts curriculums already have a degree of cardio, strength and conditioning baked into their workouts, but it’s generally pretty basic enough to not take away from the technical aspect of training. If you are looking to compete in a Combat Sports tournament, or just for whatever personal reasons just want to be stronger, then you will need additional strength and conditioning to get your body where you want it to be. So how do we make this work?
I’ve often struggled with this myself. Recently, a concept called 5 x 5 has come to my attention, I’ve heard other martial artists mention it and even recently one of my favorite YouTubers talked about it. So, I finally decided to get a gym membership and do the 5 x 5 workout over the course of the next three months. I’ve already taken my before pictures, put in a couple of days, and I plan to document my results at the end of each month for three months. So, you can see through me first hand if the program works.
Now, there are a few outliers here, such as my decision to start this right after Thanksgiving and right before Christmas. This time of year is fraught with culinary temptation, as we surround ourselves with hearty comfort foods and seasonal sweets. So, this may or may not have somewhat of an impact. My metabolism isn’t as fast as it was in my younger days, but it’s still fairly efficient for fellow my age. I suppose, though, what I’m really going for here is functional strength and perhaps a little bit of extra bulk. So whether or not I look like a totally shredded underwear model in my after pics is of no consequence I suppose.
So what exactly is the 5 x 5? It’s basically you do 5 sets of 5 reps. The workout looks like this:
Workout A: Squats, Shoulder Press, Deadlifts, 5 sets of 5 reps each (except for the Deadlifts, which are 1 x 5)
Workout B: Squats, Bench Press, Bent over Row, 5 sets of 5 reps each
- 90 second rest between sets
Basically, you work three days a week, alternating workouts. So for example, if you are working out Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then Week 1 would be Workout A on Monday, Workout B on Wednesday, Workout A on Friday. The next week you alternate, Week 2 would be Workout B on Monday, Workout A on Wednesday, Workout B on Friday. Etc. Never train two days in a row, always have at minimum 1 full day of rest between workouts.
It’s recommended that you start with 50% of your max weight for each workout, and then gradually increase it each time you work out. So, let’s say you bench 200 lbs, do 5 sets of 5 reps at 100 lbs. Later on in the week when you repeat the work out, increase the weight by about 5 – 10 lbs. If you don’t know what your max is, or have never really done any of the listed workouts, then it’s recommended that you start at lighter weights and gradually work your way up each session.
So, the interesting aspect of this to me is this: in traditional weightlifting wisdom you work to failure. You lift as heavy as you can until you can’t lift anymore, as a means to tear down the muscle so that it will rebuild itself stronger. But the problem of training to failure is it takes us out of the gym. If my arms and chest are useless because I lifted to failure, then I am not going to be able to get any meaningful Muay Thai or Jiu Jitsu training in. In the 5 x 5 method, your are doing a lot of work on those muscle groups, but you are not lifting your max, nor are you doing high reps to failure. Your arms limbs will ache, as expected of any workout, but they still function. I actually did a set today and have every intent of going to the gym for Boxing and BJJ tonight.
Now, in order to make this work, I have sacrificed all day classes, and now only train in my preferred arts at night. I do my 5 x 5 weight routine during the days on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays. So, will this work for me over the long haul? Well, seems to work for other people, but in the interest of honesty I will keep you updated of my progress on this blog. I am currently about 1 week in. I will post an update at the end of this month, at the end of January, and again at the end of February.
As always, happy training and always remember to breathe.