Strength Training for Wing Chun
If Wing Chun is about giving the practitioner the ability to defeat an assailant regardless of relative size or strength, why worry about strength training? Is strength training appropriate for Wing Chun practitioners?
YES and depends.
Properly executed Wing Chun techniques should not require the practitioner to be stronger than the opponent in order for the technique to work. But that is not to say strength is not required. (Sacrilege!!) You do need to be strong enough to move yourself and support your own mass through your limbs in order to achieve your maximum potential within the art.
I used to think a typical strength/body building program combining free weights and machines at the gym was fine. When I started Wing Chun, this was the type of strength routines I was doing and my progress in the art was going well in spite of this. Then at one point I developed a respiratory infection that knocked me out of training for a month! (That was before I fixed my diet but I will write more on that some other time.) When I recovered sufficiently to train, I first returned to Wing Chun classes before I made it back to the gym. Something very unexpected happened. I had not crossed hands with anybody in a month but my Chi Sao was suddenly better. My sensitivity and relaxation spiked up simply due to the lack of pumping iron. My Sifus had been right about weight training. I suddenly had to find an alternative to my strength training program. After some research and trial and error this is where I have arrived for my strength training:
*85% bodyweight strength training only (though 100% would work)
*15% clubbells, heavy dragon pole (33lbs heavy BTW), moving other heavy stuff for fun. [EDIT: This is a reprint and recently I have added some power lifts for lower body and posterior chain development.]
Although subtle, I have gained, not lost, size and strength after making these changes. (I'm still just a sinewed waif of sorts but presently in my 30's and I've never moved better or been stronger.)
Firstly one must recognize the difference between myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Any effective muscle building program will give you some of both, but the type of training will shift the balance of the gains one way or the other. For actual athletic performance improvement myofibrillar hypertrophy is where it is at. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is more of what bodybuilders chase and is what makes them big yet not as strong as power lifters of similar or lesser mass. For a more extended primer on these differences check out this article at RDellatraining.com http://rdellatraining.com/sarcoplasmic-hypertrophy-vs-myofibrillar-hypertrophy-why-should-you-care.
Now both types of hypertrophy can be had from moving yourself, free-weights or working strength machines (Bleck! That is its own sin, but I digress.) Using either of these types of devices whilst being mindful to utilize protocols that encourage myofibrillar hypertrophy still tends to have neuromuscular drawbacks for the soft-style martial artist. Most simply put, moving weights trains your nervous system to push back against incoming forces and to hang onto retreated forces. These ingrained patterns make it difficult to switch gears to relaxing so as to receive and redirect incoming forces or to stick to retreating forces without directly opposing the opponent's vector.
So what is a Wing Chun practitioner to do for general strength training?
Quality bodyweight training while progressing towards fewer, higher quality reps of increasingly difficult body-weight exercises. Quality reps for the Wing Chun practitioner have a pause at the top, a pause at the bottom, and are slow in between with proper alignments throughout.
Ignore most isolation exercises. Example: DON'T over-simplify complex movements such as punching and then isolate your triceps thinking that will help the big picture. DO learn to do pushups correctly and hold yourself to good form. Unless you are working forearm strength or nursing an injury under professional guidance, don't waste time with exercises that isolate small muscle groups. You should spend time on compound, natural motions and exercises that require full body recruitment. (Pushups, Pullups, Squats, Bridges, etc.) With this type of practice you can learn to operate your body better as a unit, improve balance, and learn to relax better under load, which does directly carry over to better techniques. Additionally, joint injuries are less likely with this type of training when compared to other methods.
Keep in mind:
NONE OF THIS ALONE WILL MAKE YOU A GOOD WING CHUN PRACTITIONER!! But you can make yourself strong in the right ways without sabotaging your technique by programming yourself to meet force with force.
If you want to build functional strength, bodyweight training is where its at for the Wing Chun practitioner. Explosive strength, absolute strength and muscular endurance are all to be improved with this type of training. If you are a soft-stylist and want to get HUGE... you have conflicting goals and should work to figure out what is really important to you. For Wing Chun, you should definitely focus on bodyweight exercises for the upper body and if you think you have to use external weights to improve lower body strength make sure you have exhausted pistol squats and shrimp squats first. If you don't feel right without regular lifting of heavy objects, pursue power-lifting, Olympic lifting and strongman stuff. Be wary of bodybuilding protocols! Function over aesthetics.
If you want more on bodyweight training get in touch with me for training at 602-472-5918 or email me through the "Contact Us" page. If that is not practicable, order this book today:
Sifu Nick Edmonds
Red Light Wing Chun Phoenix, Arizona