Weekly Warfare – 4 – Explosive Strength

Ed. This week Iskender (with an assist from Abbe Faria) discusses how to improve the speed of your actions and reactions.   

What Abbe Faria discusses here refers not just to speed, which can be described for swordplay as velocity of movement, but explosive strength. This refers to the acceleration of body mass. Not just how fast you can move, but how fast you can get moving. Explosive strength is partially a function of musculature; therefore it can be increased, just as your physical strength (previously described as your capacity to move mass).

Explosive strength is a valuable asset in the toolbox of any aspiring combatant in both the armored and unarmored disciplines. It’s a recent subject of study in exercise sciences, but has numerous application in any sport where rapid acceleration coupled with power are employed at the same time – NFL football players, European rugby players, boxers & MMA fighters…all of these athletes have probably put in some training time to develop explosive strength.

Perhaps the most famous example of an athlete employing explosive strength is Bruce Lee’s famous one-inch punch, in which Lee knocks a poor soul into a chair and six feet across a floor. He does this utilizing the principles of fa jin, which bear a lot of resemblance to explosive strength.

From a standpoint of technique, Lee accomplishes this through a combination of his physique and by bracing himself against the ground. A similar concept can be seen in European allegorical illustrations such as Fiore’s sette spada which emphasize standing strongly. The basis of all hand-to-hand combat is your connection to the ground – this connection has a factor in allowing Lee to perform such a dramatic feat.

More relevant to this article, is that both Lee and Abbe Faria are concerned with the physiology of developing explosive power. The particular executor for explosive power in the body is fast-twitch muscle fiber. Fast twitch muscle fibers stand differentiated from slow twitch muscle fiber, which is responsible for load-carrying in activities such as lifting weights. Slow twitch muscle fiber allow you to carry loads, and fast twitch muscle fiber allows you to get a load moving fast.

Fast twitch muscle fiber can partially be identified by their capacity to activate 2-3 times faster than slow twitch muscles. The human body’s muscular structure contains varying amounts of distribution for slow twitch & fast twitch muscle fibers. The muscles which control the motion of your eyeballs, for instance, are almost entirely composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers, while the muscles in your thighs are roughly split between fast twitch & slow twitch muscle fibers. It is possible for you to affect the proportions between your fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers in a measurable way.

Fast twitch muscle fibers are developed and trained the same way slow twitch muscle fibers are – through growth stimulated by repeated exposure to stress. When you lift weights in a gym, you are placing the most amount of beneficial stress on your slow-twitch musculature – this is because most people lift weights in order to be able to move more mass. By training your fast-twitch musculature in a similar way, you will be able to accelerate in less time than someone who hasn’t trained their muscles this way.

Just as training your musculature to move more mass involves other systems in your body and has other effects on your body (such as a more efficient metabolism, increased capacity to burn off fats, and a lessened chance of injury), training your fast-twitch muscles will also involve other systems in your body. If you choose to specifically train your fast-twitch muscles, chances are also very high that you will be cross-training your anaerobic cardiac capacity. It almost disingenuous to discuss training for explosive power without anaerobic training, however, my intention here is to lay out programs that may increase your capacity to accelerate. Further articles may discuss how to hit multiple fitness targets with single workouts and thus, save your time.

Unarmored fighters in the Society, quite frankly, have no need to communicate a lot of power into their opponent during a bout. It would get you thrown off the list in a heartbeat to drill your opponent with the complete amount of power available to most people. Unarmored combattants should learn to develop that power in their lower bodies which may allow them to move quickly. Simultaneously, they must develop the capacity to let that kinetic energy dissipate when it reaches the upper body, retaining only enough for the task at hand. This sounds complex, but it is a technique which all unarmored fighters in the Society develop to one extent or another. Developing explosive power in your lower body will allow you to conduct your footwork with greater celerity – this allows you to reach your opponent in less time, allowing them less chance to defend themselves. Timing.

However, one of the great unspoken challenges that faces unarmored combattants is precisely how to develop the capacity to allow the explosive power generated by their lower bodies to dissipate in their core & upper bodies before it reaches their sword-tip & their opponents. That undeveloped capacity may factor into one reason why new fighters hit so much harder, so much more consistently when they fight at full speed – they haven’t developed a practice that allows to keep their shoulders & upper arms un-clenched. This, coupled with an undeveloped sense of proprioception, can account for why training a new fighter is going to give you bruises.

Armored fighters, and Atlantian ones in particular, must retain that power throughout their motions, employing it to cease all questions about whether a particular shot was ‘good’ or not. Building your strength up will make this job easier, but plenty of fighters have learned quite capably to channel power from the ground into their opponent while developing the musculature to support that power delivery in an almost accidental fashion. Some fighters, in particular Sir Afshin Darius. have even been known to channel enough power through their core to not even need to have their feet on the ground when they land their blows – however, this requires an extremely high level of dedication to your training.

Different armored combatants have different methodologies for developing the efficiency needed to communicate power into their opponents – among most schools, an emphasis placed on blow mechanics through pell work and drilling will develop explosive power almost as a side effect. However, an instructor who can also place an emphasis on explosive power alongside shot mechanics will develop students who have shorter paths to excellence on the field. Most instructors already have these tools in their toolbox – they merely need to instill in their students the habit of dedicating an amount of pell-work to full-speed, full-strength blows (however, this should not take place against a rigid pell, as the energy channeled through the waster and into a rigid pell will be reflected back into the fighter, ruining rattan and elbows along the way – constructing a soft pell is key, here). This will go along way in allowing a student to develop a telling blow. Spending some time specifically developing your capacity to to exert explosive strength will also shorten that path to excellence.

The exercises listed below can also be structured in the same manner as a weights regime from my previous article. Instead of using ‘weight lifted’ from the previous chart, substitute in ‘distance jumped’ or ‘height’ or whatever other objective metric you will find useful. Be sure that objective metric is measurable. Not only does this keep the trainee honest, it allows for an adjustment in the structure of your workouts.

 

Lower Body Explosive Strength

For those who perceive themselves to be un-athletic, you might be surprised at how much power you already have in your lower body. People’s legs are pretty strong, and it doesn’t take much training to begin to recruit fast-twitch muscles for the purposes of combat. There are certain exercises which may prove beneficial in developing those muscles. My go-to website, Breaking Muscle, has a list of five very good exercises which specifically target this capacity. There’s another list of exercises which build explosive muscle here. No matter what level of athleticism you perceive yourself to have, there is an exercise choice here which will prove beneficial. It doesn’t matter how fat or slow you think you might be.

 

Upper Body & Core explosive Strength

Developing explosive strength in your core can allow an armored fighter to more efficiently channel power from their lower bodies through to their opponents. One exercise listed in the previously cited Breaking Strength articles is the bag slam. The name is pretty self-explanatory – get big bag of sand or whatever, and repeatedly slam it on the ground. When performed correctly, this increases the explosive power of the muscles in your core. As well, an actively-resisted situp can be employed, although the active resistance in a situp is personified by a workout partner who shoves your upper body back away from your legs at the top of the situp. So, you need a buddy for that one.

In order to develop explosive power in the upper body, pushups combined with a clap of the hands at the apex of the push can be employed. For someone just starting out in the development of explosive power, you can start out by doing pushups in such a manner that your hands just leave the ground.

Filling a basketball with sand, and throwing it around in a circle of friends, can also serve as a fun and easy (and less intimidating) way to develop explosive upper-body strength. You can also buy weighted balls for this purpose. If nothing else, a loaner bell-helm is about the right size & weight to toss around, however do be careful that you don’t hit someone in the face with a helm. That is widely considered a malfunctioning order of operations in armored combat.

If you prefer to lift weights in a gym, Olympic deadlifts are good ways to develop explosive upper body strength (along with a whole host of other fitness skills), however close attention must be paid to your weightlifting form, as your chance of injuring yourself becomes higher. The best scenarios for this involve joining a gym which specializes in Olympic weightlifting, or having a lifting partner or trainer who is experienced in that style.

 

Final Words

Developing explosive power is one of the more underrated skillsets that fighters develop. Needless to say, there are a number of demands on a fighter’s time; being involved in an activity that is part sport, part culture, and part art is (to put it mildly) demanding. However, the development of explosive strength can easily be meshed in with other fitness goals, including cardiac development and generalized strength development. Choosing exercises which will integrate explosive power into your regime will go a long way to becoming more effective at arms.

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