sprinting and martial arts

The Primal Speed System and Martial Arts

Google “weight lifting” or “running” and “martial arts” and you will see that a lot of people have some very strong opinions about this subject. Should people weight train for martial arts? Should people add running to their training regimen? I actually get asked this question a lot by people who train martial arts and are looking to step up their training.

Weights, runs— are there any other options?

Don’t get me wrong, intelligent training will always trump general advice. But as a devotee of Chinese Martial Arts I have struggled for years finding the right balance of strength, conditioning and technique. I started training Tai Chi (Taiji) as a teenager and after years of training different styles settled into the unusual conditioning and training of Yin Style Bagua.

Let me guess, you’ve never heard of it.

The truth is, I love martial arts— any style and any training system. But as the years went on in my own development (and preference for what is considered internal martial arts) I noticed I had a problem. I had a power issue. The more power I could generate, the more I would get injured…

Was I missing something?  Was it time to add weights or a serious running routine to keep myself in one piece?

It’s not obvious to everyone, but there is a big difference between strength and power.

In the martial arts world, there is less of a need to being strong in an absolute way (say lifting 500 pounds) versus applying power at the right moment. Some would say that power is applying strength at speed. When I saw a chance to take a course on both power and speed, I jumped at it.

It wasn’t martial arts, but I knew I was ready to learn.

Enter Franz Snideman, an ex-collegiate sprinter, a trainer of 20 years, an international teacher to hundreds of kettlebell coaches and the creator of Primal Speed Coaching Certification. Franz has a passion for power and speed.

Franz’ premise is simple. Training speed and power builds our capacity to be badass (he prefers the word ninja, but I’m biased by my Chinese Arts training).

The course was held at his gym, Revolution Fitness in La Jolla, California. I showed up to join a group of trainers and coaches (and one ex-NFL wide receiver) who took sprinting very seriously.

As far as I could tell, I was the slowest one there. By a lot. Oh, sure, I could run for miles on trails or handle training for week-long martial arts intensives—but I had never trained to run fast.

This was apparently the first misconceptions I had to let go of.

Sprinting is Sprinting. It is not Running Fast.

It turns out I didn’t need to run fast.  I just needed to learn how to sprint. After a serious morning of mobility and ground based drills, one of the first exercises Franz took us through was for arm mechanics. It turns out the arms are critical for explosive speed in sprinting.

In my Bagua training we emphasize hand foot harmony. This shows up in sprinting because when a sprinter throws their arm down and back it creates a more powerful glut contraction as they drive the foot through the ground.

When the opposite arm is thrown up it helps lift the pelvis on the side that the leg is driving forward and up, preparing for the next explosive contact with the ground.

I just learned something.

Chase the Behaviors, not the Results

I used to work with the Olympic Track & Field team. World class sprinters are fit people. They have low body fat and are strong in a full body way that can make them stand out even in a group of athletes. Sprinting mechanics requires a full body engagement.

Moving from my center? Check.

Upper body and lower body connected? Check

It creates quite the powerful frame.

The fact is, for any generation of martial artists, the greats are known for their speed and striking power.

But how did they get there? For safety reasons, training of martial arts is often done in a way that limits or avoids full power.

Sports like boxing, wrestling or judo allow for an all out explosiveness that keeps your training partner relatively safe. A lot of traditional, combat oriented martial arts have it more difficult.

As the two days progressed, I learned to safely generate more and more power into the ground without injuring myself. We learned marching, skipping and cutting drills. We learned to program 10, 20 and 30 meter sprints without trashing our whole body from overtraining.

At the Primal Speed Certification, we even went through the plyometrics and med ball drills that show up in a lot of MMA training. Why? Because every way we can teach ourselves to engage with full body power our sprinting gets better.

“The hands are but the doors, victory completely depends on the feet.” -He Jinbao

I have trained with a lot of martial artists from different traditions who could demonstrate a flawless application to throw me…but might fail because they didn’t have the legs to break through my root.

Sprinting helps build that cross body power that is referred to as spiraling power in Chinese Martial Arts.

Spiraling power means that the more power we emit from our legs into the ground the more we can create a diagonal transfer of power that can be emitted by our arms and hands. If you want more power in your hands, you simply drive more power into the ground.

When the legs are strong in an engagement method that connects the core and the arms— the whole body benefits. Sprinting allows us to build that power and to increase our work capacity in anything we are training.

The beauty of what Primal Speed teaches is that a lot of this training can happen through short sprint sessions as stand alone training or as part of a bigger session.

How interesting then to take a few sprinting drills before a session of strikes and throws. When our whole body is already connected and lit up, when we train technique both our learning ability and our power output increase.

So, I guess I did have a lot to learn from sprinting. Now, whenever I’m asked about the merits of weight lifting or running for martial arts, I’ll have to bring up the third option.


Power training that can build our overall energy reserve and train us to be be explosively fast.

Check out Primal Speed.


Trackback from your site.

Scott Olsen

Scott Olsen is a sports recovery, rehab and movement specialist. He has been supporting the fitness industry and movement explorers for 18 years. He has helped over 1,000 people recover from chronic or nagging pain and return to a more stable connection in their body and training. For an introduction to what he’s doing with recovery, tendon care and longevity, check out BeyondtheMuscle.com.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.