Former NFL wide receiver Quinn Early teaches kung-fu in the San Diego, California area. For more information on kung-fu/tai chi training, visit Special thanks to strength coach Gregg Bertsch of Next Level Fitness. For answers to your fitness questions, contact Gregg at .

Image“These workouts enhance explosiveness, balance, coordination, and athleticism.”

“There’s a big difference between squatting 400 pounds and holding a horse stance until the flame goes out.”

lead shot (Punch attack 3)
In 1988, the San Diego Chargers drafted me into the National Football League. Professional football is an extremely competitive environment. Thus, it was important for me to be in the best physical condition possible. It’s easy to stay in shape during the season. But between January and July, the typical off season for a football player, I realized that I had quite a bit of free time on my hands.
I’ve always been a martial arts fanatic. I loved every aspect of it, from fighting to weapons to the history. So I decided kung-fu might be the perfect answer. I thought that because I was a professional athlete, I would be “the man” in just a few months. Boy, was very wrong. I soon realized how stiff and uncoordinated I could be. I was quickly humbled. I learned that being nit was more than just a matter of physical strength; it was about combining strength, flexibility, stamina, speed/quickness and efficiency of motion. I felt like an elephant on ice skates. Even two decades into my training, I know there is much more to learn and experience.
The true meaning of kung-fu is hard work over time. Because it is hard work, martial artists will always face challenges. For example, some people have a difficult time retaining information related to forms/techniques; some have a hard time learning proper relaxation that will generate maximum power; still others lack the knowledge to stay in shape. Kung-fu helps take those weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Conditioning the body at the outset of training gives you the head start you need to complete your journey.

Solid Foundation
My sport forced me to maintain strict workout regimen, so I already had a good base when I started kung-fu. The challenge was getting in kung-fu shape. Because I was football player, I was strong with cardio and in the weight room. However, I lacked flexibility and my legs were nowhere close to kung-fu shape. I soon realized that there was a big difference between squatting 400 pounds and holding a horse stance until the flame went out. As my training progressed, my teacher gave me ways to work on strengthening my body. The more advanced I became, the more I wanted to find ways of pushing my body to higher levels of fitness.
There are three components to training:

  1. Workouts
  2. Nutrition
  3. Rest

This article focuses on the workout component of training and provides tips on how to reach your martial arts fitness goals.

Five Rounds of Fitness
“Five Rounds of Fitness” is an athletic enhancement tool that conditions the body by mimicking the energy systems and specific motor patterns exhibited in martial arts. The body must be endure large muscle multi-joint movement patterns over and over and that can create substantial amounts of lactic acid and muscle fatigue. These workouts are also specific to martial arts in that they enhance the explosiveness, balance, coordination, and athleticism of each individual. The strength exercises are geared toward building the anterior posterior muscles, while simultaneously activating the core muscles. This helps the practitioner become more athletic and fit avoiding injury.
Always perform a comprehensive warm-up and flexibility routine before starting any exercise program. It allows the participant to elevate core temperature, increase the range of motion of the joints and helps all major muscle groups to “fire” or wake-up to prepare for athletic activity.
Each exercise should be done in a circuit manner, one after another; limit the rest in between exercises. Once each exercise has been completed consecutively, rest for one-to-two minutes before continuing. The circuit can be completed up to five times, but remember to train intelligently and only complete what is appropriate for you. It is always safe to start out with fewer sets and gradually increase the workload.

(use 180 art, 2,4, 5)
Exercise One: 180-degree tuck jump to 20-yard sprint
Develops: Explosiveness
Start from an athletic stance with knees slightly bent. Your weight is on the balls of the feet and your shoulders are over your toes. Descend into a quarter-squat position and jump as high as possible, bringing the legs directly underneath the body while simultaneously turning 180 degrees in the air. Land as softly and quietly as possible in the same position as you began. Immediately change directions and sprint 20 yards. This exercise enhances quickness and explosiveness, which is perfect for combatives training/competition. Being quick and explosive will improve your martial arts and could save your life in a self-defense situation.

(use M.D. 1 photo)
Exercise Two: Multi-Directional Push-Up
Strengthens: The front side
Begin in a standard push-up position with the body in a straight line from head to heel. Perform a push-up and then proceed to maneuver the body by walking the hands to a new position where another push-up is executed. Continue performing push-ups in new positions for one minute.
This is an excellent multi-planar exercise that strengthens the anterior muscles in the upper body. It also develops the core and scapular muscle groups. The shoulder is the most dynamic joint in the body and is very susceptible to injury when it comes to martial arts training. Because of the movements demanded in martial arts training, it’s imperative that time is spent strengthening this area of the body. The multi-directional push strengthens the stabilizing muscles surrounding the joint and helps prevent injury.

(use scapula 1-2)
Exercise Three: Scapula Y’s and T’s
Strengthens: The back side
Lie face down with your forehead and feet in contact with the ground. Raise the arms from the muscles of the thoracic (upper middle) area of the back, leading to a straight arm movement overhead and creating a “Y.” Pause at the top of the movement and repeat. Then, raise your arms straight out to the sides to create a “T.” Perform 10 repetitions at each letter. The scapula forms the posterior part of the shoulder girdle and is an integral part of posterior muscle function. The many muscles that connect to the scapula help support the shoulder. Again, the violent movements inheren in martial arts leave the shoulder vulnerable to injury. Strengthening the scapula provides a base for which the shoulder can function.

(use 3-way lunge 1-2)
Exercise Four: Three-Way Lunge
Strengthens: The Lower Body
Stride forward with one leg, creating a 90-degree angle at the knee (do not let the knee exceed the toes). Maintain good posture while landing on the mid-foot to heel of the striding leg. Make sure that the knee is stacked over the ankle. Then, stride laterally and create the same safe knee and foot position, while keeping the opposite leg as straight as possible. Stress the muscles of the working leg and feel a stretch in the adductor (inner thigh) of the extended leg.  Finally, maintain the same form while striding backward with the same leg,. Repeat 5 times on each leg. A martial artist must function with strength and balance through several planes of movement. The three-way lunge requires strength, balance, and stability, which are all essential during movements such as transitioning between stances or kicks.

(use plank to push-up 1)
Exercise Five: Plank to Push-Up
Strengthens: The Core
Assume a prone position on the floor and place your body weight on your forearms and toes. Maintain a straight line from the head to the heel for an ideal plank position. Without breaking posture, transition arms from a plank to a push-up position. Execute the transition between positions for one minute. This exercise strengthens the core muscles through stabilization. Most martial arts movements are performed from a standing position and utilize stabilizing forces in the core that allow punches or kicks to be delivered substantial power.
Here are some additional ways to strengthen the body.
(use Stance Training Kneeling 1)

Stance Training
Stance training strengthens your lower body, creates balance and improves flexibility. Hold various stances, like the horse stance, for one minute each.

Standing Triple K
Stand on one leg and slowly extend your leg as if doing a snap kick. Hold for a five count then return to crane. Point crane to the side and extend leg for a sidekick. Hold for a five-count. Return to crane and then extend the leg behind for a rear kick. Hold for a five-count. The three kicks together count as one repetition. Switch legs and repeat. First, try five repetitions on each leg. Once that becomes easy, perform 10 reps. When you become advanced, try this exercise with ankle weights while standing on a five-pound coffee can.

Wall Squat or (Skier Squat)
Place your back against the wall and spread your legs about a shoulder-width apart. Your feet will be about two feet from the wall. Your upper leg should be parallel to the ground. Hold for one minute. Perform three repetitions. Once this is easy, try three reps of two minutes.

NFL Longevity
I attribute my 12-year NFL career to my martial arts training, which helped me develop my body through the principles illuminated in this article. For example, I earlier talked about the lack of flexibility I exhibited when I began my martial arts training. But thanks to the added flexibility I achieved in kung-fu, I made catches that I would not have been able to make before my martial arts training. Kung-fu also has taught me that relaxed  energy is a lot more effective than tense energy. This made me much more effective in every aspect of the game. By being more relaxed during the course of a game, I had more energy in the fourth quarter. And most importantly, since I maintained a high physical and mental level throughout the game, I was able to avoid injury. I was known for being a durable player. It’s easy to continue to work on your strengths, but the real challenge is taking your weaknesses and turning them into strengths.

These five exercises, as well as the stance training techniques, have been hand-picked because of the functional nature and synergistic relationship they have with martial arts. The ultimate martial artist can be created by choosing exercises that mimic the requirements of their sport or athletic endeavor. One must perform exercises that enhance strength, power, endurance and stabilization in several planes of movement. Linear single-plane movements do very little for the accomplished martial artist. Train to move efficiently and forcefully. Supplementing your martial arts with these exercises will produce positive results in a relatively short period of time.

These exercises are just a few examples of ways to strengthen your body to get in martial arts shape. Keep in mind that the way to master your art is to practice that art with intent and consistency and to begin to live your life as a martial artist. The exercises and routines I am sharing with you are meant to supplement your training; the metaphor that I use is, “Your martial arts training is like your meal and your other conditioning is like a multi-vitamin.” So, eat your meals, but also take your vitamins. Remember, train smart, live better.