Pros and cons of weight training

From: Steve

I was curious if anyone had any comments regarding the issue of weightlifting and Aikido? When I was involved with Karate and Tae Kwon Do, we were always told to stay away from lifting weights. The reason being that it would make our bodies unflexible and sluggish. Though studies have shown that weight lifting will increase your power (Obviously 8-)) and also improve overall performance in any type of activity. So, I was curious if anyone had any thoughts on how lifting weight would affect your Aikido techniques?

From: Fred Rachford

My karate sensei said the same thing; I ignored him but eventually age and injuries forced me to lay off heavy lifting. With 20 to 25 lbs less muscle on my upper body I became more concious of moving from my center and coordinating the whole body in punches,kicks and, taking up Aikido, in my throws. Building up your upper body raises your center of gravity and probably can not help stability. A general distribution of muscle padding does help protect you from impact, whether it be kicks and punches or high falls.

From: Doug Barnard

I'll second Tony's plug of lifting as a good extension to Aikido training. His procedure of medium weight, medium reps is a good one. I would add some light weight-long reps to the equation. Weightlifting can work opposing sets of muscles to the ones that you train Aikido with. For instance, your quadriceps can get very built up from taking nice, deep stances. If you don't also work the hamstrings, the imbalanced forces can pull your knee to pieces.

Tony was right on with the statement that overly bulked up muscles won't do your Aikido much good. Tight muscles can lead to injury. Stretching is a good thing! The more that you can cross-train, the more that your body will be prepared to receive the punishment that Aikido can dish out!

From: Vee Schade

Personally, I enjoy all manner of fitness activities, weight lifting is certainly among them. I've been weight training at least as long as I've been training in the martial arts and have yet to experience any negative effects from it on my karate performance. As a beginner in Aikido, I still have a tendancy to try muscling through a lot of techniques (especially suwari waza), but I think this is the natural tendancy of "most" beginners regardless of their physical condition. However, when I make a conscious effort to relax when I am reminded of my mistake, I think I am able to relax much easier than I would be if I had never weight trained or, at least, not very much. Afterall, weight lifting is as much about muscle control (including relaxation), and concentration as it is about the obvious strength, power, and endurance development.

> we were always told to stay away from lifting weights. The reason being > that it would make our bodies unflexible and sluggish. Though studies have

Hmmm... Bruce Lee was as avid a weight lifter (he *really* enjoyed bodybuilding), as he was a martial artist. I don't recall anyone ever commenting on how "unflexible and sluggish" he was! Actually, though, this is a valid concern. It's a matter of -how- you train. If you train with lots of heavy weights for the express purpose of bulking up and/or amassing strength, then you certainly run the risk of limiting your range of motion and inhibiting quickness. However, if one takes time to stretch completely after the weight lifting session the negative effects can be limited, if not counteracted. In fact, increased muscle size can be beneficial to flexibility since there is more available muscle to stretch through the desired range (imagine a large rubberband compared to a smaller one; which one can be stretched farther?), provided that time is taken to keep the muscle fibers from tightening-up. I prefer to work-out with moderate weight at medium rep levels (with a full stretch after each session, of course). I find this type of workout best improves my power and endurance levels while giving me a good muscle size, for flexibility, without being "bulky."

> shown that weight lifting will increase your power (Obviously 8-)) and also

Being that "power" is essentially the product of "force" (strength) and "speed" (reflexive quickness), weight training can most definitely help here.

> improve overall performance in any type of activity. So, I was curious if > anyone had any thoughts on how lifting weight would affect your Aikido > techniques?

Probable: Better resistance to injury, quicker responses, better relaxation,

more powerful ate(mi)

Possible: Improved flexibility


In terms of musculature, weightlifting is pretty universally acknowledged to be an entirely good thing, provided it is done right. Combined with an adequate stretching program (which isn't really all that time-consuming), one can increase flexibility, decrease chance of injury, and, yes, increase strength.

In terms of speed, I'd be very surprised if anyone could provide evidence that a properly balanced weight workout could decrease speed. All the evidence I've seen (in other people, studies, and myself) indicates that lifting is entirely beneficial to Aikido practice.

As for mental attitude, it is important to realize that Aikido really shouldn't depend on some inordinate degree of strength, which is after all the goal of lifting. For mental unity, however, I have found lifting to be a universally beneficial experience. The focus involved in putting all attention and energy to one kind of contraction -- necessary in order to lift a heavy weight -- is, at least for me, an almost Zen-like meditation. I really find that a heavy weight workout clears my mind and leaves me lucid, centered and balanced.

p.s. I'll include a warning as an afterthought -- PLEASE be careful and balanced in lifting...after 3 years of heavy training I've been out of the gym for 16 weeks because of a severe back pull. If I'd followed my own advice and been more centered, focused, and controlled... oh well....

From: Chung Jayson C

Ben F. wrote:
----------> All the evidence I've seen (in other people, studies, and myself) indicates that lifting is entirely beneficial to Aikido practice. <----------

I don't lift but have followed this thread with curiosity. It seems the greatest "danger," if there is one, of lifting weights in relation to Aikido is not how weight training will affect the physical capabilities you need for Aikido. Rather, it is a matter of the proprioceptive instinct that the activity cultivates. That is, one of the chief obstacles to doing Aikido is that our seemingly instinctive response to meeting resistance is to push into it and push it away from us. Our bodies/minds seem to seek the internal feeling of pushing into resistance to signify that we are actually accomplishing something.

The feeling of weight training would seem to build up this "normal" instinct. However, Aikido depends on dropping this instinct. Does this pose a problem to you weight trainers?

In Aikido, a part of dropping this instinct is to learn to stop measuring your effect on a situation by how much you've moved or changed someone/thing outside of yourself. Instead, you join with your partner and correct/resolve your joined self. Ben mentioned the mental unity that comes with his weight training. This sounds like a different kind of unity to me -- but any comment?


Jayson Chung raises an interesting point, that in attempting to raise a weight externally, youlose the sense of harmonious integration crucial to Aikido. I might even go a step further and term this "fighting" the weights.

When I lift, I tend to see the weight almost as a part of extension of my arms. This may sound ridiculous, but it is a lot easier to concentrate this way. If you want, you can even call it aiki with the weight...or essential unity. I think the times when I get frustrated and try to force a "weight" in the "up" direction are the times when I get the least muscular benefit and power.

From: Craig G. Hocker

Nicely put Ben,
I have been going along with the same thinking.

I had been weightlifting for fifteen years before I started Aikido. Originally, it was part of my training for competitive swimming where flexibility was important and so involved a lot of stretching. Then I went through a bodybuilding stage during which my flexibility probably suffered mostly because I didn't pay enough attention to stretching.

Aikido has been a good motivator for doing the proper amount of stretching and it has changed how I lift weights. I did pay attention do trying to keep correct form before, but now I don't go for the strain/grunt/scream school. I now focus much more on my breathing and relaxing even on the heaviest sets. I am looking to focus just on the muscle which should be doing the work and getting rid of any tension in my body that is not necessary. It's sort of becomes ki training under duress. My focus is at my center and I am doing meditative breathing.

This doesn't mean I can do more weight, but the weight I can do seems to be less of a struggle. For example, on the bench press, I am actually relaxing my arms, shoulders and chest as I prepare to lift and emptying my mind (stray thoughts - I'm tired - this is heavy - etc.), mentally expanding while breathing from my center. I then lift from my center (mentally extending energy up through my chest and arms.

From: Arun Kumar Mathur

I've been practicing Aikido for about 6 months now, and have been lifting weights for about 5 years. I make it a point to stretch as much as I can when I'm in the weight room not only to avoid injury but also to prevent from feeling stiff and sore before practicing Aikido. Another important thing to consider is the amount of time you give your body to recover. I make it a point not to stay in the gym for more than 2 hours otherwise I stand the chance of injury going into the dojo when my body is still recovering from the day before. On the positive side, practicing Aikido has helped me lift weights with more endurance as well as help me in (believe it or not) my tennis game! Hope I didn't babble for too long. All the best in your training. From: Michael Martin <mfmartin@TDC.ORG.HK>

While I am no expert at weight training, I can offer my own experience on the subject. Basically, there are lots of ways to do weight training -- to build up stamina, to build up strength, to build up bulk, etc. -- so how weight training effects you abilities depends on the type of lifting you do.

Since Aikido enhances suppleness and flexibility, you might want to consider avoiding lifting that results in bulk that restricts movement. It seems that some lifters are literally "muscle bound" -- ie. unable to move freely because of their muscle bulk.

Instead, training that increases your endurance -- lower weights but more repetitions -- seems a good match for Aikido.


There was a thread going about this topic recently, to which a fair amount was contributed; if anyone is really interested in my comments previously, feel free to EMAIL me personally.

The focus lately seems to be on the physical up/downsides of weight training, to which I'll throw in my 2c as usual. As regards flexibility, let me stress that physiologically WEIGHT TRAINING INCREASES FLEXIBILITY. Provided you make sure to stretch enough (esp. after lifting), it is a well documented fact that weight workouts will increase stretchability of muscles. With this in mind, the myth of the "muscle-bound" guy is just that -- a myth. While it is possible to become bulky through too much lifting -- to the degree that you are too big to preserve full ROM -- it is pretty damn hard. You have to spend hours a day in the gym. Secondly, it is impossible if you make sure to stretch enough. I'll cite the example of a gentleman whose name escapes me. He was Mr. America back in the late 50s, and could lock his knees and touch his elbows to the floor. Incidentally, you'll also note that an _incredible_ amount of flexibility is unnecessary for Aikido -- just reasonable amounts, and good conditioning.

Secondly, please note that you should not spend more than 2 hours on a weight workout at a time, Aikido aside; your muscles tend to run out of oxygen. I try not to work out for more than 90 or 100 minutes at a time.

Other than that, I've found that in every respect -- mind/body unification, flexibility, power, endurance, speed -- Aikido and Weightlifting are mutually beneficial.

From: David Bullock

From personal experience, I would say it may hinder your Aikido development. It's possible if pursued in moderation and for endurance training (light weights & multiple repetitions) it would not, but when I went wild for a period of time, I gained tremendously in strength and went from being average strength in my Sensei's dojo to being one of the strongest guys there(maybe 8th or 10th in strength among about 90 people). This backfired, as I realized that I could, for example force Ikkyu on almost anyone in the dojo and thus I was not practicing the precision needed to improve. This is one reason I think women get better at Aikido than men, namely, they are weaker (don't deluge me with political correctness please, let's just talk reality here with no one getting insulted please :)) and because they are weaker, they cannot do the technique against most of the people in the dojo unless they do it right. This is a great advantage to them, as they learn to do the techniques correctly from the start, instead of learning to immitate some motions they see, then try to figure out later why it worked on a lot of people but doesn't work on the one big guy in class that they usually don't work with!

BTW, one of the best shodan tests I've seen was Diana Bradley, (now a Sandan) at Saotome Sensei's dojo several years ago. She was a literal 90 pound weakling, but she tossed the hell out of a 200 lb uke very successfully so much so that I felt like cheering & saying: "That's Aikido!"

Those of you who are fanatics on political correctness, please don't make me quote all the medical facts to you about the average man's significantly greater strength, esp upper body etc, and yes, I do know that some women are stronger than men etc, but I am speaking of 'reality' here which to me means in generalities and in regard to averages etc. Please dont start any rabid debates over this. Love, DB

From: David Bullock

As I already stated in another post, I think getting significantly stronger is detrimental to your ability to learn Aikido, and it has nothing to do with loss of flexibility! What happens is you cannot avoid using your new found strength to force techniques, and you will not even know you are forcing them! It happened to me, and the way I realized I was forcing techniques was when I laid off the weight lifting for a period of time and let my muscled atrophy back to their former level. Suddenly I discovered that my techniques had more conflict and less harmony than I had thought. I think that at some point, maybe when you're Yondan (4th degree), or better yet Rokkyudan (6th degree) and secure in your ability to discipline your mind and keep improving, maybe then it would be safe to add significant strength and just add that to your technique to make you very formidable. (Note: when I say significant strength, I am not talking about just lifting enough to increase your strength by 20 or 30% and make you feel better, I am talking about doubling or trippling your strength in all or nearly all major muscle groups).

As an aside on weightlifting, you may be interested to know that the newest theory (not just a fad, but proven in competition) is that you should work out only 45 minutes at a time, three times a week! This was developed by a guy whose name I cannot recall at this second, but he was a Mr Universe in the 1960's, then he laid off and lost over 60 pounds of muscle. Later he got it all back (66 lbs of pure muscle in about 4 months I believe) with this routine. Since then the CURRENT Mr Olympia, that gnarly guy from England has adopted this and he now works out 45 min instead of 4 hours! And he took over from Lee Haney. I believe the venue is approximately this: 2 sets on each muscle group(not all groups the same day of course) the first for warm up, the next to max out and burn out the muscle as much as possible. Check into it, if you want to get massive, but don't credit your throwing people around to your good waza!