Weight training for IMA

Discussion in 'Internal Martial Arts' started by Dan Bian, Nov 27, 2013.

  1. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    I came across this article on a facebook group.

    I'll be honest, I'm not an expert on weight lifting, but what the article was saying seems to make sense - what do others think?


    I will say that I believe weight training should be a part of any serious internal martial arts training system.
    It's daft to wrap a blunt needle in cotton, and expect it to pierce the opponent.
    The needle needs to be sharpened.
  2. Johnno

    Johnno Valued Member

    I don't know about the other IMA's, but for Taiji there is no need to do weight training. If you try to use strength against someone with greater skill then they will simply beat you more easily. Surely the essential point is to relax and to have correct structure and movement? As soon as you try to use force then you are at a disadvantage - unless you are against someone who also lacks relaxation and structure, in which case simple strength may well prevail.

    There's nothing wrong with weight training in itself, but I can't see that it gives any benefit whatsoever for Taiji. I think it is actually counter-productive, if we rely on greater strength to give us an advantage.

    I am probably twice as 'beefy' as my instructor, but it doesn't give me the slightest advantage over him where Taiji is concerned. His level of experience and skill is far greater than mine.
  3. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    I think weight training has a place in Taiji; however it should be approached from a 'sung' point of view.
    Instead of just powering through, utilising the internal softening method as you lift, to feel and release excess tension during slow reps.
    Basically, stay as relaxed as possible during, and always balance out this 'Yang' training with complimentary 'Yin' training.

    When doing any sort of 'harder' training, be it weights, bagwork, sparring etc - you should incorperate the 'Yin' elements of releasing excess tension, regulating the breath, softening the core..

    When doing 'soft' training, such as zhan zhuang, taiji form, tui shou, qigong, there should be a firm 'intention' behind the exercise, giving it purpose, so you're not just waving the hands through the air.

    Yin including Yang, and Yang including Yin = Taiji..

    Just my thoughts on it..
  4. Johnno

    Johnno Valued Member

    That I find a more intersting idea, to be honest. Flipping it around if you like, and using what we learn from Taiji and trying to apply it to other things.

    I haven't done any weight training for yonks, but I do go running regularly. I've been trying to apply the relaxation that I learn from Taiji, and it seems to have helped me to improve my running technique a lot. To be honest, a lot of it is visualisation, but the end result does seem to be greater relaxation. My times are improving - so I'm doing something right!

    I suppose I've always used it to some degree without making a conscious effort to do so. Simple things like pushing open a door, I use my whole body and not just my arm, so I expend less effort. I can see how weight lifting would benefit from that approach!!
  5. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    Sounds like good training!

    I think this is the 'Neigong' aspect of Taijiquan - instead of Taiji being something we 'do', it becomes an actualised part of us, that permeates through everything we do.
    Softening and relaxing, awareness of what is going on in our own bodies..
  6. Ero-Sennin

    Ero-Sennin Highly Skilled Peeper Supporter

    To the bolded: Not really. Strength can overcome skill in a lot of situations. It's when the strength levels are similar that skill overcomes, or if the skill greatly exceeds that of the stronger opponent.

    Weight training is a great way to train the mind-body connection, learn how to control and deepen your breath, and hone in on how to focus. If you seriously weight train you learn how to relax under tension and it certainly promotes good structure and movement. Weight training can be a lot more than just trying to push or pull weight around in the gym. Arnold was real big on a "mind to muscle" connection being focused on for every contraction, and if you watch a posing routine those guys have phenomenal control over their bodies. There are so many kinds of weight training with different focuses, and the kind you would do for IMA probably isn't one of the more well known methods.

    Most people think of hate, rage, and willpower in the weight room but it can also be very zen and therapeutic in a more gentle way. Like any form of weight training, what you get out of it is an indirect benefit to your actual training unless your goal is set exclusively to the weight room. The weight room doesn't have to be about strength, and can very much be about correct posture, fluidity of movement, mental focus, stability, and mind-body control. Strength just often comes as a benefit, and I can't see why anyone would avoid getting stronger with all the health benefits associated with it . . . and the strength. :p
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2013
  7. Johnno

    Johnno Valued Member

    I was referring specifically to Taiji. I'm probably twice as strong as my teacher, but he could throw me around like a rag doll if he chose to, and trying to use strength against him would just make it easier for him. [Edit] That's because his skill level is much greater than mine, like what you said. I think we both misread each others posts to some degree. [/edit]

    If you've never done Taiji then that might sound a bit odd, so I'd say consider this simple analogy: which is easier to push, a handle or a rope? And have you ever tried the trick of lifting someone who is tensing up their whole body, and then trying to lift them again when they are completely floppy?
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2013
  8. philosoraptor

    philosoraptor carnivore in a top hat Supporter

    Weightlifting has always been meditative for me. There's no outhinking it, no negotiating, no bargaining, you just have to move dat weight. All of the problems in my life go away except for dat weight.
  9. Ero-Sennin

    Ero-Sennin Highly Skilled Peeper Supporter

    I would be inclined to say you fall into the "other person has greatly exceeded your skill level." There are plenty of people strong enough to lift and toss a dead floppy weight as they are a stiff and solid one, and pushing the rope would just turn into dragging it when you apply a little aggressiveness and determination. :p

    I'm not trying to one up you though with whatever you're pointing out! I'm fully aware that the concepts in IMA are completely different but I scrounged around the web to find an old exercise I used to do that is a completely different kind of weight training than what you would see in the gym, and there are a lot of exercises like it. This is what I'm talking about with what I was mentioning for weight training being a little different for IMA.

    (Video Below)

    This movement is called the 'Bent Press.' There have been a few big names who could lift an extreme amount of weight doing it but what's interesting is it's not a movement you can do with what's generally considered 'traditional weight training methods.' For this movement, once you're in the "up" position (weight is above shoulders) you're no longer holding the weight. You bend your body and let the weight rest on your center line, which is why you're off on an angle. When you push the weight over your head, you're not actually focusing on pushing the weight overhead. As you twist your torso down you keep your arm in the position it is, and by maintaining your center of balance in opposition to the weight it "goes up." You feel it in your shoulder certainly, but the lift isn't in your shoulder. When you stand up you are again focusing on your centerline to stay stable. The lift feels like a combination of yoga (that's how the effect feels on your body), meditation breathing, and weight training. You also learn to not fight the weight, because it's not an exercise you can power through and it takes a lot of mental discipline to execute.

    This exercise is very much about giving, relaxing, breathing, and having mental discipline and focus more than it is about moving a weight in any given direction, all in coordination with your center line of balance. Those are pretty close to the core of IMA are they not?

    Edit: Just saw your edit. My first paragraph is meant for comedic purposes so I'll leave it but I did read your edit!
    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_A4q50xZpU"]32 kg Kettlebell Bent Press - YouTube[/ame]
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2013
  10. Ero-Sennin

    Ero-Sennin Highly Skilled Peeper Supporter

    As a side note, the guy in the video linked above does his own variation of the bent press and he's relying a lot on his own strength (which is why it looks like he's about to pop a hernia). If you Youtube "Bent Press" you'll see a few videos with some guys doing much better technique and moving a lot more fluid with the weight above their head. I used to do this exercise with a 60 lb dumbbell which is only 10lbs lighter than the kettle bell in the above video, and I did it for reps of 8-10. I also reached the arm that isn't holding the weight between my legs, some people touch the ground, there are other variations and the above video isn't the best technique wise.

    I honestly picked that video because the guy was all muscly and sexy and whatnot. Don't hate. :p
  11. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Hey DB,

    I think that article has some good points in it.

    My two pence which mirror some of what has been said here.

    I used to do quite a bit of weight training prior to starting Taiji. Throughout the years I have had periods where I would work with kettlebells for several months, following traditional kettelbell protocols.

    In my opinion, whether weight training will be beneficial to their Taiji or not, is really down to the individual’s body awareness and knowledge of how to train in a balanced way without developing habitual movement patterns i.e. movement without awareness.

    In terms of practice, when my skill level was lower, I did find that the added strength helped to pull off moves with poor technique, as I could simply muscle my way through. Long term, this is not a good way to go as it makes you more reliant on strength at the expense of awareness, also likely leading to developing some bad habits. However, I also found that some people could easily negate my strength advantage with their skill, including people who I could previously overpower and those who very clearly had much less strength than me, but were obviously much more efficient at using what they had compared to me. When I experienced this I again invested more time in to developing awareness in movement and ability to change (i.e. not allowing the opponent place or space to use their strength or skill).

    Overall I would say, there isn’t really a right or wrong way here, just a matter of being aware of how and what you’re doing in relation to your goals. Both strength and awareness/efficiency are important attributes, but their relevance changes according to your own condition, so ideally you don’t want to limit yourself and should be able to change in accordance with the conditions as they arise.

    These days my ideal training method is cooperative and uncooperative partner work as you can train both skill and strength at the same time and if your partner is of a similar level or better, you can often see what you are lacking and work to balance it out within the same practice methods as well as having some specific areas to work on in your solo work. Of course the goal here is very specific in that it is about getting better in your art, but you may have other work or life considerations that you may need to address where weight lifting would be beneficial. As long as you approach things with awareness and are mindful of your actions, you should not have a problem.

    Anyway, I think if you do go for weight training, kettlebells would be my recommendation, the movements are generally multi-dimensional and in my opinion there is more crossover to the way we move. You can also do a lot of the “stone lock” type exercises which as I understand were/are pretty common in traditional practices, we had a nice thread on them a while back:

  12. Fish Of Doom

    Fish Of Doom Will : Mind : Motion Supporter

    "if you train this Taiji lineage daily and still feel like you have it in your legs for a weightlifting workout, then there is either something wrong with your Taiji or you are lifting such light weights that you might as well go bike riding instead."

    ^someone didn't read up on his exercise physiology and energy systems :p (btw, talking about the physiological ones for ATP replenishment, not the TCM/CMA concepts). only half serious here, as the author knows his/her material, but simply waiting a few hours and eating a snack will be enough after an endurance workout to go do a strength workout, or vice versa.

    the author also seems to be speaking specifically about using the weight training to directly impact your taiji, for which case his/her arguments apply, no questions asked, however that is probably an inefficient way of going about it, due to the way taiji works (taking a roughly horizontal force and redirecting it to the ground or off to the side is almost impossible with free weights unless using a cable stack, which can get damaged if dropped or moved too fast and is thus unsuitable). using it to train your body in general, and then adding the taiji on top of that, however, is a different thing entirely, since in a physical sense taiji is essentially endurance and body mechanics training. the body awareness developed by taiji can help you lift better by being better able to control how you move the weights (and some lifts require a damned high amount of body awareness and control to do right/safely), and, as i pointed out here, muscles are how your body moves, so if you keep up your sung training AND get stronger (and for this i agree with the suggestion of the olympic lifts), you'll have a greater force output when doing taiji techniques, because the muscles that do them will be stronger (where the sung keeps the antagonist muscles from screwing around and causing tension to appear). what i think would be an even better idea would be to lift weights separately from your taiji, and without aiming for specificity but rather for general health and whole-body strength, and to then do zhan zhuang immediately after, so that your strength is spent and you can focus on your endurance, on using the minimum force necessary to maintain the position (because you simply can't really use any more, you HAVE to be efficient) and on releasing any tension you may have acquired during the lifting. if they have to be done on the same day, my suggestion would be to do it earlier in the day, for the same reasons.

    as an aside, i don't think i've openly said this before, but i consider that the lack of physiological information on the movements of internal martial arts is a huge problem, because it leaves the functioning of IMA purely confined to interpretation of semi-abstract terms and analogies, which can be very useful by themselves, but can also lead to erroneous interpretations, which in turn even though they can work to improve one's IMA, they can also cause misunderstandings when contrasted to things which are studied, explained and classified scientifically, and the meanings of which are very well defined.

    /my 2 cents
  13. Ero-Sennin

    Ero-Sennin Highly Skilled Peeper Supporter


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  14. Rand86

    Rand86 likes to butt heads

    Somebody needs more uphill in his diet. :D
  15. Ero-Sennin

    Ero-Sennin Highly Skilled Peeper Supporter

    I have never seen a serious biker who didn't have mini bowling ball calves. :p
  16. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    There's already a precedent in CIMA styles of training explosive power generation with weighted objects, like long spears/poles for example. Bagua is known for over sized weapons, and several teachers amongst CIMA were said to have trained with specially made swords deliberately made heavier for training rather than fighting with. I have even heard of people using metal instead of wood to get heavier long poles to work with and train fajin and that's from the most famous of tai chi family lineages!

    Depending on what you do with them they can help with explosive power issue ("fajin") and/or endurance and just simple basic strengthening up of the body. Though with some of that you could go with bodyweight exercise too.

    So sure anyone wanting to expand this to other weighted items, I think can only increase these benefits if done intelligently. But training should be well balanced, that's my only personal caveat..
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2013
  17. Wooden Hare

    Wooden Hare Banned Banned

    "Now, what if I sprinkle a little external on my internal?..."

    This is why they used to call it "alchemy".
  18. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    ps. Forgot to mention a very common exercise, particularly in tai chi, which are basically 2 person fajin drills. One person pushes into the other with an engaged structure the other then proceeds to borrow and issue force.

    So this is an exercise where you use force to move a weighted object through space, in this case another person. This often gets overlooked as essentially being a weight training exercise, though it's more than that too.
  19. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    This is what i do.
    Any lifting is followed by gentle stretching and some zhan zhuang to find and release excess tension.
    I particularly like Tim Cartmell‘s xingyi neigong set as a post-lifting warmdown.
  20. Mangosteen

    Mangosteen Hold strong not

    IMA isnt all that competitive am i correct?

    Unless it's for vanity or competition, lifting is just a choice.
    its pretty essential for competition strength development and injury prevention though.

    with lifting for IMA - as Fishofdoom hinted toit's like any sport, you usually avoid doing movements that replicate the sport in any question because you're likely to screw up the motor patterns involved. you would also usually carefully plan out their year into blocks to ensure that at some points of the year they focus on strength, other times on skill or cardio

    the article - i personally wouldnt use olympic weightlifting with anyone unless they were competing in weightlifting but i would use the components such as power-jerks, high pulls deadlifts and fronts squats. I've avoided the full lifts with the athletes i've worked with unless i'm under direct orders from the head coach.

    olympic weightlifting is cool but it's not the best tool. i would rather see better strength and greater kinastethic development if i had an IMA competitor from regular lifting and bodyweight work.

    and personally, i would stick them with quite a few bodybuilding type things, because a bigger muscle has greater strength potential and soreness is pretty amazing at developing kinastethic awareness.

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