Dear Mr. Christensen,
Recently I heard that doing deadlifts and squats are very good for developing legs and lower back to handle the stress of kicking. In the past I have just done bodyweight squats.
If I add deadlifts and squats, for developing kicking speed and power (I don't care about getting "big" muscles) should I do high reps and low weight or low reps and higher weight. I just want to be in good condition to avoid injury and thought these two exercises may help pretty well. Your insight would be greatly appreciated.
Answer from Loren W. Christensen, author of Solo Training and Solo Training 2:
You're smart for thinking about training your body to avoid injuries. So many don' t and so many get hurt. Train smart and you will train a long time.
Regarding high reps vs low reps: As I have written in all of my Turtle Press books, I recommend heavy weights and low reps. The neat thing about going heavy is that it stimulates your fast-twitch muscle fibers. So you get strong and your physical speed improves. What' s heavy? As I discuss in Solo Training (video), "heavy" is a poundage that makes you grimace, strain and barely complete the eighth rep.
High reps and light weights stimulate your slow-twitch muscles fibers. Not good unless you want to be slow. Now, it's okay to go light and do high reps once every couple of weeks or so to give your muscles a rest and to surprise them, but mostly go heavy. Get strong, get fast.
Regarding deadlifts: Personally, meaning that this is just my opinion, I think deadlifts are extremely dangerous. One little error, one little distraction, and you might be doomed to a lifetime of back pain and debilitation. Ask anyone with a bad back what that feels like.
I think your lower back gets plenty of work with all the martial arts that you do. Couple that with core work, as I show in Solo Training 2, and you will develop a powerful midsection: front, back and sides. All top trainers emphasize the core these days.
Regarding squats: Done incorrectly, weight squats are dangerous for everyone. Done correctly, they can be dangerous if you have a preexisting condition, such as a bad lower back, bad knees, ankles, and so on. The problem is that sometimes you don't know you have a preexisting problem until you load a barbell and squat down. That twang you just heard from somewhere in your body is not a good thing.
In Solo Training (video) and Solo Training 2, I show how to do squats with dumbbells. These are safer and you work your grip and forearm muscles at the same time. Wrap a towel around the handles to really work your grip muscles.
Lots of fighters do free-hand squats, such as Hindus (Solo Training 2). They are done fast and explosively. Many instructors recommend working up to one set of 500. Since they aren't done slowly but hard and fast, there might not be the concern over the high rep slow-twitch muscle stimulation.
Since I don't know for sure, I just do 100 and hold on to a couple of dumbbells. That's 100 in one big fast set. You walk funny for a while after, but I've put on some muscle and have definitely seen a power improvement in my kicks.
Keep at it Matt. With your obvious right attitude and inquisitive mind, you're going to go far.
Loren Christensen, www.lwcbooks.com