As a  strength and conditioning coach, students in our school often ask me what they can do to be more fit for Krav Maga (KM). My first thought when anyone asks me what they can do to be fitter, is why? Or more precisely, what is it you are going to be doing that makes you want or need to be fitter? In the world of fitness training, context is king. “I need to be fitter because I have young kids and I can’t keep up with them anymore”; “I want to be fitter so I can train more effectively in my sport”; “I am having trouble lifting and carrying my groceries these days, so I want to get stronger”. The reason, situation or context here is vital and plays a large part in guiding the components of your subsequent training program.


To come back to martial arts, conditioning performed for one martial art is often  very different to that done for another, based on the physical demands of the discipline. For example, having trained for high level sport karate competitions I know that developing speed and explosive power is essential, whereas overall strength and explosive power are higher priorities for wrestling. As many of you probably know, unlike most martial ‘arts’, KM  is not a competitive or artistic discipline. In fact, it is more accurately a martial system than an art. So to decide what type of conditioning is best suited to improving the fitness of KM practitioners, I need to know what demands will be placed on their bodies when using KM.

When KM practitioners have to use their skills it will either be in a school training situation or real life. Unlike other martial arts which involve competitions there is no specific time frame for which a KM practitioner needs to prepare. No five-minute round that is finished with the ringing of a bell. If you are attacked in real life, that engagement could last five seconds or five minutes. While most street fights tend to end pretty quickly, if confronted with multiple assailants you could be facing an ongoing skirmish until you can break free and make your escape. So should a KM practitioner be training for every situation? Ideally yes. Most of us though do not have two hours a day, seven days a week to work on our fitness in addition to our skill based training. Those sorts of numbers are only achieved by professional fighters or the obsessed. We can, however, train to develop the appropriate energy systems and improve our overall muscular strength, power and endurance.

To better illustrate what I am trying to achieve with this training plan imagine a real life situation where you are confronted by three would-be assailants. After being threatened for money and sensibly tossing your wallet to their feet, they decide to attack. You assess and react to the initial attack (5 seconds) and then run for it. After a short five second sprint (10 seconds), one of the assailants catches you by the shirt and pulls you to a stop. Again you defend and strike that individual while attempting to maintain good positioning and awareness of the other assailants (20 seconds). You break away a second time and start running, but get surrounded as you reach a wall (30 seconds). This time you have to engage with all of the assailants, pacify two of them and repel the last  (50 seconds) before starting to run again. You finally stop running when you can no longer see or hear the last assailant (120 seconds). From start to finish the encounter lasted two minutes.

Now, aside from making the mistake of disengaging too early, which enabled the attackers to catch you again, what can you observe or speculate about the movements in this example?:

–          many full body movements occurred

–           there were bursts of more intense movement

–          heart rate and breathing rate were high

–          there were very few times when rest could be achieved

Now I know that not every encounter will be the same or even similar to this. If, however, we consider this to be a worst case scenario as far as the length of time involved, then we can use it to guide our training. Based on the above analysis, the training for such a situation would need to include the following:

–          full body movements

–          explosive movements [1-10 seconds]

–          short intense bursts [10-30 seconds]

–          longer, semi-intense efforts [30-90 seconds]

–         few or no static rest periods within the work phase

KM requires training that shares common elements but is different to other martial arts, as it is not a sport in which rules and regulations help to define necessary training areas e.g. five minute rounds in the UFC. The real-life practice of KM is highly variable but will certainly involve short bursts of intense full body movement, interspersed with somewhat less intense activity, along with potentially fast paced running. In the next article I will suggest ideas for structuring an initial solo workout program and provide an example program, that could be used to begin training.

Written by: Josh Hensman