I am kind of a total beginner. I did some Tae Kwon Do when I was little, but I don't take that much into account, considering everything; I always liked Martial Arts and everything that revolves around them.

So, in the case that I want to choose one in the future, what exercises can be done alone by someone with no or little experience? Are there any?

I mean this as a physical preparation and training: including jogging, etc, I was wondering if there were some extra exercises particularly useful for (want-to-be) martial artists that are safe even if done alone.

And this unavoidably brings me to ask: what exercises a beginner must absolutely avoid to do alone?

  • Very similar question. Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 18:09
  • @DaveLiepmann That's actually a dupe of this one.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 18:17
  • I understand what you mean, in that the questions are similar and yours is first. However, I think both stand on their own and are not exact duplicates. The answers here focus more on the "what exercises should I avoid" and "what exercises require no knowledge", whereas the other one focuses on "what preparatory work should I do". I wouldn't be opposed if they were merged, however. Closing the other one would be misguided in my view. Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 18:20
  • @DaveLiepmann I don't know, to me they looked similar, but then again... I might be wrong. :P
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 18:21

6 Answers 6


Firstly I really apologise for this round about answer.

To train as a martial artist really requires that you seek out proper instruction from qualified, competent instructors. They should lead you through the appropriate exercises based on your physical fitness and ability.

That said, any exercise that causes sharp pain, dull continuous pain or that causes recurring pain is usually worth avoiding. You will get a range of opinions as to specific exercises, if you really want a better answer you should seek out an exercise professional (qualified martial artist/gym instructor/personal fitness instructor) who can evaluate you in person.

If you don't have any of these available and are learning completely from books then go slow, get a range of resources, use pain and soreness as a guide and use your common-sense.

Was thinking about this overnight, and in terms of physical preparation for studying martial arts I'd say there are three main areas that you can give some focus to before beginning. Of course the most important thing is to actually get along to a class.

  • Cardio
    Jogging should be fine for this. If you can get a slow jog happening for 15-20 mins you'll be streaks ahead of most people who start a martial art. Jogging is also good for recovery training. Perform a faster jog until you're puffed, then walk for 30-60 seconds and repeat.
  • Flexibility
    Some basic leg stretches (from a seated position to avoid injury)
  • Basic Muscle Strength
    Lots of martial arts classes have students perform sit-ups, push-ups and squats/horse stance as part of basic warm ups. If you can make a start on these three exercises then you'll have a head start. When performing any of these moves focus on correct technique rather than number or repetitions or speed. If you are unable to perform the exercise then start them from an easier position (eg. from your knees for push-ups).
  • Nice answer, I appreciated what you added later! :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 15:44

Like Sardathrion said, Cardio is very important. Stretching is also vital, I've tweaked my planting knee because I can't split my legs far enough apart. There are a number of very good books on Amazon about martial arts stretching and exercises.

I know some people who self trained them selves through books, like Bruce Lee's Tao of Jeet Kune Do. But honestly not learning from an instructor in an art you like will only get so far. Not having someone to critique your form, your angles, foot shape, fist and wrist, etc could lead you to injure yourself on easy exercises. One example is I had an improper kicking form and poor foot shape and ended up spraining my ankle and toes on a heavy bag.

Keep up the jogging, especially road work with good shoes (lowers the stress on your legs and knees). Stretch every morning, before and after every work out, getting your legs as flexible as you can. Do burst exercises with light weights, to build up your reflexes and quick twitch mussels (the Type 2 muscle fibers). Shadow boxing is also very good to do, keeping yourself on your toes, moving and soft bouncing, keep your hands and guard up and visualize an attack and defend and counter. Do that in intervals and stress you but don't completely burn you out.


Rule 1: cardio!

It applies not only in a zombie apocalypse but in all martial arts. Let's face it, it is always useful. Any exercise that will increase your cardio are good provided you do them in a safe way.


The major thing you might want to avoid is anything that can harm your back. Really, most muscles and tendons can cope with some inappropriate handling, but your spine (including your neck) is the one part of your body you do not want to mistreat.

This applies specifically for abs-exercises. When you join a dojo, ask your teacher if you and he can work together to find some variants that will work your abs without involving your hip-flexors directly (you might want to look at Janda Sit Ups).

The reason for this is that most experienced martial arts practitioners have strong enough muscles to protect their backs, but as a beginner you might hurt your spine by performing classic abs-exercises. A classic sit-up predominantly uses the hip-flexors to pull up your upper body using your spine.


Exercises to do

You should develop the primary physical attributes for combat sports: strength, power, mobility, conditioning. This will involve learning: you should not restrict yourself to exercises which "can be done alone by someone with no or little experience".

(Much of this answer is cribbed from my answer to a similar question.)

Therefore, you'll want to first develop an aerobic base, best developed by running, swimming, rowing, or biking over medium-long distances. That could mean getting a solid mile or 5k time, or rowing 2000 meters on a machine. You'll want to train basic prerequisites for strength training: push-ups, pull-ups, dips, air squats. You'll also make sure that you've got the necessary mobility for rigorous training, like an effortless third-world squat, front rack position, and good posture. If you're not fit, I'd recommend the training program in Robb Wolf's book, The Paleo Solution (which is mostly about diet, but has a very respectable ramp-up program for physical training).

Once these basics are in place, the more important strength training can begin: barbell squats, deadlifts, bench and overhead presses, power cleans. The book Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore is a great choice at this point. You'll still work on conditioning and bodyweight stuff during this time, but the priority should be resistance training. The medium-distance runs would become less frequent, the bodyweight work relegated to warm-up or accessory exercises at the end of a workout. Short, high intensity conditioning work such as kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell complexes, sled drags and Prowler pushes, sprints and hill sprints would fit in a few times a week after you've developed a reasonable level of strength--a dozen pull-ups, a bodyweight squat for reps, a greater than bodyweight deadlift. Setting goals like a double bodyweight squat or deadlift, or a bodyweight press, are helpful in spurring progress as long as they don't cause you to overlook injuries or mobility problems.

Eventually you'll want to add power development work to your strength training. Exercises would include snatches, jerks, push presses, broad jumps, height jumps, and increasing the priority of power cleans. Benchmarks such as a bodyweight clean-and-jerk or being able to jump up to sternum height are useful goals.

At that point I'd also consider gymnastic work: work yourself up to a pistol (and then jumping or weighted pistols), front and back levers on rings or a bar, muscle-ups, backflips, and so on. These feats build on your strength base and develop other attributes like balance, proprioception, and coordination. They're also clearly impressive.

This training would take several months to several years, and would well prepare you for technique training and sparring once you have the chance.

Exercises to Avoid

Do not engage in bodybuilding, because it has goals contrary to the goals of athletics. Avoid excessive long-distance running; as Forrest Morgan notes in Living the Martial Way, long, slow, plodding exercise makes for long, slow, plodding fighters.

In fact, don't get too hung up on any one activity: combat sports and martial arts are best performed by people who are athletic across essentially all disciplines. Those who specialize in strength, or mobility, or cardio, or any other attribute all suffer because opponents can exploit the inevitable areas where the specialist is deficient. A combination of gymnastics, Olympic lifting (accompanied by the attendant strength training), and various forms of cardio and locomotion is generally ideal for general purposes and preparation for martial arts.


This is very well-intentioned, but it is also a Bad Thing.

If you want to study martial arts, find a teacher. You are responsible for joining a martial arts school as a blank slate, without any preconceived notion of how to move or what is good or bad for you. Any knowledge you THINK you have will hinder you.

So - don't do anything. Find a teacher. Learn from him or her.

  • And what about the people who don't have access to teachers?
    – J Sargent
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 19:32
  • 1
    @NoviceInDisguise If you don't have access to a teacher, then we must first set expectations properly: the highest martial skill you are likely to reach (unless you have an innate aptitude for this) is a fairly proficient brawler level. If we agree on this, then there are two things that you must do: basic conditioning and basic stretching. Ignore weight-lifting for now, as it has very specific benefits and isn't worth it early on. For both conditioning and stretching, any "beginner's book" will get you started, and you can refine your knowledge from there on as needed.
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 19:55
  • Probably true to an extent
    – J Sargent
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 23:47
  • I'm not given to flattery ;)
    – J Sargent
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 3:59

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