How can one bulk up with lean muscle and do Aikido?

Aikido is a martial art in which while being relaxed (read: compliant) joints are stretched, twisted or hyperextended, so joint and ligament injuries are very common. The dojo is rife with injuries.

For the initiated, the problem is the wrists are usually tender (from nikyo), as are shoulders (from zealous pins and imperfect ukemi) so bench presses are painful; the knees are often inflamed (from shikko and seiza) so squats and lunges can be agonizing; and there is often general injury to the elbows (from hyperextension due to udegarami/jujinage) which can limit lifting anything heavy.

Strength training and bulking are different things. How can one bulk and do aikido? Or does bulking necessitate giving up aikido?


5 Answers 5


Quote from your message: "The dojo is rife with injuries."

Find a different dojo. Seriously. In this I agree with Sardathrion.

In your reaction to him you state: "...but even the teachers are quite injured. It's the culture."

All the more reason to leave and never go back there.


First and foremost:

The dojo is rife with injuries. [...]

This should be ringing many alarm bells. This is a sign of a bad teacher and a Mc Dojo. Get out and never come back before it is too late! You only have one body and when it gets injured, it never fully recovers. Keep good care of it. Any dojo who state that you should "power through the injuries" is not a place anyone should train at. If everyone is injured, including the instructors, then that dojo is worthless. It has failed in the most basic of self defence: that of safe guarding its members' health.

Second, on one hand bulking up can reduce your flexibility thus making it harder to escape some techniques safely. On the the hand, it make protecting your joint easier so you have that going for you. I trained with several body builders and this was a common feature. However, another one is very bulky yet very flexible. Can you bulk and keep (or increase) your flexibility? I have no idea how -- try fitness.

Thirdly, do you want to be like Alain Robert or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Both are very strong but look quiet different. Of course, unless you have no need for a job, achieving either of these will be but impossible. There are lots of training regimes to get either ends but this is not the place for it -- try fitness.

  • I did get out, to work on my health and physique. I'm really built now. People keep touching me randomly. The dojo - it's super famous and everyone trains 5-6 days a week, but even the teachers are quite injured. It's the culture. We don't complain, we just power through the injuries. I had to get out to heal and grow. But how can I return and keep bulking?
    – Drakes
    Feb 1, 2016 at 10:18
  • 5
    @Drakes: Any dojo who state that you should "power through the injuries" is not a place anyone should train. If everyone is injured, including the instructors, then that dojo is worthless. It has failed in the most basic of self defence: that of safe guarding its members. By "get out", I meant get out and never come back. Answer edited. Feb 1, 2016 at 11:10

Just start a strength and conditioning program normally. Aikido is far from the strenuous end of the activity spectrum, and genetically-average amateurs find the way to weight train alongside just about everything. Make a slight allowance for Aikido crowding out lifting time and recovery resources, but just do it.

If injuries or immobile joints are in the way, fix them and proceed as stated in previous paragraph. It doesn't sound like the injuries you describe preclude squatting, deadlifting, or lunging--your only complaint seems to be that it's hard. Attention: proper training is strenuous. It's also not clear how jujinage prevents you from doing pull-ups unless there's a full-fledged injury, in which case, again, address the problem and move forward.

  • Thanks, but you'd have to experience the aikido injuries I describe to know the difference between 'hard' and painful. Also, this doesn't address bulking.
    – Drakes
    Jan 31, 2016 at 18:02
  • This is the correct answer. Drakes, if your joints are hurting, you need to fix that first before lifting, assuming you can't lift while they're in pain or stiff. If you're new to aikido, wrist pain and pain from sitting in seiza, etc. will happen. It's normal. You'll get better, and that pain will either go away or will become smaller over time. If you're 3 months into it, you still feel that pain, your aikido teacher doesn't have a solution, and it's preventing you from lifting weights, quit. You're better off. Because nobody needs that crap. Joints are not something you mess with. Feb 1, 2016 at 4:07
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    Bulking is not something that interferes with aikido, nor vice-versa. So I think the question about bulking is a little strange to me. You need to be able to lift weights, first of all. You need to have your joints free of pain. And you need the time to lift weights. If you lack the time, or your joints are messed up, those are your issues you need to figure out first. Any aikidoka can bulk up. It just takes time and effort. Most don't, because most people don't put in the effort to get muscular, period, regardless of whether or not they're doing aikido. Feb 1, 2016 at 4:10
  • @SteveWeigand For context, I'm 7 years in, and I quit for 1 year to bulk. The longer you're in, the more the injuries accumulate and compound in aikido. So yes, aikido interferes with bulking. Joint health is critical for lifting. So your answer is to stay quit then?
    – Drakes
    Feb 1, 2016 at 4:25
  • @Drakes How did the year off go? Did you fix your injuries? How big are you now—because being undersized and weak makes people more prone to injury, and maybe that's not the case anymore. Are you still trying to get bigger, or just to get stronger while maintaining your roughly current size? How many times a week do you lift, or did you train aikido? Feb 1, 2016 at 9:21

Forget machines, bench press, or any of that. You're not trying to become static or develop slow, crushing 'python' strength in aikido. Rather, you're trying to go for dynamism. You want to flow and crash. Fast, hard and weightless.

Here are some real strength practices I can suggest as opposed to the regular "strength training" you'll find in any men's health or body-building website.

  • Progressive calisthenics (consult convict conditioning; paperback)
  • Muscle control (look up MAXICK, monte saldo)
  • Olympic weightlifting and plyometrics

Names in strength to look up:

  • Eugen Sandow
  • Mighty Atom
  • John Grimek

The following is Kron Gracie's workout routine:

I like to get outside, be in nature, jump in the ocean, so I do an hour run, a two-hour bike ride, or a 40-minute swim. I warm up with 100 pull-ups and 100 dips. Two days a week, instead of cardio I have a second two-hour jujitsu session. I do less weight training than people think. In the past year, I've lifted weights maybe three times. It's all push-ups, pull-ups, jujitsu. -- http://www.details.com/story/brazilian-jujitsu-champion-kron-gracie-workout-and-diet

While Kron practices a different martial art, I think the emphasis on body weight exercises is applicable to anyone trying to build lean muscle.

  • 1
    Gracie Jiujitsu is also a very strenuous, active martial art. You will use your muscle and cardio-vascular system. Do that often (Kron probably works out every single day multiple times a day), and you'll be in fine physical condition. Aikido isn't like that. There truly are an awful number of fat, absurdly out of shape black belt aikidoka. So that's out. But the idea of just going out, biking, swimming, maybe play tennis, do a bunch of pull-ups and push-ups, etc., that stuff is great. That's the way to do it. Weight training is very effective, too, though. Feb 1, 2016 at 4:17
  • Where does this refusal to consider weight training come from? What about bodyweight training is so appealing? Feb 1, 2016 at 7:44
  • And did Kron actually gain muscle with his described program? He has fought MMA and BJJ in the 170lb/77kg division for his entire career, dating back to his teens, and even if he cuts he doesn't cut much. So we're talking about someone who is athletic and well built, but not notably big or strong or muscular within his sports. Beyond that, I'd attribute his current build to doing BJJ through puberty more than bodyweight training. Feb 1, 2016 at 9:27

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