This is one of those questions that gets gym-goers and fighters perpetually arguing. Frankly, it isn’t easy to be objective and have an unbiased opinion when you belong to either of these communities.
As someone who goes to the gym frequently for general health but also trains MMA, I’m informed enough to tell you that strength is very relevant to fighting. Not nearly as relevant as technique but relevant nonetheless. Being stronger than your opponent will always be an advantage.
This doesn’t mean that the stronger person will always win. Technique and experience take precedence but it would be foolish to imply that physical attributes like size, strength, and speed don’t play a role in any type of physical confrontation.
Why Being Strong Helps In A Fight
I think the best way to demonstrate the importance of weight in fighting is to extrapolate it into combat sports. In Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, & MMA, weight classes exist and they exist for a reason.
Take, for instance, Demetrius Johnson. A world champion and arguably the best Mixed Martial Artist ever. Despite standing at 5′ 3″, he would easily beat the majority of men in the world in hand-to-hand combat. This is simply a fact, a trained professional fighter will have no trouble against someone considerably larger than them. However, if DJ were to fight an elite lightweight, he’d most likely lose. Simply due to size and strength.
Technique takes precedence in a fight but there is a degree where the strength disparity is so overbearing that technique no longer makes a difference. However, strength doesn’t always equate to muscles. Some of the strongest people will be out of shape but possess natural compound strength that can genuinely apply. This type of strength can’t be measured on the bench press or through bicep curls. Very often it is a natural characteristic that someone possesses through their bone structure and muscle insertions. Bigger people usually carry more of this natural strength and if they have been trained to an equal level to that of someone smaller, they will usually win.
Does Being Muscular Help In Fighting
Not really. More often than not professional fighters will be toned & lean, but they won’t carry unusually large amounts of muscle mass. This is for two reasons. Firstly, they are competitors and need to be mindful of how much oxygen is used throughout a fight. Larger muscles require more oxygen so unless they provide substantial functionality, they are not worth having.
Secondly, big aesthetic muscles like that of a bodybuilder won’t give the functional strength that is required in fighting. This is because of the type of exercises that are required to grow muscles in the desired fashion. Being muscular doesn’t mean that your functionally strong. You may be immensely strong in an individual movement but that won’t be applicable to fight. Lastly, having overly large muscles also decreases mobility which of course impacts your movement and speed. Both of these are integral in hand-to-hand combat.
Strength In Grappling Explained
Anyone who’s ever wrestled or grappled will understand the importance of strength. However, its also important to take into consideration that usually when you’re fighting someone considerably stronger than you, they will typically be larger as well.
Where you will feel the strength disparity is resistance. You’ll struggle to control your opponent’s wrists, their grip will be stronger than yours and when they establish dominant positions, they will be able to shift your body mass much easier than you can shift theirs. This means that they will have greater control which often leads to them winning the fight. But this is assuming that you are equally competent grapplers.
If you’re far better technically, you’ll usually get the better of your opponent in grappling exchanging unless they are massively stronger to the point where technique and mechanical leverage become redundant.
Strength In Striking Explained
Aside from technique, the biggest factor for power in striking will be weight followed by your muscle fiber structure. This isn’t holistic strength but rather the explosiveness your muscles can generate. If you have a high composition of fast twitch muscle fibers, you’ll be able to generate power in small spaces with great efficiency. This has nothing to do with how strong you are overall. Rather, how much power you can generate from a strike.
However, being able to generate power and being able to direct it effectively are two very different things. Power can be a useful tool but the most important element is accuracy. If you are a competent striker, having a power disadvantage isn’t the biggest issue.
This is because you understand distance management, footwork, and movement. To summarise, specifically, power is important when it comes to striking and it is still not the most important facet.
How A Weaker Person Can Beat Someone Stronger
The answer to the question is very simple. Skill. Even if you’re someone who isn’t particularly strong, you can go to an MMA or Boxing gym and they will teach you the necessary tools to defend yourself from larger opponents. This will more often than not negate the strength difference and allow you to easily get the better of a stronger opponent.
However, there is a limit as I mentioned. At a certain point, the strength disparity will be too great. For instance, if you only weigh 120 lbs, you’ll probably always struggle against someone who is over 200 lbs unless you’re an elite professional fighter. In these cases, you’ll want to continue your training but also bulk up and build some strength. The added strength coupled with your martial arts training should be more than enough in most cases to compensate for a strength disadvantage.
Is Getting Stronger Worth It For Self-Defence
Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean spending all day in the gym lifting weights. It’s about using specific movements and exercises to translate into improved compound strength rather than isolating muscle groups like a bodybuilder. The objective of weight training in a self-defense context is to build pure strength that can be then directed through martial arts efficiently. Having bigger biceps or a bigger chest will not translate into real-world results so there isn’t an emphasis on aesthetics.
Getting stronger for self-defense means using movements like deadlifts & squats along with plenty of ballistics training and HIIT circuits. Incorporating lots of bodyweight exercises like pull-ups is another great method to increase functional strength. This is because it forces you to have control over your whole body, from your legs to your core, back, & arms.
Without having good control over your body, you can’t expect to gain control over someone else’s in combat. This is simply the nature of fighting.
Yes, being strong does help in a fight. It’s not nearly the most important factor but it is a factor nonetheless. If you and your opponent are untrained it can often feel like to most important thing in a fight but it isn’t. Unless you’re massively weaker than your opponent, a small amount of wrestling and boxing training should be enough for you to have the advantage.
If you are considerably weaker then its worth implementing some strength training so that your body is structurally sound enough to ensure that the techniques you learn work efficiently.