As some of you may or may not know, I practice a martial art called Wing Chun Kung Fu. One of the key components of Wing Chun Kung Fu is a focus on sensitivity and speed over strength. To master both of these, one has to be relaxed. It requires zero muscle tension.
Sometimes when I go to class, I will get into discussions with Sifu about things going on outside in other areas of my life. I remember telling him proudly that I had gotten into a steady workout routine, which involved weightlifting and cardio. He congratulated me on sticking to it.
Later in class, we were doing a drill that really worked our sensitivity skills. Sifu came by to see how my partner and I were doing. He interjected a few pointers to us both, but then to me specifically he said, “Remember to not be so tense. I know that’s hard for you, what with all the weightlifting stuff you’re doing.” Then he moved on.
His input left me a little bummed out. He had known me for years, knew how out of shape I was and how unhappy I was about it. Now I was finally committed, and he made me feel like I was inhibiting my progression as a martial artist. Was he saying that getting fit was a BAD thing? That didn’t even make any sense!
I started to think about it: his main criticism was related to the fact that when you do a bicep curl, your muscles have to tense up to do the work. Tensing up is exactly what you struggle to NOT do in Wing Chun because that will inhibit your sensitivity to the other person’s movements. It will also decrease your reaction time and lead to faster muscle soreness, because the muscles are constantly clenched.
The sad thing is, my Sifu is not the first person to believe this myth. To see where it goes wrong, let’s look at the structure of a bicep curl.
Your arms start hanging down at your sides, with a weight in each hand. Then you curl your arm upward in an arc until motion is no longer possible, at which point you lower the weights back down. The point at which your muscles experience the most tension is when they pass through the halfway point of this arc, meaning they are NOT at full tension for the majority of the curl. In other words even during your workout, you don’t spend the majority of the time being tense.
Another point that destroys the “weightlifting means you are always tense” myth is the fact that most of my day is NOT SPENT WEIGHTLIFTING. I have an office job; it’s not like I walk around for eight hours a day with my fists clenched as tight as I can.
Last but not least, my fitness routine also includes martial arts training. Therefore, I am counteracting any possible “slow down” that lifting causes by working in a setting where I need to be fast. Since I do martial arts training more than I lift, then any possible adverse effects should be nullified.
As for weightlifting and more muscle mass reducing your speed, there is so much evidence to the contrary that we hardly even need to spend any time on it. Look at any marathon runner with their massively muscled-up legs. Could any of them break running records if muscle slowed you down? Of course not. In the world of Wing Chun Kung Fu, martial arts and sports, all you need to do is look at the blinding speed of muscled men like Bruce Lee and Mike Tyson to realize one simple fact: MUSCLE IS NOT YOUR ENEMY.
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Steve Grogan is the creator of Bully Free Fitness, a site devoted to one simple concept: people who are bullied often have poor self-esteem. A practitioner of a martial art called Wing Chun Kung Fusince 1995 and Team Beach Body coach, and author of THE SEARCH FOR THE WARRIOR’S PATH.