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The Hierarchy of Physical Needs for Combat

The Hierarchy of Physical Needs for Combat 
by J. R. Workman 

For what it is worth skill is what will take you the farthest in a self-defense situation. But without the proper physical conditioning you will be limited when it comes to the damage you can inflict, how long you can last, and how much of your skill you can even usesince if you do not have the required power or strength to disable or submit your opponent or you do not have the endurance to last long enough to find an opening to end the fightthen your chances of safety or survival will be compromised. This is why conditioning your body for self-defense is so important if you want to be able to defend yourself in combat. When it comes to combat, not all physical needs were created equal. There is a hierarchy of physical needs when it comes to combat and some of them are more important and will be more useful to you than others

"But a sound and healthy body is a strong protection to a man, and at least there is no danger then of such a calamity happening to him through physical weakness..." ― Socrates, Xenophon, Memorabilia

The Order of Priority When It Comes to Training 

1. Muscular Development/Strength 

Muscular development and strength are your base because it is size and strength which lay the foundations for power and make everything else more solid

If you are not large enough to harm your combatant or you do not have the strength to be able to hold your own against an attacker and not have them run over you or over-power you; then everything else is rendered less useful. 

The aim is to acquire ample size so that you are not effortlessly pushed around and so that you back enough weight/mass to generate copious quantities of force.  

Strength-wise you should be able to compete against the majority of aggressors without being subdued. 

For self-defense purposes the largest size you can attain without losing satisfactory amounts of power, strength, speed, endurance, agility, or flexibility is ideal. Being too small to the point of missing out on supreme measures of power or strength or being too massive to the extent of dropping speed, agility, or flexibility is going too far. 

As far as strength goes, as long as there is no unnecessary bulk holding you back one can increase their strength-to-weight ratio practically limitlessly (to whatever the individual's maximum attainability is) without abandoning their power, size, speed, endurance, agility, or flexibility because one can improve their strength without increasing their bulkiness or decreasing their overall physical fitness. 

2. Endurance 

Endurance training (conventional cardio, HIIT, muscle endurance, etc.) should come next in order of priority because without it you cannot effectively utilize your power or strength since the use of both of these require at least some endurance and the more endurance you have without sacrificing any strength or power the better off you will be in a self-defense situation. 

There are different types of endurance. Aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, muscle endurance (also known as strength endurance), and others. 

Increasing your aerobic endurance will help you last long periods of time in a fight. It is aerobic endurance that gives you the stamina you need to go the distance. Slow and steady cardio training that lasts for several miles or over an hour in duration works wonderfully for this as does long duration interval training:

"The aim of aerobic training is to improve the working capacity of the heart and its ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles. There are 2 main ways to train this system:

1. Long duration interval running
2. Long distance (low intensity) steady state running

Brooks and Fahey (1985) found continuous training as the optimal way to improve oxygen delivery, while interval training increases oxygen utilization and lactate threshold. With interval training, there is the ability to perform large amounts of high intensity work in shorter time. This type of training can also be manipulated to alter which metabolic pathway is emphasized, longer intervals involve more aerobic pathways, shorter intervals involve more anaerobic pathways." (Endurance Conditioning for Boxing by Grant Kerr)

Anaerobic endurance training is faster and more intense than aerobic endurance and it lasts for shorter periods. HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is an example of anaerobic endurance training. This form of training will help your quick bursts of attacks and offensive combinations last longer and make them more intense:

"Training the lactic acid system involves a special form of interval training that maximally stresses the metabolic pathway at intensities of 85-100% V02 max. It is performed with intervals of 15-40 seconds as well as intervals of 40-90 seconds. Recovery periods are long, as the lactic acid formed leads to fatigue." (Endurance Conditioning for Boxing by Grant Kerr)

Then there is strength endurance or muscle endurance. Performing high repetitions of push-ups in a row without stopping would be an example of an exercise that would require high degrees of muscle endurance. 

Muscle endurance is useful for keeping your muscles from tiring in a self-defense situation whether it is your arms getting worn out from throwing too many punches or from several minutes of grappling/wrestling around and burning out your muscles. Having adequate muscle endurance will help you:

"Strength Endurance – Strength endurance is defined as the ability to effectively maintain muscular functioning under work conditions of long duration. Strength endurance is a vital strength quality for any combat athlete. Power and speed are useless without the stamina necessary to apply these physical attributes throughout the contest." (Strength Training for Fighters by Ross Enamait)

3. Flexibility 

ext comes flexibility training. This will help with mobility and will also enhance agility, by loosening up your muscles and increasing their range of motion. Flexibility is exceptionally important for kickingespecially head kickingand for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu since it makes leg maneuvers (both defensive and offensive) and submissions using the legs much easier to perform. 

4. Speed 

Once you have developed your body to the right size necessary for protection and have plenty of strength and your flexibility is on point speed training is going to take you even further. Size and strength combined with speed create power. Therefore taking time to develop your body to a sufficient size for strength and then working on your speed will lead to you having considerably more power. Even though speed is often more necessary than flexibility due to the fact that it is our speed which helps us execute and land our techniques, flexibility training comes before it in order because the acquiring of it is so beneficial to speed performance. 

5. Agility 

Now is the time to practice agility. Having mastered flexibility and speed which are the most essential foundations for agility, it becomes time to train for agility more specifically. 

6. Power 

After all of that is done we have power training. This is the icing on the cake, this is the final piece! It is your power which will allow you to finish your adversary and which is the most absolutely useful physical need for combat. Power is to combat conditioning, what skill is to combat in general—it is what will take you the farthest for what it is worth. 

Combined with precise timing, power beats speed! This is due to the same reason why counter punching beats combination punching in boxing—one punch landed hard and well beats many punches thrown fast and softly landed. Endurance is also important but if one lacks power having endurance alone will not provide them with the capacity to produce the necessary damage.

The Hierarchy or Order of Superiority 

1. Power

Power is superior to both strength and speed when it comes to both stand-up fighting and grappling. Most of the time powerful people are both strong and fast although if they have enough strength they can be powerful without possessing substantial amounts of speed and if they have enough speed they can be powerful without having significant levels of strength.

Assuming that a powerful person has adequate strength and speed he will have a greater advantage over a faster or a stronger guy assuming he is more powerful because being powerful is the greater advantage of these three due to its ability to inflict more damage and to end the fight quicker. 

2. Strength 

Strength also defeats speed when it comes to both stand-up fighting and grappling because is easier for a strong person of adequate speed to catch a fast person via stand-up strikes or grappling takedowns than it is for a faster guy to hurt or takedown a stronger guy of adequate speed; therefore strength is a greater advantage than speed when it comes to self-defense. 

3. Speed

Speed helps your attacks get there. But without competent strength, it lacks power and without requisite power, it cannot cause acceptable damage. Speed in itself does not help much if someone does manage to get ahold of you since without suitable strength it can be difficult to escape. 

4. Endurance

Endurance is what keeps you going. Without endurance, you will not last the full duration of the fight. If you lack endurance you will become too tired to utilize your skills to their fullest potential because you will lose the ability to execute them at your best. Endurance without speed to help it land the moves and power to help it carry out damage cannot do very much. This is why power, strength, and speed come first. 

5. Agility

Agility is what helps you use your speed and is what makes your speed effective. It is your ability to use your speed to move efficiently and avoid attacks or belt them out.  Without speed agility is impossible, therefore speed is more important than agility is. But without power and strength, speed and agility will not make as much of a difference because they will cause no pain. 

6. Flexibility 

Flexibility is great for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (executing and defending against submissions) as well as doing head kicks, but it does not do as much damage as power or strength can and it is not as useful as speed or endurance due to speed helping you land the techniques and endurance helping you to keep going in the fight

Read my articles on health:

Kerr, Grant. “Endurance Conditioning for Boxing.”, 2003,

Enamait , Ross. “Strength Training for Fighters.”, 2006,