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From ATA World Volume 20, Number 1 – Spring 2013

Arms for kicks?

Of course strong arms affect the efficacy of your punches and blocks, not to mention the crisp power you demonstrate in your forms. (Not to mention how great you’ll look in sleeveless tops!)

But did you know that powerful arms make for powerful kicks too? Says Master Gavin Espinosa, owner of ATA Fit Martial Arts in Stevenson Ranch, Calif.: “When you’re looking to create power in a front kick, a side kick, or a round kick, your arms can be incorporated to generate momentum.”

Think about it from a physics standpoint. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” says Espinosa. “When you throw a kick, whatever direction it’s going, just by mere physics there is always an opposite reaction. In many cases, the hands and upper body serve to stabilize or serve as a reverse movement to generate power for the kick.”

That means powerful arms aren’t just for tank top season or for punches and strikes. Powerful arms are for total Taekwondo.

The Elements of Arm Strength

But developing the arm strength for traditional and Xtreme martial arts is about more than, well, brute strength. You also need to consider:

Speed: When you try to land a punch or spin that jahng bong, your arms need to be fast. You can develop this with speed drills where you do moves as quickly as you can without losing your form.

Power: Powerful arms will help you make the heavy bag rock with your strikes. Think of this equation: Power = strength + speed, so working on these aspects will help you build your arm power.

Flexibility: Good flexibility increases the range of motion in your arms. “Let’s say I wanted to do a high block, but I can only lift my arm up halfway,” says Espinosa. “Then I’ve limited my ability to cover the full range needed to protect my head.” (Check it out: The resistance band exercises below will also help you boost your range of motion.)

Endurance: This measures how long your muscles last before they poop out. For example, if you’re sparring, you don’t want your arms to get tired before the round is up. You can build up arm endurance by increasing the reps you do in each set of arm exercises, using a lower weight than you would for just strength. Your arms will get stronger, and they’ll also get tired less easily.

Skill: This includes agility, coordination, balance, and reaction time. Skill is necessary because all the arm strength in the world won’t help your martial arts if you don’t have the skill to back it up. “What good is it if I have the strength to stop a punch but I don’t react fast enough to be able to make that response?” says Espinosa. Luckily, you can develop skill and power through the Taekwondo exercises, forms, and drills you do in class and at home.

Men - and Women - At Arms

While many men covet rippling muscles and bulging veins, women typically prefer a toned look. Often, women will eschew arm exercises, fearing they’ll develop “manly” muscles.

The truth is actually more in a woman’s body makeup than in her workout. Most women don’t have the body composition or hormone levels to really bulk out compared to men, no matter how much power punching and lifting happens. When women power-work their arms, the result isn’t typically bulk, but definition, shape, toning, and overall power.

But if you feel you’re getting too bulky, focus on high reps rather than high weight.

Yovanna Guiterrez, a Blue Belt, certified trainer, and student of Espinosa’s doesn’t even use weights—she relies on boxing, kickboxing, and MMA, plus full-body workouts, to keep her arms strong.

So keep in mind, ladies: Pumping heavy iron isn’t the only way to go!

To Arms!

Toned, powerful, flexible arms can be yours with martial arts techniques. In addition to your usual martial arts exercises, try the resistance band exercises (below), recommended by Espinosa and Master Kevin Henderson, owner of Henderson’s ATA Martial Arts in Atascocita, Texas. All you need is a resistance band, which you can find at sporting goods stores, your ATA school, or Choose a band for your level: lighter if you’re a beginner, heavier if you’re more experienced. You can get them with handles or without, and in sets with a variety of weights.

Then use this workout to arm yourself for a great summer and a successful tournament! ATA

Master Gavin Espinosa and his student, blue belt Yovanna Guiterrez, demonstrate. Resistance bands like this one can be found in sporting goods stores, your school, or Ask your instructor how to get the ATA heavy wave bag pictured here.

3 sets of 12-15 reps each
Targets: Biceps
Stand on the center of the resistance band, legs hip-width apart, and hold one end of the band in each hand with your arms straight down in front of you, palms up. Pull the handles to your shoulders and return to the starting position.

3 sets of 12-15 reps each on each arm
Targets: Triceps
Stand on the resistance band with one foot and bring the other foot through so the band is on your back foot. Grasp one end of the band with one hand and bring your upper arm up next to your ear, so it’s perpendicular to the floor. Your elbow should be bent so your fist is behind your ear. Straighten your arm over your head, pulling the band taut, and return to the starting position. This is one rep.



3 sets of 12-15 reps each
Targets: Shoulders
Holding one end of the band in each hand, stand on the middle of the resistance band with one foot and bring the other foot through so the band is on your back foot. Bring your arms up so your palms are facing forward and your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Lift both hands overhead, pulling the band taut, and return to the starting position.



3 sets of 12-15 reps each
Targets: Lats (see chart for more details)
Grasp the middle of the band with both hands, with the hands several inches apart and at about forehead level in front of you. The band should be taut between your hands. Bring both hands apart and down so you end up with the band across your chest, elbows slightly bent. To target the right muscles, imagine you’re pinching a coin between your shoulder blades. Return to the start position.

Start with one minute; work your way up.
Targets: Builds speed and power and works the pectorals
Loop the band around a heavy wave bag, turn your back to the bag, and grasp one end of the band in each hand. Execute a punch, one arm at a time, as fast as you can without losing form. For extra power, have a fellow student hold a target for you to hit.