Four Pillars of Strength: The Workout (diary entry)


As part of my combat conditioning programme I returned two private Triple C students, who are currently training with me, back to the basics. Although it is relatively easy to keep going with high intensity interval training using exercises that are hard but require a low skill level I feel it is important to start working a strong structural base. There are countless exercises, but there are four that pretty much cover everything and have plenty of variations to keep things interesting.

All training was performed in an unheated shed at 9 o’clock whilst snow fell outside. Neither student was particularly experienced or of a high level of fitness. Both were dedicated to their purpose and both completed the full routine giving it their all.

The purpose of this routine was as much to show each student an objective and the path to take in order to fulfil it as it was to work their muscles and increase their fitness. The objective was to learn the core basics of fundamental strength exercises. They were not specific martial arts exercises, but nevertheless should be learnt in order to go onto specific functional fitness exercises. I top and ended the routine with some intense cardio to make up for time spent “teaching” their muscles to work in a certain way.

Warm-up – Two-on-One Focus Mitt Drill

Bearing in mind I teach martial arts and self-protection first, I always try to incorporate something that is directly relevant to that side of my training. We each did 3 x 1 minute work on the focus mitts. This entailed having two people working the focus mitts from all angles and ranges. You strike one pair of mitts and are hit from the other. Once you feel the contact from the other pad-person you switch your attention to them. The only verbal commands are to change postures – on knees, seated, on the back and standing. The striker also had to negotiate their way around various hazards and obstacles.

Four Pillars of Strength

We performed one set of each exercise in sequence for one round and then two more rounds with a different variation. All sets were done from 10 to 30 repetitions.

First Pillar – Chest Dips

The chest dip is at the extreme end of a press-up/push-up. For the purposes of this introductory lesson we did the following:


1st Round


Novice – Assisted chest dips – feet supported a distance away from the chest dip station (bodyweight)

Medium – Chest dips (bodyweight)

Advanced – Chest dips with a plate (or plates) on a lifting belt


2nd Round


Novice – Standard press-ups (bodyweight; work between assisted push-ups to push-up holds to actual push-ups)

Medium – Explosive press-ups (bodyweight)

Advanced – One Hand Press-ups


3rd Round


Novice – Wide Press-ups (work between assisted push-ups to push-up holds to actual push-ups)

Advanced – Alligator Press-ups (bodyweight)


Second Pillar – Dead Lift

1st Round

Standard Dead Lift or Romanian Dead Lift

2nd Round


Novice – One-Legged Dead Lift (bodyweight)

Advanced – Weighted One-Legged Dead Lift


3rd Round


Reverse Dead Lift (A.K.A. Hack Squat)


Third Pillar – Pull-ups

1st Round


Novice – Inverted Rows (overhand grip)

Medium – Standard Pull-ups (bodyweight)

Advanced – Standard Pull-ups with plate on a lifting belt


2nd Round


Novice – Inverted Rows (staggered vertical grip)

Medium – Commando Pull-ups (bodyweight)

Advanced – Commanded Pull-ups with plate on a lifting belt


3rd Round


Novice – Inverted Rows (underhand grip)

Medium – Chin-ups (bodyweight)

Advanced – Chin-ups with a plate on a lifting belt


Fourth Pillar – Squats


1st Round


Novice – Goblet Squats

Medium – Box Squats

Advanced – Back Squats


2nd Round


Split Squats


3rd Round


Novice – One-Legged Squats (bodyweight)

Advanced – Weighted One-Legged Squats




2 x 30 reps rapid kicks

1 minute straight strikes

10 x Burpees

Static stretching to warm-down


Four more details on the Four Pillars of Strength concept see "Foundation Conditioning Part 1"

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