Bartitsu Fitness

Training the fighting skills of Bartitsu can help with your fitness goals, but skill development should be your main focus in class. We set aside some time in class for strength and conditioning, and you should continue this work outside of class for the best results.

Warm Up

Always begin your physical activity regimen with a warm up that elevates your heart rate and activates all of your joints.

  • Jogging
  • Jumping: skip rope, jumping jacks, jump-squats
  • Joint rotations: start at the neck and work downwards
  • Jujitsu: breakfalls, rolling

Note that stretching is not part of our warm up. Mobilizing the body is important before working out. Holding stretches is inherently immobilizing and therefore lowering your heart-rate, but more importantly, it weakens the joint which is a bad idea before subjecting your body to hard work. Stretching comes at the end.


Before we get too far into our workout, we should have a quick water break. Not only is drinking water important during your workout, but drinking plenty of water throughout the day will improve your body composition, joint mobility and so many other aspects of health.

Indian Club

The piece of athletic equipment most closely associated with the Victorian age is the versatile Indian Club. It’s like substituting a bowling-pin for a dumbell. In fact, some call it a club-bell.

Here’s two videos of Indian Club swinging – one with light clubs, the other with heavy – to give you some idea how to use them:

Bartitsuka will recognize many of these movement patterns from walking stick self-defense. The Indian Club will improve grip and wrist strength, besides working every muscle of the body in ways that support power generation in combat.

Barbell Training

Using free weights at the gym is what most people today associate with strength training, and in my opinion, it is the most effective. There are a few key whole-body exercises and their variants to work on; don’t get bogged down with the thousands of terms and isolation exercises for every body part.

The essential lifts are: Deadlift, Squat, Press. The power moves are: Clean & Press, Snatch.

Please get proper instruction (this is not the blog to get in-depth for each move). If you can’t get a trainer to teach and supervise you, at least go to for great advice, animations to show all the critical steps, and good progressions.

If you’ve never done these before, start with an empty bar and add weight gradually.

These are listed from heaviest to lightest, so that a person who knows how to do these equally well should be able to deadlift a lot of weight, press moderately, and snatch the lightest amount. It’s also a good order to learn the exercises due to difficulty.


The bar is on the floor just in front of your shins (shoulder-width stance). Grip the bar with one palm facing you and one away, but make sure you’re bending your knees with hips back so that your back is straight. Flex your back, bringing your shoulder blades together and downward. Pull the bar from the floor by focusing on bringing your hips forward.


With the bar across your shoulders (head in front), feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and toes a little outward, bend your knees and sink your hips backward, keeping your chin up. Stand up again, focusing on pressing down with your whole foot and tensing though your core.


Needlessly called the overhead press or the military press, you push the bar over your head until your arms are straight. Bring your head backward as you bend your elbows, so that the bar returns to near your clavicles or collar-bones.

Clean & Press

In the Olympics, they use the clean & jerk, but the idea is the same: Pull the bar from the ground with a deadlift, but with extra energy and a bit of a jump to get the bar all the way to the start position for the press. Then, press it.


The snatch is the most difficult lift because it’s like a shortcut though the clean & press. Starting in a deadlift postion, but with hands very wide, you begin the deadlift with so much energy that you throw the bar directly overhead into the press position.


I use a lot of different workouts, and some say that changing your routine every few weeks is a good thing to keep your muscles adapting to new stimuli.

  • Any of the lifts described above can be done with a dumbell or a kettlebell for one-handed training.
  • The most popular variant on the press is the bench press: to lie on your back and press the bar away from your chest. The push-up is an adequate substitute if you do not have a bench.
  • Control and good form are important to avoid injury, but that does not mean always going slow. Applying the most force will get you the best results, so push as hard as you can within your control.
  • How heavy? You should have trouble on your sixth rep. If you can do ten repetitions of an exercise, it’s time to add a little more weight. Try to progress each week. If you go a few weeks without progressing, it’s time to take a week off.

Cardio and Stretching

After your hard lifting work, that’s the time to run or bicycle or climb stairs. Twenty minutes should do it.

Finally, some stretching. A whole-body stretching routine or yoga are good options, and if you have a sore muscle group from your workout, take extra time to stretch it. You can read my previous article about stretching towards the splits here.

Come Out of Your Corner Fighting!

You’ve done your conditioning, and you’ve studied the skills, so let’s see what you’ve got.

This Friday, being the second Open Floor of the month, is Bartitsu sparring. Join us tomorrow evening for some informal bouts of boxing, jujitsu, purring and cane fighting. Academie Duello at 8pm.


David McCormick Head of Stage Combat at Academie Duello and certified Instructor with Fight Directors Canada. Head of Bartitsu at Academie Duello, the longest continuously running Bartitsu program in the world.
Read more from David McCormick.