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You have seen them, the rows and rows of expensive cardio machines upon which so may people rack up countless hours. Most martial artists are more drawn to the kettlebells or dumbbells then they are to these behemoths. Few of the folks perched on theme look very fit anyway.
So why should you consider including them in your fitness program? There are a couple of good reasons actually. First, if used correctly they can provide a good cardio workout while reducing the pounding your joints take. Second, some machines, like ellipticals are designed to reduce the opportunities for you move in ways that can be harmful to your body.
Most martial artists have serious movement impairments at some time in their careers. Usually these stem from poor training programs that result in muscular recruitment patterns that are less than ideal.
I can’t tell you the number of martial artists I have talked to who complain about their knees popping and grinding, yet they never even consider that all of the thigh kicks they receive, all of the sumo squats they do, all of the crazy exaggerated stances they practice might contribute anything at all to their knee problems.
Once a pattern is loaded in, almost anything you do can reinforce that same pattern. If it is causing problems it takes dedicated intervention strategies to correct. Machines, like ellipticals reduce the opportunity to hyper-pronate by forcing your feet to stay on the platforms and move in a pre-established fashion. This can be helpful in reinforcing correct muscle action.
Every couple of months it is a good idea for all athletes to spend some time allowing their bodies to recover from all the abuse it has suffered. This should be a period of lighter activity, in which the joints are not subject to the same amount of pounding as they have received during the previous training cycles. As we age it is more and more important that we allow our bodies adequate recovery time.
Of course there are some true believers out there in the martial arts world who think they get everything they need from their kata, kihon, and kumite. For these folks this a matter of faith, and apparently nothing will disabuse them of this craziness. More rational souls will realize that their karate will benefit substantially from a more targeted approach to addressing fitness concerns that bear on their performance and health. To these people I would like to recommend giving those funny looking machines a try once in a while.
Take a break from jumping around, lifting people, and pounding stuff for a couple of weeks every now and then. During this time these machines can help you get a sufficient cardio workout without inflicting as much pounding on your feet, knees, and back (almost sounds too good to be true to many of us old timers).
I usually impress the hell out of myself when I switch over from running on grass and pavement to running on the treadmill. The treadmill is so cushy, and it always feels like I can run twice as far. Well the truth is that running on a treadmill is easier than running on either pavement or grass. There is much less to adapt to on a treadmill, so all your effort goes into the run.
Keep in mind that you will not be doing yourself much good at all if you use your arms to hold yourself up while using ellipticals, stairclimbers or treadmills. Hypertonic lats, shoulder problems (actually these are closely related), and back pain are all ubiquitous in karate. Spending thirty minutes propped up with your elbows locked, your lats tight, pretending that you are actually using the machines the way they were intended is a sure way to make your lower back creakier, and your shoulders tighter.
If you can’t keep up without bracing yourself with your arms, turn the machine down. You will burn more calories, and feel better for it.
Now go ahead and give that treadmill a go.
In Random Training Notes 16: Heavy Bag Tips, I mentioned the importance of regular feedback from hitting bags etc. in the fighting artist’s training regimen. As important as hitting is, it cane be over done. And without stretching and conditioning, excessive bag work can lead to muscular imbalances that in turn lead to avoidable injuries and performance impairments. So what should a practitioner of a fighting art or combat sport do to stay balanced?
Stretches For Strikers
- Avoid extensive stretching immediately before engaging in heavy striking work. A light pendulum stretch can activate the rotator cuff muscles and mobilize the superior thoracic outlet and sub-acromial space, which may be tight from training/fighting in a “hunched” posture.
- Subscapularis: Shoulder internal rotator. There are also ways of performing this using a stick or towel for assistance, but starting out in the lying position makes it easier to monitor the head of the humerus (upper arm) to ensure that it is not rotating forward.
- Teres Minor and Infraspinatus. Shoulder external rotators. Notice that she is not forcing her arm down. If the head of the humerus wants to bulge forward and the shoulder up off of the table, don’t push it past this point.
- Rhomboids: Retract and elevate scapula. These may lengthened and inhibited from the forward shoulder “hunched” posture common to fighting and training.-Pectorals : Flex, internally rotate and adduct shoulder arm at shoulder, pec minor specifically pulls the scapula forward and down. Do one at a time, avoid the double arm “hanging” doorway stretch.
- Levator Scapulae: Scapular elevator and medial rotator, neck rotator and lateral flexor. This muscle attaches the cervical vertebrae to the upper medial aspect of the scapula. The upwardly rotated, “hunched” position that many fighters adopt during bag work and fighting can shorten and tighten this muscle.
- Triceps: Extends forearm. This muscle is heavily used in straight-arm punches and strikes.
- Biceps: Flexes and supinates forearm. Used heavily in hooks and uppercuts, as well on the return to guard from a strike.
- Upper Trapezius: Assist in elevation and retraction of scapulae. This region of the trapezius may be tight from forward shoulder “hunched” posture common to fighting and training.
- Latissimus: connects the humerus to the thoracic spine, adducts, extends and internally rotates arm at shoulder. These are often tight in people who kick a lot or engage in excessive “air punching.” Hint: if you can’t do a squat with the arms stretched overhead and keep the hands in line with your ears, or can’t help but fold at the waist as opposed to the hips, the lats need serious stretching attention.
- Move the bag where you want it to go, don’t stay flat-footed or let it move you
- Hit it as it approaches and as it moves away
- Karate etc. folks: forget the stances and think about mobility, forget the pull back unless there is something to actually grab
- Work the bag at different ranges and heights. Think about 3-5 strike combinations that move up and down the bag at face and torso heights
- Explore close range hooks, uppercuts, elbows and knees. Your vocabulary can include more than straight punches or swings
- Avoid throwing swings- get close enough for hooks to stay tight, or be far enough that you can extend the arm 3/4 before impact
- Explore hitting the bag at non-optimal ranges and angles to simulate non-optimal conditions
- After each strike return to a guard that allows you to protect your face. Be watchful of the tendency to drop the hands after strikes
- Strike ballistically. Let the shoulders move faster than the hips. Motivate the strike from the shoulder, don’t tie it to the slower movement of the torso
- When going for impact, a higher-pitched ‘smack’ is a good sign, dull thuds are a sign of lower velocity
- Follow through is important, but do not adopt the habit of pushing into the bag
- A good round kick should fold the bag, not just bump into it
- Front kicks may land with more force if you use the heel instead of the ball of the foot
- If you train with a group that questions the need to ever hit things, spend some time hitting the bag and see how you do. All the air-punching in the world doesn’t do much for teaching one how to hit hard. Somewhere along the way this became a controversial idea in some circles
- If you train on the bag hard and heavy quite frequently, consider giving your arms and shoulders a break by incorporating 1-2 week recovery periods and investing time into regular stretching for the pectorals, biceps, triceps, lats, trapezius, rhomboids and rotator cuff muscles
RIP, Ude Makiwara 1.0. Felled by a roundhouse kick in the prime of life. I put this thing in the ground roughly four years ago, and aside from the fungal growth around the bottom it held up pretty well. I learned more from this thing about how to actually hit than from anything else. Fortunately, I just happen to have a fresh log on hand for 2.0…
The VA club has spent the last couple of weekends cleaning out the dojo space to make more room and get rid of damaged equipment. Among the debris was a cheap old chest protector that had seen better days. Fraying straps rendered it a poor fit for some members of the group and the compressed padding really didn’t take anything off of impacts anymore. But this thing has been around since my college days (a friend broke some of my ribs through it with a well-placed back kick, so there is a sentimental attachment), so I decided to see what some heavy luggage straps, a sliced up cheap foam mat, a little patience, and plenty of duct tape could do for it:
$7.95 later and…viola. Refurbished chest protector. One of the advantages of the upgrade is that the slide-adjustable straps make it a tighter fit. Each segment of added padding consists of a strip of heavy 1/2″ foam running in the direction of the musculature and ribs of the front and sides of the torso. There is a quarter inch of space between each strip so that they can move and flex to better distribute impact while retaining a firm shape. Cross-hatched reinforcements protect more of the upper chest area. I’m curious to see whether or not the orientation and structure of the padding makes a significant difference over the original, a synthetic fluff.
It’s slightly more rigid than before, but does a much better job of dispersing blunt impact forces and keeping smaller weapons (point of the elbow, fists) from compressing single ribs. The side panels are now wide enough to actually cover the kidneys and a wider, heavier belt (visible) helps to keep this protection from shifting around during movement.