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Part  1 was entitled Basic Physical Training Concepts for Karate Practitioners. This installment’s differently worded title is a reflection of our broader focus on fighting arts and sports as opposed to simply karate.

Stagnation: Too Much of a Good (?) Thing

Martial arts are often marketed and practiced as if they are a finished product with set training and methods. The entrenchment of this idea varies from circle to circle, but it is quite common. It’s very appealing to both new students and long-term students alike. Predictability and stability are things that we tend to gravitate towards in our choices of recreational activities, as can be seen by the guy who goes to the gym and does the exact same workout every visit, or the  karate sensei who plans each class to be a further exposition on the basic techniques that the last year’s worth of classes were based on. Stagnation of training activities can take the form of:

  1. repetition of specific skill-based activities: techniques or drills, especially elementary techniques
  2. repetition of physical conditioning exercises past the point of useful adaptation

For new students the appeal of a set training format is very strong, as it minimizes the new material that they have to learn on a given night, which reduces anxieties and confusion in front of more experienced students. A handful of things can be learned, whether that be a drill, technique or conditioning exercise,  and then repeated reliably in each successive class. This is a comfortable routine, and if it is tied to claims of efficacy or magical thinking, the new student may place an inflated value on whatever he or she has done the most, regardless of ability.

For the long term student, stagnation may be appealing due to one of two factors:

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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

Regular stretching for the prime movers, synergists, stabilizers and antagonists involved in punching  is vital, especially during periods of intense striking work on bags or pads. This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers the muscles that are most prone to interfering with punching dynamics. If you do frequent, intense bag work, consider including 1-2 week recovery periods of very light or no bag work into your training routine. Corrective exercise and self myofascial release are also recommended to provide the optimal length/tension relationships for the muscles and promote efficient recruitment patterns. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds, repeat x 2 times per day, especially after hitting bags/pads/makiwara. This list is loosely organized from smaller muscles to larger:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Triceps: Extends forearm. This muscle is heavily used in straight-arm punches and strikes.
  7. Biceps: Flexes and supinates forearm. Used heavily in hooks and uppercuts, as well on the return to guard from a strike.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Relevant surface muscles of the back and chest

Deeper relevant muscular anatomy
Deeper muscle layers, rotator cuff muscles and tendons

Train Smarter to Fight Harder

There’s a growing recognition of the benefits of evidence-based training methods for the fighting arts. More and more martial arts sources are beginning to discuss the benefits of periodized training and activity specific conditioning. As tempting as it may be to assume that these developments “already exist” within traditional or standard training approaches, sports science and the broader Human Movement field are way ahead of the training notions that are common in most fighting art. Consider that martial artists have always adopted the  most promising training methods of their time- why should now be any different? Although more people are catching on, there still isn’t much practical information on how a student, fighter or coach can go about implementing these strategies into their own training and practice.

For the past several years we’ve been working on introducing modern periodized training methods to the broader martial arts community. Our blog is chock-full of relevant studies, reports, and training tips for avoiding training injuries, improving performance and making the most out of training time. With credentials in both the fighting arts and modern evidence-based training methods, we are poised to offer further consultation and information that is beyond the scope of this blog.

Our Fitness for the Fighting Arts DVD’s and educational materials are still in the works, but in the mean time we are available to offer consultation for martial artists, amateur and pro competitive fighters, coaches and club owners. If you are interested in tapping the knowledge base of NASM-certified trainers with over 45 years of experience in training and teaching, visit us HERE to find out what we do, how it can help you, who we are and samples of what we can offer, and how to contact us.

Improve how you train, improve how you teach, improve how you perform.

Bob reviews a movement analysis with a 2010 F4FA Seminar participant
Explaining rotator cuff stretching methods at a 2010 F4FA Seminar
Discussing performance problems related to impact conditioning at a 2010 F4FA Seminar

If you spend any time looking at ads for  gyms, fitness fads/gadgets,  or catalogs, you’ll notice a cookie-cutter image that repeats itself over and over: rippling abs, cut groins, peaked biceps, etc.  Many martial arts supply catalogs, advertisements and media persist with the stereotypes described above.   Yet fighting arts are obviously high-demand activities, and the fitness required varies for different levels of participation (hobby, competition) as well as different focuses (wrestling, boxing). The fact is that the demands of a fighter’s activities will dictate how he or she trains, and those two factors will dictate how his or her body adapts in response (along with genetic and morphological factors). So what does the appropriately fit fighting artist look like? Hint: probably not the same as fitness models or body builders.

I stumbled across a very interesting photo collage over on the excellent Stumptuous.com. The photos show various Olympic athletes alongside each other for comparison. For our purposes, notice the contrasts between wrestlers, judoka and boxers.

Athletic body diversity reference for artists

Stumptuous

Over the last year, Bob and myself (with the help of folks in our respective groups) have been working on a variety of projects related to our Fitness for the Fighting Arts (F4FA) programs. In February of last year, we held the inaugural F4FA seminar in Virginia. At last year’s TKRI/Seijinkai Summer Camp Bob introduced many of the injury avoidance concepts to attendees. Currently he’s working on an instructional DVD, which will put extremely useful information about activity-specific injury prevention and performance enhancement strategies into the hands of trainers, instructors, coaches and practitioners of the various fighting arts. We’re also working on developing a series of seminars and workshops that are tailored to the concerns of specific fighting arts and sports.

In an effort to make all of F4FA content accessible in one location, we’ve developed a home web site to house the F4FA project:

Fitness for the Fighting Arts

Some of the content is still under construction, but we hope that the new menu will be easy to navigate and simple to understand. Several areas on the site offer information about the program and related materials:

About Us- the Maximal Advantage Training System

Seminar and Workshop Program Packages if you’re interested in hosting an F4FA seminar, browse the program options and contact either myself or Bob, depending on your region of the country.  More information on each package and pricing information will be coming soon.

F4FA Instructional DVD Samples

Articles and Resources

More information will be added in the next several weeks, but if you’re interested in finding out more, contact Robert Miller or myself using the email addresses supplied on the site.

If you’ve ever heard something like “we’ll do 500 punches/kicks to relax you- after your muscles are too tired to be involved, you’ll have pure technique” then you have heard some of the inaccurate training information that has plagued karate training for a while. It might make sense on the surface; relax those pesky prime movers and let my hips take over. Sensei says that muscle and strength won’t help me, only perfect technique.

Right. In the meantime, the damage that this sort of thing will cause to your joints, tissues and functional movement patterns will probably end up counter balancing any development that you may make. If the example above were so, why don’t we see professional American-style football coaches making their players do biceps curls and pushups to failure right before working on precision passing technique? This topic can get into some sophisticated concepts and jargon pretty quickly, but suffice to say, quality of practice and movement is more important than quantity- and focusing on quantity can sharply reduce quality.

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The Fitness for Fighting Arts seminar weekend was a great success. The weekend was packed with an incredible amount of vital information, hard work and a lot of fun. This was truly a group project- it is in no way an overstatement to say that it could not have happened without the ideas, enthusiasm, help and support of the following people:

Pam and Rob Turman, and the Fit Club gym

Robert Miller

Steve Klausmeier

Gillian Russell

Kevin and Dina Reilly

David Campbell

Katy Simpson

And of course, coffee.

Stay tuned for sample video content and information from the seminar, as well as updates on our ongoing projects.

TKRI and the Rocky Mount, VA FitClub gym are pleased to announce the upcoming Fitness for Fighting Arts seminars, to be held on Feb. 20th and 21st.

Registration and  Schedule information, FAQ and Flyers are available here:

Registration

Seminar Schedule

FAQ

Flyer

To clear up some confusion that a couple of readers have mentioned: this is going to be a one-day seminar; it will be offered on Saturday, and again on Sunday.  Both days will present the same seminar- when you register, you are only registering for one day, there is no need to register for both days unless you wish to do it twice. All attendees must register by the deadline. We hope to see you there!


Robert Miller has been training and teaching karate for more than 30 years. His explorations into effective training and technique have led him to pursue training in Aikido and Judo, studies in anatomy, kinesiology, and education, as well as cross-training with a diverse range of classical and modern martial artists. To further his understanding of effective training practices and dispel  the myths about training that exist within many “traditional” karate circles, Miller recently completed Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist certifications with the NASM. This is part 1 in a series of interviews with him about the role of sports science in designing training programs for the fighting arts that are as safe as they are effective.

Bob, you recently attained Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist certifications through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). What can you tell us about how both of these fields overlap with karate training, and what can they offer to someone who trains, or teaches karate?

Personal training is a pretty broad field, it is sort of what you make of it. The organizations that certify  personal trainers vary widely in both their content, and the depth of knowledge they expect of trainers. I chose the National Academy of Sports Medicine for its rigor, its emphasis on “evidence based” training, and because they spend a lot of time dealing the “why” of various training programs. It is a very empowering program. I recommend NASM to anyone considering a career in health and fitness who wants to do more than just lead an occasional aerobics class. That stuff just leaves me cold I’m afraid. I tend to be pretty uninterested in marketing the most current, shiny, new fads in fitness. That’s probably why I resisted becoming a “ninja” in the nineties, why I don’t turn out ten year old black belts, and why I am not marketing what I do as some sort of MMA now. Same thing with fitness; I want sober stuff that works, and does not bankrupt my students/clients.

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"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin

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