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Don’t try this at home…
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.
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:
- repetition of specific skill-based activities: techniques or drills, especially elementary techniques
- 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:
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.
Submitted by guest author Tommy Pressimone
Karate is supposed to be good exercise, but why is sensei so fat? How important is our training? I suppose a lot depends on individual goals. The debate still runs deep over what is real or not so real or correct or incorrect or the importance of this or that. All that aside, there is a common element that is often overlooked or at least taken for granted; that of “exercise.” While training should be specific to your goals (in other words if you are training to fight then train to that end, if you are training to perfect form then train specific to that), at the heart of it all should be vigorous enough training/exercise for a fit and healthy body.
If you were to begin weight training you might start out light and eventually progress to hoisting a decent amount of weight. What was once heavy now seems relatively light. However if you stop progression and remain at that weight the exercise benefit will begin to drop. The body is able to adapt itself to many things over time and needs to be attacked from different angles all the time…mix it up. Martial arts practice can be the same. If you do the same thing all the time it isn’t really “training” anymore. More of a routine. We need to constantly challenge ourselves and stay fresh; we need progression. The point here is not self defense, not fighting and not martial arts specific. What I’m talking about is health, specifically heart health.
I found this article by Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS very useful. It was published on the Sharkfitness blog and is called “Plyometric Training: What It Is and What It Is Not.”
Here’s a small exerpt:
“As a performance enhancement consultant, it has been my experience that “plyometric” training is one of the most requested forms of training by athletes. All have heard the stories of great power development accredited to this method of training. To add to the mystery, plyometrics originated as a training method in the secretive eastern block countries where it was referred to as “jump training”. As the eastern block countries rose to become powerhouses in sports, plyometric training was credited for much of their success. In the 1920s, the sport of track and field was the first to employ a systematic method of using plyometric-training methods. By the 1970s this methods of power development was being used by other sports that required explosive power for successful competition.”
After reading it I realized that I am going to have to be more careful throwing around the term ‘plyometric’.
Find the whole article here.
I strongly believe in supplementing karate traininig with free weight training and aerobic fitness training. Keeping an exercise diary is a great way to stay objective about your workouts and helps in identifying areas that you may be neglecting.
I have found a very simple, but effective diary available to download for free at topshareware.com. After installing it open the program and click the “setup” tab in the lower left corner of the window. Then click on “exercise”. At the bottom of this list is a blank tab where you can enter whatever you would like. I have added “kata”, “makiwara”, “heavy bag”, “jump rope”, “chishi”, etc to mine. The set up is pretty intuitive and I have not had any problems.