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As of today, the TKRIblog will redirect to the Fight Sciences Research Institute blog. For readers familiar with our former TKRI blog and identity, you can expect the same high level of quality original research and articles, training information and ideas, discussions, and accurate resources about the fighting arts and sports.
We invite you to follow us as we kick off a wider exploration of the fighting arts and combat sports and all related topics. If you found our old site useful, the new one will be packed with even more research, news and training ideas.
And we’re just getting started.
The modern understanding of “the core” and the need to properly condition it has become well known among athletic and active people, including martial artists (yes, the importance of the hips has been belabored for centuries, but the modern anatomically based concept is not necessarily the same thing). The core refers to the muscles, connective tissues and bones of the torso, yet to many it’s just the rectus abdominis (the “6-pack’). However, the core can be more accurately thought of as the support, stabilization and movement system for the spinal column. This stack of 33 vertebrae (24 moving and 9 fixed) is connected by many ligaments and muscles, which provide oppositional tension akin to the guy wires on a tall tower.
This is a follow up to Bob’s introduction to rhabdomyolysis as it relates to martial artists.
Rhabdomyolysis is the destruction of skeletal muscle leading to the release of the muscular tissue components creatine kinease (CK) and myoglobin into the bloodstream (Huerta-Alardin, Varon & Marik, 2004). These components can pose a potential serious risk to the kidneys as they are cleared from the blood stream. Rhabdo can be caused by numerous factors, and can cause symptoms ranging in severity from mild to life threatening. Classic symtpoms include muscle pain, weakness and darkened urine (ranging from pinkto cola colored). Blood tests reveal elevated serum CK and myoglobin levels. More severe cases may present symptoms such as malaise, fever, tachycardia, nausea and vomiting (Huerta-Alardin et al., 2004). In severe cases acute renal failure can result, requiring medical attention.
The link below is a must-read for instructors of any fighting art or sport. Simply replace “soccer” with karate/Judo/MMA etc. and be leave your assumptions at the keyboard. Of particular interest are “Myths 1-5,” which seem to be standard in the so-called traditional martial arts, yet are not shown to actually improve a learner’s ability to learn a skill and to parameterize (adapt to new/changing conditions) it as needed in relation to performance environments and action outcomes. In fact, common practices such as endless, detailed feedback, blocked repetition and authoritarian instructional styles actually degrade skill learning.
The floor is open for discussion…
The practice of martial arts has come to be diverse in terms of the wide range of arts and schools available and in terms of the population that is involved. Physical fitness and talent may only be required to a small degree, or they may be paramount to success. Students may be dedicated about conditioning, or they may be “weekend-warriors” whose primary physical activity is a class. An instructor may be qualified in a technical realm but not be a good source of information in others, such as the nature of violence. The need for Evidence Based Practice (EBP) is just as high as in any other vigorous physical activity, yet appeals to tradition, history and authority and “experts” often lead students and practitioners to accept dubious information or ignore new information, which can have consequences on a number of levels. For this discussion, the practice of the various martial arts can be divided into two realms: recreational (i.e., oriented at self defense, fitness, cultural, etc.) and competitive (amateur or professional competition). Most of this discussion will focus on the recreational realm.
An extreme example of a lack of critical thinking and evidence-based practice can be found in the cult of personality that has developed around Ueshiba Morihei, founder of the Japanese art of Aikido.
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.
- 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
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.
When training combinations on a heavy bag or pad, or working combos in sparring, pay close attention to what your hands and arms do immediately following and between strikes. A few tendencies are very common:
- dropping the hand to waist height in between strikes with a bent elbow
- pulling the hands all the way past the lateral line behind the body
- letting the entire arm hang straight at the waist
These are common habits, especially among people who are new to training, bag work or successive sparring. People who train in arts that emphasize a “pullback” motion in tandem with every strike are especially prone to it, and it’s a habit that should be discouraged. I understand the utility of a pullback to create a force-couple with the target, but it is absolutely useless unless something is actually being grasped and pulled back- keep the other hand near your face, where it can serve a purpose (keeping your face from being rearranged).
Ideally, you want to train in the habit of returning the hands to a guard that covers the face following each strike. I prefer a higher guard, but the happy medium between people’s personal preferences is one that places the hands someplace between the chin and temple. If this is something that you or a student has a hard time doing, try the following strategies:
- Adopt the habit of keeping your thumbs or palms in contact with your temples. You may not prefer a guard that is quite this high, but the tactile feedback of the thumb contact often works better than repeated verbal coaching about the location of the hands. Once you begin returning naturally to this position, thumb/skin contact with the temples is no longer necessary.
- Put your bag near a mirror (or a mirror near your bag) so that you can watch what your hands do.
- Ask a trusted training partner to slap you lightly in the face when your hands drop during a drill. Touching may get the idea across, but a few light slaps will provide quite a bit more motivation to keep your guard up between strikes.
- Take a resistance cable or band with moderate tension and wrap it across your upper back, in line with the shoulders. Grasp the handles at roughly chin height. As you strike the bag (lightly) the cable will produce higher tension, providing an external motivation to return them to your face as opposed to dropping. Don’t let the tension cause your elbows to flare too wide from the body.
I’m in the beginning phases of a Masters degree in Human Movement science. This process will have a major impact on my knowledge of training practices and program design, and I anticipate that much of what I learn will spill over into this blog in the form of correlations to how training for fighting arts may be improved. The other students have diverse and impressive backgrounds, including karate/MMA, and I will learn just as much from them as from the course materials. I also owe Bob, Chopper, Harry and everyone in our intrepid little group a tremendous debt of gratitude for opening my eyes to this path and providing some of the impetus for undertaking it.
One of the first tasks is to provide some information about how we ended up pursuing a degree in the HM field and what our specific goals and interests are are. So to kick off what will essentially be a two-year geek out fest, here’s mine: