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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.
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:
All throwing techniques, including trips and tackles, involve movement in the transverse plane. Initiation may involve sagittal or frontal plane movements, but the follow through and landing will occur around the thrower’s longitudinal axis to a greater or lesser degree.
For the person being thrown, this means that:
- Landings will involve rotational forces and increased risk of damaging the ankles, knees, shoulders and neck. Pursue isometric strength conditioning as well as concentric conditioning, especially for the neck.
- Falling skills should be thoroughly practiced in all three planes of motion, as well as from kneeling, standing and moving positions.
- Failed throws wherein a foot remains planted will pose a high risk for knee injury, particularly ACL damage. Agility training can help a student to recognize these conditions and react quickly to move an endangered leg.
- For students and fighters whose activity is throwing and takedown-intensive (Judo, wrestling), specific programming for muscle hypertrophy should also be included to protect bony surfaces and joints and to help diffuse impact forces.
For the person throwing, this means that:
- A throw will involve torsion on all joints involved in the technique. Specific strength and stability conditioning involving transverse plane movements can help to increase joint stability and ensure proper muscular activation around the ankles, knees, hips and core.
- Depending on the other person’s weight and velocity, a successful throw will involve accelerating and potentially decelerating several times more than one’s own weight and mass. Strength conditioning programs typically emphasize movements in the sagittal plane, while the frontal and transverse planes are less emphasized or neglected.
- Progressive balance and stability conditioning, comprehensive core conditioning, and agility/reactive training in all three planes are strategies that can reduce the chance of avoidable injury while improving a student or fighter’s performance.
- If a throw begins to fail at any phase, your body will be required to decelerate and stabilize the load while in non-optimal conditions, and several times your own weight and mass will pose a threat to your knees in particular. Condition the knees in all planes of motion, emphasize single leg balance and stability skills.
- Throwing and takedowns occur predominantly in the transverse plane. Most athletic injuries occur in the transverse plane. Do not neglect conditioning in the transverse plane (do I sound like a broken record yet?) .
Drop us a line for more info on specific conditioning and programming ideas.
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.
It’s important to keep your eyes on a partner or opponent as you duck under a strike (see RTN 2 for more on ducking). If you bend too far forward at the waist and round the back, eye contact is lost, peripheral vision is diminished and the head is at greater exposure to being kneed from below or struck from above. A rounded back also inhibits the gluteal muscles, which are vital for driving forwards or stabilizing against pressure from the front. Keeping the eyes up means that the back will be closer to 45 degrees, and slightly extended as opposed to rounded.
If you or a student has a hard time keeping the eyes on the other person while ducking, this is a sign of weakness/imbalance in the muscles of the neck and upper and lower back. If you notice that someone starts to bend at the waist and round the back after a few reps of a ducking exercise, have him slow down the pace and decrease reps so that he can maintain eye contact and keep the back more upright, and begin him on a program to increase the strength of the neck and back. Asking training partners to tap the back of the head when it is exposed can provide a good physical cue that the eyes are dropping. Several exercises can help to improve strength and performance in these areas:
- Isometric neck strengthening and stabilization exercises. Standing or sitting with good posture, press your palm into your head with moderate pressure and keep the position of your head from changing. Do this against the forehead, temples, rear of the skull, under the chin and at angles. Hold for 20-30 seconds, 1-2 sets each direction. Incorporate 3-5 days per week. Use a mirror to ensure that you are not excessively protruding or retracting the chin throughout.
Upper and Lower Back
- Floor Cobras. Start with 3 sets of 3 repetitions 3-5 days per week.
- Ball Cobras. As the Floor Cobras can be done with stability and control, begin incorporating 3 sets of 3 repetitions 3 days per week.
- Back Extensions. Depending on how easy these are, incorporate 3 sets of 5-15, 3 days per week. Don’t swing- stop for a second at the top and at the bottom.
- Pull ups. Grip an overhead bar at shoulder width or slightly wider. Contract glutes and abs, squeeze the shoulder blades together, and pull your chin to the bar. Avoid jack knifing or bouncing to achieve the pull. If these are difficult or impossible for you, try squeezing the shoulder blades together so that your feet are lifted from the floor and hold for 20-30 seconds, or as long as you can maintain good form. As this improves, use a bench or jump up to get to chin height and hang in the top position for as long as good form can be maintained- shoot for 20 seconds. Lower yourself with as much control as possible, repeat. Start with low reps per set, increase as this improves, begin adding in full pull ups once you are capable. Some gyms have assisted pull up machines which can be helpful as well. Incorporate 3 days per week.
- And as always, stretch the hip flexors before conditioning and class time. If these muscles are tight and dominant, they will encourage excessive forward lean at the waist.
*As with everything else described on this blog, these suggestions assume that you are in good shape and do not have any back problems that would make these exercises unsafe. If you’re not sure, consult your doctor and enlist the services of a qualified fitness professional.
If you are working out, you need to replenish fluids regularly for optimum performance. Water is great for this, but if you’re working out longer than 45 minutes to an hour, there’s good reason to drink gatorade, for the salts, for the performance-enhancing carbs, and because that slightly troubling fruity sweat flavour somehow transforms into the elixir of the gods once you’ve worked up a sweat.
But gatorade comes in suspiciously gummy colours, is expensive, and is usually bought in a new plastic bottle every time. And if you read the ingredients you’ll quickly see that Michael Pollan wouldn’t approve. What if you are the kind of karate-ka who likes to “eat clean” and fill your water bottle with tap water?
Then you are the kind who might appreciate this homemade “gatorade” recipe. It’s so easy that I blush to call it a “recipe” and the ingredients are things you’ll likely have lying around anyway, or be able to get in your dorm’s dining hall on the way to training:
1/2 cup orange juice
Then fill your bottle up with water.
3/4 teaspoon salt
Don’t think you’ll make some kind of super-gatorade by doubling or trebling the salt content – I tried that, not good. Ideally you want both sodium and potassium, so check and see what kind of salt you have. There’s potassium in orange and lemon juice, so if you have ordinary sodium chloride for salt you’re good.
Fill your waterbottle with tea, add a little lemon juice and 4-6 teaspoons of sugar (or honey)
3/4 of a teaspoon of salt
Reducing the sugar gives you low-calorie “gatorade” but how useful that is depends on your goals, how much you’re drinking etc. The carbohydrate is an integral part of sports drinks and if you’re not using fruit juice you’ll need to get it from somewhere else.
I recently read Tim Hauser’s biography/oral history of Muhammad Ali, and found myself equally fascinated with the recollections of his trainer, Angelo Dundee as with those of The Champ himself. Dundee was Ali’s trainer and corner man for the vast majority of his professional career, and several of his observations about training Ali overlap with the unwieldy task that faces the serious martial arts instructor. Caveat- One thing is apparent above all others: Ali is one of those people who is massively gifted in kinesthetic intelligence and physical ability. The vast majority of us will never be able to approach his prime level of ability, even with the best possible training. My point here isn’t going to be that we can/should all perform or train like Ali, but that some things that his trainer did to work with his natural abilities are worth considering.
The terms “stress” and “fear” are often conflated when martial artists begin talking about real-world encounters and training experiences. The physiological and cognitive effects of both are different, and the methods for dealing with both are different. And they will be different across different people; one person’s stress might be another person’s trigger for a panic attack, something that puts one person into a full blown fear response might be moderately stressful to someone else.
Stress and fear are different:
We can retain rational thinking, higher cognitive functions and perform complex skills under stress. We can learn to control the effects of stress and become habituated to working under it’s effects.
Fear can override rational thinking, short-circuit higher cognitive functions and make even basic skills unreliable. We can not learn to reliably control the effects of fear.
Moderate to extreme stress may be encountered frequently in the training environment. The vast majority of people will never experience true fear in the training environment. Do not mistake controlled stress with uncontrolled fear.
Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence is strongly recommended for useful observations and suggestions on recognizing and dealing with the effects of both.
Experiencing the failure of a technique is just as important as experiencing success of the technique. When failure is experienced, take the time to explore contingency options.
In the dojo, people often unintentionally manufacture success by creating optimal conditions for a technique- certain distancing, against a certain attack in a certain way, or unconscious complicity on the attacker’s part. Be aware of this tendency. Sometimes this is necessary in the initial stages of teaching or learning new techniques. Be up front about this fact with students and with yourself. Know when to take the “training wheels” off.