Being a Black Belt in Martial Arts as well as being a Certified Fitness Trainer, I am asked all the time about what the best workout or routine is for a beginner or someone who has trained before and is just getting back into it. There are so many answers to this but I usually tell them that the easiest way to break back into training is to make it as simple as possible…especially where the Martial Arts are concerned. Never have I seen more injuries than in class when someone is doing a new technique, giving it their all after a long layoff.
Now, I have been strength training for most all of my life and have been doing Martial Arts conditioning for the last 8 years. What works for me won’t necessarily work for others but there are many things a person can do out of a generic mold that will work just fine for simple conditioning and cost nothing more than that person’s time and energy. As we are basically the same physiologically, (we have to be or modern medicine could not exist), there are many ways to achieve what you want in terms of fitness and conditioning that will work no matter what type of exercise you choose to do, no matter the body type or your current condition.
For my aerobic training, I find that kicking the heavy bag, skipping rope and doing kata for 30-40 minutes does me just fine in that arena. For my strength conditioning, I either lift weights or do some form of body weight exercise but because this predominantly has to do with Martial Arts conditioning, I lean more towards body weight exercises such as pushups (various types), body weight squats, core training such as lying and standing crunches, and back or shoulder bridging which allows for strengthening and elongation of the spine for flexibility. Functional Strength is infinitely more important in the Martial Arts than brute force as it conditions your body to stabilize itself in unstable positions. In all of this, please keep in mind that this is what I do and there is no need to rush into “banzai” conditioning just because you feel that is needed in order to excel in the Martial Arts. Depending on what kind of shape you are in at the moment, you can start off with something as easy as walking. At this point I should say that before starting any type of conditioning program, you should contact your doctor to arrange for a full physical. It is a very good idea and can address any concerns you might have before beginning your training. The most irresponsible thing a person can do is start in at full force without a “clean bill of health” only to become incapacitated with injury or worse. As your training, and all of life, is a process, so goes your conditioning. Take your time and be sure.
Next, I want you to understand that this kind of exercise and conditioning doesn’t have to take place only in a gym or dojo. This type of training can be done anywhere. The main thing is you have to get up and do something…ANYTHING…just to get it started. Thinking really hard about exercising does not constitute exercise. Everything is a process and what I have found is, if you can make it through the first four weeks of training, you have it made. I always tell my clients that when beginning any type of training that they will be sore for the first few workouts but that I adhere to the idea that knowing you are going to be sore going into this, get the soreness out of the way as quickly as possible by making sure you hit your next workout…and the next…and the next.
Here is one possible strength/cardio/mental training program you could use as a template:
Monday: Body weight exercises such as push ups, body weight squats or shoulder bridging,
abdominal crunches or a full body weight training routine.
Tuesday: Cardio training…rope skipping, bag work, running, power walking, kata, etc.
Thursday: Cardio training…pick what works best to elevate your heart rate safely.
Friday: Strength training…again, pick what works for you, body weight exercises or weight
Sat./Sun.: Take some time for yourself and your family.
Here are a couple of other simple programs you can do at home. These are great workouts to begin with and once you get started, they can become nice little routines. I use these with many of my clients who are just starting out or coming back into their training. The best part is…it costs you nothing but time and effort! They are as follows:
If you are watching a 1 hour TV program, every time a 2 minute commercial comes on, drop down and do as many pushups (knuckle, straight, finger tip, etc.) as you can in 2 minutes. The next commercial, do as many body weight squats as you can, the next one, as many crunches as you can, etc, etc. By the time the program is over, you will have a nice little conditioning program done that didn’t require you to go anywhere or spend any money to accomplish. Another method is to grab a simple deck of playing cards and just flip them over one at a time. Whatever number comes up, (the Ace is worth 11 not 1!!) that’s the amount of reps you do for whatever exercise you choose. Try to get through as much of the deck as you can but if the entire deck seems overwhelming, and it surely will in the beginning stages, take as many as you feel comfortable with and yes, you can choose which cards and their values you want to work with!
Utilizing these simple techniques when doing your conditioning will have you well on your way toward achieving your training and conditioning goals but remember, start off slow and work at your own pace. If you are only able to do a few reps of any exercise…even if it is just one rep…start there and build off of that. Also, make sure you do some form of stretching after you are warmed up and include it in your cool down at the end of your workout. Nutrition is also a HUGE component in all of this. I will be addressing that in my next article.
Now, as far as specific martial arts conditioning and body-hardening, I would say that the heavy or hanging bag for conditioning the feet and shins, even the hands, is a great place to start. A makawara board is also a good place to start for conditioning your hands (start with either the canvas or leather type) but also, Century Martial Arts makes a training bag called BOB…Body Opponent Bag. It is like a Wavemaster but has a life-size human torso in place of a bag that is made out of very hard rubber. You can strike from the midsection to the head and as it is anatomically correct you can also work on your targeting with your hand strikes and kicks. It stings a bit at first but again, this is a process so you can work your way up to striking harder. All of these methods are simple to put into action and allow you to accelerate your training at your own speed.
If there is one thing I can impart to you about all of this it would be, PLEASE listen to your body. If you are doing something that really hurts you, stop. The last thing you want to do is have to take time off from your training due to some injury that you could have prevented with a little bit of foresight. There is so much information out there on this subject. Do a bit of reading and studying of how the body works as it can help you decide what it is you need to do for overall conditioning. In Martial Arts, your body moves as one so you must train the entire body to respond as one. You can ensure that by attaining as much knowledge as possible on the subject of conditioning before you start your program.
In as much as it is important that we train to attain physical fitness it is just as important that we take time to rest and recuperate from all the stress (remember that stress, positive or negative, is still stress) and part of that recuperation involves spending time with our family and friends. This allows us time for the mental and emotional side of things and lets us validate why it is we do what we do. Total fitness of body…mind…spirit. That’s what the Martial Arts, and life, are all about. Tie that all together and see just how simple it is to reach your training and life goals!