A WARNING first about the WRONG Exercises.
I am frequently asked what exercises one can do to either enhance your Karate performance or use simply to get fit. The answer will depend on whether you want to tone, stretch or build muscle.
In Karate we tend to go for strength and flexibility without trying to build large muscle groups.
Now, it has to be said that there are a lot of instructors and trainers out there who do not know what they are talking about and I have my own “test” for finding them. These are embodied in tests 1 & 2 below. If they get you to do these exercises that are bad for you (ie, can do more harm than good to your muscles and joints) then go to another gym or trainer.
Test 1, if the trainer gets you to do sit-ups either with your feet held down or hooked into something and with your legs straight, and if they get you to put your hands behind your head or neck…..then wave them goodbye. Sit ups were outlawed years ago as it places too much strain on your lower back and those hands behind your head can seriously damage the muscles in the top of your spine as you force your head up and forwards. Do a “crunch” instead by laying on your back and drawing your knees up with your feet on the floor. Place your hands together as though in prayer or fold them across your chest like an Egyptian Mummy. Now lift only your head and shoulders off the floor and then replace back down. DO NOT throw your head forward but think about pulling yourself upwards and forwards by using your stomach muscles. You are not attempting to get your back right off the floor and therefore you do not stress your lower back.
Test 2, DO NOT try to carry out ANY exercise that involves you laying on your back and trying to lift BOTH legs directly off the floor at the same time. This will completely wreck your lower back muscles. You can exercise exactly the same muscles by laying on your back and lifting one leg up and putting it down and then lifting the other. It does not seem as strenuous but you exercise the same muscles without straining your lower back.
If you want to build large muscle then really you need to start lifting weights. For many years I went to a Gym run by a wonderful guy called Jack Kirkland who was an ex Sergeant Major with a barrel chest and a bull neck. He had taught innumerable people how to lift weights correctly – and that’s the thing, learn how to lift weights correctly. You should only start by lifting light weights that might even seem far too light for you, but when you do this you are starting to work your muscles before putting any undue strain on them. Then, GRADUALLY, increase the weights that you are lifting.
If you lift big weights they will build big muscles, but big muscles need more oxygen to power them and you can get tired very quickly. Your big muscles will also slow down your movements – I’ve known guys with big leg muscles that could hardly run! In martial arts it is better to have smaller more efficient muscles that give you both power and speed.
Learn how to lift the weights properly. Lifting movements should be slow and you should not bounce them up to lift them. Backs should be kept straight with your chest out as bending over will wreck your back. If you join a gym where the “instructors” do not show you how to train correctly then LEAVE and join one where they spend some time instructing you properly.