Karate is one of the most well-known disciplines out of the traditional martial arts that have evolved over the years up to this day and age. In a world where mixed martial arts are taking center stage, it is a relief to see that interest in the old Okinawan art is still strong.
Talking about strength, if you consider yourself a martial artist, you might want to ensure that you support your Karate training sessions with other training methods and programs to improve your technique and physical performance.
Suppose you are interested in improving your body conditioning to make yourself not only a better competitor for sport karate, but even better prepared for an actual fight in self-defense. In that case, you may want to keep reading and take some notes, as we will dive into multiple details that any karate practitioner might want to check out.
Definition of Karate Conditioning
As we all know, training karate and progressing through the belt ranks usually focuses on working towards proper technique and learning all the Katas in the curriculum.
For those that compete, karate performance leans into the halfway mark between focusing on karate techniques and physical training, as you need to be both strong and fast while keeping your entire body in shape, as muscular tension and breathing in a controlled manner help both in Kata Performance and during sparring.
When it comes to younger students, you can see it being done in any regular karate training session, as a Sensei regularly approaches kids’ conditioning exercises with basic bodyweight training, like the standard push-up variants for some upper body strength, leg raises, and sit-ups for some essential core strength and maybe some squats to add some leg exercises.
This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg; as a Black Belt who actively competed back in the day and trained around other top-level competitors back in the day, I got to see that their conditioning programs went far beyond just training Karate a few hours per week. Still, they had to add in a lot of good sports conditioning sessions, including running, lifting weights, and other different areas, like medicine, ball work, or even swimming.
Purpose of Karate Conditioning
Karate itself is an excellent method of getting some conditioning going on, as some positions, like the Shiko Dachi (Horse Stance), help develop and improve your leg muscle strength, other techniques focus on the upper body and, well, some of the explosive moments in Kata training could potentially lead towards the development of explosive power and improvements in your muscle groups, for the sole purpose of improving your performance.
However, if you want to boost things further, you might want to make a complete program, and even though this is not Kung Fu, we could take some advice by looking at Bruce Lee and his training regime.
Accordingly, he had a complete exercise program, including aerobic and anaerobic training. He also lifted weights to develop muscle mass and keep himself at what he considered the peak for the human body, as Kung Fu alone wouldn’t cut it.
When it comes to Karate training, we can take a lot from different conditioning programs for multiple disciplines, taking some specific exercises to get the best results for proper sports conditioning.
Benefits of Karate Conditioning
There are multiple benefits that an excellent conditioning program will do for both your competition performance and your everyday life.
I admit I wasn’t in great sKaratehen I started training in Karate early. Still, it all kicked into high gear after I took things seriously and got into a complete training program after I got to the competition scene once I achieved my green belt and continued on my path to my Black Belt, jumping from the push-up and bodyweight routine into a whole new level.
The Strength training was excellent for both physical and aesthetic results. As I went from some light weights to heavier weights and even using a medicine ball, my bone structure improved; I not only develop muscular strength, but the muscle growth allowed my body to avoid injury when I got hit, as it did not only help to apply strength but also protected my structure.
Sports Conditioning forced me to work my cardiovascular performance, so even if I wasn’t a big fan of jumping rope, going for regular morning runs allowed me to improve significantly during sparring sessions as getting used to the pace allowed me to feel like I had more energy during the rounds.
I even trained with a speed bag back in my karate days to improve my striking game, and it was great for both physical improvement and achieving good form on my punches.
Going to jump rope, going for a jog, or doing a long cardio session (yeah, even if you run slowly) improves the work your blood vessels get done. They also give a substantial positive push to most of your internal organs, like your heart, kidneys and adrenal glands, your lungs, and, just as important, your brain.
This cardio workout can be done in multiple ways, from running, cycling, swimming, bag work, a medicine ball workout, grabbing your training partner for extended sessions of light sparring, or even working on a padded striking board.
Strength and Conditioning for Martial Arts Training
Weight Lifting and Martial Arts
Weight lifting is a universally used card for most combat disciplines; from the old days up to our modern age, the proper conditioning exercises allow us to develop functional strength, which is required for performance.
When it comes to weights, there are multiple details to look into, as it is not as simple as doing heavy lifts and bench presses to your heart’s content, as strength training is a whole science.
A lot can be done by balancing the number of repetitions and the correct weight to develop muscular endurance. Yes, even rep speed helps get different results according to your goals.
From doing a chest and back day to improving your upper body and upper back strength, there are many benefits to your Kata that you can achieve by working on slowing down repetitions on pulling motions to improve your control of muscular tension.
Upper Body conditioning exercises can be mixed up with some sessions that focus on your core and lower-body sessions, which could include lifting on squats, weighted lunges, and many other options we are about to get into.
Ankle weights have been getting a lot of love lately as they were adopted into the training regimes of many martial artists over the years, and I have to add that I even included them in my programs as well.
However, you need to know some details before you begin using them constantly, as they can play out as a double-edged sword if you do not see what you are doing.
Using ankle weights correctly can give you some great benefits, but you need to know how much weight you can handle and what exercises you should and shouldn’t do.
We have likely all seen those scenes in movies and tv where a character is wearing weights on their ankles and wrists to become stronger and faster. Still, it is easy to show some scenes and make these ideas look excellent when you only have to do them for a short period for a set.
In the long run, there are some exercises that you should avoid when using these weights, and they usually include a lot of movements that derive from martial arts.
When people add ankle weights into a training session, you can usually see some exercises like walking, making lunges, and doing one-leg lifts, and if the weight is low, maybe some light jogging can be put in there.
However, it would be best if you were always looking into two details. Impact and Joint Rotation, combined with heavy ankle weights, could result in injury.
If you are using heavy weights for extended periods in your sessions, you better take a complete break from them afterward, as every time you land on your feet, they increase the impact on the steps and could damage your ankles and feet in the long run.
The other thing you should be looking out for is explicitly specific to martial arts, kicks.
When you kick, especially with traditional techniques like in Karate and Tae Kwon Do, you lift the leg and then quickly snap the joint for an immediate impact and then return to your stance; when we look at the motion itself, there is nothing too complicated about it, but once you add in the extra weight into this moves can risk joint damage.
Long story short, correct use of ankle weights for training can do wonders for strength training, but incorrect use can lead to injury, so do not take it lightly.
Mechanisms of Body Conditioning
We are going to dive into my favorite part of the article, so make sure that you bring out a small notebook, as I am going to dive deep into some things I have learned both from keeping things practical at the Dojo and Gyms, along with what I have learned from years spent in physical activity and sports studies in college.
Our body is great for doing one thing over time: “Adapting.” When we break down every training regime out there, it all goes down to how we push the body into adapting to a workload and then increasing it to a higher level.
I will add a few terms to the mix so you can get used to the idea behind it, but it is pretty simple once you dive into it.
Two Energy systems regulate how and where the body gets its power from; one is called the “Aerobic System,” and the other is the “Anaerobic System,” which breaks down into two methods, Lactic Anaerobic and Alactic Anaerobic method.
Getting those technical terms into more specific details is easy; the Aerobic system is the one that uses oxygen to get energy, and if we go short, it goes down to “cardiovascular work,” which means low-intensity workloads for extended periods.
The Anaerobic System breaks down to the opposite, high-intensity workloads for short periods. It doesn’t require oxygen to break down energy, as it will take power from phosphate compounds stored in muscular tissue.
For those familiar with high-intensity interval training, this kind of workload is focused on improving that energy system, so it will be easier to understand from that point of view.
Getting used to both systems is mandatory for those that want to improve sports performance, as it will improve your resistance to each type of workload; for example, if you improve your anaerobic resistance, you will be able to keep a higher pace during your sparring rounds without feeling such an enormous toll in your body, and improving your aerobic energy system will help your cardiovascular system and the way you breathe during performances, which will help you recover more effectively between rounds.
As previously mentioned, high-intensity interval training is excellent for the anaerobic system, but depending on your focus, you can use different training methods.
For Alactic Anaerobic work, doing one rep lifts with the max possible weight helps, or short bursts of high-intensity work, like a short max speed run, an explosive blast of punches when you hit the bag, and other options of really high-intensity work that goes on for a duration under 30 seconds.
For Lactic Anaerobic work, the intensity is slightly lower. Still, the time frame goes between 30 seconds and under 3 minutes, and it could include your regular weight lifting sessions, a short high-speed run, a medicine ball routine, or even kettlebell sets, or maybe a few burpees to spice things up a little bit.
When it comes to the Aerobic Energy System, it starts working when the workload goes over 5 minutes, but to get huge improvements, you will need to make the session go over 40 minutes.
Going over the 40 minutes mark in your low-intensity cardiovascular workouts will give you performance improvements and keep burning calories for 4 hours after the training is over. (Quick Note, up to this day, I take advantage of this on an almost daily basis)
Cardio Training for Karate
Simple rules for cardio training
Cardiovascular training in any martial art is a must, as the benefits of a healthy cardiovascular system include making your heart way more efficient at circulating blood throughout your body.
Aerobic endurance is a solid foundation you can build upon with other physical skills and martial arts techniques.
It doesn’t have to be discipline-specific, but you must invest some time into working out this area.
You could be running, jogging, walking, riding bicycles, rowing, swimming, or even dancing, and it would still be an efficient method to improve your cardio.
If you enjoy walking outside, hanging around with other people as you hit the treadmill, or maybe skipping rope in the Dojo, it all works.
Standing punching bag
Another option comes from boxing, whichch popularized the standing punching bag. Well, it is valuable to work on your technique and focus on going at it for an extended period without worrying about the bag giving out on you, like your sparring partner’s ribs, after some of your best kicks.
Jokes aside, working on a punching bag will allow you to not only improve your technique and form but also to go at it for a decent amount of time, and even though it is a stationary target, it will allow you to use a plethora of techniques from your repertoire on it.
Different kinds of bags will also allow you to improve other parts of your game, so you do not have to settle for the standing bags, as you can also try to use a heavy load, a speed bag, or even other types of training dummies.
How to Hit Harder and Faster
This is a topic that every fighter gets into at some point, from boxers looking to improve their KO power to the average Joe who is looking towards improving their hook in case it is necessary to get violent at some point in their day-to-day life.
Speed is the one part of punching that one can constantly improve. When we go down to the core details, the best way to increase your punching speed is to train the specific muscles involved with the “snap” of a punch through bodyweight exercises, as well as using speed-focused shadow fighting combinations and hand speed drills.
It sounds pretty simple, but working on all the little necessary details is a whole art of its own, as just being fast for speed’s sake is not optimal, and you will want to throw your punches with proper form.
Power is a different part that one needs to work on. While you can work on becoming faster and physically stronger over time, getting it all down for that one “killer” hit, you’ll want to mix things between your physical conditioning and optimizing your technique for the punch.
Focusing on your technique is a tip for increasing punching speed and power. Little details like ensuring your elbows don’t flare out on your skis and keeping them tight to the body. Improving your speed and control starts with refining your technique, which goes a long way.
Karate Training Methods
Common Muscular Imbalances in Karate
Generally speaking, most, if not all, martial arts favor using one side of the body to punch and kick repetitively. Several forms of martial arts also tend to pull the body forward into a hunched position when it comes to their regular guard.
These leads to some postural issues, including rotation and forward flexion. These posture misalignments can eventually lead to back pain, knee pain, shoulder injuries, or pain in pretty much any other part of the body.
Besides that, Karate techniques, unlike Boxing, or Tae Kwon Do, focus on using all muscle groups instead of focusing on only some limbs over others (Upper body for striking when it comes to Boxing and lower body for kicking in TKD), which tends to help avoid creating a big issue out of muscular imbalance. Still, it has to be addressed that this can happen and that conditioning exercises to counter these imbalances should be considered.
When it comes to training to fix these muscular imbalances, it all goes down to getting back to the gym or making up for the parts of your body that you believe are not as developed as others.
In the case of a fighter who has been focusing on Kata and the muscular tension from positions has made better developments on the lower body, it’d be an excellent idea to go and take the time to add some extra conditioning exercises to develop the other muscle groups as necessary.
Static-Active Flexibility is an exciting topic to touch upon when it comes to Karate. For most practitioners, it is notKaratesential part of what a competitor trains to get an edge on the competition.
However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid improving these aspects, as a lack of leg flexibility will directly limit your kicking range.
Implementing a good stretching routine into your warm-up is essential to slowly develop your Flexibility and allow yourself to increase your natural range of movement.
Many people would argue that Karate is a “square” discipline and doesnKarateuire much Flexibility, except for the legs; however, Flexibility in the arms and core also positively influences the skills.
Warm up with exercises that combine stretching and controlled movements to increase your dynamic flexibility. The signs should mimic the activity you’re about to do.
Flexibility will contribute to good posture and lower the risk of injuries.
Foundations and Martial Art Conditioning
There are some details that one does not change when going into conditioning for any sport or discipline, and they also apply to Martial arts for a reason.
We will touch down on some old reliable exercises that will help you improve your performance if you want to compete or become a strict t black belt actively.
In most, if not all, martial arts conditioning programs, you are going to want to see some of the following exercises at some point:
Push-ups, Sit Ups, Squats, Lunges, and Burpees, are bodyweight exercises that should always be part of your training regime.
Regarding gym workouts, Six Foundational exercises should be part of your routine.
- Bench Press
- Barbell Squats
- Kettlebell Swings
When you want to add gym and conditioning sessions to your regular martial arts sessions, you might want to keep the frequency to 3 days a week to give each group of muscles you work enough time to relax between sessions.
As most Karate practitioners tend to train between two and three sessions per week, you can mix in the conditioning sessions in between to get used to it, and even have both types of sessions on the same day once you have gotten used to both workouts.
Summary of Key Points
When you have to put all the required points of conditioning needed for martial arts, and in this particular case, Karate, you have to remember to evenly spKarateour time to focus on your technique and skills, along with a few essential points:
Endurance Conditioning, be it your muscular endurance or any of your energy systems, which include aerobic (Cardio) conditioning and anaerobic (explosive) conditioning, is an essential part of the development of any martial artist everywhere.
Strength Training, one of the foundational parts of any martial arts training, can’t be dismissed, and it goes a long way in improving your performance.
Flexibility training, a topic we barely touched upon, might be underrated by many practitioners, but it will help much more in Karate than what it usually gets credit for.
Encouragement to Incorporate Conditioning into Karate Practice
Suppose you want to get serious with Karate, or any martial arts discipline inKarateal, beyond just practicing and learning the skills. In that case, the best thing to do is commit to your body and work on your conditioning.
It is a whole package, getting some weight lifting going, working on your aerobic and anaerobic endurance, and putting in the time to work on your Flexibility to get it all going up to speed smoothly.
By taking the time to plan out your schedule and add in all the required conditioning sessions, you are not only going to improve your Karate performance, but you are going to improve your life quality at the same time.