Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The countdown has ended.....

First I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who has sent me their comments and congratulations following my shodan success.  I really appreciate the support and advice many of you have given me regarding my preparations for black belt testing and I have taken on board many of the things that you have said to me. My success is also your success.

I think my feet are now descending back to the ground ready to start the next leg of the journey! Sensei told me I was now a white belt again – a beginner. It’s true; I am (along with my co-graders) the most junior of the black belt students. It’s a place I’m happy to be as I have much to learn.

However, the countdown to shodan has now ended and so must this blog. This will be my last post here but I will continue to post regularly on my other blog 'My Journey to Black Belt', which may now need a slight alteration to the title! I'd like to thank you all for following me on this blog and invite you all to join me as I continue to chronicle my journey. I will be transferring my blog list from here to my other blog so that I can continue to follow you. 

Thank you again for all your comments and advice and I hope I will still hear from you on 'My Journey to Black Belt'......

Monday, 13 June 2011

One proud lady owner of a.....


You know, I can hardly believe that what was such a huge mountain in front of me only 24 hours ago is now behind me! It feels amazing, shattering, but amazing all the same. As I write this I am looking at a huge certificate with my name on that says I have been “….officially entered into the records of Seishin-Do Shukokai Karate and is herewith licensed to rank in the 1st Dan grade of shukokai Karate-Do in recognition of the degree of excellence achieved in the study of the art.” Who me? Wow! 

Me and Hubby!
Of course, I also have to congratulate my husband who also passed with flying colours and made a brilliant partner. Thank you. 

It was a good day, a positive day.  I had been so worried that I would feel drained and negative at the end of the day and that it would feel like an anti-climax but in reality I didn’t feel like that at all. I felt fairly relaxed and positive throughout the day.

We had an early start, up at 6.00am and out of the house by 8.00. We had an hour and a half drive to the grading centre and were expected on the mats by 10.00am. After a warm up and some practice time we started the grading at 10.30 and finished at 5.30pm. Nineteen people graded – seventeen passed.

With 19 people and 15 sections to get through the grading officers had organised the day with military precision. The kihon sections were done in rows. There were 14 combinations to do in all. The front row graded first with the first two combinations then moved to the back and the second row came forward, then the third row. Then the first row did the next two combinations and so on. It took about an hour and a quarter to get through that little lot. I made my first big error during the stance combination – I stepped left into shiko dachi and everyone else in the row stepped right. They were right, I was wrong. My mistake obviously stuck out like a sore thumb!

Receiving my belt
As an aside, I was the last person on the third row. I thought this was because my last name begins with ‘W’ and we were in alphabetical order. I had rationalised that the reason my husband wasn’t standing next to me (there was a person between us) was because we were grading partners and we were being allowed a ‘1 person gap’ between me partnering him and him partnering me for our ippons and goshin waza. It wasn’t until we were driving home that my husband took joy in telling me that the reason I was last in the line was because I was the oldest person grading!

For the kata/bunkai sections we were split into two groups. One group left the grading hall to have a lunch break for an hour whilst the second group did their 3 kata and bunkai demonstrations individually. We then swapped over. I was in the second group. For me the kata demonstration was the most nerve wracking part of the grading but I managed to do all the kata without any mistakes so I’m pretty sure that section went okay.

The rest of the sections were either done in two or three groups at a time or individually with partners. My only other blunder was during the ippon kumite section. Despite having gone through all nine techniques endlessly in my mind whilst waiting for my turn (last of course, since I was the old lady!) when it came to actually do it I unconsciously substituted one of my defences to oi zuki for one of my defences to mawashi zuki. Then when I got to my mawashi zuki defences I realised I’d already shown one. I couldn’t immediately work out which oi zuki defence I’d missed out so couldn’t think quickly enough to adapt it to a mawashi zuki attack. Instead I just repeated the one I’d already done. Naturally, the sharp eyed judges noticed I’d repeated a technique! Still it was better than standing there wondering what to do.

With our instructor
The last two sections were sparring. First jiyu kumite then shiai kumite. I was partnered up with a teenage girl who was grading for 2nd dan. She was clearly a more agile and experienced sparrer than me but I thought I didn’t do too badly against her in the jiyu section (free sparring) – I got a reasonable range of kicks and punches on her, though she knew exactly how to deal with my mawashi geri kicks – catching my foot, spinning me round and thumping me in the back! In the shiai kumite section (competition sparring) I had to fight her again. According to my husband I held her off me pretty well and even scored a half point. Then I made the fatal mistake of doing a mawashi geri and again she caught my foot, span me round and punched me in the back, scoring herself a full ippon. I should have known better! So she won but it didn’t matter the grading was finally over.

We were all asked to leave the grading hall whilst the marks were added up. The atmosphere in the waiting area was very upbeat. We were all tired and glad it was over but there was a lot of camaraderie and positive talk going on. In fact, throughout the day the atmosphere had been friendly and supportive – almost enjoyable!

My fellow club members
After about 40 minutes we were called back in and lined up again. Each person’s final mark was called out and that person walked to the front to shake hands with each grading officer and receive their belt and certificate. This was obviously a difficult time for the two people that didn’t pass as they just had to stay in line after receiving their mark. They were both only youngsters and I thought they dealt with it stoically and maturely (no tears or complaints). They even came up to congratulate other people when we were celebrating at the end so I hope they both have success at their next attempt.

You know, I didn't feel as shattered at the end of the grading as I had expected to. I was tired and a little achy but not as shattered as I was after assisting at the last dan grading last November. I don't know if this is because I am fitter now than I was 6 months ago or whether that carbo-loading regime Felicia advised me on really did work - all I know is I felt okay at the end. The porridge for breakfast fuelled me for a few hours (thanks Marie) and the mango pieces were the most practical and enjoyable snack food I took (thanks Patty).  I nibbled food at every opportunity (thanks Charles) and drank cranberry juice as well as water (thanks kururunfa). The other food I took that was really palatable and useful was - sushi! It contained protein and carbohydrate, was tasty, easily digestible and came in bite size pieces - perfect! I'm pretty sure all your nutritional advice helped get me through the day, so thanks.

I have a double karate class tonight so I am looking forward to stepping into the dojo with my black belt on. The belt is stiff and virtually untie-able at the moment but I'll manage!

The whole grading group!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Some nutritional advice needed...

I'm wondering if anyone can give me some advice about what food/drink supplies I should take with me on my grading? I will be getting up about 6.00am and having a good breakfast before we leave at 8.00am to travel to the grading centre. The grading starts at 10.00am and will continue until around 7pm. We will not be tested continuously for that period and will get breaks between sections, though we will have to remain in the grading hall. I think we get a 30minute 'lunch' break at a suitable point.

It will be a long day and I will need to keep my energy levels up. I can't eat anything that will sit heavily in my stomach so I expect I'll be taking frequent snacks and drinks between sections. So far I have a couple of protein bars but what else should I take? Sandwiches? cake? cereal bars? I don't know! I will take plenty of water, but what about a flask of coffee or energy drinks? Any recommendations? My appetite may be suppressed during the grading due to adrenaline levels but I know I must eat something.

I'd really appreciate your advice and suggestions...... 

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Just 5 days to go!

Just five days to go!

You may have noticed that I have changed the countdown in the sidebar to days rather than weeks. The grading is on Sunday and starts at 10.00am for the warm up. Since there are so many of us grading this time (about 19) we have been told to expect the grading to last until around 6.30pm with the presentations at 7.00. It will be a long, long day!

My aims this week are mainly to avoid further injuries and to just keep walking through the techniques to keep everything fresh in my mind. We had a hard session last night which focused on the first half of the syllabus which is mainly Kihon and kata (with bunkai). My leg held out well with the kicking so I'm pretty sure it's going to be okay for the grading - phew!

On Wednesday we will be going through the second half of the syllabus which is mainly partner work. I expect this will be an equally hard session but after that I am resting up until the grading. I think I am as prepared as I'm going to be now, I'm comfortable with the syllabus and know what to expect on grading day. There doesn't seem any point in pushing myself to the limits in the last few days, I don't think it will achieve anything.

I probably won't post again now until after the grading so hopefully I'll have good news for you....

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Progress report on my leg....

Less than 2 weeks now to black belt grading! My injured leg had its first real test last night and held up pretty well. We went through all our combination techniques including the ones with the dreaded jump kicks that usually set my leg off again. These felt okay on the whole and I just kept stretching my quads out between each set.

We then went through our kata and bunkai. After about 20 minutes of practising these on our own, those of us that are grading had to demonstrate all our kata and bunkai to the class as if it were a the real thing. I felt relieved when Sensei said that it had all gone well and would have been worthy of a pass in the grading (relief!).

My leg was feeling fine at this point and I was still stopping to stretch it regularly. At the end of the class we decided to have some races which involved crawling or running over large crash mats - good fun but ouch! Not so good for my was aching like mad by the time I got home and stretching had become painful again (arrrgghh!!!). What was I thinking joining in with that race?

So it was back on with the heat pad at home and a massage on my leg by my husband - he has a vested interest in getting me fit for the grading since I am his grading partner! The tiger balm that I had ordered a week ago from a well known Internet shop (A--z-n) had still not arrived, not even been dispatched yet - just when I needed it. Today I decided to buy it the old fashioned way by going to a shop - it worked, they had it and now my leg stinks of Tiger balm! Stretching is still a little tender today but not as bad as last night.

I have another class tonight but I think I'll pass on the games this time if we have any! 

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Sports Massage - ouch!

I have a recurring quads injury in my right thigh. This 'pulled muscle' injury goes back about 8 weeks now and keeps getting better and then recurring again. It recurred again last week and has bothered me a lot during the last 3 karate classes.

The activity that seems to set it off is jump kicking. Front kicks and round kicks don't seem to bother it though back hook kicks do bother it a bit. Once it is set off I literally cannot do a jump kick with my right leg, it's just too painful!

I am worried how this is going to affect me in my grading. I desperately don't want to pull out at this late stage if I can help it. Unfortunately the kicking combinations are the second section on the grading so I am worried that if it pulls again during that section it will affect my performance of all subsequent sections.

To try and avert disaster and get this pull sorted out once and for all I decided to have a sports massage today. I've never had one of these before (life's full of firsts, even at my age) but I've heard that they can produce good results.

Anyway, I have just returned from this sports massage and I can confirm that it is not for the faint hearted!
After prodding away at my thigh to see where the tightness was he recommended a deep tissue massage. Aarrghh! He was pushing his fingers so deeply into my quads muscle that I felt like he was going to go right through my leg. It was definitely a painful experience but hopefully one worth going through.

I was starting to regret telling him that I also had a bit of lower back pain and that an old injury to my left shoulder was bothering me a bit. However, I did let him massage my back and shoulder (in for a penny, in for a pound!) and this was not nearly as painful as the thigh.

The prognosis? Well, he said it may feel worse tomorrow but after that should get better. I have got to do regular stretching exercises on my thigh and must warm up thoroughly before attempting any kicks. He has advised me not to do any kicking in karate class tomorrow but after that it should be okay to try. He also recommended using a heat pad to warm up the muscle before exercise and to basically just keep moving.

He was hopeful that it would feel a lot better by next week but if it didn't he suggested going back for another massage (I'll have to summon up courage for that!).

Here's hoping it's done the trick! I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tabata training

Have you heard of tabata training? It is a new concept to me. I was interested in finding out more about it after reading a little about it in a newspaper fitness supplement. I was particularly interested when I realised it was Japanese in origin.

Tabata is a form of 'mini' circuit training or interval training 'Mini' because each circuit is only 20 seconds long with a 10 second rest between circuits. There should be 8 circuits for a full tabata session. After an initial warm-up a tabata session takes only 4 minutes to complete. The exercises for each circuit can be anything you like as long as they involve full body movements, so sprinting, push ups, lifting weights, kettle bell squats, bear crawling - you name it! It is probably best to tailor the exercises to the sport you are in training for.

Tabata training gets its name from its developer -  Izumi Tabata  at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan. Basically he researched and compared various exercise protocols to find out the most effective way of increasing both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. The 20 second on 10 second off protocol was the most effective.

It sounds easy doesn't it : 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for eight rounds. Apparently not! It's not for the feint hearted. In fact it is recommended that you are in good cardio  condition before trying tabata training as it is very intense. If you are not exhausted after it then you are not doing it properly. Tabata training is used by top athletes and is particularly suitable for combat training. In fact it is such high intensity training that it is recommended that you only do it once a week or even fortnightly.

Martial artist require the ability to produce short bursts of energy quickly to generate power and speed. Fast twitch fibres are needed for this type of muscular action and interval training is ideal for this. Kata also makes good interval training by the way.

Unlike aerobic training such as jogging where the fat burning abilities stop as soon as you stop running, tabata training is said to continue fat burning  for up to 2 days after the training session, so ideal for weight loss!

Sounds good doesn't it? I might give it a go. If you want to find out more about tabata training here's some links:

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Fear of failure or fear of success...

I did a pre-dan grading course on Saturday to find out if I'm definitely ready for this black belt grading on June 12th. I have written my main report about this on my other blog: Pre-dan grading course - a dose of reality! but there are a few extra things that came out of it that I want to discuss here.

What do I fear most failure or success?

I don't actually fear failure. If I fail and I can see good reason for it then I could accept that with good grace. In fact I would be one of the first people to feel disgruntled if people were passing  when they didn't deserve it as this diminishes the success of those that do deserve to pass. I don't want to fail obviously but I don't fear what failure would do to me - as long as I could see it was fair. I would just train for longer and try again - I wouldn't quit.

What about success? We all want success in our black belt grading but does it always sit comfortably? People often feel unworthy of their black belt, worried about the expectations that may be placed on them or worried that they may not live up to people's expectations of a 'black belt'. I'm not particularly worried that I may feel like this. If I feel that I've really earned a black belt then I hope I will feel proud to wear it.

But there lies the rub....What I really fear is that success may feel like failure; that the experience of grading will be so bruising emotionally that I won't be able to enjoy my success. I want my grading to feel like a positive experience - Physically shattering, yes! Mentally draining, yes! But emotionally battering, no! I don't want my black belt to be a constant reminder of a negative experience. Why should I fear this? Well because I know it has happened to someone close to me. Someone who never really came to terms with his black belt because of the experience gone through to obtain it and he no longer practices that martial art. Don't get me wrong, he is a mentally strong and resilient person and he was physically capable of performing the art but those emotions just creep up on you in unexpected ways and can leave scars that last for years. I don't want my karate to be tainted in this way.

Forewarned is forearmed! My pre-dan grading course has made me realise that I am susceptible to emotional pressure - that I can become negative and stressed way too easily. I need to deal with now. I need to change my perception of the grading - knock it off its grand pedestal and realise it's just another grading, another step of the journey completed. I need to get my head in the right place and go into the grading with a positive spirit and a realistic expectation of my ability. A pass, whatever the mark will be a worthy pass and should feel like success.

What do you fear most success or failure?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Getting to grips with goshin waza

At class last night we got the chance to work on our goshin waza  (self-defence techniques). I had them more or less worked out in my head. Some of them were ones I'd learnt many months ago and some were fairly new. However, it doesn't matter how well you work things out in your head you really don't know what you can make work until you try it out in practice!

What always amazes me with many of these goshin waza techniques is how fairly subtle changes in the techniques lead to huge improvements in their effectiveness. A small shift in weight distribution, re-positioning of the hands, stepping closer to the opponent etc can suddenly change a weak technique into a strong technique. Many of the self-defence techniques that we do tend to have an overlap with some jujitsu techniques. Luckily for me my training partner (who happens to be my husband) is also a black belt in jujitsu. He is able to talk me through all the little nuances that make a big difference to effectiveness. This extra tuition that I can get from my husband as well as my instructor means that my performance at goshin waza tends to be one of my strong points in karate.

At the end of the lesson we got to demonstrate all our techniques to the class. Being on show like this is always slightly nerve racking but it's good practice for the grading - we'll definitely be on show then! I think the demonstration went okay (apart from the belt and gi problems) though my escapes from lapel grabs still need a bit more work.

Another step closer to shodan.....need to focus on bunkai next.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Training review - flowing kata!

I've managed to get back to some useful training this week. There has been no karate classes at all this week due to the Easter break (and my instructor enjoying a break in Tuscany) so it has seemed even more important to do some training at home.

My main focus this week has been kata. I have three kata to perform in my grading- Bassai Dai, Seienshin and Annanku, together with some bunkai. Kata has never been my strong point, at least not from an aesthetic point of view! However I do feel I've made some significant strides forward in the last few weeks. This week I've been following Felicia's advice about practising kata as a flow drill and I think it is paying off. Instead of just doing the kata with full power and with correct timing you practice it softly and flowingly at a faster speed than normal. You have to pay attention to correct stances, footwork, hand positions etc, so the kata is not performed sloppily but just without the power and changes in timing.

Doing the kata in this way makes it feel a bit more meditational - eventually you stop thinking about the moves and they just flow out of you. It is also less exhausting to do the kata softly and so it is possible to repeat the kata several times in succession. Today I did all three kata 6 times each straight after each other. That would have been very difficult to do if I had done the katas with full power! So doing it this way has given me more practice. However, it is still important to do the kata with power and timing as well so that I don't forget so I've made sure that the last repetition is done in this way.

I've also been working on basic kihon techniques - punching and kicking combinations. The punching combinations I'm pretty confident about now but some of my kicks still leave a lot to be desired! Why are back kick and side kick so difficult? I still have trouble with forming the correct foot shape and getting sufficient height (and we're only talking chudan height here). Yeah I know - it's just practice!

I've also been finalising my goshin waza  (self-defence techniques) with my husband who will be my grading partner. I've decided on demonstrating three defences to attacks from behind (double wrist grab, over-arm bear hug and arm bar to throat), three defences to lapel grabs and three defences to kicks to the head on the ground. My husband doesn't let me get away with anything and grabs me really tight. He makes me really work hard to get the techniques to work, so I'm hopeful of putting on a good performance of these in the grading.

I feel a lot less stressed about the grading now and I'm starting to feel on top of things....with only 7 weeks to go that's a good sign!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Back and raring to go.....

Nissi Beach
Long time, no blogging! I have just returned this week from a holiday in Cyprus. It was very relaxing and refreshing and I managed to switch off from karate almost entirely for a whole week! Well, physically at least. My brain, on the other hand,  remained in karate overdrive for much of the time.

However my body feels much better for the rest - all the aches, pains and tiredness I had experienced a few weeks ago have disappeared and I feel raring to go again. The holiday wasn't entirely without exercise though (I just can't sit around doing nothing for very long) and we played tennis and squash most days as well as swimming and some gentle walking along the coastal path - but like they say, a change is as good as a rest!
Troodos Mountains

Despite not getting home until 4.00am on Monday morning we still managed to get to class on Monday evening. It was great to be back and though I felt tired from lack of sleep my body was definitely up to the challenges of the class, which focused on fitness and then kata.

Our Hotel
To make up for missing classes last week and the fact that there are no classes next week due to Easter, we attended an extra session at one of the other clubs my instructor runs. My husband and I were able to spend the whole class just working through all nine of our ippon kumite techniques and then demonstrated them to the rest of the class, which were mainly children and young teenagers (hope we didn't scare them!)

Our balcony
Then last night we attended our usual class and after one of sensei's mad fitness drills we spent the rest of the evening trying out some bunkai from the pinan katas. You know, the more I learn about the pinan katas the more impressed I am with them and I often wonder why they are regarded as beginner's katas - there is so much to learn from them, you just don't see it until you are more senior. They are definitely not katas to be learnt in junior ranks and then forgotten.

Me on a jeep safari
As you can see, I have launched myself back into my training with a vengeance and I'm feeling very enthusiastic about it. There's just over 7 weeks to go now until the black belt grading and I'm feeling pretty hungry for it, so let's bring it on.....

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Training progress - getting a little overwhelmed!

The balance of my training has changed a lot over the last two weeks. Most of my training has been done in my usual karate classes, plus a couple of pretty demanding weekend courses. I have also returned to kobudo training after missing a few weeks. With all the muscle soreness I have experienced over the last 2 weeks I decided not to do any additional training at home.

My legs now finally feel okay and I'm starting to feel that I can pick up the pace again. I have still not returned to the push up challenge which I stopped about 4 weeks ago because I was struggling with it and generally wondered if I was over training a little. I have not yet reached my target of 50 push ups, the maximum I got to was 35. I'm still considering whether to pick up this challenge again and try to reach my target. The problem is there are so many other things I need to concentrate on that are more directly relevant to the karate training so I may leave it for a while and pick it up again after I have got my black belt.

I'm not too worried that I'm not doing any fitness training at home because sensei has us doing a fair bit in the classes. Most classes we have 2 or 3 rounds of push ups, sit ups, burpees, star jumps, straight leg raising etc, as well as some stretching exercises so I'm still doing that kind of stuff.

I have finally settled on my 9 ippon kumite techniques. Some of the finishing moves may need a bit of tweaking but essentially I just need to keep drilling them (both physically and mentally). I now need to settle on my 9 goshin waza (self defence) techniques. We get to choose what type of attacks we want to receive and then have to demonstrate 3 different defences against each of them. I think I'm going to choose attacks from behind (bilateral rear wrist grab, rear bear hug and rear head lock); 3 different types of wrist grab from the front and 3 escapes from lapel grabs.

I also need to work on my kata. I attended a kata course a couple of weeks back and received a lot of feedback about my kata performance so I now need to practice them incorporating the information given. 

The amount of stuff I need to be working on seems enormous and overwhelming at times but then again I can only do one thing at a time- and there's still 10 weeks to go!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Coping with sore muscles....

I have had a pretty sore week this week. You know – the soreness you experience in muscles after extreme or unaccustomed exercise. I went on a karate course last Saturday and I’m only just getting over the pain! In fact, most weeks seem to be like this recently – I spend half my time experiencing stiff and sore muscles. Why? Is it my age? Am I working my muscles harder than usual? Am I not giving myself time to recover?
I decided to find out a bit more about post exercise muscle soreness, particularly in relation to age.
Apparently, with regular exercise, older people (older means over 30 in exercise circles – I know!) can still match the performance of their younger counterparts (even into their early 60’s) but their muscle physiology has to change to do it. In older people nerve fibres supplying muscle fibres start to die off and so there is a reduction in the number of muscle fibres. However, with exercise these fibres increase in size and can perform the same work as groups of small fibres. In other words, young people have muscles composed of many smaller fibres and older people have muscles composed of fewer but larger muscle fibres.
However, although performance doesn’t have to decline (assuming that the young and older person are doing the same level and intensity of training) the time taken to recover afterwards does increase with age and longer rest periods are required in between exercise sessions.
This post exercise muscle soreness is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and is felt most strongly in muscles 24 – 72 hours after the exercise. It is a symptom of muscle damage caused by eccentric muscle contraction. An eccentric muscle contraction is one where the muscle contracts but lengthens at the same time – running downhill or downstairs is a prime example.
Well, I did one and a half hours of sparring practice last Saturday – bouncing backwards and forwards on the balls of the feet for most of that time, followed by some vigorous skipping at karate on Monday and some fairly intense kicking practice on Wednesday. All of these activities involve eccentric muscle contractions so it is not surprising that I am suffering from DOMS!
Another interesting fact about DOMS (according to Wikipedia) is that soreness is only one of the temporary changes caused in muscles by unaccustomed or extreme eccentric exercise. Other such changes include decreased muscle strength, reduced range of motion and muscle swelling. It has been shown, however, that these changes develop independently in time from one another and that the soreness is therefore not the cause of the reduction in muscle function.

This is interesting to me because in karate class on Wednesday my legs felt weak, but not necessarily in the places where the soreness was. We were practising kicks over a chair to make sure we lifted the knee high before extending the kick. My legs definitely lacked the power needed to lift my legs in this way so I wonder if I had a bit of muscle swelling as well.

DOMS can take anything from 2-7 days to recover from. Research done on rats suggests that recovery is slower in older people (well, older rats at least) because they have lower levels of growth hormone and testosterone, both of which aid in muscle recovery. Muscles also tighten with age and blood circulation can be slower.

What I was interested in finding out was whether there is there anything you can do to either prevent DOMS from occurring or speed up the recovery period? I was surprised to find that there is not a lot you can do to prevent DOMS, other than avoid eccentric muscle contractions, and that pre-workout warm ups and post workout cool downs make no significant difference. Stretching also makes little difference though it might help older people more by increasing blood flow to muscles.

The only thing that has been shown scientifically to reduce the intensity of DOMS is light aerobic exercise at the end of a workout.  Other more anecdotal suggestions include massage, hot baths or a sauna which are thought to help because they increase the blood supply to the muscles.

If there is not much we can do to prevent DOMS developing is there anything we can do to hasten recovery? Again, there are many anecdotal remedies including taking an ice bath, applying muscle compression or doing yoga. Research though suggests that exercising sore muscles is the best way to reduce or eliminate soreness. The degree of soreness does not reflect the magnitude of muscle damage and exercising sore muscles does not damage them further.

Other factors that appear to be important are getting adequate sleep – 8 hours a night is recommended, reducing mental stress and eating a balanced diet rich in micro-nutrients.

So, what have I learnt here that is useful to me? Well, the good news is if I train hard I should be able to keep up with the youngsters in our karate class. The muscle soreness I’m experiencing isn’t a cause for concern – just inconvenient and it is perfectly safe to continue exercising through it. In fact it seems that it is preferable to continue exercising through it as it may help speed up recovery from the soreness. I also know that I need to try and get more sleep; I’m not sleeping to well at the moment (partly due to the soreness). Perhaps a hot bath after karate class would help reduce soreness AND promote better sleep? Mmmmm…I like the sound of that…..

Do you have any advice on the prevention or reduction DOMS?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The benefits of training solo...

Though martial arts is essentially about learning self-defence, a process which requires at least two people (attacker and defender), it is also an art that can be practiced solo. I think that all martial arts have at least some elements that can be practiced solo. I love doing solo training at home and karate lends itself better than many martial arts to this end.

So what things can you do on your own that will enhance your overall performance of your marital art?

Here's my top ten list of solo training activities:

1.General fitness training. Which ever martial art you do, you don't need a partner to work on your general fitness and all martial arts require a relatively high degree of general fitness and strength to be done well. Fitness training should encompass endurance, strength and flexibility exercises.
2.Specific fitness training.  Depending on the art that you do and your objectives within that art you may need to do specific fitness training. If you do competition sparring then a higher than average level of carido fitness may be needed. You may need to strengthen specific muscles to improve kicking height or do flexibility exercises that specifically open up the hips. Or you may need exercises that work on fast twitch fibres to increase punching speed. All martial artist will have specific fitness needs over and above their general fitness needs. The trick is to identify what those needs are for your art and work on them.

3.Kata/Forms training. Not all martial arts include kata but many do and the advantage of training this in your own time is that you can do it at your own pace; choose the kata you want to work on and repeat sections you have particular difficulty with. There are all sorts of ways of practicing kata that you may not do in normal classes e.g. you can do kata as a flow drill with quick but soft flowing movements; you can practice with your eyes closed; facing in different directions; just do the leg work (that's really hard if you haven't tried it) or train it with full power and correct timing. If you are at home or in the gym you are in full control of how you do it.

4.Kihon training. All arts will have a set of fundamental principles or techniques designed to get you moving your body correctly and working on basic body mechanics and alignment. In karate much of this kihon training can be done solo though in other arts I accept that a partner may be required. I spend a lot of my solo training time practising kihon, often in front of a mirror so that I can see if my limbs and trunk are aligned correctly for the various techniques. Again, the advantage of solo training is that you are in control of which techniques you want to work on and how you want to do it.

5.Sparring combinations. Sparring combinations can be worked either against the air or against a heavy bag. Working it solo is a great chance to put together new combinations or practice old favourites. Obviously this is not a substitute for sparring with a partner but it is a useful adjunct that helps lay down a few memory maps for specific combinations.

6.Self defence with an imaginary partner. Yes, you can do some partner work without your partner being there! If you are trying to commit certain self-defence combinations to memory, such as ippon kumite or goshin waza techniques, then you can walk through these with an imaginary partner. You won't know how well  you can get them to work until you try them on a real partner but at least you'll remember what you're supposed to be doing.

7.Mental martial arts. Solo training doesn't all have to be physical. You can spend valuable time just thinking through kata or combination techniques to help fix them in the mind.

8.Reading. Reading about martial arts, whether it be about history, culture, technique or philosophy, should also be thought of as a form of solo training because it all enhances your general understanding of martial arts. Reading makes you think and broadens your martial arts horizons. By understanding your art (and others) in a cultural and historical context you become better able to interpret kata and look at how techniques can be transferred to a more contemporary context.

9.Writing. Writing is not everyone's cup of tea I know but it can be very useful. Writing can just consist of making your own private notes about techniques or keeping a training log. Alternatively writing can include researching and producing articles for a blog, if you are so inclined. For me, writing is very much a part of my solo training and my blogs are the place where I do most of my thinking about martial arts as well as communicating with other like minded people.

10.Meditation. Some will say that learning to meditate is an essential skill for every martial artist. You may or may not agree with this but having some quiet time alone to clear the mind and relax the body or to practice correct breathing can be as valuable to the martial artists training as any physical training. Martial arts is a mind-body thing so training the mind should have some priority in your training schedule.

This is my top ten ways of training solo. You may know other useful ways of training solo for martial arts, so why not leave a comment......

This article was inspired by Michele's article on Solo Karate Training

Friday, 18 March 2011

Slowing down, speeding up and Iain Abernethy seminar....

I decided to slow down a bit this week. I don't think I've been giving myself enough time to recover between sessions.

Over the last few weeks the schedule has been:

Monday 1.5 hour workout at home in the morning followed by 2.5 hours of karate classes in the evening,
Tuesday push-up challenge,
Wednesday 1.5 hour karate class,
Thursday push up challenge,
Friday 1.5 hour workout at home,
Saturday push up challenge and
Sunday 1.5 hour kobudo class.

So, not a lot of time for recovery between sessions! My muscles have been aching and I've been more stiff than usual following a session so I think a slow down was definitely needed.

This week I've laid off the push up challenge. I repeated week 5 last week and still failed to achieve 45 consecutive push ups in the exhaustion test. I decided that rather than repeat week 5 again I would take a week out and then try the exhaustion test again to see where I'm at.

I've still managed to fit in my two long home training sessions but I've concentrated very much on karate rather than general fitness. I had been determined to pin down my ippon kumite techniques this week but alas time ran out on me. This will definitely be my job next week...

Sensei was clearly not aware that I was trying to rest up a bit this week and decided to have a fitness binge with us on Wednesday. This consisted of push ups, sit ups, squats, burpees, running around....and that was just the warm up. We then moved onto pad work and after doing a few minutes of punching we were straight into doing the following sequence: 10 kicks with each leg of - front kick, roundhouse kick, back kick, side kick, spinning hook kick and jump kick! Just when we thought it was all over Sensei shouts 20 push ups! Followed by a 1 minute plank, followed by standing in shikko dachi (horse stance) for 1 minute. Get a drink! Then immediately into kata with bunkai demonstration. After doing 3 different kata : Get your sparring mitts on! Two rounds of sparring was then followed by some stretching. There was definitely some soaking wet gis after that session!

Last Sunday I attended a seminar with Iain Abernethy. This is the second seminar I've attended with him and it is always a great experience. I can't believe how fast that guy can execute self-defence techniques - you just wouldn't stand a chance against him! Anyway we focused on the bunkai from pinan nidan (there's always more to that kata than meets the eye) and then looked at bunkai from Bassai Dai. This was especially useful for me as Bassai Dai is one of my kata for shodan grading. Iain is such an easy, approachable guy with lots of amusing anecdotes to tell in between teaching us. Apparently he was impressed with our standard of kata which he said made it easier for him to teach us bunkai. Nice to know I can do something right!

The photo above shows left to right: Steve Hegarty (my instructor), Iain Abernethy and me!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Training review and update

Where is the time going? When I started this fitness program and my black belt training I had 24 weeks to go - that's nearly 6 months, now I only have 14 weeks left and that doesn't seem very long at all. So much to do, so little time to do it!

One of the problems I'm facing is proportioning my time between general fitness training and specific karate training, particularly the stuff on the black belt syllabus. Over the last couple of weeks I've moved from doing mainly fitness training to doing mainly karate training. This is because there is so much to cover and I need to make quite a lot of progress in certain areas, particularly in some of the kihon (basics) which are very detailed and prescriptive.

A kick can't just be any old kick it has to be a super high-quality 'Marks & Spencer' style kick. Well some of my kicks are only 'Tesco' quality at the moment (some may even be 'Budgens'). No disrespect meant to these supermarkets - they operate in different customer markets but you get my drift. 

So how do you get from Budgens to Marks & Spencer with your kicks? Well it's just a case of checking your technique is correct and then practice, practice, practice. So this is what I have been doing. Lots.

However, spending much of my home training time practising basic kihon has meant that I don't have a lot of time to follow my general fitness program so I have had to prioritise and double up where possible. So instead of shadow boxing for endurance training I now go through all 12 of my kihon combinations several times. Believe me, when you are putting all your power and effort into performing these you really work up a sweat and get your heart going!

I am still doing squat training, balance training and the push up challenge on a regular basis and I try to do the flexibility exercises at least twice a week. The push up challenge has actually become the most constant exercise in my week. I have been following the program with almost religious zeal and I'm making progress. On Saturday (the end of week 5) I managed 120 push ups divided into 8 sets (with 30 done in the last set). However, I didn't do so well with the exhaustion set - I could only get to 35 whereas I needed to get to 45 to move onto the next week of the program. So I am repeating week 5 again this week. But hey, 120 push ups in 15 minutes (with short breaks between sets)? No way I could have done that a few weeks ago!

So, where to go now? I think I will be reviewing my training aims and re-planning my program a bit to reflect the need to spend more time practising specific karate techniques. I need to be thinking about by ippon kumite techniques (1 step sparring) and self defence techniques as well as continuing to practice kata and kihon. However, strength, fitness and flexibility are also important so I still need to fit this in somewhere.....

Keep you posted. Happy training!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

A private lesson experience

I've been a little distracted this week with sorting out my computer virus problems (see: Computer Virus Frustrations!). This has now been sorted out but it has made me a little late posting on this blog this week!

Despite a few wasted hours fixing my computer I have still been following my training program, though not as frequently as I would have liked. I suppose the real highlight of the last fortnight was having a private karate lesson with my instructor. I've never had a private lesson before but my instructor offered it to me for free as a thank you for helping him with the junior class over the last 18 months.

I found the private lesson both exciting and scary. Exciting because it was an opportunity to specifically work on things I needed or wanted to work on and receive lots of individualised feedback and advice but scary because all the attention was on me and all my negative points were exposed and dissected in detail. However, this is the nature of martial arts training - one improves more quickly if negative points are highlighted and corrected early so I was very grateful for the feedback.

My instructor filmed me performing my punching and kicking combinations and also my kata. Seeing yourself on film is a revelation and not necessarily a pleasant one! My punching combinations didn't look too bad but I thought my kicking combinations were pretty awful on the whole. My back kick is too low, my front kick doesn't snap back enough, my roundhouse kick is off-line and my side kick lacks power. I can work on all this though, at home, and it WILL get better. Seeing yourself look bad at something really motivates you to want to get better at it. The other negative thing about seeing myself on film is that my gi makes me look enormous, especially around the hips - these things really aren't designed to flatter!

My kata performances are a work in progress. My Bassai Dai performance has strong points and weak points. I hadn't realised until this lesson that I had actually misinterpreted some of the moves and was doing them incorrectly. These errors have now been pointed out,  so I can work on them in my own time. In fact I've been working on them quite hard since the lesson and I reckon that if I was filmed again you would already see some improvement in my performance.

The lesson focused entirely on basics - punches, kicks, stances and kata. These are things every karate-ka needs to work on constantly so it was very valuable to work on this in a private lesson. The hour flew by and left me feeling pretty tired, both mentally and physically. I would definitely recommend a private lesson, particularly if you have certain issues that you need to work on. 

Have you ever had a private martial arts lesson? Did you enjoy it or find it too intense? 

Monday, 21 February 2011

Push Ups are mental!

I've just completed week 3 of the push up challenge and I've decided that push ups are mental! By mental I mean psychological. By psychological I mean that your mind controls how many you can do - or appears to...

Take yesterdays effort for instance: The first set required me to do 11 push ups. I did this but could barely have pushed a 12th out. The second set required 13 push ups. I did this and easily pushed out the 12th but could not have pushed out 14. The third and fourth sets only required 9 push ups each. I could not have pushed out more than 9 for each - my arms were literally trembling! Then for the 5th set I had to push up until I maxed out but had to do a minimum of 13. I set the target at 18 because I had achieved 16 the last time and wanted to feel I was making progress. I did 18 easily but could not have pushed out a 19th!

What's going on? It's as if my mind tells my body what it is capable of doing for each set of push ups and enables me to access the required physical resources to achieve the task but no more. It definitely feels like a case of mind over matter. My husband has experienced the same phenomenon with his push up challenge.

Is this a working example of the unification of mind, spirit and body?

I decided to apply the principle to my training this morning. Instead of doing shadow sparring I set myself the task of going through all my punching combinations. We have 6 different combinations but the format is similar for each, consisting of : start in yoi, step into zenkutsu dachi with kamae, punch 1, punch 2, kamae, step back into yoi and then repeat on the other side. I decided to set myself the target of doing each combination 10 times on each side, making a total of 120 punch combinations. I thought this would test out my endurance, particularly as I intended to do every combination with maximum vigour!

I decided that a stepped approach similar to the push up challenge was required, so I did each of the six combinations in turn, 10 times on each side and then had 60 seconds rest before starting the next combination. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes and I didn't even collapse in a heap at the end of it!

It was as if once I had set the target and a schedule for achieving it, my mind just instructed my body to get on with it and released the necessary physical resources to do it.

I think I'm learning a lot more about myself from this push up challenge than just how to do push ups.....

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Some ups and downs this week.....

The last two weeks training has gone a bit slower than planned! Unfortunately some of my training has been thwarted by illness (heavy cold) and injury (pulled deltoid muscle). Typically, the days I was unable to train because of illness or injury were the days I had the time to do it!

Last week I managed to fit in the program twice by doing different bits on different days as I felt up to it but this week I didn't do anything significant until today. I managed to get off work early so came home and spent an hour in the gym doing some fitness and weights training and some karate stuff. I feel I've made up a little bit for not training on Monday (my day off) but my left shoulder was so sore I thought I'd better rest it.

Strangely this did not stop me doing a double karate class on Monday evening (I'd have to be on my death bed to miss that). Unfortunately, Sensei had decided to dedicate the whole week to kihon training, mainly punching - which was good but very hard on my poor shoulder which was really throbbing by the end of class! We did some stretching at the end and Sensei showed my partner how to stretch out my shoulder.

Next morning I woke up expecting my shoulder to be really sore but to my amazement it felt fine. I don't know if it was the stretching or the kihon or something else but it's not bothered me much since.

The part of my training that I have consistently managed to maintain this last fortnight is the Push Up Challenge (see my left side bar for results). I am now on week 3 and have been following the program to the letter. My husband has joined me in the challenge so we can motivate each other to keep going. It is a hard challenge but I'm slowly making progress. At the end of last week (week 2) I maxed out with 16 push ups. I know this doesn't sound many but that only represents the last set of push ups out of 5 sets. You do a prescribed number of push ups for the first 4 sets with a minute rest between, then you do as many as you can in the last set - that's the number you record. However, if you add the 5 sets together I did 61 push ups - which sounds more respectable!

I have another day off tomorrow so I am hoping that now I am free of illness and injury I will be able to get up to speed with program again and have a good long session of solo training.

Happy training....

Monday, 14 February 2011

Don't forget about facial fitness as well.....

How many hours a week do you spend exercising your body? Two, five, ten, fifteen? No doubt if you are reading this you are interested in fitness or sport and spend some hours every week exercising; be it cardio training, weights, flexibility or whatever. You are probably careful about what you eat too. It's important to you; you want to be fit, toned and trim; you want to stay healthy into mid life and old age. You want to stay looking youthful for as long as possible. Am I right?

Well, what about your face then? Do you exercise that too?

Have you ever had that experience of walking behind someone (usually a woman) who looks slim and attractive, well toned and stylishly dressed, then she turns around and you recoil a bit in horror because her face is much older than you expected? Sounds horrible I know but would you like to be that woman? I wouldn't.

Don't worry, this isn't about to turn into an advert for cosmetic surgery or botox - I wouldn't advocate either. I think cosmetic surgery should be reserved for people who have genuine need i.e. facial deformity or disfigurement following an accident or burn. What I am actually advocating is a more natural remedy for staying youthful - a facial exercise program....

Here are some facts: There are around 60 muscles in the human face. The facial muscles differ from the muscles in our bodies in that they are directly attached to each other and to the skin. Many of these muscles are not frequently used and, as with somatic muscles, the 'use it or lose it' principle applies and the facial muscles can sag and atrophy as we age.

As the muscles in our faces sag they drag down the skin with them giving the classic ageing signs of eye bags, loose skin on the upper eye lids, jowls, turkey necks.....   As the muscles continue to atrophy and thin our eyes and cheeks get that sunken appearance and our skin no longer 'fits' onto the shrunken frame causing folds and wrinkles to appear. Of course this will all be compounded if we ill treat our skin by exposing it to ultra-violet light and/or smoking causing it to lose it's elasticity as the collagen fibres break down. If you are a runner the news just gets worse.....jogger's faces tend to age more quickly than others because of the constant jarring of the face with each step, pulling the muscles down. People doing outdoors sports also tend to get more exposure to sunlight.

If we neglected our bodies as much as we neglect our faces we would hardly be able to walk! But we don't neglect our bodies in this way so why do it to our faces - the one part of us we really would like to keep looking good?

Have I convinced you that you need to exercise your facial muscles as well as your body?

I started a facial exercise program about 2 years ago and think that my face has definitely benefited from it. This is no miracle cure or quick fix, like any exercise program it takes a while to see results and you have to keep it up - for ever! The effects on my face are subtle but noticeable. The eye bags I was starting to develop have gone. I don't really have any lines across my forehead, the skin on my face is smooth and taut and my jawline is clearly defined. Don't get me wrong - I don't exactly look 21 any more but most people don't think I look my 48 years either. I don't feel I've rewound the clock a great deal but hopefully I'm stopping it from ticking forward too quickly!

The program I'm following is Eva Fraser's - check out her website, but there are other programs available as well.

Here's some pictures of Eva. She was born in 1928 and was 79 when these pictures were taken! She has had no cosmetic surgery.

The exercises are structured and address individual muscle groups in the face. They are not merely about pulling faces in the mirror. They start off without the use of resistance whilst you learn to find and isolate specific muscles. Once you can find the muscles and control them you move onto the advanced phase which involves exercising the muscles against resistance - just like you would your body. Once you get the hang of it the program takes about 10-15 minutes a day and eventually tails off to 10 minutes 3 times a week as a maintenance program.

Why not add facial exercises to your fitness routine and have the complete health and fitness look?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Week 5 - progress report

This is the beginning of the fifth week of my pre shodan training programme - just 18 more to go, eek, scary!
So, how is it going?

Endurance and speed training: I have focused pre-dominantly on shadow sparring and various kicking drills for my endurance training. I started to get on better with the shadow sparring once I had developed a set of sparring combinations to work on. This way I can get some combinations really drilled into my head whilst working on my stamina - kill two birds with one stone I say! The kicking drills do the same thing - they enable me to improve my kicking techniques and leg strength whilst getting my heart rate up at the same time. I do some of the shadow sparring hitting the air and some hitting the bag. I haven't managed to do as many endurance workouts as I wanted, just one or two sessions a week (I'd aimed for 3) but time is limited. However I'm going to aim for 2 sessions this week. This morning I did 15 minutes solid of shadow sparring so I was pretty pleased with that.

I know a lot of martial artists like to go running as a way of improving cardio fitness and stamina. In fact, I know some have to do a timed running test as part of their black belt grading. But does running build the right sort of endurance for martial arts? Martial arts usually requires short bursts of intense activity, particularly for sparring. A kata performance can be very energetic but it only last for a couple of minutes at most. I could understand sprint training as a good form of endurance training for martial arts, but jogging a few miles? I've never been a runner so I accept that I could be completely wrong on this issue - what's your view?

Weights and conditioning: I'm not aiming for big bulging muscles here, just improved tone and strength. I read recently on Fitness Black Book, that to improve muscle size you need to exercise the muscle to failure - the number of reps or weight used is irrelevant, it's the effort that counts. If you don't want your muscles to get overly large but just stronger and toned then don't exercise the muscle to failure. This presents me with a dilemma! I don't particularly want big muscles (not that women's muscles get that big anyway) but the hundred push-up challenge that I'm doing requires me, in the last set of reps, to do push  ups until I 'max out', i.e. exercise to failure. Not wanting to do the challenge half hearted I'm 'maxing out' on the push ups but I'm watching those muscles don't get too big!

Flexibility and balance training: I love doing the flexibility training. I find doing the long, slow stretches very relaxing - a good counter balance to the endurance and weights training. I tend to do the stretching exercises on the in between days (i.e the days I'm not doing the other stuff). I generally do the balance exercises first and maybe a bit of kata and then spend half an hour stretching. I've even tried adding 5 or 10 minutes of meditation onto the end of it when I'm feeling at my most relaxed. I'm really working on the hips at present. My instructor told me that my shiko dachi (horse stance) is not low enough when I'm doing seienchin kata so I think being able to open up my hips more will help with this.

I'm also working on various karate techniques, mainly basic kihon stuff but I'll talk about the benefits of doing that in a later post.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Push ups - the challenge...

In my last post I set myself a target of doing 50 push-ups. I hadn't really thought about how I would get there but T left me a comment with a link to a website called  Hundred Push-ups. com. Having reviewed the website I have decided to take up the challenge! My target is still 50 rather than 100 push-ups but I'm going to follow the programme to achieve it.

Why do push ups? Apparently push ups are the ultimate exercise. In a single push up motion you simultaneously strengthen the chest, deltoids, lower back and triceps. In order not to collapse to the floor with each push up you have to spend as much time and effort lowering your body down as pushing it back up. According to Myatt Murphy," It's this controlled pace that works muscles through three types of muscle-building resistance (concentric, eccentric and isometric) while teaching them to work as a team."

Myatt also goes on to say that other benefits of push ups include improving your reaction time by training your proprioceptive fibres to respond more quickly. Apparently, holding yourself in a push up position causes proprioceptive fibres (part of the body's balance system) to fire continuously just to keep your body from falling over. In addition, due to the high rep nature of push ups, they increase blood flow within the torso and arms, flushing out lactic acid and reducing post workout soreness in the muscles following weights exercises.

How do you do push ups correctly? Though people seem to have slightly different thoughts on this, the following video seems to outline the most common method:

Some sites seem to advocate going down until your chest actually touches the floor whereas others recommend lowering yourself until the elbows are bent at 90 degrees. I can just about get down to 90 degrees and still get back up but if I go all the way to the floor then I find it extremely difficult to get back up. What do you think? 90 degrees or all the way to the floor?

Timing also seems to be important. Most sites recommend taking at least 2 seconds to go down and 2 seconds to come back up to get the maximum improvement. Well I can't physically do it quicker than that anyway! It seems to me that too many people are in rush when they do push ups. Aren't you relying too much on leverage when you do them fast rather than muscular effort?

Good technique seems to be the key to getting the full benefits of doing push ups. The torso must remain rigid,  with the abs pulled in tight and the back straight. The legs should remain straight and the hips not allowed to dip. The head should remain in a neutral position, looking down and mustn't bob down as you lower yourself.

I don't think I can quite do the perfect push up just yet, so as I follow the Hundred Push Up Programme I will be endeavouring to improve my techniques as well as the number of reps I can achieve. If like me you're not too hot at push ups why not join me with the challenge - go to their website to find out what to do. I'll be reporting my progress in the left side bar.....

Monday, 24 January 2011

This weeks fitness program...

It's a new week so I have a new exercise program to work on (see left side bar). Most of my endurance training is still done through shadow boxing though this time I have five specific sparring combinations to work on instead of just the random mess I did last week! I decided I may as well kill two birds with one stone with this shadow boxing and use the time to build up a core set of sparring combinations that I can actually use when sparring in the club.

The five combinations are taken from suggestions from Loren Christensen's book, Solo training: the martial artist's guide to training alone. The combinations are:

1. Backfist, reverse punch, roundhouse with front leg, reverse punch
2. Leading punch, reverse punch, rear leg front kick
3. Leading punch, reverse punch, outside crescent kick with lead leg
4. Roundhouse kick with lead leg, reverse punch, front kick with rear leg
5. Front kick with lead leg to groin, spinning back kick, backfist, reverse punch

I found some of these a bit tricky. It doesn't come very naturally to me to kick off the front leg, I much prefer to kick off the back leg but in sparring kicking off the front leg is probably better because it is quicker. It's going to take a few sessions to get these combinations imprinted on my brain but I may give some of them a go if we do some sparring in class tonight.

For my weights training this week I'm relying entirely on my body weight. A mixture of squats, tricep dips and press ups (push ups). The squats are essentially a drill of 3 different types of squats. The first set are done in the usual way with legs fairly wide apart, the second set is done with the feet closer together (just shoulder width apart) but the last set are the real killers! These are the same as the first set but you only do the lower half of the squat i.e. once you have sunk down into the squat you only come half way up before going down again. Try it - it hurts!

I've introduced press ups to the program, not because I like them (I don't) but because they are good for me! I can manage about 20 at the moment which is not many compared to some people but at least they are full press ups and not the girly ones with the knees on the floor. However, I'm a bit slow doing them and don't go down as far as I should but I'm working on it. My aim is to eventually be able to do 50 press ups.

This week flexibility training is still focused on legs, hips and back. I have a new set of stretches but this time they are all static stretches. However, I've just read a blog post on Zen to Fitness about improving hip health and mobility and the author suggests a range of exercises that are more dynamic in nature, so I may give them a go next session.

My karate focus this week will be on the side kick (I'm really lousy at this) and the otoshi (hammer fist) strike which I keep getting technically wrong. I'll also be practising Bassai Dai kata. I'm pondering about whether to actually film myself doing this kata and offer it to public scrutiny. It depends on whether I can cope with potential public humiliation! I'll think about it....

Friday, 21 January 2011

The perils of overtraining...

Since I embarked on this fitness training programme a few people have warned me about over training. This is a serious issue and is not something one should overlook when doing regular, hard exercise. Anyone undergoing a serious program of exercise for a long period of time needs to be able to recognise the symptoms of over training and take steps to avoid it.

So, what exactly is over training? Muscle conditioning requires a balance between overload and recovery. The wikipedia article- Over training states that:

"Improvements in strength and fitness occur only after the rest period following hard training. This process can take days to complete, depending on the intensity and duration of exercise leading to the over trained state. If sufficient rest is not available, then complete regeneration cannot occur. If this imbalance between excess training and inadequate rest persists, then the individual's performance will eventually plateau and decline. Mild over training may require several days of rest or reduced activity to fully restore an athlete's fitness. If prompt attention is not given to the developing state and an athlete continues to train and accumulate fatigue, the condition may come to persist for many weeks or even months".

This inability for muscle to repair properly due to inadequate rest periods may be due to several factors - protein deficiency, calorie deficiency, elevated cortisol levels and an imbalance between catabolism (breaking down of muscle tissue) and anabolism (building up of muscle tissue).

It's easy to get carried away with training isn't it? With all those endorphins flowing through our bodies it can become quite addictive. We may even think that training more often will produce quicker results. Well, it will to a point but then we will start to experience diminishing returns for our efforts. Sometimes less is more. We will get tired more easily, we may become weaker rather than stronger, be prone to infections and injuries, experience a variable heart rate, become depressed or lose interest in our training.....

Over training is a bit more serious than 'just over doing it a bit'. Over training is often considered a medical syndrome - something that needs diagnosing and treating. If you are aware of its existence then there are a few symptoms you should look out for in yourself and a couple of self-diagnostic tests you can carry out:

Zen to Fitness lists 5 signs of over training:
  • Increased appetite
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle twitches and
  • Sleeping too much or too little
Muscle aches, headaches, mood swings and general irritability can be added to that list too.

According to sports medicine , there are several ways you can objectively measure some signs of over training. One is by documenting your heart rate over time. Track your aerobic heart rate at  specific exercise intensities and speed throughout your training and write it down. If your pace starts to slow, your resting heart rate increases and you experience other symptoms, you may heading into over training syndrome. You can also track your resting heart rate each morning. Any marked increase from the norm may indicated that you aren't fully recovered.

Another test is the Orthostatic Heart Rate Test. Essentially this test requires you to lie down for 15 minutes to rest, then take your pulse (bpm), stand up and after 15 seconds take your pulse again. Compare the first reading with the second one. If the difference is greater than 15 - 20 beats then it means you have not recovered sufficiently from your last workout and should rest for another day.

If you think you have been over training then the main stay of treatment is to give your body more time to recover and repair itself:
  • Taking a break from training to allow time for recovery.
  • Reduce the volume and/or the intensity of the training.
  • Split the training program so that different sets of muscles are worked on different days.
  • Make sure you get adequate sleep.
  • Deep-tissue or sports massage of the affected muscles/ self massage of affected muscles.
  • Make sure you eat a nutritious diet.
  • Take supplements such as protein bars/drinks after training.
  • Keep well hydrated before/during/after exercise
If you think you are over training, do yourself a favour - TAKE A BREAK!