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!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Fitness training - how did it go?

The first week of my training programme is over so how did I do? Well, not too bad! I managed to do the endurance, balance and weight training twice and the flexibility training three times. I also did a bit of kata training and some bunkai practice with my husband. This was on top of 5 and a half hours of martial arts classes so all in all I was quite pleased with the weeks training.

That's what I did but HOW did it go? The endurance training consisted mainly of shadow boxing and kicking drills. I wanted it to be context based i.e endurance training that is directly relevant to karate and enables me to get a sweat on as well as practice karate moves. I haven't really done much shadow boxing before and found the endurance part of it wasn't too much of a problem - I managed two rounds of 5 minutes each in a session which wasn't too bad considering I haven't done it before. The problem I had was thinking up different sparring combinations to do while I was bouncing around. Some of the combinations got a bit bizarre in the end!

With the weights exercises I found that I could actually do more reps than I had set out to do so I decided to double them. Or maybe I should increase the weight I am lifting and keep the reps the same? What's better for improving arm strength for punching - heavier weights or more reps? (I'm currently using 3Kg weights).

The stretching exercises I've been leaving until last and I've found these really relaxing and beneficial. I'm concentrating on the areas where I am most inflexible - the hips, back and legs - especially hamstrings. Stiffness in these areas affects the quality of my kicking so I'm determined to improve it. The stretches are a mix of static and dynamic exercises. I'm mainly working on the principle that dynamic flexibility is more important than good static flexibility in martial arts - what do you think about that?

This week I'm repeating the same exercise program but I've also decided to focus on a different kick, punch and kata each week. So this week I will be looking at the hook kick, maeken zuki (leading hand punch) and the kata seienchin. I've also realised that I need to make my training aims a bit more objective with some measurable targets, so I'll be thinking about exactly what I want those to be this week as well.

I'll keep you posted.......any tips, advice about fitness training will be welcomed. I'm no expert on this so I'm very open to suggestion

Friday, 14 January 2011

Balance exercises

On ‘My Journey to Black Belt’ I have just posted an article about the physiological basis of balance and how one can maintain good balance when executing martial arts techniques. Poor dynamic balance (Keeping balance when moving) is one of my bad points and correcting it is one of my training aims.
Intrinsic balance can be improved by doing exercises that focus on improving the senses important in detecting a loss of balance:
Proprioception: proprioceptors must be trained to enable us to learn new physical skills. This enables us to know exactly where we are putting our hands, feet, arms or legs without having to look at them and is an integral part of muscle memory training. In karate terms, training proprioceptors allows us step directly into a stance without looking at our feet or having to make minor adjustments (shuffling), or becoming unbalanced (swaying).
Here’s a couple of core balance exercises that will help improve your proprioception and balance:
1.       Holding a 1kg weight in each hand, stand on one leg (keep the other foot low to the ground and close to the standing leg but not touching it). Now, with alternate arms, punch vertically upwards with the weights (10 on each arm). Without putting your foot down in between, punch out laterally (sideways) 10 times with each arm, now punch forwards 10 times with each arm and finally punch upwards but this time diagonally above your head (10 each arm). Now swap legs and do it all again!
I like this exercise because it involves punching! To keep your balance, remember to keep your back straight and vertical (vertical line of gravity) and your standing leg slightly flexed (lowers centre of gravity). This will compensate for the small base of support on which you stand. Keep your head up, your neck straight and your eyes focused forward (reduces visual and vestibular inputs to the brain)
2.       Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and jump forwards landing on one foot. Hold it for 2 seconds and then jump back again (landing on both feet). Repeat, landing on the other foot. Next jump laterally to the left landing on the left foot and hold for 2 seconds, jump back. Repeat on the right side. Finally, repeat jumping diagonally backwards towards your left and then your right.
I like this exercise because jumping from two feet to one immediately reduces your base of support forcing you to compensate by keeping your line of gravity very vertical. You need to try and jump without leaning in the direction you are travelling. You need to use the muscles in your legs and hips to propel you rather than momentum generated by leaning. If you are a leaner like me then this exercise may help!

Vestibular and visual systems: Sudden rotational movements are what upset our vestibular (inner ear) and visual systems making us feel dizzy and unbalanced. Quick turns and spinning kicks can be very challenging on the balance. Here are some tips for keeping your balance:
  •       Keep your head up and neck straight (i.e. don’t cock your head to one side when executing a technique). I’ve noticed a lot of kids do this. It may look cute but it stimulates the visual system into thinking you are unbalanced because it detects that your line of vision is no longer on a horizontal plane. It also upsets your vertical line of gravity.
  •        When executing a turn of 180 degrees or more keep looking forward until the last second as your body turns. Then quickly whip your head around. This mimimises the swirling of fluid in the semi-circular canals in the inner ear (vestibular system) and stops you from feeling dizzy.
Other tips:
  •       Challenge your balance system by practicing your martial art on uneven ground or blindfolded.
  •       Practice your basics ensuring that you maintain a wide base of support, a low and vertical line of gravity and that you don’t move your centre of gravity outside of your base of support.
Do you have any other tips or exercises that help improve balance?

Monday, 10 January 2011

Free weights or weights machines?

What do you prefer - free weights or weight machines? When I used to have a gym membership a few years ago I preferred using the various weight machines. There seemed to be  machines designed to target just about every muscle in the body! So I'd pick out the half dozen or so machines that I liked (or thought were good for me) and worked my way around them, gradually increasing the weight and number of reps as I got better. I have to admit I got a little bored with this routine and so I engaged the services of a personal trainer to see what else I could be doing.

He introduced me to free weights and various other non-machine dependent exercises explaining that these were better and more effective than weights machines. He said that the problem with weight machines was that though they ensured you isolated the target muscle to exercise it, they also prevented any of the smaller muscles supporting it getting any exercise at all. Whereas with free weights exercises, providing they were done correctly, not only targeted the required muscle but also ensured that you engaged all the supporting muscles as well, including core muscles - so basically you were getting more for your money.

I became a free weights convert after that! Free weights are just so more versatile. Unfortunately for my personal trainer I didn't feel the need to continue paying for a gym membership anymore as I know longer needed access to weights machines!

Here's an exercise I particularly like, taken from Loren Christensen's book, Fighter's Fact Book:

Lie on your back on the floor (or on a bench if you have one). Hold a comfortable weight in your right hand (3kg is optimal for me at the moment). Hold your arm in a chamber position (as if you were going to punch) with your palm facing towards your head. Push the weight vertically upwards (as if punching) and rotate your wrist round so that your palm is now facing your feet. In other words mimic a punch. Push the weight up as quickly as you can but return it to chamber slowly. Make sure you are using your arm muscles to lift the weight up and not thrusting it up with your shoulders. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Repeat 10 times with each arm.

Why I like this exercise:
  • It exercises biceps and triceps, not to mention forearms muscles, strengthens wrists and probably various other muscles in one go. All sorts of muscles are engaged to keep your arm balanced and the weight steady.
  • It helps improve your punching technique.
  • Punching out fast helps increase fast twitch fibres
  • Returning slowly builds muscle
It's an all round arm exercise tailored for the karateka and any other martial art that involves striking.

So is it free weights or weights machines for you? Let me know which you prefer and why....

Friday, 7 January 2011

Fitness Program planned

I'm nearing the end of my first week of intense training. I have to say it hasn't been that intense so far. In fact it has been a hotch potch of things as I tried out new exercises and drills to see what I think will work best for me. You will notice that I have added some pages to the blog. One just reproduces the training aims that I laid out in my last post and the other lays out a 16 week fitness training schedule that I have come up with.

I will commence next week with 'week 1' of the schedule and see how it goes from there. I will post the weeks schedule in the side bar at the beginning of each week. This fitness program addresses most of aims 1 and 3 and some of aim 2 so it does not constitute the entire training programme - but it's a start!

This week I have done several short sessions ( 30mins) working on various dynamic and static stretches, lots of shadow sparring, I was surprised I could last 7 minutes straight off (reckon I could have lasted longer if I'd had more time!), some kata practice (Bassai Dai and Seienchin) and worked through all my punching and kicking combinations slowly to improve technique. I've also spent a hell of a lot of time reading and studying exercise focused martial arts books and planning out the schedule.

The inspiration for most of my program has come from three books: Ultimate flexibility - A complete guide to stretching for martial arts by Sang H. Kim; Solo Training: the martial artist's guide to training alone by Loren Christensen and Fighter's Fact Book by Loren Christensen.

I'm hoping to fit in about 3 workouts a week of about 30 - 60 minutes but I'll just have to see how it goes! The advantage of have a ready planned schedule is that each week I'll know exactly what I will be doing and can just get on with it.

Have you got any favourite exercises or drills that you like to do regularly?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

My training aims

I have just calculated that I have 23 weeks before the black belt grading date (assuming I am invited to grade and that they don't change the provisional date of June 12th that I have been given). I have a feeling those 23 weeks are going to go by pretty quickly!

I have been thinking about how to organise my training schedule and what my training aims should be. It doesn't seem sufficient to just keep working through the syllabus to perfect the various sections that have to be covered - that would be just about training for the test.

I've decided that my aims need to be a bit broader than this and not syllabus based. Overall my aim is to be a better, more skilled martial artist - picking up a black belt along the way is a short term goal but it isn't the be all and end all of my training. So, with that in mind I have set myself some broad aims on which to base my training:

1. To improve general fitness in terms of increased:
  • Endurance;      
  • Strength and muscle tone;
  • Dynamic flexibility.
2. Development of good body alignment and movement:
  • Improved posture and balance
  • Better stances and stance transitions
  • Improved punches, kicks and blocks
  • Better use of hips
3. Better understanding and use of body mechanics to generate:
  • Greater power
  • Greater speed
  • Increased reaction times
4. Develop a better sense and understanding of self-defence strategy, specifically better use of:
  • Angles and evasion techniques;
  • Strikes, counter strikes and blocks;
  • Takedowns and throws;
  • Locks.    
  • Increase understanding of sen no sen, sen sen no sen and go no sen in a fight situation.
These are obviously long term aims that will take me far beyond shodan but hopefully I will improve in these areas sufficiently in 23 weeks to meet the shodan standard along the way.

These aims form the 'What' I want to achieve now I'm working on the 'How' I'm going to do it. Much of what I want to achieve will be done through the karate staples of kata, kihon and various types of kumite practice. However, I also plan to develop a program of specific drills and exercises that will help me improve my control over my own body, particularly in relation to my weaknesses which are kicks, balance, speed and reaction times.

What do you think of my aims? If you notice any gaping holes or have any suggestions then please let me know.