Saturday, May 21, 2011

Three Ways to Fail at Supplemental Conditioning

This is a continuation of a series of
guest posts by martial arts (and other) bloggers that I respect and enjoy. Starting with The Things Worth Believing In, Mokuren Dojo, and Low Tech Combat, all on the “21-Foot Rule”. Since then, we’ve had Striking Thoughts post an interview with the founder of Shinjido, Danny Da Costa, and now, the man I hate, Craig Willits of Martial Arts Spectrum with more torture for me valuable information on conditioning. Why did I invite Craig? I’m not really sure. Just kidding! Craig, who runs a commercial program teaching several styles in Virginia has been a standout among new bloggers in this field. He’s got strong opinions, but has the seasoning and communication skills to share why, and his content has been excellent. I recommend you read this post, then head over to Martial Arts Spectrum for more. Please ignore his blatant attempts at flattery. I sent him cash, just like Bob – fail!
- Nathan

About three weeks ago, during a discussion on TDA Training about supplemental conditioning for martial artists, I said that any conditioning a martial artist does "should be structured to work with [one's] martial arts training and not against it." Nathan seemed dubious, voicing his concerns with characteristic candor: "Great idea, but what training goes against your martial arts training?" I had intended to answer his question in an article I planned to post to Martial Arts Spectrum. But then I got sick. As in can't-do-anything-but-lie-in-bed-for-a-week sick. And the article never got written. Meanwhile, I had committed to write a guest post for TDA Training. I'm just a newbie blogger, so in martial arts blog terms this is like a 12-year-old kid getting a personal invitation from Robert Young to write the cover story for next month's Black Belt. I was excited, but was having trouble coming up with an article. Then I had a flash of inspiration. I needed an article, and I was still on the hook to answer Nathan's question. Why not kill two birds with one stone, and answer my host's question on his own blog? Double win. So that's the back story. Now for the article.

Three Ways to Fail at Supplemental Conditioning

If you're an elite competitor, or you're in a line of work where you need to respond to violence on a regular basis, or you simply want to avoid getting beaten down in a confrontation, you need both hardcore martial training and hardcore conditioning. And that means you're going to have to do something more than just showing up for martial arts class a couple times a week. However, you can't just hop on a treadmill or throw around some kettlebells and think, "It's all good." Here's the key: the whole package has to work together. You need to be smart about your supplemental condition. You should know exactly what you're trying to accomplish with each conditioning workout, and how you want it to benefit your martial skill development. If you don't, your conditioning could wind up working against your martial arts training. How could this happen? There are a number of ways. However, based on my own experience and that of my students, there are three major failure points you need to watch for.
Fail #1. Mistaking aerobic fitness for fight fitness.
All cardio training is not equal. Aerobic conditioning helps build your overall endurance and ability to fight fatigue. Anaerobic conditioning builds your ability to function in the face of an oxygen deficit. So which type builds fight fitness? Both. You need a solid base of aerobic fitness to enable your body to handle the stress of intense anaerobic exercise. However, if all you do is aerobic activity, you'll still gas out when you're fighting. To build fight fitness, you also need to engage in regular anaerobic training. Bag work, Tabata intervals (like Crossfit or P90X), and good old-fashioned sparring are some examples.
Fail #2. Improperly structured weight training.
If you're going to lift weights, you can't just rack a few plates and start pumping. You need to know the difference between lifting for mass, strength, and endurance. Workouts designed to meet each goal are structured differently. In addition, lifting for mass (bodybuilding) makes your muscles bigger, but robs you of your speed and flexibility (and therefore your power). As a martial artist, you should avoid bodybuilding and concentrate on increasing muscular strength and endurance. Also, you should concentrate on those muscle groups and ranges of motion that are fundamental to your style. For example, a striker would want to work the muscle groups that contribute to powerful punching. Since power generation starts at the feet, this means working lower body and core as well as upper body.
Fail #3. Improper sequencing of workout activities.
Your body needs time to recover between workouts, or accumulated fatigue will raise your risk of injury. You need to be especially careful of this if you are going to combine martial arts and conditioning at a high level of intensity. That means you just can't throw a high-output weight session or a long, hard run in between martial arts workouts and hope for the best. During a typical week, your total exercise output (martial arts and conditioning) needs to be properly sequenced so your body has time to recover from each type of activity. Based on exercise science research, your workouts should come in the following order: technical skill, speed, anaerobic fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, aerobic fitness. Do these activities in a different order and it could inhibit your progress and set you up for injury. For example, let's say you have martial arts class on Mondays and Thursdays, and you want to work muscular endurance and do Tabata training on the side. During a typical week, you should do your anaerobic workouts on Tuesdays and Fridays, lift on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and rest on Sundays.
For more information about conditioning for martial arts, I recommend Tom Kurz' books and articles. Tom is a judoka and an exercise physiologist who has had a major influence on my own training and the way I train my students. His fitness blog and columns on stretching are all worth a detailed examination.

For more information:

Martial Arts Spectrum where Craig normally writes, when he’s not torturing conditioning his students.
Tom Kurz’s Weblog which Craig recommends (probably great torture results)
What do you want to get out of your martial arts training? the post to which Craig refers
Bare-Knuckle Karate Knockouts a video post at Spectrum featuring old-fashioned Karate training and results
Combat Trainer a nice site dedicated to conditioning methods for combat athletes


Craig Willits said...


The check bounced.

Jules would like a word with you...


Nathan at TDA Training said...

I will be hiding in the basement of the compound with everything aimed at the only entrance and exit!

Great into post at Spectrum

tgace said...

You can also combine things like skill/aerobic/anaerobic training into one "combine".

[shameless post plug follows]

Nathan at TDA Training said...

Oh no! Look at the shameless plug that made it through our SPAM filter! Everyone, go check it out! Heh.