The body contains more than 600 muscles. About 65% of these are above the waist. All of these muscles are limited by a basic principle of the body; use it or lose it. Muscles which are used frequently respond by having increased blood supply, more mitochondria (energy producing cellular subunits) and less cramping.
Modern humans tend to be quite sedentary. This lifestyle leads to progressive shrinking and weakening of the muscles. The arms and legs atrophy and the smooth shape of body contours is replaced either with bony protuberances or deposits of fat. And as the modern sedentary human ages weakness becomes prevalent. By the age of 74, 28% of American men and 65% of American women cannot lift objects that weigh more than 10 pounds. These people are so weak that opening bottles and carrying packages become difficult or impossible. Nearly all such limitation is avoidable by regular resistance type exercise. Elderly people will also respond to resistance type exercise but the process is somewhat slower than in youth. It is easier to maintain strength than to develop it when elderly.
In general resistance type training involves weights, either free weights or multistation machines which offer resistance to certain directions of movement. The following terms are important to understand in order to develop a reasonable strength training program; repetition, set, specificity, overload.
I will discuss these terms in relationship to the bench press. The bench press is done by lying on your back on a bench and pushing a weight held in both hands towards the ceiling.
A repetition is each time that you push the weight upward. Say that you start with the weight in your extended arms and lower to your chest, then push it upwards again. That is one repetition. Now say you continue to do the same action ten times. You have now done 10 repetitions.
A set is a group of repetitions which come to an end. Say that you get up from the table after you did the above 10 repetitions. You walk around for a few minutes. You have completed one set of 10 repetitions of bench presses. After a few more minutes you get back on the bench and do 8 more repetitions before getting up to walk around again. You have now done two sets; one of 10 repetitions and one of 8 repetitions.
Specificity relates to the muscle groups that you are exercising. In the case of the bench press you have been exercising the muscles on the front of your chest, i.e., the pectoralis major and minor and the anterior part of the deltoid. The bench press also exercises the muscles in the back of the arm, i.e., the triceps. The specificity of the bench press is for these muscles. Bench press usually does little to strengthen the muscles of the lower legs. While training you want to know which muscle are included in the specificity of exercise you are performing so that you can match your desired goals with an exercise which has the specificity you desire.
Overload is a principle used in resistance or weight training. Muscles respond to exercise. If you load a muscle regularly it develops to the point of handling the load which has been applied regularly. If you overload a muscle (within reason) and do so regularly the muscle gradually improves in strength to meet the requirements of the extra strength required. In other words it develops strength.
Proper combination of these four factors (repetitions, sets, specificity, overload) lead to strength development. Generally, one good way to develop strength is to select a specific muscle group which you want to develop, find an exercise which requires the use of these muscles and use a moderate overload to stimulate the muscle group. Overload may be achieved by doing three sets of between 8-12 repetitions. Do just one less repetition than what you can possibly do, that is, if you can do 11 repetitions maximum but not 12 repetitions at all, then do a set with only 10 repetitions. Although here are many different recommendations by different people as to the number of repetitions and sets, the above recommendation yields results.
To summarize then; select the appropriate exercise and do 3 sets of between 8-12 repetitions where you are just one short of the maximum you could do each set. Do this program three times per week.
Karate Specific Exercises:
I often get asked the question, “what weight exercises do I need to do for karate training?” The answer is person-specific. Karate training involves many different muscles. Punching is much like bench-pressing. But the pullback arm requires the latissimus dorsi which is not exercised much by bench pressing; it requires pulling a resistance towards the body. On the other hand front kicking requires hip adductors and quadraceps. And out block requires rotator cuff muscles and latissimus. Because karate techniques involve so much of the body musculature it is really impossible to state that a karate-ka should practice any one particular weight-resistance exercise. The program must be matched to the person and that person’s needs and desires.
The following is a set of weight goals which should be given some consideration when designing a weight-resistance program for martial arts training:
1) Much of martial arts training involves central muscles, that is muscles around the waist. A well-designed program for martial arts wants to involve the strengthening of these central muscles. For the anterior abdomen sit-ups and leg-lifts with and without resistance will help. For the lower back dead lifts and partial squats will help. For the sides twisting and flexing sideways with resistance will help.
2) Always keep in mind your reason for weight training. Do you want to build bulk? Do you want to develop strength? Do you want to trim and firm the muscles? Do you want to punch with more power? All of these goals can be achieved by weight training but it is necessary to design the specificity of the exercise, the overload required, the repetitions and sets in order to attain the greatest benefit for what you really want.
3) Certain weight exercises are mandatory if you weight train at all. These exercises are to avoid injury and overuse syndromes. The most important one involves the shoulder. People who train with the bo (six foot long stick), or do lots of military or bench pressing, or do many push-ups often get pain in the shoulder. This pain is variously called impingement syndrome, rotator-cuff strain, shoulder bursitis. It occurs because the action of push-ups and presses develops strong shoulder extensors without developing the rotator cuff muscles which are the important muscles which stabilize the shoulder. With an imbalance between the strength of the shoulder extensors and the rotator cuff, the weak rotator cuff fails and the shoulder joint becomes irritated. The best way to prevent this difficulty is to strengthen the rotator cuff, a process which only quite knowledgeable weight trainers are yet familiar with. It requires weight resistance training for ROTATING the shoulder and PULLING THE SHOULDER BACKWARDS. If a person wants to strengthen the arms with presses, do push-ups or work with the bo for long periods, the person needs to institute a rotator-cuff muscle workout.
Weight training for karate is not mandatory. Karate training exercises most of the muscles in the body. Power is naturally developed as kime develops. Weight training, however, helps nearly every physical activity I can think of including karate. Weight training is an adjunct to karate training when used wisely.
I recommend a personal trainer. Most physical fitness gyms offer programs with personal trainers. Go to the trainer with exactly what you want to accomplish and ask him/her to help you design a program. After receiving the recommendations, I recommend that you allow another experienced trainer look at the program too. All too often a personal trainer has an agenda which fits his/her knowledge of weight training and he/she cannot vary the agenda to fit other people’s personal needs. A few people’s opinions may well help give better direction to your program.