Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Intermediate Strength Routine for Karateka

As I've written before, you should change your strength routine every 6-8 weeks to encourage consistent progress.  Most people can't just pound away using the same exercises, poundages, and rep schemes and get consistently stronger.

I decided to prioritize my weakest movement, the pullup (or chinup).  I have never had a good connection, or feeling, in my lats.  I can rarely get a pump in my lats, and when I do pulling exercises I rarely feel a strong contraction in those muscles.  The problem is that along with the glutes the lats are the most important muscles in the body, and I believe correct use of the lats is a key to developing good striking power with the hands.

To improve my lats I knew I needed to do lots of good reps, preferably done without generating a lot of fatigue. That's the best way to improve the nervous system's ability to fire a muscle or movement pattern.  Ideally I'd grease the groove - do a couple of reps at a time, many times a day.  Unfortunately, I work in an office where doing chinups is sort of frowned upon.  So I needed a workout that would let me do lots of sets.

As before, I decided to keep my workout in a circuit style.  I just prefer to rest from one exercise by doing another one.  As long as the loads (weights I use) aren't high enough to really tax my conditioning I feel this is the most effective use of my time.

To choose a pulling movement I had to pick between pullups (palms facing away) and chinups (palms facing towards you).  Chinups are easier - because the movement is biomechanically stronger for the biceps - and I can't do very many of either exercise.  So chinups were the answer (remember, I need to do lots of reps to get the effect I want).  I could have done band assisted pullups or something, but I didn't want the hassle of setting up extra equipment in my bedroom.

Here's what I came up with:

10 sets of chinups (I did 1 rep each set the first time, while this past Tuesday I'd increased it to 2 reps each set).

After each set of chins I did either pistols with each leg (I started with 2 reps per leg per set and got up to 4 with the last workout) or 8 or so swings.  I alternated so I wound up doing 6 sets of pistols with each leg and 4 sets of swings (I did pistols after the 5th and 6th sets of chins).  I cheat on the pistols - I hold a pair of 5 lb. dumbells while I do them to maintain my balance.

After each of the first 5 sets of legs I did a set of one arm pushups with each arm.  The first workout I alternated 2 reps with 1 rep.  This past Tuesday I did 3/ 2/ 3/ 2/ 3, for a total of 13 reps with each arm.  I do these with my legs spread fairly wide (which makes it easier), touching my chest to the floor with every rep.

After the 6-10th sets I did handstand pushups with my feet on a dresser, using pushup bars to get more depth.  I manage 5 reps each set.

The whole thing - 10 circuits, a total of 41 sets if you count each single limb exercise separately - takes just under 20 minutes.  Once it is done I add a couple of sets of adduction/ abduction - either leg raises with an ankle weight or sidestepping with my feet in a band, isometric ground - squeezing out of a deep horse stance for the adduction.  This adds and extra 2 minutes or so.

Total time?  Maybe 30 minutes if you count the warmup.  It's a nice predominantly bodyweight routine.  I'd like to build up to sets of 5 on these exercises before I do something to make them harder.  To make them harder I'd tighten up the technique - do pullups instead of chins, bring my feet together on the pushups, stop assisting the handstand pushups, and use a heavier kettlebell or a pair of kettlebells for the swings.

The routine isn't core-centric enough for my taste, but I find adding in sets of rollouts or planks mid-way saps my energy for the other moves.  I've been doing more core work on my kata days and counting on the one arm pushups to give me a little extra anti-rotation work.

I do this, usually, twice a week.  It's a nice workout - doesn't fry my system, leaves me with enough in the tank to practice kata the next day, and I'm definitely getting stronger.  Give it a try!


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