Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Endurance made simple: High/Low Training

I've been very focused lately on endurance training (especially power-endurance and speed-endurance) for several reasons.

First, I've been extra focused on losing bodyfat, and the greater your endurance the greater a workload you can handle, and the greater workload you can handle the more calories you can burn.

Second, I find that, at least for me, one of the biggest impediments to sparring has been my fitness. When I'm tired, I get slow, and when I'm slow I'm not very good at fighting.

Third, I've been extra focused on my karate practice, and improving skills takes lots of repetitions done while fresh (practicing karate while fatigued is somewhere between less productive and outright counterproductive). If you want to get better at a movement, you have to practice it while fresh, and the better your endurance the more fresh repetitions you can get, and the better you'll be.

Anyway, just like strength training, endurance training is complicated and very individual. If you can afford to hire a really good conditioning coach, that would be better and more efficient than what you can implement yourself. However, even if you can't get expert help, there might be room to improve your system. A lot of training programs are less effective than they could be. People often think that any hard workout that causes suffering will improve endurance. I'm not going to pretend that you can get fit with NO suffering, but results aren't simply proportional to how hard you work.

I plan to write more in depth about energy systems and the best general kind of plans for gaining karate in ways that correlate to traditional martial arts practice, but there is a simplistic overview that I think will be helpful for most people: High/Low.

Let me explain.

Suppose you can do a certain activity for 30 minutes - sparring, kata practice, whatever. After 30 minutes, more or less, you get noticeably fatigued and can't perform well (or maybe you just collapse). And suppose that you'd like to be able to go for longer, or at least last longer while feeling fresh and energetic.

One way people will try to improve endurance for this activity is to just do more of it. So, if you can do 30 minutes of sparring, force yourself to go for 35 minutes, or do it several times a week, and hope to get better at it. Or, similarly, they will engage in a different activity that is just about as difficult (say, jogging at a pace that they can keep up for 30 minutes), and push that as hard as they can. And, often,

Now, don't get me wrong, this approach will work. It just won't work very well.

Why not? Well, a few reasons. Primarily, if you're already doing 30 minute sparring sessions, then adding another similar intensity workout to your week isn't really giving your body a new stimulus. And just extending the workout by 5 more minutes is all too likely to just get your body used to adding sloppy minutes to the end of your workout.

Instead, it's more efficient to force an adaption by adding two kinds of workouts:

1.  Do workouts that are harder and shorter (greater intensity, less duration) than the work you are training for. For example, add some High Intensity Interval Training (quick example: do 3 burpees every 30 seconds for 20 minutes). Make sure the work periods are much, much harder (more intense) than the activity you're training for, but much shorter.

2. Do workouts that are easier and longer (lower intensity, greater duration) than the work you are training for. For example, do 60 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise that keeps your heartrate under 140 beats per minute.

In my experience, you should do each of these workouts at least once a week, and maybe do your target activity once a week (more is ok; much less is probably not ok).

By presenting your body with different stresses (harder, longer) than what your'e already doing, you'll force new adaptations from your system. And those adaptations will help you with your target activity - there is no such thing as mitochondria that only work at specific intensities, you either have more or you don't. So those adaptations will carry over to your target activity.

Give it a try for 3-4 weeks and see how much it helps!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Karate and Community (what your style is for, part 3)

I have two parallel thoughts that converge into one idea.

The first thought: if you read a lot of the modern discussion around 'diet' and health, most responsible advocates (doctors, bloggers, science journalists, trainers, fitness coaches, etc.) are promoting a multi-tiered approach to health. You should eat a good diet (I know, there's disagreement on what that means, but almost everyone agrees at least you should focus on not eating too much, eating fruits and vegetables,and limiting processed foods), sure, but also you should get plenty of sleep at the right times, get plenty of physical activity, and plenty of social interaction. ALL of these are important.

The second thought: in online forums I see a lot of discussion about choosing a martial arts style (or school), and which styles are best, and so on.

If you've been following this blog, you know there is one primary indicator for a 'good' martial art school - whether or not the teaching is going to hurt you. If the school teaches bad biomechanics (meaning, they have you execute techniques in such a way that they are likely to injure you) or emphasizes head contact or training methods that are very high risk, then it's a BAD school. Don't train there, especially if this is your hobby and not, say, a job requirement, or your profession (head contact is probably needed if you're training to be a professional fighter - but in that case you're not doing this for your health).

But after that - assuming your style or school is not BAD in the way I outlined above - what's important? The training should be fun and seem effective to you or your goals, otherwise you're not likely to stick with it. But, and I think we talk about this less than we should, the school is a social construct.

Your senpai (and kohai) are people you're going to spend a LOT of time with over the years. Training together, talking in the locker room, very probably socializing before/ after class, especially around special events like promotions and tournaments. Your fellow students become your family. IF you train regularly, you're probably spending more time with them than with your own cousins.

So, how friendly are they? Do you LIKE spending time with the people from your school?

I've been involved with Seido Karate, on and off (I've taken long breaks from training, nobody's fault but my own), for over 28 years. I've spent weekends with these people, traveled with them, sweated alongside them. Because of Seido I have friends everywhere I go, and many of those friendships are incredibly meaningful to me. I literally can count on one hand (and have 3 or 4 fingers left over) the number of times I've met someone through my style, out of hundreds or thousands of people, and thought, "this person's a jerk. I'd rather not spend more time with them."

If you ask me "is Seido karate a good style?" I honestly can't answer fully, because it depends what you mean by 'good style'. If you mean, "Is training in Seido the best way to learn self defense?" then I don't know - maybe it is, but I honestly have never trained any other system. Maybe there's a better way to learn self defense, I can't say. If you mean, "Is training in Seido the best way to prepare for a professional MMA career?" then the answer is probably no, at least not by itself. If you mean, "Is training in Seido a mechanically sound way to get fit?" then the answer is yes, our training is not going to put you at an unnecessarily high risk of injury. But if you mean, "are the people in Seido karate the kind of people I'll want to be friends with for the rest of my life?" then I can answer without reservation that you couldn't do any better (not to say that other styles aren't also friendly and lovely).

The convergence: When you think of your martial arts practice as not just your physical fitness training but also as a substantial portion of your community, of your social environment, then you'll better understand its true value.

  • Not feeling motivated to train? Remember that you're not just getting in a workout, you're seeing your friends. 
  • Balking at the money spent to go to a training camp? Remember that it's not just about what technical knowledge you'll acquire, but how much fun you'll have... with your friends.
  • Considering quitting your school and training in your garage? Don't forget, it's not just about what progress you will or won't make, but whether you'll be doing it with your friends.
  • Finding yourself in a school that gives excellent instruction but where your peers are, let's just say, not to your taste? Maybe it's time to switch schools.
Summary: appreciate the friendships and community you develop through your martial arts practice, and don't train with assholes even if they know what they're doing.