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I distinctly remember the rainy morning when I came limping into my garage through the side door. I pulled off my worn and discolored hoody: soaking with sweat and rain. It hit the cement garage floor with a wet thud of finality, which was fitting. I knew in that moment that my running days were over. It was not with a small amount of sorrow that I realized I needed to start doing something else.

My foot injury being the latest in a long line of physical reasons that made running painful had finally won out. As we get older, we have to accept that our bodies change. We must listen to them, know there are alternatives and do what is appropriate. Although I enjoyed the meditative aspect of my runs, it actually was probably not the best thing for my martial arts training.

Martial Arts Training and Workout

Interval Workout martial arts

Martial arts are my primary focus and I have always thought, probably like many, that running is great all over conditioning for everything. Heck, Rocky did it. I think we have all run with the Rocky music playing in our heads, and all secretly wished the song was longer, since it really can only propel you for about a mile or less. I guess you could go to “Eye of the Tiger,” but that’s another subject…

Why do we run? If you are a martial artist you might want to ask that question, especially if you never gave it much thought.

The conventional wisdom is that it will help with endurance and improve your cardio conditioning, etc. but is that what you need? Martial arts are explosive. You need to train your body to do things quickly in a fraction of a second not slowly over a long period of time. For martial arts you want to train those twitches that deliver devastating power in a moment. Running may not be the best choice.

Interval Workout martial arts

One night I was watching a show about Andre Agassi and how his comeback was fueled by changing his training. His new coach told him to quit running for long durations, and do ultra-short sprints instead to build the quick bursts of speed he needed for his game. It was ironic, because years earlier my teacher had told me if you want to be fast, you have to train to be fast, it won’t just come.

Once you have learned something, you need to train to do it quickly if you want to do it with speed. You have to take it to the next level: Be explosive.

Interval Workout for Martial Arts

Interval Workout martial arts

As I thought about it more, the idea was first mentioned to me even longer ago by my math teacher way back in Junior High School who said, “If you want to be fast at math, you have to think fast.” So this all culminated in me completely shifting my workout to intervals and eliminating running all together, since I couldn’t do sprints either.

My focus became, and has remained to be explosive in my workout and only do things that would help me be a better martial artist. I started doing interval training.

Interval Workout martial arts

For my interval workout, I use one minute for the interval activity and 15 seconds for rest or to get to the next station. I use ten intervals. If you are familiar with the Spartacus workout, you can use that same timer. I usually decide what my focus is going to be and then structure the activities around it. I change it pretty often so I work on a lot of different skills and don’t get bored.

It should be challenging, but keep it interesting. I train Xing Yi punching as well as Shou Shu kicking and striking. I also try to include some grappling exercises and weapons. Here is a sample:

  • Timing ball: Combinations starting with one punch, then three, and then five. The goal is to get the punches to sound like a clean group of punches. You want it to sound like a machine gun. If this is new for you, this will probably take some time, so you may have to get the combination clean before you can do it quick, but eventually you will. A group of five punches is not easy.
  • Heavy bag: Kicking usually comes next since, I just worked some hands. I like to work snap-kicks the opposite of the timing ball. Do five in a row, then three and finally one. When you do the last one you want it to explode off the floor as really all the rest were to get you to that point. Switch and do thrusting kicks on another round. (Hopping kicks, etc.)
  • Weapon: I like to switch between a broad sword, staff, and Bokken. So for this example, let’s say we are using a staff. For the staff, I work the five elements of Xing Yi. I do repetitive drills of the basic motions using the staff. Staff is an amazing core exercise as well as great for the arms and shoulders.
  • Exercise Ball: One drill is to practice all of the pins and hold downs from Judo on the ball in succession. You will be using your legs and body to keep the ball under you. In addition, I like to add a roll forward and backward with the ball between each group of pins.
  • Heavy bag: Punching varies quite a bit, and on other rotations I also include other hand weapons, but for an easy combination to remember, especially on the first round, I like to use jab, cross, hook, uppercut variations. On subsequent rounds I like to also add working around the bag, etc.
  • For all activities, don’t pace yourself: Explode!

Structure Your Workout

Interval Workout martial arts

Sometimes, I might keep just five things, and sometimes I add or subtract activities, but I try to keep the spirit of high intensity while I am working at all times. As fatigue sets in, that is when it is most important to rise to the psychological challenge of being explosive. If there is no one in the gym, I like to Kiai as well. It can be a little annoying to others, so use courtesy before scaring the heck out of the person next to you.

For a workout to be effective, it should be thought out. Just because everyone always does “X” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best thing. What are YOU trying to accomplish? Structure your workout for your purposes and experiment. You should also have some time set aside for some soft meditative exercise to balance yourself out, but that is for another time.

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