Tuesday, July 15, 2014

FIGHT MEETS FLIGHT: Cross training and Martial Arts – The Half Marathon (Pt. 4)

From the Stick Chick: Today's guest post is the fourth in a five part series on cross training and the martial arts that will be appearing on Tuesdays (so mark your calendars). Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here.  Enjoy!

So how did this all pan out? What effect does distance running have on a Martial Arts program? Is it worth it? Before jotting down my personal experiences and opinions I did some digging. I read through some magazine articles and did the classic Google search, looking for something that would either confirm or deny my own findings.
These people would tell you running is a good thing!
What I found was rather interesting – it was a split decision between my initial thoughts before I started. Would it help my cardio, or make techniques harder to perform? There are those who say “do it” and those who say “if you want to get better at your sport, do your sport more.” One thing was certain, there was definitely a counter argument no matter what someone said and no one has seemed to figure a “Golden Rule” when it comes to cross training and martial arts.

Here’s a Golden Rule for you – find an exercise that you enjoy progressing in as much as Martial Arts. I disliked running at first, but the feeling of turning it into an enjoyable activity was way more rewarding than sticking to a familiar exercise.

Here is my conclusion based on this experience. I am sure there are plenty of people with very valid points against my opinions – and I would love to hear them. (Ed Note - Comment here on the blog and Troy will see it - The Stick Chick)

I highly recommend dedicating the bulk of your time to martial arts fitness. It takes years of technique, conditioning and discipline to get it right through repetition. I just wanted to clarify that no amount of cross-training can teach you these proper techniques; it is a supplement, not your main exercise. You should not seek cross training at all until you have at least learned the basics and allowed your body to develop muscle memory.

Then you have over-use injuries. I will not get into them in detail but here’s a quick rundown.  Overuse injuries come from doing the same exercise over-and-over again with no change up. Cross training allows you to develop different muscles and keeps you going strong. So if you’re lifting weights, you are helping your Martial Arts training by building support muscles used in your techniques. Train for longevity!

Lifting weights is a great way to build your anaerobic strength. Remember to be explosive!

Now that that is said here is how running can fit into your program.

First and foremost is cardio conditioning. I have heard this everywhere: “Martial artists perform in bursts like sprinting, therefore anaerobic exercise is more important that aerobic exercise.” Half true… at the end of a hard sparring round why are you breathing hard? Your body is trying to replace the oxygen required by your body at an accelerated rate due to hard work. Guess what? That’s aerobic recovery.

Don’t get me wrong, training at anaerobic levels is very important too, but your aerobic conditioning will always be required for recovery. It’s all about intensity. Just because running isn't as aggressive as HIIT, doesn't mean you don’t push yourself every time you hit the pavement.

I have never recovered as quickly in between rounds as when I have had a strong running regimen, nothing else has gotten my heart rate down faster during rest. My heart/lungs are stronger having run for over 2-3 hours at a time. My recovery has sped up immensely. This did not come as a detriment to my techniques either – I felt a little rusty, but I didn’t feel tired any faster than usual during a round. I should point out that throwing the techniques didn’t get any easier, that comes from other forms of exercise like intense bag work. So you get tired from techniques about the same, but you get back up to speed during rest almost instantly.

Another argument that I have heard is that it is inefficient. “Why would I want to run for 2 hours when I can do some HIIT exercises and get more applicable benefits?” I disagree with this argument. Like I said, anaerobic exercise is KEY for your burst strength, but in the end you gas if you lack cardio conditioning. No way around it. If you want to last long you have to train long – and that means having the willpower to push through the “this sucks” feeling. If you never train to go past 30 second bursts, then after 30 awesome seconds you are in trouble.
Whatever it is that you do for exercise – don’t train to be a “bottle-rocket"!

Second, your ring movement is effortless. Given that you are on the move for hours at a time during running, I expected my leg muscles would have built up in that regard. Movement is critical, if not the THE MOST IMPORTANT thing during a bout. Kicks were not any easier though and wore my legs out as if nothing had changed. Ring movement –greatly improved, techniques – little to no change.

Third (the greatest benefit IMO), is the mental strength improvement. During long distances you get to know your limits very well. Then after you get to know them, you exceed them. Running forces you to trust your body more than your mind, allowing you to keep moving even if you are convinced you are too tired to continue. This is very hard to train during a HIIT round – the intensity is simply too high to continue for a long time without risk of injury. Each step in running is a simple challenge and you learn that one-by-one they are not so bad. This allows you to trust your body when in “deep” to push harder. The more you practice this type of training, the better you are at gauging when to step it up during a round without the fear of gassing. You think in steps, not miles and keep your outlook positive. You learn to control the “tired” feeling and understand your body’s true limit. Running is strengthening for your mind too.

One step at a time.

Fourth is of course, weight loss/general conditioning. Distance running burns an insane amount of calories/fat and builds the core of your body. Without the ability to control your body well, your techniques are useless. Side note – it also forced me to watch my food, water, sleep and stretching routines very closely as they are critical to making the distance. Read Post 3 for what happened when I didn't eat before the race.

It’s amazing the difference eating right can make.

I will be posting my running schedule and recommendations for a cross-training routine in my next post, hopefully it will inspire you to try something a little different in your program!

Part 5 of this series here.

Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.