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Components of Fitness and the Martial Arts

By Kevin O'Hagan

With the trend in the martial arts world leaning to cross training and many martial artists choosing to test their skills in limited rules fighting, fitness begins to play a major role in their development.

The above mentioned activities require a high degree of conditioning due to the nature of their 'all out approach.' Mixing stand up punching, striking and kicking with upright grappling, throwing and ground grappling puts enormous stress on the body and its energy systems. Martial Artists are more conscious than ever now for the need to be 'in shape' and last the distance if required.

Fitness carries many components and each one of these is vital in some respect for the modern martial artist. Lets look at the components, which make up the term fitness.

Components of fitness: Muscular strength, Muscular indurance , Cardiovascular fitness, Flexibility , Motor skills fitness (agility, balance, reaction time, co ordination, power and speed.)

These five components are essential and the cross training martial artist will have to be training all of them to one degree or another to be 'fit to fight.'

Lets examine the definition of each component and what they mean to the martial artist.

1) Muscular strength is defined as 'the measure of ones ability to exert muscular force.' Strength is needed in martial arts and when all other components are equal between two people the person with muscular strength may just be the one who has the edge.

To be able to find one big knockout punch or finishing kick at a seconds notice depicts strength. To be able to bridge out of a ground hold when fatigued requires a surge of explosive muscular strength. To pick an opponent up in one swift movement and crash him to the floor will take muscular strength.

Strength is a short-term explosive burst of raw energy. When strength is on the move as in throwing that big punch or executing that pick up throw it is termed as power! Muscular force and speed equals power.

Strength as mentioned is only short term, it is explosive using the fast twitch muscles of the body. These fibres in the muscles are better suited to anaerobic activities (working without oxygen.) and are short lived. Hence strength is needed but it is not enough on its own. Being able to bench press 300lbs or squat 500lbs doesn't mean you have got what it takes to last or win a fight that goes more than 20 or 30 seconds. Under the extreme stress and pressure of a fight situation, strength can ebb away very quickly indeed.

Examples of strength athletes are power lifters, Olympic weight lifters, shot putters etc. If you train with weights for strength you need to work up to lifting heavy and minimum reps between 4 and 8 for good strength. Bench pressing your own body weight is an example of a fairly good level of strength in the fighting arena. Building up to mass strength is your choice but not totally essential in the area we are training. Functional and sports specific strength is a better requirement for the combat martial artist (will discuss this in a future article)

2) Muscular endurance is the measure of ones muscles to continue exercise with a given submaximal workload. Examples of muscular endurance exercises are press-ups, free squats, squat thrusts, and chin-ups. With these exercises you are looking to take your muscles through a range of motion over and over again until fatigued.

You are now using more of the endurance based slow twitch muscle fibres and working for the majority of the time aerobically (with oxygen.) If you want to lift weights for muscular endurance then look to work with a weight that you can push for a minimum 12 reps and onwards to fatigue. Muscular endurance is essential for punching and kicking the heavy bag, pads, shields, speed bag etc. It keeps you pumping out strikes and also helps in keeping your guard up, as your arms will not fatigue so quickly.

In ground grappling muscular endurance is essential to keep a hold, pin or lock on an opponent especially if you have to work hard for it. Your grip and forearms will sometimes feel like lead this is where good muscular endurance in these areas will be of extreme benefit. Muscular endurance helps you hang in there longer than your opponent. A good example of an athlete who uses mainly muscular endurance would be a long distances runner, also a cyclist or rower.

3) Cardiovascular endurance is 'the ability to take in, transport and utilise oxygen. The purpose of this type of exercise is to improve endurance by challenging the heart and lungs. This component is a must to last the pace in a hard training session, spar or fight. Boxers refer to this as developing your 'wind.' They do this by plenty of roadwork (running) and skipping to be in shape to endure 12 rounds of hard boxing. Running is still the 'king of conditioners' and can develop your cardiovascular endurance quickly. The downside of running is it can place stress on the ankle and knee joints. You need to avoid running on hard road surfaces and go for grass to lessen the impact.

If running is not your thing or it simply bores you, then get into the gym and try out the various 'cardio' machines they have available today. There are some great pieces of kit to challenge your conditioning. Cycles, steppers, rowers, cross trainers, stairmasters and treadmills are all good. Of course padwork and drills, throwing and grappling all improve your cardiovascular capabilities anyway as well as giving you specificity to your chosen goal. Intensity is the key to how you develop your conditioning. Martial Arts training works both aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Back to Fitness Articles | Part 2



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