Because I’m not the brightest guy on the block, one of the biggest surprises for me at the beginning of my martial arts training as an adult came in the form of exercise. Sure I had watched my son and the rest of the students in his Red Dragon Karate color belt class do a ‘quick’ workout at the beginning of every session, but the affect those workouts on my body really didn’t dawn on me. Feh, it was 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class…and it didn’t seem to tire the kids out all that much. How hard could it be?
Like most adults, the idea that 5-10 minutes of working out a day could help improve my health seemed absurd. My wife and I would irregularly spend an hour or two at the gym and the results weren’t all that impressive. What I know now, 3 or so years into my training, is that those 5-10 minutes can work wonders if done properly and, more important, consistently. It’s like taking a cup of water out of a swimming pool. You won’t notice any change at first, but it is there and it will build over time.
What worked best for me were done in quickly — in 15-25 rep chunks. Each exercise would be done and then I would switch to the next without stopping. The key to the success of the workout was those fast changes, low reps, and not stopping no matter how much it hurts (and, boy did it ever!). Here is a list of the exercises I’d run through in one sitting:
crunches (no need for full sit-ups in the quick session)
running in place
V’s (holding the body in place)
Cycling through this list randomly, keeping the individual exercises done in short spurts, for 5-10 minutes a day is what worked best for me. Keep it quick, keep it energetic, and keep it fun — have your spouse, friend, loved-one, whoever, call out the exercise changes so that you’re just reacting and working out. The 10-minute period was long, but not so long that I couldn’t perform in class afterwards, and it was short enough to keep me focused on the task at hand. Whatever you do, don’t stop and don’t give up. Pushing through the pain of a rough exercise is what makes you stronger.
Every so often, our teacher (the firecracker known as Sensei Jessica) would toss in planks, marching planks, dragon drops/burpees, and a few other tortures, but for the most part, she keep it simple. The workouts were almost all focused on strengthening cardio and the core. I feel like the reasoning behind this is sound — you see, you’ll get a lot of toning/muscle workout from performing your katas. Believe it or not, performing a kata at full speed and full power is one of the best low-weight style workouts around. That tightening and twisting of muscles over and over again will begin to tone your body as time goes on. You won’t be building mass, but you will be defining and cleaning up what you’ve already got. I noticed results in my arms, legs, and chest within the first couple of months.
Something I added to my workouts at home that turned out to be an amazing help in both my fitness and my martial arts forms: the horse stance ‘challenge.” I’d get into a nice medium horse stance and keep it for as long as I could. At first it was 15-20 seconds before my legs started to shake and burn. After a while, those seconds stretched into one minute. Then five and ten. By the time I took my black belt test, I could hold my horse stance for 15 minutes with ease, staying low the entire time. This will strengthen and shape your legs and your core if you do it correctly. I’d use the time to practice my straight punches, too! I loved the horse stance challenge!
My advice for those of you wanting to get in shape is to start off with 5-6 of the exercises — push-ups, crunches, running in place, squat jumps, and jumping jacks are a good group to work with. Build up your stamina a bit before adding in the harder exercises, and add them in slowly. Start off at 5 minutes and increase to 10 or more as you get more confident and your cardio begins to improve. Be consistent: no matter who you are, you’ve got 5-10 minutes a day you can spare for a quick workout session. Do it first thing in the morning after you wake up, or right before bed, or in the middle of the day on your lunch hour. It doesn’t matter when you do it as long as you’re getting it done. That consistency will pay off in the long run.
Now go out there and get to work!
-Mathias Nastos, the Karate Geek