Some videos on conditioning are immediately below, with text following. The videos were put together for an online course on basic fitness that included handouts, a discussion board, etc. We don't have a discussion board with this web site, but here are the related handouts (these will download or open up a pdf file on your computer, depending on your settings):
An introduction to safer fitness:
Dyanamic Stretching and Warming Up
Calisthenics and Static Stretching
For much more detail on these principles please see our handbook, attend our free seminar, or sign up for classes. The handbook contains a complete list of recommended exercises and the order in which to do them.
Most martial arts and amateur athletic programs teach conditioning in a way that causes injuries. Part of the motivation to create Via Potentia came after years of banging my head against the wall, trying to get established organizations to recognize that they could easily reduce the incidence of adult injuries by simply changing the order of the exercises and reserving some exercises and techniques until the participant has reached a specific level of strength and flexibility.
We emphasize body-weight calisthenics because they are proportional to your size and require little or no additional equipment. Of course, this doesn't mean that you can't get great benefits from weight lifting, treadmills, rowing and other equipment-based exercises.
The following principles will help you avoid injury and maximize your progress when working on your physical condition:
- Do dynamic, joint and muscle conditioning exercises at least every other day (preferably daily). Do them before dynamic activity. These are motions that lubricate the joints, condition the related tissues, maintain or improve your range of motion, get blood flowing and the body warming, and condition muscles to handle dynamic loads. Ideally, some of the dynamic stretches will also mimic the technical exercises to be done in the upcoming class.
- Do deep, static stretches only after dynamic activity. Never before. Long, deep stretches distend and desensitize muscles. They are useful for increasing your gross range of motion. However, when followed by dynamic activity, the muscle has less spring to it and is more likely to tear.
- Avoid having other people push or pull you into isometric stretches. You should be able to do them with your own weight and strength; having someone else push often results in an injury.
- Do muscle-fatiguing, strength-building calisthenics only after dynamic activity. Never before. Strength-building exercises like push ups, squats, etc., tire the muscles, making them less able to handle dynamic loads placed upon them in a busy technical workout.
- Start low and go slow. Muscles strengthen much faster than related tendons, ligaments, bones and other tissues. You can develop the strength to do a technique in a few weeks, but your body may need a few months for the supporting structures to develop the proper condition. For example, I've seen people learn a fancy jumping kick, develop the strength to do it, then immediately blow out their knee or even break the tibia due to stress. It is much better to progress slowly than to push too hard and end up with an injury that sets you back months (if not permanently). For example, you should exercise for six months to a year before you begin doing jumping or spinning kicks, and another year before doing kicks that combine spins and jumps. Whenever doing these, avoid being or landing flat footed; stay on the "ball of your foot."
- Avoid simultaneous loading, bending and twisting of the knee or back.
- Perspire -- don't expire. It is good to go through the math to come up with your training heart rate and try to maintain that. However, there is a simpler way. Warm up slowly until you start to perspire. Then exercise at a rate where you are breathing heavily, but can still carry on a conversation. If you are exercising so hard that you can't catch your breath, are getting side-aches, or can't talk, then you are pushing too hard. This is okay for short bursts, but not for long periods.
- You are going to have some soreness, and perhaps minor strains, sprains and pulled muscles. Avoid taking pain-relieving medication for these unless it is necessary to get sleep. Taking too much pain medication often results in additional injury. The pain is a signal to you to take it easy on that part of your body. Light exercise can help diminish muscle soreness the following day. Keep supportive braces or wraps on injured joints for at least a week past when the pain is gone, and then gradually rebuild the strength.
- It is fine to apply ice to an injury or sore area to try to diminish pain and swelling. However, some swelling actually serves a good purpose -- it helps initially stabilize the injured area. Alternating hot, cold and massage in the days following the injury can help bring down swelling, speed healing, and avoid swelling-related complications.
- Be especially careful if you are older and returning to exercise after some time away. Your mind and body still remember what you could do, but if it has been longer than a few weeks or months, you can't do the same things without injuring yourself. Start much lower than what you think you can do, and gradually work up to where you'd like to be over several months. If you push too hard -- if you don't go at this gradually -- you will injure yourself and have a setback of weeks or months.
- Don't attempt techniques that are beyond your ability, and be very careful when sparring or grappling with someone who is much different from you in size and power. The larger person can easily injure the smaller one without intending to do so.
- Flexibility is very important for avoiding injury and performing well in competition. If you have the time, stretch twice a day -- lightly in the morning and heavier before going to bed.
According to some sports studies, martial arts are among the most injurious hobbies in the world, with the average person experiencing about four notable injuries per year (e.g., sprain, cut, broken bone, concussion, something more than a bruise). For us that means that the typical student experiences an injury once per term. If we have 30 students, that means about one injury per class session!
Most of the injuries I have observed stem from three different sources:
- Unpredictable "freak" accidents
- Attempting a technique improperly, without necessary conditioning or preparation
- Excessive contact/force during sparring or grappling
We take extensive precautions against all three of these sources, but injuries happen anyway. For example, with about 20 students we've had the following (known) injuries in the last five months:
- Two collar bone injuries -- students were just doing forward rolls without contact with anyone else
- Jammed/broken finger during partner drills
- Pulled/torn muscle and tendon during sparring
- Rolled/sprained ankle during partner drills
These are the ones I know about (and don't include my own injuries). Statistically, we "should" have had around 6-7 injuries per month. I absolutely hate it when someone gets injured, but the fact that we've had only five notable injuries in this time, when we could have easily had 30+, actually gives me some relief.
We welcome comments, questions and suggestions for improvement.
Via Potentia, 805 NW Alder St., McMinnville OR 97128
Copyright Via Potentia. All Rights Reserved. Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program; consult a lawyer before making a legal decision. All information provided on this web site or otherwise by Via Potentia is provided for educational/informative purposes only, is subject to correction, and should not be considered legal, medical or other professional advice. Use at your own risk.
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