Getting Started in the Martial Arts
Whatever exercise/martial art program you choose, here are some tips to help you maximize your personal progress while minimizing the chances of injury:
- If you have any kind of medical condition, disability, or are on medications, you really must consult a doctor before beginning a new exercise program. Get a good, thorough checkup for your own safety.
- Most adults injure themselves shortly after starting a martial art; many times in the first class or two. These injuries are avoidable if you start low and go slow. Don't try to keep up with others. Just go at your own pace -- actually, start out doing much less than you think (or remember) you can do. It is much better to progress slowly than to overdo it, injure yourself, and end up out of commission for six weeks or longer... or permanently.
- Be aware that most martial arts and amateur athletic programs teach conditioning incorrectly and in a way that actually causes injuries, especially in adults.
- Do dynamic stretching exercises before class (before dynamic activity). These will prepare your joints and muscles for the drills to come and warm up your body. It is good to do some dynamic movement every day, anyway.
- Avoid deep static stretches and muscle-fatiguing calisthenics before class. These desensitize and weaken your muscles. If followed by dynamic movement, joint or muscle injury is common. Do deep stretching and calisthenics after class to improve your gross range of motion and strength. (If your class has you do deep stretches or calisthenics before class, do them very lightly and supplement them with dynamic stretching exercises.)
- Avoid stretches that are beyond your ability, and don't have others push or pull on you while stretching. Don't attempt things like split stretches until you are already quite flexible (it usually takes six months to a year to develop the necessary flexibility for splits). If you can't get into and out of the position under your own steam, you shouldn't be doing the stretch.
- If it hurts, stop! Some stretching and exercises will cause discomfort, but a sharp pain in a muscle or joint, or a tingling, pins-and-needles sensation in a muscle is a sign that you are injuring yourself.
- Don't attempt techniques that are beyond your conditioning or ability. Bones, tendons, ligaments and other joint tissues develop much more slowly than muscles. High load moves like jumping or jumping and spinning kicks should be reserved for your second year of training and beyond.
- Learn about your proper training heart rate and keep track of it.
- Don't push too hard. Side pains and an inability to carry on a light conversation indicate excess exertion. Slow down.
- Stay hydrated. If you sweat a lot or find yourself getting muscle cramps, drink sports formulas that include salts and "electrolytes."
- Try to do some dynamic movement on a daily basis, and heavier exercise at least 2-3 times per week.
- Injuries are common in the martial arts. Avoid stressing any injured area for six weeks. Braces can help support sprained knees, ankles, elbows and wrists.
- Be very careful when sparring or grappling with people who are much different from you in size, skill or power. It can easily result in an injury (usually to the smaller person).
- If you were active when younger and now are returning to activity, you can probably remember what it felt like to do various movements. Don't try them until you've had several weeks (or months) of getting your body back into good condition. Think about how long it took to get to your current state; it may take a similar amount of time to get back into shape.
Be sure to see our article on selecting a martial art. Also, see our student manual for a comprehensive discussion of this and other issues related to physical conditioning.
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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