Become a more efficient striker and improve your fitness

striking
A balanced, strong body helps improve power and efficiency

If you are someone who trains in karate, you would have heard your Sensei say that the power in striking comes from the hips, specifically hip rotation. Your Sensei is right. Hips play a very important role in the process of striking, kicking, and so on.

But hips are not exclusively the only body part that plays a role in how ‘good’ your striking is.

Just like anything we do, it requires components of our body to work together throughout the process. There are muscles that work as the primary movers, muscles that are secondary movers, and stabilizers. An example would you the set of muscles that make up the core. If you have a strong core you will have stronger striking, faster striking than if your core is weak.

When we punch, or strike, the motion starts with our feet. Foot positioning, stances can be a complicated discussion but I’ll keep it simpler. As an example, if we are throwing a reverse punch (punching from the opposite side of the foot that is forward in our stance) our hip on that side is rotated back and the opposite side is rotated forward. We make ourselves become heavy by digging into the ground with the ball of our foot on the side we are striking with. That starts the process of kinetic energy getting to the punch, the fist. While digging down on the ball of that foot, a few things start to happen. That kinetic energy drives up our leg, through the muscles in the leg, through the glutes. Core muscles tighten and contract to help with the speed and efficiency of the hip rotation.

As the hip rotates forward and our arm starts the striking process, moving forward towards the target driven by the kinetic energy we have created from the foot up, the energy now is moving through additional muscles. The back, shoulder, biceps, triceps, all this working in harmony (hopefully) to execute our striking as efficiently as possible. Just like a conductor of a symphony keeps the wind section, percussion, string, and brass sections working together to make beautiful music, we want the various muscles of our body working together as best as they can to make that perfect punch.

If one of those muscle groups is not able to perform well due to being weaker, underdeveloped, out of balance, our striking will not be as strong or efficient as it can be. Just like an orchestra, if the brass section is not aligned with the other sections, the music just isn’t as good as it can be.

I think we all have muscle groups we like to train more than other ones. That’s why there is the saying ‘Never skip leg day’. No one likes training legs. Try to have a balanced workout routine. Full body exercise routines are a great way to help achieve this. On the other hand, exercises that isolate individual muscles can end up creating muscle imbalances if not done correctly. This can lead to reduced performance, and also injury.

Want to get better at something, then keep doing it. Want to be a better striker, then keep striking and correcting mistakes made in your technique.

Do you have muscle imbalances that need correcting? If you don’t know, a personal trainer can assess you and point these out. This will help you strengthen those imbalances and bring your body to a homeostasis state.

Lastly, something to think about. If we continue to train each side of our body the same, we are only perpetuating our muscle imbalances. As an example, if on my weak side I curl to failure a certain weight for 10 reps, and on my strong side I curl the same weight for 14 reps, I’m perpetuating my bicep muscle imbalance. I’ll always have that imbalance if I don’t change my training. Ideally, you should always train the weak side first, and only do the same amount of reps on the strong side that you did on your weak side. The same goes for striking. Let’s take the jab/straight combination. If you execute the same amount of combo’s on your strong side that you did on your weak side you will never have your weak side perform as well as your strong side.

The weak side will get better, but it will never be as good as the strong side since the strong side is also improving. Try things like a 2:1 ratio. If you do 10 reps on the strong side, execute 20 on the weak side. Developing the weak side by doing significantly more reps than the strong side will bring improvements quicker. You will then get to the point of not having a weak side and being uncomfortable when having to strike from that side.

Ultimately, have fun in your training. Find what works for you best to address these things and help you to become better at what you do. If you aren’t having fun, you won’t end up doing it.

Yours in health,

Darryl

mind over matter

Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.

I’m sure you have heard the proverbial story about strength and focus when a mom comes across their child trapped underneath something really heavy, typically a car, and they all of a sudden have super human strength and are able to lift the heavy object off of their child, saving their child from certain doom. Is this example or other examples of superhuman strength authentic? Did they happen?

There are documented cases of what is termed superhuman strength where typically someone can lift a large amount of weight when a life is in danger. So why are they able to lift more weight than they ever could in a normal situation? Some people call it the fight or flight scenario, or it is also referred to as being motivated by fear. Regardless, the mind is telling the body that there is a crisis and the body needs to react. The body reacts by the adrenal gland dumping large amounts of cortisol and adrenaline into the blood stream. The heart races, blood pressure rises and oxygen and energy are delivered to the muscles. Think of it like stepping on the accelerator of your car.

I’m sure you are thinking how this applies to fitness, working out. Don’t worry, I’m not floating some new idea where your trainer throws you into a crisis to increase the amount of weight you are using. That would be just too hard to do. What I do want to focus on is how the mind plays into this scenario.

A powerful thing

Let’s look at two measurements from a study: absolute strength, the force our muscles are theoretically able to apply, and maximal strength: the maximum force they can generate through the conscious exertion of will. This can be looked at as the force our muscles are theoretically able to apply.

Research has shown that the average person can only utilize about 65% of their absolute power when training, yet a trained athlete such as a power lifter can exceed 80%. Why is this? Is it technique, nutrition, or something else?

The research has concluded that the more intense the competition, the higher the performance will increase. If you have watched the Olympics you may have seen it where athletes are crushing their personal bests. World records smashed. I recently read an article that talks to how people tend to perform at a higher level when working out with a group. It seems that part of it is ‘we are all in this together’ mentality or the competitive attitude that they are not going to be beat by their peers.

So knowing this, the ability for the mind to increase our performance, how can we incorporate this into our workouts?

Application

When we workout, whether it’s cardio, or resistance training, are we actually paying attention to what we are doing, or are we just going through the motions?

Today when I was running on the treadmill, my mind was busy thinking about what I could write today for a post. Different ideas were going through my head, I would analyze each idea and try to expand on it. Alright, got it figured out. I know what I’m writing about today. Then as my mind came back to why I was on the treadmill I noticed I was landing on my heels during my run. I had to consciously think about landing mid to fore foot to correct myself. If we lose thought of what we are doing, we probably are not doing it as best as we can.

When you are doing a pushup, or bench press, or any other type of resistance training are you thinking about the muscles contracting as you extend your arms, or is your mind wondering off to somewhere else, waiting for the exercise to be over? It’s common for this to happen. If you look at how elite athletes train, they have many coaches. Coaches for nutrition, technique, resistance training, and it wasn’t until not a very long time ago that coaches were hired to work with the athlete to visualize their performance and to focus on achieving their goals.

Someone realized that there was a benefit in having their athlete visualize achieving their goal, blocking out any thought of not achieving the goal. Did it work? I guess it did as most professional athletes and teams have on staff sport psychiatrists.

Getting back to how this can help us train, when working out try to focus on what you are doing. Focus on the movement, the muscles involved and executing the movement. With your mind actively involved, you will perform better. You will be able to exceed your performance from last time.

Now, before you get on me for focusing on numbers since I have been known to talk about not to get hung up on numbers, this is different. Think of the performance increase you will have if you are able to recruit more strength during your workout. It’s not necessarily about the increase in weight, or repetitions. It’s about the ability to do more with your body, taxing the muscles to a higher level which will result in muscular growth and increased performance. The same can be applied to your cardio workout. When running as an example, focus on your arms, your legs, how your feet are landing, is everything working together. When running at a sprint speed, are your arms pumping up and down helping to push yourself forward. Do you feel everything working together. For me, when I do this, it’s like I can feel everything clicking, everything coming together, working as one.

Don’t be surprised if you feel like you have just had the best workout.

It’s doable

One more thing. When you head into the gym or wherever for your workout, walk in knowing in your mind that you are going to kill it. Keep that in your mind as you progress in your workout. You may be surprised at the end.

Yours in health,

Darryl

paying the price and pain is my currency

I have dug down deep and have fought every inch of the way

It’s another intense workout, although this time it’s even more intense due to some previous workouts being missed. You’re working really hard, your lungs are working really hard, so hard in fact that they hurt. You don’t recall eating metal, yet you definitely have a copper like taste in your mouth. What the hell is going on? Why do your lungs hurt and why is there a metal like taste in your mouth?

Not uncommon

Don’t worry, it’s probably OK. It’s the body reacting to the hard work and reacting to your breathing. With the intense exercise comes the fact that your lungs have to work harder to get the oxygen required to fuel the work. Generally this should only last a few minutes. If it lasts longer, or if it happens after every workout, you are probably breathing incorrectly, or could have exercise induced asthma or another underlying medical condition that requires immediate medical attention.

When you exercise intensely and are breathing through your mouth, your brain thinks carbon dioxide is being lost at in excess. Your body reacts by creating additional mucus which has the effect of slowing your breathing and constricts your blood vessels. This can make catching your breath more difficult resulting in the pain and burning sensation. This usually is temporary and goes away as you gain more experience working out at this intensity.

Having a metallic taste in your mouth following intense exercise is not uncommon. Dry air, asthma, or sinus issues can result in this. It can also be caused when blood is forced through membranous tissue in the lungs, or up into the bronchial tree. This is because you are pushing yourself to the threshold of the anaerobic state. Although not harmful, if you have concerns you should limit the frequency of your intense workouts. You may also want to see your doctor to ensure everything is fine.

It’s intense

Working out at that intense level can be hard on our body, and our body reacts. Be sure to give yourself adequate rest between workouts to prevent over training. If you are a mouth breather, I’m not being offensive, try to start breathing in through your nose to slow down your breathing so the lungs have time to process the oxygen. It’s tough, but practicing will get you there eventually. Lastly, if any of these things concern you, please see your doctor.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Slow and Steady Wins…

Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Ok, I admit, this is probably not a title you would expect for a post on a blog having to do with fitness and health. Especially today. We live in a society that has a go go go mentality. Fast food, fast internet, texting. We live in a society where we want results now! People get impatient when a web page takes more than a couple of seconds to load, or someone will send a text and wonder why they haven’t had a reply, you know, it’s already been a minute!

Along with all this comes our expectations with fitness, and health to a lesser degree. A lot of people want fast results. Although it took them 1, 2, 5 years or longer to get to where they are today, they expect to be back to perfect health, or have that killer body within a few weeks. It just isn’t reasonable to think these things, especially if you are looking for results that will stay with you a year, 2, or 3 or a lifetime from now. In fact it can be dangerous. If you are looking for fast results, that can lead to people making dangerous decisions, such as drastic calorie reduction changes to their diet that can have long term negative impact. People will get hooked on the latest exercise regimen; Palates, Zumba, px90, etc. By no means am I disparaging these programs. If they work for you, then great! My point is people will look to these programs to get fast results, not always realizing that they are made up of techniques, methods that have been around a long time. Yes, there are methods to exercising that can increase positive results sooner, but you still need to put in the time, and work. I am a strong proponent of exercising smartly, and along with that comes putting in the hard work.

That’s one point I wanted to make about how ‘fast’ is not always the best approach to your health and fitness. The other point is how speed plays a role in our actual workout. I want to talk about how this applies to resistance training, and cardio training.

Resistance Training

Lets look at common goals and benefits of resistance training; increased strength, increased muscle size, improved coordination, increased bone strength, increased resting metabolic rate. There are more, but lets stick with these ones. Excellent goals. So in the spirit of this post, how do we get there sooner? Let’s start by not getting caught up in numbers. Getting stuck on numbers when resistance training will impede us reaching our goals, and can also be dangerous. By getting stuck on numbers I am referring to how much can I bench press/squat/etc? How many pushups can I do? Why is my friend using more weight that I am? Why am I always the last in my class to finish the pushup challenge?

Why do we do this? Because we are human! By nature we are competitive. No one wants to be last. We all grew up being told not to be last whether in sports, class, etc. Let’s look at a quote from a famous football coach:

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

To me, this quote means something different than how it has been used over the years to motivate people, teams. I’ll tell you what it mean to me at the end of this post. But, back to the whole speed thing.

Why is getting caught up in numbers bad? Because most times it means we sacrifice technique, because to get those numbers we end up rushing through our pushups, not using full technique, we add more weight to the bar, speeding up and sometimes swinging the bar to pull in other muscle groups to help with the lift (this is the dangerous part). Ultimately we end up increasing the time it will take to reach our goals. Unbelievable isn’t it, we end up sabotaging ourselves, not even realizing it.

Slow down

Instead of worrying about numbers, let’s slow down and use proper technique. If you aren’t sure or have questions about technique for any exercise, talk to a personal trainer. A great way of slowing down is to adopt a cadence when doing your exercise. I recommend the following cadence: 2:1:4:0. I’ll explain this using pushups. Let’s start our pushups with our body on the ground. Now slowly raise your body using the first number of our cadence 2, for the count to reach the top of the movement. This is the concentric movement of the exercise. Hold for one second (2nd number), then lower for 4 seconds (the third number) being sure to lower until your arms are bent at 90 degrees. This is the eccentric movement of the push up. Now, do not rest, that’s why the last number is 0. Right back into your next push up.

A lot tougher isn’t it! I have no doubt that you will find your pushups much harder to do, and you will not be able to do as many. But that’s awesome! That’s why you do resistance training. You are training smart, and enabling yourself to get to your goal sooner! The slower pace is working your muscles harder, and it is much easier to execute proper technique, and not get injured. Try this with other exercise such as squats, lat pull downs. Remember the formula though, and which number is for the concentric and eccentric part of the exercise. If you aren’t sure which is the concentric movement, and which is the eccentric, consult with a personal trainer, and they can help you.

Cardio Training

The same principle can be applied to cardio training, such as running, cycling, etc. As I mentioned in another article, you don’t want to train cardio at the same pace, all the time. You need to mix it up. HIITS, slow long runs, tempo runs, hills, etc. But, keeping in mind that speed can be bad, when doing faster runs as an example, do not sacrifice technique for speed! You may get injured immediately, or even worse is ending up with an injury down the road due to repetitive strain because of improper technique. When you are not able to perform the proper technique, other muscles will be recruited to meet the demand, muscles that typically are not used for this purpose, thus risking injury. Posture will get compromised, excessive loads can be placed on your joints. All bad things.

When speed is ok

I love talking about training smart. The more we understand about training, the better we become, and we win! Less injuries, obtaining our goals, feeling better. Let me use my own experience as an example on when speed is ok. If you have read my bio, you know I spend time studying and practicing Karate. One of the kicks we work on is called a round house kick. A very common kick, but like anything, it can take a long time to get it to work well. A technical kick that a lot of things have to work together to perform it well. So we spend a lot of time focusing on the technique of the kick. Breaking it down into individual elements. When practicing this kick for technique, it’s a slower kick.

In my Saturday combat fitness class, we will take that kick and speed it up and get probably 3 to 4 times as many kicks on the heavy bag than when I practice this kick as a Karate student. Why? In this example from my Saturday’s class, it’s more a cardio drill than a technique drill. The purpose is to exhaust you, to get you to that point that you are so tired you may only be able to get in one more kick. So as a student in both classes, I have to understand the purpose of the drill, or exercise. This is training smart. It’s understanding the goal of the exercise.

Be slow, be smart

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I said earlier that I would explain what this means to me. To me, winning isn’t how I do compared to others, it’s how I do compared to the Darryl from the last workout. Did I do the best I can do? It doesn’t mean I had to perform more pushups, or do more superman squats, or more round house kicks. It’s did I do the best I can do.

You can’t expect to always do better number wise (remember, don’t get hung up on numbers) because your body just doesn’t work that way. You may not have enough energy stores in your body for this workout, you may be having a stressful day, and you may not have had adequate sleep. But what you can do is do your best, everytime!

I think that’s a fair thing to ask of yourself, don’t you? You know why? Because you owe it to yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you different!

Yours in health,

Darryl