by Thomas Kurz
In previous articles I described basic strength exercises and explained in what sequence they should be introduced in preparation for intensive exercises specific to martial arts. I also explained the sequence of exercises in a workout. Nevertheless, many readers still have questions on these issues. Some of these questions were not addressed explicitly in my articles so I answer them here.
Question: You will not believe how much I have gained from your articles and training advice; this stuff is revolutionary! Now, I have a question on weights and flexibility: I am the only person at my club who lifts weights, so your methods are really convenient for me, but can the others expect to attain maximum flexibility without entering the [weightlifting] gym?
Answer: Strength training is necessary for obtaining the combination of maximal flexibility and strength that I show and for martial arts in general, but it does not have to be done with iron weights. Bodyweight exercises and exercises with a partner, for example, during and at the end of a typical martial arts workout, can be done instead of the standard resistance exercises with weights.
Question: In addition to lifting weights I run for cardiovascular conditioning, after each gym workout, two to three times a week. This being the case, WHEN should I incorporate isometric and relaxed stretches, after lifting and before running or at the end after both the lifting and the running? (This first session I did, I stretched after the run, as my final exercise, and did not seem to experience anything untoward.) I’ve always thought stretching is to be done at the very end, to return muscles to their original relaxed length after training. Please advise on this.
Answer: First, an endurance run (even only 20 minutes long) after a strength training workout reduces gains in strength. This occurs because of the conflicting demands that strength work and aerobic endurance work put on the body in general and on the muscle fibers in particular. This issue is explained in several standard texts on exercise physiology. The conflict is most pronounced if you use very heavy resistance, such as when attempting to increase maximal strength, and less pronounced when you use low or moderate resistance with a high number of reps, such as when working on muscular endurance.
Usually, athletes do their strength workouts on different days than aerobic endurance workouts, with a period of rest between these workouts so that fatigue from one kind of work does not impair the ability to perform the other. The preferred arrangement is aerobic endurance done right after the technical or speed workout, and maximal strength work done in a separate workout on a different day—but it all depends on the current priorities and on speed of recovery, which depends on how much you run and lift. Dedicating a separate workout to strength is usually done when the priority is developing maximal strength. In such cases, work on aerobic endurance is reduced so fatigue from it does not interfere with strength workouts, and the strength workout is the first or second (after technique) in the weekly schedule.
All this notwithstanding, if your schedule works for you, then stick to it—as long as you are satisfied with your progress.
Second, isometric stretches are strength exercises, so they may lose some effectiveness (as far as increasing strength in the stretched positions) if done after an endurance run. I think it is best to do them at the end of a strength workout, after other strength exercises. If you want to do isometric stretches together with your running, then it may be better to do them before the run, and perform relaxed stretches after the run.
Question: I do dynamic stretches every morning and evening. I do no isometric stretches yet as I fear that my muscles and tendons are unprepared for them. I am anxious to begin to help my gross inflexibility problems. Here is my general workout week. What is your opinion, do I train right?
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Weight training, kicking drills, 1- to 2-mile run
Tuesday, Thursday: Taekwondo class
Saturday: Light endurance workout
Answer: Lifting weights before kicking drills as well as weight training for lower body and running on the same day are strange practices. In your case, because you run so little, running on the same day as lifting weights may have no adverse effect on your strength. But if you are serious about your fighting form, why do you run so little? Proper arrangements of workouts are explained in the book Science of Sports Training.
Question: The mornings are the best time of the day for my karate workouts. Can I do isometric stretches at the end of those morning karate workouts or do I have to do isometric stretches in the evening?
Answer: It depends on your objective. If having great dynamic flexibility without a warm-up during the day is not your objective, then you can do isometrics in the morning. If you want to be flexible during the remainder of the day after your morning karate workout, you can postpone isometrics as well as other strenuous strength exercises until late afternoon or evening. Just make sure that you warm up well. You always have to monitor your progress; if your strength and flexibility keep improving while you do isometrics in the morning workouts, then it is fine to do them then.
Question: The best time for me to do my isometric stretches and strengthening exercises is late at night, around 23:30 or midnight. Will this have any effect on my flexibility gains or does it matter?
Answer: Late night is not the best time for working out, but if the exercise does not interfere with your sleeping well, then perhaps it is fine for you.
The importance of getting enough high-quality sleep for making progress is explained in the new edition of Science of Sports Training. In that book you will also find information on the best times during the day for developing different abilities and skills.
Generally, it is better to have a few hours between the end of the workout and going to bed to “walk off” the fatigue, tension, and excitement of the workout. You may want to try doing your strengthening and stretching exercises in several short sessions, each dedicated to one body part, during the day rather than in one long session late at night. For example, squats and isometric stretches in the first session, deadlifts and relaxed stretches in the second session, or deadlifts alone in the second session and relaxed stretches in the third, final session.
In the next article, I will continue answering questions on the sequence and timing of exercises.
If you have any questions on training you can post them at Stadion’s Sports and Martial Arts Training Discussion Forum