As many of you are now probably aware, fitness is going to play a major role in the current cycle at ATA Karate Denver. It’s probably pretty obvious why there is such a huge focus on fitness in martial arts but in case you’ve forgotten, the reasons are as follows:
- The higher you rank, the harder the work will be. Staying in optimal shape will make it easier to learn and continually practice your forms and techniques.
- It instills discipline and focus in us. Doing our push-ups, planks, sit-ups, laps, etc. will help us to keep our minds and bodies focused in class and outside of class.
That being said, if you’re anything like me, some of your fitness forms may leave something to be desired (personally, I’m not very good at planking). I’ve put this guide together of the best ways to improve at our most common workouts in class so you can practice at home as well.
Yep, we all know and love them. I remember when I first started out and Mr. Strong said “alright, give me 15 jumping jacks”. I thought hah, ok, I can do 15…then he added “in each direction, 15, 15 ,15, 15, 15”. I honestly thought I was going to keel over and die. But I didn’t. And that’s the important thing to remember. We’ve all done them before, and the more we do them, the better we will get!
Sometimes when I’m just standing around at home waiting for something to finish in the microwave or for a pot of water to boil, or what have you, I’ll start doing jumping jacks. I don’t keep count, I just do as many as I possibly can.
How to do a jumping jack:
- Begin by standing with your legs straight and your arms to your sides.
- Jump up and spread your feet beyond hip-width apart while bringing your arms above your head, nearly touching.
- Jump again, lowering your arms and bringing your legs together. Return to your starting position.
This one is very easy to cheat on if you don’t hold yourself accountable. Have a kid or a parent hold your feet down if you have to, it doesn’t count if you’re in a butterfly stretch and just flailing your arms wherever they might go (which is how my original sit-ups looked…ahem). Start with 1. 1 GOOD sit-up in the right form. Keep doing as many GOOD sit-ups as you can. If that’s only a few, that’s ok. Try to do 1 more the next day or so. Eventually you’ll hit the goal you need for your white stripe.
How to do a sit-up:
- Lie down on your back.
- Bend your legs and place feet firmly on the ground to stabilize your lower body.
- Cross your hands to opposite shoulders or place them behind your ears, without pulling on your neck.
- Curl your upper body all the way up toward your knees. Exhale as you lift.
- Slowly, lower yourself down, returning to your starting point. Inhale as you lower.
No, not THAT kind of plank! Remember how I said that this is the hardest thing for me. It still is. So I asked Miss Hasler for any suggestions on how to get stronger at planking. She suggested doing an easier version of it first until my abs are stronger. Sometimes when working on push-ups, people will put their knees down (and feet off the ground) until their arm muscles are stronger. The same thing works here. For the first few days, do your planks with your knees on the ground. You’ll know you are doing it right if you can feel it in your stomach muscles. After that, move on to the regular version of the plank, only putting your knees down if you need to. Eventually you should be able to hold that regular plank no problem!
How to plank:
Assume a modified push-up position with your elbows bent 90 degrees and both forearms resting on the floor. Position your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and look straight toward the floor. Your body should form a perfectly straight line from the crown of your head to your heels.
For some reason, this is the one that kids seem to have trouble with. They have a tendency to stick their little behinds straight up in the air! This one can be eased into the same way as the plank above if you have trouble doing a regular push-up. Once you are able to do a regular push-up well, start doing modified push-ups (staggered hands, diamond push-ups, knuckle push-ups, elevated feet push-ups). This one is all about practice, practice, practice until you are eventually nailing it!
How to do a push-up:
- Get into plank position, with your hands under but slightly outside of your shoulders.
- Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor.
- As you lower yourself, tuck your elbows, pulling them close to your body so that your upper arms form a 45-degree angle when your torso is in the bottom position of the move. Pause, then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time.
This one has always been easiest for me as a previous dancer and cheerleader, but I can see how it would be harder for others. A great way to get good at squats is to practice other leg exercises as well such as lunges. Once the muscles are stronger in your legs, it will feel like a piece of cake to crank out 15 squats!
How to do a squat:
- Stand with your head facing forward and your chest held up and out.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Extend your hands straight out in front of you to help keep your balance. You can also bend the elbows or clasp the fingers.
- Sit back and down like you’re sitting into an imaginary chair. Keep your head facing forward as your upper body bends forward a bit. Rather than allowing your back to round, let your lower back arch slightly as you descend.
- Lower down so your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible, with your knees over your ankles. Press your weight back into your heels.
- Keep your body tight, and push through your heels to bring yourself back to the starting position.
No, we aren’t being tested on our running or flexibility but I’m throwing these in as well since they are things we should all be working to improve on. Running is my Achilles’ heel. I HATE it. So I’m taking steps to make it easier for me. I have a Fitbit and aim for 10,000 steps per day at minimum. I also go to the local rec center and hit the running track while listening to c25k. If you’ve never heard of c25k, it’s an amazing way to build up your stamina!
I’ve saved my favorite for last! There is a really good stretch that I was taught as a dancer to improve my middle splits. Whenever I am relaxing and watching tv, I’ll lay on my back with my butt at a 90 degree angle against the wall. Your legs go up and you let gravity pull them to the sides. This will gradually increase your flexibility without putting any strain on your back or legs. Check out the picture below if my description isn’t precise enough!
I hope these tips have been helpful and will help to prepare you for your upcoming testing! If you have tips or tricks of your own, please let us know in the comments!