Holistic Health for the Martial Artist
As a serious Cuong Nhu student, you can enhance your martial arts training with cross-training in other physical activities.Train in other activities to strengthen individual muscles as well as your total musculature. Running, cycling, swimming and other sports improve your endurance, uniformly increase upper and lower body strength, and help your muscles work together. This all adds up to better performance in the martial arts. You avoid injuries by strengthening muscles and improving your stamina. If an injury keeps you out of martial arts training, you can sustain your fitness and flexibility by participating in sports that do not aggravate your injury. Through cross-training, you can advance beyond the skills you get through martial arts training. You keep the mind and body in balance without burning yourself out. Five steps to Health or Peak Performance To achieve the most from your martial arts training, you must: • Think. Have a positive mental attitude. • Eat. Eat a well-balanced diet and avoid being overweight or underweight. Eat food that is low in fat and cholesterol (fish, chicken, leaner cuts of meat, skim milk, cottage cheese), as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat high-fiber foods (such as bran cereal). Remember that carbohydrates provide 65 to 70 percent of your energy and that an excess of protein and fats is waste and creates an extra load on the body. • Train. Set up a realistic program that suits your potential. Be flexible, listen to your body, and don’t overtrain. Apply the hard-easy philosophy in training by alternating hard work with easy (in a recovery day). Apply a holistic program with gradual improvement as its goal. • Rest. Spend time in meditation. Conserve energy and lower your stress level. Stretch and strengthen all muscular systems to prevent injuries. Raise your performance level by speeding recovery with the aid of sports medicine (massage, acupressure and other physical therapy). • Perform. Set up a strategy that fits your ability by developing your strength and overcoming your weaknesses, both mentally and physically. Drill under conditions simulating the coming test, and prepare to reach peak performance at the right time and under the right conditions (body, temperature, climate, etc.). Train to unify mind, body and spirit, and combine relaxation with concentration. Through training, you become fearless of hard work, intimidation and failure. Failure, in fact, can become a positive learning and growth experience. Most of all you can become fearless of death. Death is unavoidable, so consider it your friend. Be prepared to die with dignity, pride and honor. In such a frame of mind, you will keep your composure and inner peace under the heaviest pressure life has to offer. Main Cause of Injuries Any physical endeavor has some risk of injury. However, most athletic injuries are due to one or more of the following reasons: • Improper training techniques. • Improper stretching exercises, perhaps due to diminished flexibility following an injury or a layoff. • Improper warm-up. • Omission of cool-down exercises. • Weak or unbalanced structure of the body. • Overtraining. If the body is abused, it has no time to rest or repair. Overtraining Symptoms Overtraining is simply defined as too much too soon, (i.e., you are allowing insufficient time for recovery: physically, mentally, or both.) Symptoms of overtraining include: • Loss of appetite or body weight. • Abnormally high resting heart rate. • General fatigue and sleeplessness. • A variety of more subtle changes that show up in blood or urinalysis tests. • Diminished interest. • Increased susceptibility to illness. Training Safely Any successful holistic training program must include: • Stretching. The body must be prepared for action. Stretching and proper warm-up minimize the risk of injury so that the martial arts can be thoroughly enjoyed. • Stamina training. The aerobic component of the program increases your ability to sustain peak performance for as long as possible. • Strength and speed training. The anaerobic components of the program are essential to strengthen your body, so that techniques can be performed properly. Stretching: The Foundation of All Physical Exercise Stretching before engaging in physical activity is important from both a physiological and psychological standpoint. Everyone, regardless of age or flexibility, can learn to stretch slowly, safely and successfully. You can stretch any time and anywhere you want: in the morning, before you start your day; at work, to relieve tension and stress; after sitting or standing; when you feel stiff or tired; while you’re watching TV, listening to music, reading or riding in the car; inside or outdoors. Stretching offers the following benefits: • Increases flexibility for better performance. • Stretches the muscles as you strengthen them. • Strengthens the muscles as you stretch them. • Relaxes the mind. • Helps loosen the mind’s control of the body so that it moves naturally rather than in competition with the mind or in the grip of the ego. • Reduces muscle tension and helps the body relax. • Helps coordination by allowing for free and easy movements. • Increases range of motion. • Increases muscle tone and prepares the muscles for use. • Promotes blood flow: the body and mind flow together. • Promotes body awareness, self-discovery (meditation) and self-esteem. Your muscles must have a balance of strengthening and stretching activities to keep them toned and useful. Stretching can relieve pain from your workouts. It causes tired muscles to relax, let go and lengthen. In fact, when your muscles are tired they relax and lengthen more easily. When stretching, you will improve your results by working with one part of your body at a time. Learn to feel tension in your muscles and then let it go naturally. Most importantly, learn to be aware of the body and the mind while you stretch—you must feel the stretch holistically. Stretching and Warm-up Precautions • Never stretch fast. Don’t resort to speed and momentum; keep it slow and controlled, moving through the full range of motion. • Never bounce when stretching. • Never force a stretch to the point of pain. • Never lock your joints or hyperextend. • Never arch your lower back. • Never do double-leg lifts. Alternating leg lifts causes less stress to the lower back. • Never do deep knee bends. • Never do the jackknife technique (simultaneous situps and double-leg lifts). • Never do deep lunges with both heels up. Five S’s in Warm-up Exercises The warm-up is crucial preparation for any physical activity. Neglecting proper warm-up can lead to injury. Whenever you begin your warm-up, you must practice: • Safety. Use only the most up-to-date techniques. (See reading list on page 15.1) • Slowness. Take time to feel the stretched area and concentrate on it. • Self-awareness. Listen to your body and stop any exercise if it hurts. Don’t force yourself over your limits. Don’t compare results with others or try to compete with them. Actively feel the stretch in your muscles, not your joints. Always protect your spine by putting your body in a safe, non-straining position. • Stretching. Always do it slowly. Exhale when you stretch or during the exertion phase; inhale when you contract or during the return to starting position. Guard against locking any joint. • Strengthening. Gradually increase the number of repetitions. Hold each position to a slow count of 30, up to 1 minute. Before and after any strenuous physical activity, stretch out the contracted muscles. Stamina Training and Aerobic Conditioning To increase your stamina, you must engage in some form of frequent aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. Such an exercise is one that requires elevation of the heart rate for a specified period of time, at least three times per week. Many martial arts activities are not sufficiently aerobic, and therefore your training program must be supplemented by other activity. Your goal should be 20 minutes of continuous activity with an intensity that causes you to reach 65 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. Try to average 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is a function of your age and physical condition. One common formula for estimating your maximum heart rate (beats per minute) is to subtract your age from 220. As your conditioning improves, you can subtract half of your age from 220 to get your maximum rate. Cardiovascular training (running, swimming, bicycling, etc.): • Lowers the blood pressure, if originally elevated. • Increases pliability of the blood vessels so that they have less resistance to blood flow. • Promotes better vascularization, an opening up of new blood supply routes to the tissues, which in turn supplies more energy to the body. • Reduces body fat and weight. • Increases overall muscular strength and endurance. • Increases functional capacity of lungs during exercise. • Increases blood flow to heart. • Increases blood volume pumped with each heart beat. The overall effect of aerobic training is to have more oxygenated blood pumping through your body. This allows your brain to remain alert and your reflexes to stay sharp throughout your workout. You become more fatigue resistant and less prone to injuries. Running In many oriental martial arts texts, martial artists are admonished to develop their “Khinh Công,” literally, skill of lightening the body by running. Nowadays, even boxers run several miles on a daily basis to improve their stamina. Running is highly recommended for all martial artists to improve their health, strength and performance. Swimming and bicycling are substitutes for people who have knee, ankle, hip, or back problems, but require longer times to achieve the same result. From an oriental physiological viewpoint, successful running activates the three major pumping systems of the body: • Heart. The heart must pump faster and stronger to get highly oxygenated blood throughout the body to the muscle tissues and make the runner feel good. • Lungs. The lungs must continuously fill with air, and become more aerated. As they become conditioned to the exercise, the lungs process more air with less effort, forcing deeper and longer breathing. • “Dan dien” or the well of energy. The body draws ki from nature’s store, the “kikai” (ocean of ki), and the low abdominal breathing action of the lungs pumps the ki downward into the “dan dien,” from which ki then flows throughout the body. In exercising the heart through cardiovascular training, the martial artist can improve endurance and performance. Martial artists can have awesome breaking power in both hand and foot techniques, but without running experience, they could gasp for air and feel their legs become rubbery after dashing a few hundred yards. Running can even be looked upon as a self-defense strategy. For example, when confronted with multiple opponents, the martial artist who is also a runner can elude attack by running away as fast as possible. Alternatively, assuming the attackers have different paces and skills, the martial artist/runner can use a running retreat to disperse the attackers so that they can be counterattacked in small groups of one or two, rather than as a pack. An aerobically conditioned martial artist should easily have adequate stamina to conduct either of these plans for 20 or 30 minutes. Recommendations for Beginning Runners When you begin your running program, begin sensibly. On the first day, alternate jogging with walking for one mile. On the next day, simply walk one or two miles. Repeat this cycle until you can jog the whole mile at a slow, easy pace without stopping. When this is comfortable, start running one mile on your “easy” day. Gradually add time and distance to both days, but maintain the hard-easy cycle to allow adequate recovery. Many world class marathoners that started in this manner still follow this hard-easy philosophy. The key to their success is their consistency and determination. Remember, the stretching and warm-up before running and the cool down after completing your run are extremely important. Make these as much a part of your workout as the run. Four S’s for Running Safety • Stretch. Always stretch before and after each run. • Shoes. Wear well-cushioned shoes to protect your feet and legs. • Surface. Run on a soft surface to minimize impact shock on your body. • Style. Improve your posture and movements by consulting with coaches and books. Ten C’s for Successful Running • Commitment. Start your running program by setting goals. Then commit yourself to achieving those goals. • Coaching. Find a coach with running experience to help you develop your form. This individual can design a training program that fits your potential without the risk of unnecessary injury. • Consistency. You can never make progress if you are not consistent. An on-again, off-again program is a waste of time. Moreover, an inconsistent effort leaves you more prone to injury. • Courage. Have determination and dedication toward achieving your goals. Do not be afraid of personal sacrifice or injury. • Conditioning. Build up the body in good balance from head to toe. Stretch and strengthen all muscles used in running from front to back, side to side, top to bottom. If you have any weakness or imbalance in your body, you’ll have more chance of injuring that area. Running requires a holistic approach so toughen your mind as well as your body. • Camaraderie. In addition to your coach or trainer, you can get inspiration and motivation from other runners you meet at local races or on the trails. You will learn alot if you join a local running club as your support group. • Communication. Maximize your exposure to other runners’ experiences by attending seminars and clinics organized by local track clubs. Enter local races to share the running experience. Exchange ideas and tips with other runners in order to improve. Read running books and magazines to get a good foundation for developing your own strategy, style and training program. • Competition within yourself. Compete with yourself to safely improve yourself. With consistency in training, you improve your performance in a gradual, healthy fashion. By competing with others, you open yourself to injury by pushing yourself too far too soon. • Control over your body. Build your self-awareness by listening to your body. A fine line exists between your peak performance and your body’s limits. You’ll collapse if you push yourself through that line. Listen to the body’s warning signals and heed them. • Concentration. Work to correct your form and efficiency in running. At least twice a week work on synchronizing your breathing and your stride. By making your motions smooth, silent and effortless, you make yourself, the trail and the environment fuse into one. Your mind and body can then flow together in an escape to freedom, a moving meditation. Other Aerobic Sports If running is not an option for you due to physical problems (e.g., bad joints) or environmental problems (e.g., bad weather), you can satisfy your aerobic conditioning requirements in a multitude of other ways. Some of the most popular are listed below. These sports can also be interweaved with running to provide you with variety in your training. • Swimming. In free-style swimming, the arm motions restrict breathing, and therefore swimmers are forced to ration their oxygen. This eventually conditions the lungs to more efficiently extract oxygen. One mile of swimming is equivalent to five miles of running. • Cycling. Cycling increases muscle balance between quadriceps, flexibility in the hips and knee joints, leg speed, and cardiovascular endurance. It even improves the ability to run uphill. Four miles of cycling is equivalent to one mile of running. When using a stationary bike, a wind trainer, or wind load simulator, you should cycle for time instead of distance. An initial training program should last 20 to 30 minutes, with the duration increasing 5 minutes per week as your endurance improves. • Cross-country skiing. This exercise works both the upper and lower body in motions akin to normal walking. It provides unparalleled cardiovascular conditioning and is very gentle on the knee joints. • Rope-skipping. This exercise requires a good pair of aerobic shoes or well-cushioned running shoes to protect the knees and legs. Ten minutes of hard rope-skipping is equivalent to a one-mile run. When beginning a skipping program, practice hopping without a rope until you can hop 100 times without stopping. When you have achieved this goal, add the rope and build your coordination back to the 100 hop level. When this becomes natural, gradually add 10 to 20 hops each week to your program until you have achieved your desired duration. • Rowing. This is one of the best activities with which to supplement martial arts training. It works the heart and lungs without overly stressing the bones and joints. Rowing works many of the muscle groups and develops a high degree of flexibility; it’s a complete body exercise. Anaerobic Training Weight training is now recommended by coaches, sports medicine specialists and exercise physiologists. The right combination of weight-training exercises can: • Strengthen specific weak muscles and correct imbalances that often cause injuries. • Improve body posture and carriage. • Make the athlete stronger and more fit. • Increase muscle flexibility by exercising a muscle through its full range of motion. • Increase endurance and resistance to fatigue. • Develop a stronger muscular system that protects against all kinds of contact to the body. • Increase stamina by doing many reps without pausing. • Increase the number of capillaries in muscles, so they more efficiently carry oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and carry heat and metabolic wastes away. • Increase the number of mitochondria in the muscle cells so that more food is converted to usable energy. Running speed-work also improves anaerobic fitness. It helps you prepare for the short, concentrated bursts of energy required by martial arts techniques.