A modern approach on how to improve conditioning for the Karate competition.
© Marcus Hinschberger Athletic Performance Coach & Personal Trainer www.KarateCoaching.com
How to reach peak Cardio-Vascular Condition as an elite Kata competitor
In this article I will share my experience as a personal trainer coaching athletes on the use of interval training to reach peak performance. Although my discussion will focus on one model and will restrict its application to kata competition only, a similar approach would be used for kumite. However, due to the differences between the two events, a suggestion of interval training for kumite is better saved for its own article.
Conditioning for karate competition is frequently not purpose driven and confused with strength training or endurance training, both of which are very different from the demands of karate competition.
In most martial arts, conditioning is done through endless repetitions. Although this is a great way to strengthen muscles, tendons, ligaments and (the only way) to create a strong will and determination, it eventually exhausts itself. The risk of injuries will eventually raise and the time needed to execute more and more kihon techniques will eventually consume all training time without leaving any time to train specifically for the competition.
Therefore conditioning training has to be efficient, absolutely purpose driven and aimed towards one objective – the competition. A competitor needs to perform at his peak in one place and one place only – the tournament. He does not need to be able to do 500 front kicks in a row.
Coach and athlete need to recognize the phase of training they are in and focus on the specific goal of each phase. The first phase - high and endless repetitions - is the beginning phase, and is needed to build character and muscle (endurance). The second phase – development of strength, power and explosiveness – is a key component of dojo training, but it should also be pursued in a gym, which will be covered in a later and different article. The final phase, achieving peak performance and supplementing the dojo training with cardio-vascular training needed to get there, is the focus of this article.
Cardio-vascular endurance training is done by many athletes by simply running for a certain amount of time on a treadmill with the same speed/intensity. As I will explain, while this type of training has its benefits, it will not achieve the goal we are interested in, namely, preparing to enter a competition at the peak of our performance level. The human body has a great way of adapting to almost any stress and load we place on it (law of adaptation) and very quickly this simplistic way of running will not increase our fitness level any longer – we have adapted. This is a problem we face in our regular karate training as well. Therefore it is important to not only switch up the training but to also focus it towards the goal – in this case the competition.
Here is my approach:
The first step is always to break down the actual event and determine its specific requirements. This is known as the demand-profile.
For the kata competition I would break it down as follows:
- Take the time the athlete needs to perform his kata. In my example I will go with 1 minute 30 seconds, which is the approximate time one needs to perform a Shotokan kata like Kanku Dai, Gojushiho Sho or Gojushiho Dai.
- Take the amount of rounds – let’s say there are 3 qualifying rounds and one final round, for a total of 4 rounds.
- Take the downtime or pause in between the rounds the athlete has until he performs the next Kata in the next round. In my example I assume that the athlete has 5 minutes to rest between rounds.
The athlete performs 4x 1:30 minutes of Kata = 6 minutes of high intensity
The athlete has 4x 5 Minutes waiting time = 20 minutes of low intensity
We are looking at a total of 26 minutes of time and effort, and it is very clear that this time and effort is totally not comparable with running on a treadmill for “x” amount of minutes.
Having developed our demand profile, we can now develop a solution to meet it. In this article I will use a treadmill, but I will put some other solutions up on my website such as using a step box and medicine ball. The next step is to calculate the athlete’s maximum heart beat. There are many formulas out there to calculate the maximum heart rate. I have decided to use the most common one even though I don’t think it is the most accurate method since it does not necessarily consider the individual fitness level of the person. However, it is the easiest and most common method and meets the needs of my model.
The formula is 220 – age = max heart rate.
For example, I am 35 years old, my max heart rate is 220 – 35 = 185.
185 is my max heart rate and considered as 100% (the highest intensity).
- High intensity training is considered between 85% - 95% of max heart rate and what I will call Phase 3
- Medium intensity is considered between 75% - 85% = Phase 2
- Low intensity is between 65%-75% = Phase 1
Now let’s go back to our demand profile:
I have to push the athlete 4 times (4 rounds) for the length of the kata 1:30 min into high intensity (Phase 3) while giving the athlete 5 minutes recovery time in between each round.
The type of training needed to meet this demand profile is called interval training.
The down time in between the rounds has to serve the athlete as recovery time to get the heart rate back to normal as quickly as possible in order to start recovery as quickly as possible. Therefore we not only have to monitor the maximum heart rate but also the time it takes the athlete to recover. We have to train the athlete in two ways. The first way is focused on enabling the athlete to perform for the needed time (1:30 minutes) at high intensity and the second way is focused on enabling the athlete to recover as quickly as possible in the 5 minutes in between the rounds.
Interval training can be done in many ways and there is no limit to your creativity. However, as mentioned earlier in my model I will use a treadmill.
The treadmill is probably the best way for the athlete to focus just on the cardio-vascular endurance and performance. My approach using the medicine ball and step box is more challenging since it demands not only cardio-vascular endurance but also muscle endurance and coordination. However, this second approach might be better suited for the more advanced athlete.
Let’s go over the approach using a treadmill:
Before we can start with the program we need to determine the 3 different intensity phases for the individual according to their maximum heart rate derived from using the formula: 220-age= max heart rate
Once this has been done we need to determine how fast the treadmill has to run to push the athlete into the different heart rate zones.
For this I take a heart rate monitor and measure the heart rate of the athlete at different speeds. (You could also measure the pulse by hand, but this might be very difficult while you are running).
For example, at a speed of 7 to 9 mph on a treadmill I push myself into zone 3.
At a speed of 5 to 6.5 mph my heart rate drops into zone 2.
Speeds below 4.5- 5 mph make my heart rate drop into zone 1.
Of course these numbers will change along with the level of your fitness and you should consistently keep track of them as your training progresses. Nutrition, sleep, hydration and any injuries have to be considered as well.
We start now the program:
Phase 1 (low intensity) is considered the warm up phase. I will let my athlete walk on the treadmill for 2 minutes and slowly increase the speed every minute until he goes from a walk to a jog and from there into a light run. The heart rate should now be in phase 2, and the athlete should start to break a light sweat. I hold that speed for another 2 minutes to ensure the athlete is really warmed up and ready (mentally and physically) to switch to the next level of intensity – Phase 3. I have to push the athlete now as fast as possible into phase 3 by immediately increasing the previously determined treadmill speed, and the athlete has to stay in this phase for 1:30 minutes (the length of the Kata). This is then followed by a 5 minute recovery period in Phase 2 where I reduce the speed of the treadmill again.
One can argue that the athlete will actually sit down after the kata performance and not move any longer for the next 5 minutes so there is no need to keep him run on the treadmill. However, my reason to keep the athlete on the treadmill is 1) in a competition situation the athlete will have to fight nervousness and pressure which most likely will keep him at an elevated heart rate; and 2) if the competition is more than 4 weeks away I would still try to increase the overall fitness and endurance of my athlete by continuing the run and therefore prefer to just lower the speed on the treadmill rather than taking him off.
However, if the competition is just 3 to 2 weeks out I would prefer taking the athlete off the treadmill to not only simulate the competition scenario better but to focus more on pushing him higher and higher within phase 3 (from a heart beat at 85% closer to the max of 95%).
This is because I believe that if the athlete has followed the designated fitness program up to this point the 5 minutes downtime in between the rounds should be more than enough time to recover.
I also want to ensure that my athlete is not getting over trained right before the competition.
It is Important that the athlete is able to maintain the high intensity of Phase 3 in all 4 rounds. Especially important are rounds 3 & 4. Nobody has conditioning problems in the first rounds (at least they shouldn't) but they are more likely to in the last, and most important, rounds.
In order to be well prepared for the competition, I want to have my athlete in the closest range of 95% of max heart rate possible around 10 - 8 days (international competition with flight time of over 8h and 1-2 day travel and settle in time) and 6-4 days (domestic competition for travel time less than 4h) before the competition. I will push the athlete from 85% of max heart rate to 95% of max heart rate towards the end of the preparation time for the tournament.
My model can (and must) be adjusted if the kata(s) performed are shorter or longer, and we must also take into consideration that the number of rounds at the particular tournament may vary. The possibility of a draw has to be considered as well. In case of a draw the down time of 5 minutes might decrease dramatically and the athlete may only have 1 or 2 minutes for recovery. A draw can now be put into the model after round 1, 2, 3 or even 4. If you really want to plan for the worst-case scenario you might even consider two draws - be creative your athlete will thank you, at least later on.
My graphic shows what a possible interval-training program for an athlete would look like.
The first line on top is the time line and shows how over the period of a little over 30 minutes a kata competition can be simulated (as mentioned depending on the length of the kata and rounds).
The second line is the time period the athlete must stays in the intensity zone
The graphic shows yellow, green and red phases with the treadmill speeds
(yellow =Phase 1, green=Phase 2, red=Phase 3).
In my model the first green phase is only 2 minutes long These 2 minutes are just an add on to the warm up phase since I want to make sure the athlete is physically and mentally able and focused enough to handle the increased speed. Therefore these 2 minutes do not show up in my demand profile but do show in the graphic.
The treadmill speed depends on the maximum heart rate of the athlete that was measured and determined prior. The speeds shown in my model are my
own personal numbers I calculated when I made my test run to write this model. (1:30 Minutes sprinting at a speed of 9 mph do push my heart rate into phase 3 (95% of
my max heart rate).
All these numbers have to be customized to the individual. The numbers will change depending on the fitness level and therefore have to be constantly adjusted during the preparation (I suggest a re-evaluation every 1-2 weeks).
Another great way to increase the intensity without increasing the speed is to incline the treadmill. Most modern treadmills offer an incline option. Increasing the speed might increase the risk of injury and this risk can partially be avoided by using incline. An even greater benefit is that running on an incline very quickly makes your legs heavy – something every competitor fears. Increased speed however, makes you out of breath before heavy legs set in. Therefore using incline to simulate heavy legs is a great conditioning tool to prepare an athlete for the realities of competition. At the maximum speeds of 6 to 7 mph for a woman and 8-10 mph for a man I would prefer to use an incline rather than speed for my simulation. As a coach you need to get a feeling for when speed should no longer be increased and incline should be used instead.
Last but not least I want to mention that my model is based on the fact that an athlete must previously be conditioned in running and must be capable of running for at least 30 minutes in phase 2 prior to beginning this kind of program. If this is not the case then the athlete has to be brought up to that level of fitness first. (Consult with a physician or health care provider prior beginning any exercise program).
I hope that my model and suggestion inspires instructors, coaches and athletes, to not only give it a try but also to make changes in their approach to conditioning for competition.
Many other great ideas and approaches can be found on my website www.KarateCoaching.com I will also offer a solution for kumite very soon that I will explain in detail with video instruction on my website.
I am more than happy to discuss any suggestions or questions you may have. Feel free to email me at: info@KarateCoaching.com
Enjoy and all the best
Personal Trainer certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine
Certified Biomechanics Specialist with the National Exercise & Trainer Association
Athletes Performance Mentorship 1
Founder & President of www.KarateCoaching.com