As an instructor, I’m often asked what types of exercise I recommend outside of our classes for cross-training. If you’re looking for a complementary cross-training activity, it’s important to choose something that helps develop the type of body that allows for the style of movement you’re trying to develop as a martial artist. Here is my list of 5 activities that I recommend to my students:
1. Rock/Wall Climbing. Climbing is an excellent activity for martial artists because you use the entire body to do it. It tones the body without bulking up and develops muscular endurance. It can also help develop flexibility, depending on your climbing technique. Furthermore, it involves a great deal of technique in order to be an efficient climber, a principle martial artists should become very familiar with the longer they train. It’s also great for developing a strong grip, which is important for grapplers. Whether you do it on an actual rock face or at a climbing gym, you’ll get these benefits. I like to go climbing outdoors in Squamish (see below) in the summer and wall climbing in the winter.
2. Yoga. Like climbing, yoga tones the whole body. It tends to be a lower impact activity with strong emphasis on stretching, making it a good recovery exercise for the day after a particularly hard workout. It’s also great for increasing overall flexibility, which is important for injury prevention. What’s nice about yoga, is that it’s easy to fit into your daily training regimen. I have a couple of series’ of 20-minute workouts on DVD (including Am Yoga for Your Week – DVD) that I use every weekday when I get up in the morning. If you’ve never done it before, it’s a good idea to also take classes so you develop proper technique.
3. Running and/or Skipping. As a martial artist, it’s important to have good cardio. Aerobic exercise is important when prepping for belt tests to keep you performing strong even toward the end of the test. Anaerobic exercise is important for high intensity activities over the short term, like sparring, grappling, training circles, or for the potentially high intensity situation of a real self-defense situation. Both running and skipping are great forms of cardio training. Running can be adapted in different ways too like interval running (switching between regular running and sprinting), running up hills or stairs to develop leg strength, etc. Many people don’t think they can run, believing it to be too hard on their particular body. Unless you have some sort of injury that prevents it, everyone can run. You just have to start slow and work the body up to it. Start by walking more than running. Start by walking 4.5 minutes and running half a minute, repeating this for 30 minutes. Then, every time you go to run, increase the running and reduce the walking in each interval by 30 seconds until eventually you’re running the full 30 minutes. Skipping is good for cardio training and also develops timing and coordination. You can also do interval training by adding in double skipping into your routine. See the video below for an example of double skipping.
4. Strength Training that Uses Core Muscles & Stabilizers. This includes pilates, fitness ball, kettle bell, medicine ball, and many types of isometric exercise. Many people want to do a form of strength training in addition to their martial arts training, but most people think only of weights. Weights, the way they are traditionally used, focus more on the “mover” muscles, the ones that propel you, but don’t do as much for the “stabilizer” muscles, which hold your parts in place and prevent you from being damaged while the movers are moving you. The stabilizers are very important for martial artists to protect you, especially when doing explosive movements. Developing your core usually goes hand in hand with your stabilizers because your core (abs and lower back muscles) stabilizes your centre body. A lot of important movements come from the core in the martial arts, so it’s important to develop your core strength.
5. Dancing. This may seem like a strange choice, but some of the finest martial artists I’ve trained came to it with a background in dancing. Dancing teaches coordination, timing, choreography and body awareness. Couple dancing forms like swing or salsa give you the added benefit of learning to coordinate body movements with someone else’s movements, which is a great skill to develop for things like throwing. You may laugh or have trouble seeing the relevance, but the skills you learn in dancing have a lot of cross-over into the martial arts.
These are my top recommendations but I’d love to hear what other people do or recommend though in the comments for this post.