In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, martial artists have not only had to adapt to a new way of living, but also a new way of training. Even as martial arts schools are beginning to re-open in some capacity, you may still want to diversify your training.
Guest writer Steve Grogan from Geek Wing Chun provides tips on using High Intensity Training to supplement your martial arts workouts. More information about Steve and his site is at the end of this article.
If you would like to be a guest writer for Little Black Belt, please review the guest writer guidelines here, and send me an email with your proposed ideas.
High Intensity Training: The Martial Artist’s Answer to the Exercise Conundrum
At some point during their training, most martial artists realize something: if they exercised more, they would be in better shape, which would mean they could perform their art better. However, this revelation is accompanied by a troublesome question: “How can I find the time and money to exercise when I already spend a lot of time and money on my martial arts training?”
Most exercise gurus and websites suggest you train six days per week, and their proposed time limit for these visits is at least an hour per session. If you go to a gym, you can add in another ten to fifteen minutes while you wait for someone to finish using the machine you use. Then of course you also have to include the time it takes you to get to the gym. As for money, there is the membership.
If you look at all the machines and have no idea what to do, you could always hire someone to tell you. However, then you have another expense: a personal trainer, whose hourly fee exceeds an entire year’s gym membership.
Previously, the closest solution I found to the money part of the equation were the home workouts such as P90X and Insanity. The only thing is, we still run into the issue of time restraints because most Beachbody programs want you to do the six-days-one-hour-or-more-per-day approach.
However, the martial artist who trains from home does not need to have any fear. There is an answer that can solve both problems.
It’s called high intensity training.
Not to be confused with…
High intensity training is sometimes abbreviated as “HIT” to save time in a conversation. However, this is not to be confused with something called “high intensity interval training.” What’s the difference? Well, HIT is missing that extra “I.” (I’ll pause here so you have a moment to chuckle.)
In all seriousness, there is a huge difference between the two. High intensity interval training is a cardiovascular program. One of the most popular examples of this would be the home-based workout routine Insanity, created by personal trainer Shaun T and published by Team Beachbody.
Shaun’s idea for this workout was simple, yet brilliant: most cardio routines had you do moderate activity for two minutes (give or take) and then had you put out maximum effort for only thirty seconds. What Shaun did was simply flip that around: put out maximum effort for two minutes, then rest for only thirty seconds. As wonderful as Insanity is, the program still won’t work well for most martial artists, since the individual workouts last for sixty to seventy-five minutes. Plus, it is six days per week.
High intensity training (notice the missing “interval”) is about weightlifting. There is no cardio portion. In fact, there isn’t even a warm-up or stretch, which of course would only drag out the length of your workout.
Many of you are probably stopping right now and saying, “Wait…no warm-up or stretch? Won’t that result in injury?”
The answer: no, and we will go into how that is accomplished in a bit. First, let’s go over what this exercise program does.
How does HIT work? How long and how frequent are the workouts?
According to the HIT philosophy, workouts should be brief, infrequent, and intense. How brief and infrequent are we talking? Sessions can be as short as thirty minutes, but they don’t go longer than an hour. Also, the sessions are held seven days apart. You got it: you exercise for thirty minutes once a week.
Another feature that makes HIT different from 99% of the exercise programs out there is that it focuses on your “time under load” (TUL) instead of repetitions. You lift and lower the weights in a slow and controlled manner. The logic behind this is that if you lift quickly, then it is your momentum that moves the weight, not your muscles. In other words, the muscle is not getting fatigued properly. Muscles don’t grow unless you tax them enough, and your goal is to hit the point of momentary muscular failure.
HIT was popularized by Arthur Jones (the founder of Nautilus) in the 1970s. Although many variations of HIT have risen since then, these handful of features provide a unifying thread across all of them. The number and variety of exercises may vary from facility to facility, but there are a handful that many consider the core of the HIT philosophy. Named “the Big Five” by Dr. Doug McGuff, they are:
- Seated row
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- Leg press
Obviously, not all of us have the room in our house to place a machine that has a leg press on it. Also, not everyone can afford to buy such a contraption. However, there are “free weight” and “body weight” methods available for HIT.
At this point, I want to pause long enough to go back to the first paragraph of this section where I told you the workouts last thirty minutes, and you do them only once every seven days. At that point, I bet you stopped reading for a second and said, “Yeah, right. This sounds like the lazy person’s workout. There is no way you can burn away fat and build muscle with a workout like this!”
At first, I was a skeptic too. How can you not be, what with all the fad workouts that have come out like Six-Minute Abs and Thigh Master and so on? However, at the end of this article I will give you the names and pictures of some people who swore by the HIT philosophy. You will be amazed at the kind of results they got.
Why is there no warm-up/stretching or cardio?
Some exercise classes have warm-up routines that are half the length of your average HIT session. Given the importance that most of the exercise world puts on a warm-up routine, why does HIT exclude one?
The answer is rather easy to determine: warm-ups are usually done to prepare the body to do some extreme activity in fast motions. However, HIT movements are done in a slow, controlled manner. Since there are no quick motions, it’s not likely you will pull something in this manner.
“Fair enough,” you say, “but what about stretching?” This is because you are already improving your flexibility via the HIT workout. Performing a resistance exercise through a muscle’s full range of motion provides you with everything you can do to enhance your flexibility. To do any more would put you at risk of injury.
Lastly, we are on to the absence of cardio. First, we need to clear up something: “cardio” and “aerobics” are not the same thing. “Cardio” is short for “cardiovascular,” while “aerobics” is a term that wasn’t even a word until it was created in the mid-1960s by a gentleman named Kenneth Cooper. Therefore, we are going to go with the term “aerobic” to describe exercises like jogging.
It’s not that HIT supporters dislike aerobics (although I’m sure some do); it’s just that aerobic exercises don’t do much in the way of increasing your health. Resistance training, on the other hand, stimulates all the components of your metabolism. (For more information on the ins and outs of all this, I will be recommending a book that is one of the most clearly-written books on the subject of HIT.)
Having said that, there is nothing wrong with engaging in other activities. This means we martial artists can still gear up for sparring. The only thing is, you don’t want to do that on the day of or after your HIT session.
What about functional fitness?
“Functional fitness” is a term that has seen a recent surge in popularity. It means doing exercises that will help your performance in another area. In the case of martial artists, one might punch with a weight in their hand or kick with ankle weights.
Unfortunately, there is evidence abound that the only thing functional fitness is good for is a marketing ploy to get people in your gym instead of the one on the other side of town. To quote the physical therapist/strength coach Erik Meira: “The most functional task an athlete can perform is the sport itself.” In other words, don’t do movements that mimic punches and kicks; do the real thing!
HIT sounds great, so what about the cost?
Aye, there’s the rub, folks.
You won’t find a HIT class at your local Planet Fitness. It will probably even be a struggle to find a personal trainer in your area that follows HIT.
Why is that? If this method is so great, why wouldn’t every personal trainer use it? Well, that’s simple: MONEY. If they charge $150 for an hour, then they would get only $75 for a half hour. (Yes, they could always keep that rate even if you were there only for thirty minutes. By that I mean they could try, but I don’t think there are too many people who would pay such a high amount for such a short time.) Also, if they are showing you a method that will get you results, then there might come a day when you don’t go to them anymore, especially once you learn the routine and figure out a way to do it at home on your own.
I train at a place called BioFitNY in Albany. I am not going to discuss the price here, although I will say this: if you are lucky, you will find a trainer like their founder Jay Primarolo who will work with your budget. Since I get paid twice a month, they let me split the payment between paydays. I’ll be honest: if they didn’t, I don’t know if I could swing the full amount coming out of one check.
Having said that, there are three options that will help you afford it.
- Ask to split the payment like I do with BioFitNY.
- Analyze your monthly expenses versus your income. See if there is anything you could lower or do away with. For example, do you really need to have your Netflix account set up so you could watch it on twenty different screens at once?
- Do some research and figure out a way to do HIT at home. It is possible. However, keep in mind you still wouldn’t be able to do it alone; you would need someone who would be willing to hang out with you for a half hour while they operate a stopwatch for you; otherwise you can’t accurately gauge your TUL. (Remember what that abbreviation means from earlier?)
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s cool that you wrote this convincing article about HIT, but where is the proof? Who do we know that proves this method works?” Well, you might not be able to conjure up an image of these guys if I just mentioned their names, so I will include pictures of each one.
I put Clarence Bass last for a reason: this guy is a past-40 bodybuilding champion. To all those naysayers who say that you can never get ripped because your metabolism tanks in your mid-thirties, take a look at this picture.
Also, for those of you who might worry that having too much muscle will slow you down (my Sifu once told me weightlifting would make me “tense all the time” and unable to relax to do my techniques properly), I assure you this is a myth. If you can’t take my word for it, then listen to my BioFitNY coach Jay Primarolo himself:
When it comes to being a martial artist, we will always struggle with time and money if we want to add a workout routine to our already-busy schedule.
Even though HIT solves the time problem, you might still be challenged by the money aspect, since most places that use this training method will not be cheap.
However, if you review your monthly expenses and find some things you could trim away or if you find ways to do HIT at home (albeit with a partner to time you), then this solution can still be within your grasp.
To learn more about HIT, check out the book that made me a fan:
Body by Science by Doug McGuff, M.D. and John Little
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Grogan has been practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu since January 1995. He is the founder of Geek Wing Chun, a website (with accompanying YouTube channel) that provides free tips on how someone can create a training routine at home, should they be unable to make it to class. He is the author of The Lone Warrior, which collects some of his greatest tips in one neat little book, and the developer of The Lone Warrior App, which helps people keep track of the daily goals they set for their training (available for both iPhones and Androids).
MAIN SITE: http://www.geekwingchuninc.com/
LONE WARRIOR (BOOK): http://www.geekwingchuninc.com/TheLoneWarrior.html
APP on iPHONE: https://apple.co/2MaBNpp
APP on ANDROID: https://bit.ly/3ceiZQv