I wasn’t always as passionate about health and fitness as I am now. I can clearly remember a time in my life when running was something only to be done in the event of a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion and even then, only sparingly. Then, one day while sitting behind the counter at my friends comic book shop having an inappropriately good time with a carne asada burrito, things changed. An old friend of mine from school, who I hadn’t seen in years, walked in and was talking about learning Kung-Fu, some weird damn thing called Choy Lay Fut. I listened intrigued and agreed to meet up with him and another guy later that week in his garage and train. Thus the wheels were set in motion.
I trained hard for many years and in the process began to develop a passion for hurting myself. I was hell bent that if I wasn’t bruised, bleeding and sore I wasn’t doing it right. In the early days I would go to the gym for a couple hours before work 5 days a week then go to train with Sigung Primcias 3 nights a week for 2-3 hours. I maintained this for awhile, but like any human, life happens and I settled in to a more sustainable rhythm, however at no point in here did I ever really stop to listen to my body. My philosophy of ignoring pain and pushing beyond my limits, while motivating and strengthening to the development of will power, isn’t so hot when you actually hurt yourself. Furthermore, I never really spent the time to link together what I was doing in the gym with what I was doing at practice. It’s like the two somehow maintained this mutually exclusive space in my head. Looking back on it now, I struggle to see how me bench pressing 280 lbs. was in any way helping my Kung-Fu. All the same, I pushed and pushed and ignored until my body finally snapped. A couple of years ago I severely ruptured the L5/S1 intervertebral disc in my spine while training. At that time, my modus operandi was still, ignore pain and push through, which was the worst thing I could have done. I spent the next 9 months in agonizing pain barely able to walk. To say it was unpleasant is akin to saying Godzilla is just a misunderstood salamander.
In the process of recovery I was getting an acupuncture treatment to attempt (unsuccessfully) to resolve the issue. The acupuncturist also just so happened to be a Wing Chun practitioner and we got to talking. He made the remark “Well, it looks like you’ve done a great job building really, big, completely useless muscles.. so how’s that working for ya?”. Feeling a bit stupid I had to admit that I hadn’t really been doing a good job of actually thinking about what I had been doing and how it was all working together or really taking care of myself in the process. I spent the rest of my recovery time thinking about how I could change this.
Following spine surgery I put my plan into action and not only successfully recovered but managed to, PAINLESSLY, get myself in better shape now, at 38 years old, than I was when I was killing myself training 15 years prior. I am faster, have more endurance and power than I ever had then and I believe it is largely due to the fact that I reorganized my non-kung-fu training to support my body better.
Considering how the body synchronizes during certain common/repetitive motions performed in the process of training got me thinking. A punch – simple right? Hitting something with your fist, not too complicated. Wrong. There is a symphony of body mechanics that are called into action when you punch properly. You start with proper form and footwork, rooting yourself and directing energy from your feet pushing forward, up your legs and into your hips as they whip forward while keeping your shoulder and arm loose until the moment of impact. All of these motions from simple punches to the most complex footwork and kicking requires the various muscle groups of the body to work as a unified team. Why had I not been taking this into consideration before? I decided that standard gym methodology of chest/back day, cardio, leg day, cardio, and so on were no longer an effective way to supplement my training.
What follows is a sample of my gym workout routine. I certainly acknowledge this might not work for everyone, but it works for me and I believe it has merit to apply to anyone looking to safely expand their physical capabilities while helping their martial arts performance.
Spend 5-10 minutes warming your body up. Especially if you are working out first thing in the morning or hitting the gym from being at a desk job all day. It’s important to get the circulation going and wake up your muscles before you ask them to do too much.
Light stretching hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds.
- Standing toe touch
- Side bends
- Shoulder rotation
- Calf stretch
- Neck Rotation
- Cobra Stretch
- Child Pose
- Jog in place
- Jumping jacks
Notes: the exact warm up exercises aren’t as important as making sure you are limbering up your hamstrings, calves, lower back and neck as these are the most common places to get injured.
This is where we get down. This phase should be no less than 20 minutes and no more than 60 depending on your fitness level and the amount of time you have available. During this time we are going to perform a series of circuit drills designed to shift focus from one region of the body to the next between each exercise in rapid succession. The goal here is to promote full body coordination and rapid blood flow between large muscle groups in different areas of the body.
Perform each circuit three times transitioning from one exercise to the next as quickly as possible with little or no rest. Rest at the end of each circuit for 30-90 seconds as needed, but no longer as it will get in the way of keeping your heart rate up over time which is key to building endurance.
Notes: As for each exercise do as many reps (or for as long) as whatever your personal max effort output for that one exercise is divided by 3. So, for example, if you can do 90 push ups at one time then collapse on your face on the floor, then do 30 pushups for each cycle of Circuit A. The same logic applies to pullups, crunches and well, just about everything here.
Circuit A – Push and Pull
- Push ups
- Squat Kicks
Circuit B – Floor Work
- Mountain Climbers
- Front plank with elbow stands
- Side Plank
- Hindu Pushups
- Flutter Kicks
Circuit C – Traveling
- Jump Lunge
- Weighted Lunge Walk
Run.. Good ol’ fashion run until you’ve expended any energy you have left.
Cool Down Phase
This part is where I always blew it in the past. I used to just finish working out and then go hop in my car and go home. That’s bad mmmkay. Take a moment to thoroughly stretch each muscle group you worked holding each stretch for 15-20 seconds. I can’t stress this enough, proper stretching AFTER exercise is just as, if not more, important that the exercise itself.
Well, that’s about it. I am grateful to Sifu Nick for allowing me the space to share my thoughts on his blog. It has been somewhat of an epiphany for me and instrumental in recovering from my spinal injury. I hope that in sharing my experiences and what I’ve learned as a result that it may prove helpful to someone someday.
Until then. train hard and be awesome.