Wednesday, 26 March 2014

One leg exercises

Migi nami gaeshi: Tekki-shodan kata.
 For anyone who has attended my karate trainings, over the last 15 years (classes, seminars or otherwise), you will know that I use a large amount of one leg exercises i.e. – one leg squats, thrust, jumps and the like. This article aims to briefly explain the underpinnings and issues around my use/advocating of these forms of calisthenics. Best regards from Kumamoto-ken, André Bertel.   

Many people question “…why do you strongly emphasise these leg exercises over their two leg equivalents?” Well, the reason is simple. Just ask yourself “how many human actions use both legs in unison?” In budo (martial arts), especially percussive focused systems, such as karate-do, there is always a driving leg. In actuality, the same goes for most sports. For example, running, shot put, etcetera. Think of your back leg in a gyaku-zuki or jun-zuki (oi-zuki). Keriwaza (kicking techniques) are even more obvious. On the whole, exercises that isolate each leg separately are “more specific `for training the driving leg” and, thus, are biomechanically superior. 
Hidari chudan uchi-uke (migi kokutsu-dachi): Heian godan kata.

But that’s not all…  One leg exercises have another massive benefit for karateka, and athletes in general… Balance… Clearly, by working each leg in isolation one ceach leg in isolation one cor budoka and an, and will, increase their balance/stability; furthermore, the majority of this improvement will be attained subconsciously, and via the involuntary muscles of the legs. If you don’t believe me stand still on one leg and look down at the ankle of your supporting leg… Even though you are standing dead still there is a carnival of involuntary muscles involuntarily twitching: to stabilise your position. Of course, this is a somewhat oversimplified explanation, but I think it is enough to get my point across. I am not even going to get into micro muscle development here…

So, “goodbye two leg squats—you are a waste of time”?” Certainly, that is not my point… Two leg squats still have their excellent benefits for more generic strength training, and as prerequisite ‘base conditioning’ fouisite 'se conidtion benefits for more generic strength trainnig witching to stabilise your deadstr their superior one leg counterparts. A perfect comparison here is between these exercises and push ups… No one starts with one arm push ups, nor do they drop `standard two-arm push ups’ out of their routine. Rather, they use both exercises discerningly. That being said, consistent with the aforementioned points: “just like one leg exercises, the single arm exercises (i.e. - one arm push ups, or cable extensions) are superior beasts”.

Movement 28 of Tekki-shodan kata.
The downside and some words of advice: Last, but not least, it is important for me to present the downside of one leg exercises: “…the need of sufficient base conditioning—and the absence of pre-existing leg injuries—to avoid damaging oneself”. Just like other high quality calisthenics, such as plyometrics, incorrect training—and insufficient foundational strength—can readily result in bodily harm. For some, these exercises should be avoided or used in moderation. As always, common-sense and `listening to the body’ is everyone’s best friend.  My point is, it is essential to look out for your joints, ligaments and tendons. This brings to mind a saying, which I have always stressed to my students (and seminar participants) over the years: “There is nothing more sad, and senseless, for a person to damage their body in the process of strengthening it.” This saying is one that I believe all karate-do instructors should use and, indeed, follow in their own training. In sum, “Karate-do is Lifetime Budo”; correspondingly, by nature, this means that karate-do training must result in increased wellbeing.

To briefly summarise this article: firstly, one leg exercises (isolation training) is superior for karateka and the majority of athletes; accordingly, this is because “they more specifically condition the muscles needed for explosive athletic actions”; secondly, one leg exercises more effectively develop balance than their two leg counterparts; thirdly, one leg exercises while superior, pose a greater risk for joint and soft tissue injuries; therefore, like other tissue injuries; thereitionalathletic actions; Secondly, they devlintense/high quality exercises, they require sufficient base conditioning and sensibility.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

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