Everything is about balance ​when talking about strength​ component​ in karate

Many times I’ve been asked by other karatekas for advice regarding physical preparation, whether that was related to developing speed, explosive strength, power, aerobic or anaerobic capacity, you name it. It’s not that I knew all the answers, and those that I came up with, were not necessarily the right ones. However, I was interested and deeply involved in researching and finding the most suitable training methods and approaches that can improve my strength together with other qualities, which will positively affect my karate and kata execution. Did I make mistakes? HELL YES. Who doesn’t? Maybe those who do not try.

The social media and the internet are an infinite source of information. We can quickly search for different exercises, techniques, and ready to use workout plans.  However, the challenge arises when we try to identify the qualities we need to pay attention to and the order they order they need to be developed.

It’s too bad that we can’t have all the qualities developed at a high level at the same time. This would make everything easier and would not have to write this article. However, it’s good to know that we do not have to be focused on developing all the qualities at the same time. Since different athletes need to concentrate on inquiring a different number of qualities, on a different level (this is in relation with Absolute and Relative Maximum maximum)  to master the sport, we need to make sure that we have chosen suitable training approach.

Whether we are talking about maximum strength, power, speed, flexibility, etc. it’s crucial to understand that the level of development differs and depends on the sport and its nature.

The question is which qualities to chose and to what extend should they be developed?

Different sports also means different energy systems together with the qualities; all developed to an optimal level.  The secret is the optimal level, nothing more, nothing less. Enough. Enough speed, enough maximal strength, enough flexibility, enough aerobic and anaerobic capacity. However, what is optimal for one sport might be too much or too little for another. What is essential for one activity might be less critical for another. This is why we need to determine what quality we need and how much we need to develop to be successful in the sport we are practicing. In this case Karate. For this reason, I’ve chosen to present the idea of dividing all the sports and physical activities into four quadrants. This concept is well explained in the book “Easy Strenght” by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline


Depending on the number of qualities and their level of development we can find our place in one of these four quadrants.

Business Infographic-2

Quadrant 1

Lots of qualities at a low level of relative max

I’m familiar with this quadrant since all my PE lessons belong here. The goal of any PE lesson is to establish a lifelong love of physical activity by helping students to develop a wide range of skills and qualities on a low level. No one is expected to become professional soccer of baseball player by attending my PE lessons. However, it’s likely to develop at least active lifestyle. This quadrant is all about building a solid base, which can be referred to as General Physical Preparation (GPP).  This is something that all young karatekas should go through, without introducing the Specific Physical Preparation to early. GPP is all about trying as many different activities as possible and not just limiting the practice to sports specific technique and training methods that target only particular energy system.

Although, we are training karate, with GPP we are focusing on providing an all-around physical development. It’s about building a big spectrum of movement skills, something that will help us to master new forms of movement form in the future, and karate and martial arts are excellent choices.

When it comes to the strength component of the GPP, we are talking about General Strenght Preparation (GSP), and the exercises are done with and without equipment.

According to Dan John GSP exercise should meet the following requirement:

  • They need to be safe
  • Activities need to be simple due to the short attention span (primarily when working with young students)
  • It should cover fundamental movement skills like jumping, hinging, bracing, crawling, running, falling squatting, pushing, pulling, etc.
  • Applying strength in as many positions and movements as possible.

GPP is about accumulation. It is about enriching your “exercises bank” and building a foundation on which SPP is built. Be patient and do not go too fast and too early with SPP.

Gray Cook says:

“Early introduction of sport specific training created throwing athletes without legs and running athletes who could not do a single push up correctly. It created swimmers who could not control their bodies on dry land and cyclists who could not stand straight”

Quadrant 2

Lots of qualities at a high level of relative max

This is the place we all want to be, or think we should be. While still a student on the Faculty of Physical Education, I asked my professor for an opinion about one training model used by some master level athletes, and whether it’s a good idea to implement it in my training routine. His answer was: “If you do not have a team behind you, and are not getting a lot of money for that, I don’t think you should try it.”

This is a place where you need to develop a lot of abilities at a high level of relative max to be successful, which is the reason why you need to have a well-designed workout plan,  conditioning coach, nutritionist, people taking care about your health and of course not being financially challenged. We can say that Karate belongs partially in this quadrant and more in quadrant 3, which is something that we’ll cover later.

I believe that Karate partially belongs in this quadrant due to the sheer number of qualities you need to work on. Power and balance while moving from one to another stance, fast reaction while trying to block, speed while executing zuki or geri technique, aerobic and anaerobic capacity for being successful during the fight and recover faster after, flexibility while trying to do Ushiro mawashi or yoko geri, tactics, agility while moving around. Does this sound familiar to you? All this is related to Karate and is necessary for success.

The thing is that some coaches want to develop all these qualities at the same time. And even if we decide to work on different qualities separately, we need to think about their compatibility, which means do they complement each other or not.  For example, too much aerobic training might compromise the development of the speed and explosive strength. On the other side lifting heavy weight before running might have a beneficial effect on the running part, but not the other way around.

Furthermore, to make things even more complicated, we need to pay attention to the heterochronicity of adaptation. Heterocronicity refers to the retention of changes induced by systematic workloads beyond a certain period after cessation of training.  As an example, the effect of the aerobic endurance and maximal strength training last for nearly 30 days after decreasing the load and the intensity, whereas, we can say goodbye to the speed and anaerobic capacity after a week of no practice.

In this quadrant, since we have so many qualities to develop, we can’t talk about finding a balance but rather a compromise. This means that we need to decide which qualities we are going to work on at a given period and to what extent we are going to allow those qualities to “degrade” in the later stage.

For example, in the general preparation period we might be focusing on developing maximal strength qualities and aerobic qualities, and in the later stage, sport-specific preparation period, the primary focus will be on developing anaerobic capacity and explosive strength.

At first glance, it seems that Karate belongs only in quadrant two since we need speed, strength, agility, flexibility, balance, technique, tactics to be successful. However, we should be careful because it might make us believe that we need to work on everything at the same time. For this reason, I gravitate more toward quadrant 3, but of course, this is after I realized that more does not mean better.

Dan John

“In Q2, if you do not cut it, you’re cut”

Pavel Tsatsouline

“Those guys who try to “prepare for everything” remind me of the Russion who leaves both a glass with water and an empty glass by his bed: the former, in case he wants a drink in the middle of the night, and the letter, in case he does not”


Quadrant 3

A small number of qualities at a low or moderate level of relative max. 

The third quadrant is a place is where “no pain, no gain” or “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” do not count. This is a place where we strive toward equilibrium, simple balance, yin-yang relationship between strength training and the sport we are practicing.

Before we continue, I want to clarify something. This does not mean that you can get away with training less, but instead, it says that you train and develop specific strength and other qualities to the level you need — nothing more, nothing less.


Rob Lawrence

“If everything is priority, then nothing is a priority”

According to Pavel Tsatsouline, in this quadrant we should focus on developing eight types of strength:

Real Strength 

You train to be stronger, faster, more flexible than another karateka. You do not need to prepare to be able to run faster than a sprinter, deadlift as much as a weightlifter or run as much as a marathon runner. This is what real strength is all about, which differs between sports. Here, as mentioned at the beginning, you focus on developing your abilities to an optimal level.

To put everything in context, here is a story, or maybe a real-life situation.

Two people were attacked by a bear and started running. One of the them yelled, “Why are we doing this!? You can’t outrun a bear!” The other one ran even faster and yelled back: ” I do not need to outrun the bear. I just need to outrun you”

You get the point.

Safe Strength 

Whatever you do, whichever exercise you choose, make sure you can execute it the right way, with a proper technique, without putting your health in question. If it’s too complicated, which might be a case with all the fancy exercises we can find on the internet, get rid of it.

Strength Skill 

We can become stronger in two ways:

  • Make your muscle bigger by using hypertrophy training, which we can agree that it might not be suitable for karate purposes;
  • Make your muscle able to contracts faster and recruit more motor units, which can be accomplished with well-structured training such as training for developing maximal strength. Maximal strength is the foundation.

Easy Strength 

My favorite. Strength training should make you stronger not leave you tired and drained, with no energy needed for a more important thing. Your Karate training.

Slow Strength

At some point, you need to dedicate some time to developing a foundation, something that dynamic strength is built upon.

Dynamic Strength

I can’t think of a better way to build power then using plyometrics, at the same time it’s the best way to get you injured if it is misinterpreted and poorly planned and executed. Be careful.

Symmetrical Strength 

Verkhoshansky and Sniff

“Research has shown that the transfer of strength development in bilateral training (e.g. using squat or power cleans) offer specific improvement in performance of biilateral events such as squat clean and snach in weightlifting, while unilateral training (e.g. with dumbbells or kettlebells) enhance performance more effectivelly in unilateral activity such as running, jumping and KARATE”

However, bilateral movements should not be excluded from your practice and should be practiced together with the unsymmetrical.

When it comes to symmetry, we can see it from a perspective of the balance between agonist and antagonist, and their coordination. For example, quads and hamstrings, biceps and triceps. One of the negative sides of early narrowly specialized preparation is the creation of significant unbalances on the body, which further leaves to injuries.


Simple Strength 

Keep it simple. No need for any fancy exercises with low yield. Stay with those that will give the biggest bang for your buck. Choose 3-5 exercises or 20% of all the practices that will provide you with 80 % of the desired outcome, and stay with those. Deadlift, KB swing, KB windmill, squat, bench press. I can’t find another equipment that is so mobile and can be used on the tatami.

Stay with the basic exercises and discard all the rest. There are so many exercises that we can find on the internet that can do more damage than good, drain your energy, and leave you tired.

To make it simple, you should dedicate 80% of your practice on your sport, in this case, Karate, 10% on strength and 10% for everything else that helps you recover appropriately and on time.

Quadrant 4

Few, sometimes, one quality at the highest level of relative max 

Here, the technical training and the specific exercises are nearly impossible to pull them apart. Weightlift such as bench press, squat and deadlift together with power lifts like snatch and clean, belong in this quadrant.

This is so rear, and what happens in this quadrant should stay in this quadrant. People from other quadrants should not compare the numbers of squat, bench press, deadlift, with the numbers of the people from this quadrant. In the end, you do not need to be able to bench press 500 kg to be successful in Karate.


Wrapping it up 

Many people find lost, when it comes to implementing strength training as part of their practice. Commonly asked the question:

What exercise should I choose?

How many sets and repetitions should I do?

What about the intensity? 

Should I work with light or heavy weights? 

Will it make me slower? 

Should I do the strength training in the morning or the afternoon? Before or after Karate?

These are some of the questions all karatekas have, and they usually try to find the answer by looking videos of other athletes, following other’s training routine, trying new fancy exercises and so on, which can be helpful by not on a long term. It is essential to understand the principle of different strength modality and how they relate to karate, which is something that I will be covering in the future posts.

I hope that this text and information shared helped you to get a clear picture and starting point regarding things you should be focusing on to meet your goal.


What about you?

I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic and do you find this helpful. Is it something you can identify yourself with or maybe have something to add?

You can share your thought in the comments

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