Every karateka is interested in developing power, explosive strength and speed. These qualities would allow a faster movement, quick and timely reaction, explosive dyaku and kizame tsuki, or maybe mawashi and ura-mawashi geri. Whichever technique you choose, it is essential to practice and implement the right training routine for successfully developing these qualities.
In the past decade, the information related to training and physical preparation became readily available for everyone via the internet, and today, more fitness enthusiasts, coaches, and athletes rely on it. There is a good and a bad side in this. The good thing is that you can find any information by simply asking “Google” something that previously could have been obtained only through reading books and sports literature. However many details get misinterpreted and oversimplified.
“If more information was the answer, then we’d all the billionaires with perfect abs” – Derek Sivers
Many karatekas have used one thing that people misunderstand, and that is the plyometric method of training.
In this post, I will cover everything that I am familiar with (and there are also many things I do not know, so do not take everything for granted) that will help you to implement the plyometric training safely and get the most out of it.
What is plyometric training?
Plyometric training has been successfully used in sports where athletes’ performance and success depend on their ability to voluntary recruit as many motor units as possible in the shortest amount of time. Recruiting a significant number of motor units will allow athletes to execute various movements fast and explosively and karate belongs in this category.
Plyometric exercises involve movement that focuses on the stretch-shortening cycle, which is related to eccentric contraction (lengthening phase), concentric contraction (shortening phase) and isometric contraction (static construction). To put it in perspective, during a biceps curl, when pulling the weight up the biceps performs concentric contraction (gets shorter), when lowering the load down the muscle performs eccentric contraction (gets longer) and holding the weigh in the middle puts the muscle in static or isometric contraction. While moving in kumite, when stepping down your calf muscles stretch (eccentric phase), which is followed by concentric (shortening phase) contraction the moment you try to push yourself forward toward the opponent.
So what exactly happens in your muscle that makes your movement more powerful?
As part of our muscles, more precisely tendons, we have something called Golgi Tendon Organ. When the muscle tension increases and passes a certain threshold, the Golgi Tendon Organ gets activated and inhibits the work of the muscle, which is a safety mechanism, a way to protect the tissue from tearing and damaging. This reflex protects it and is beneficial for your muscle health. However, it’s not good for your performance. Every karateka wants to be able to generate a significant amount of force and be able to move as fast as possible.
The plyometric training allows you to push the muscle threshold related to tension generation and recruitment on muscle fibers higher, so the inhibition reflex gets activated at much higher tension.
By focusing on the stretch-shortening cycle, you train your muscle to be able to recruit as many muscle fibers and motor units as possible to produce powerful movement and “override” the Golgi Tendon Organ. As a result, you get greater speed, faster dyaku, and kizame tsuki or quicker transition from one to another stance. Besides this, more important is that your tendons, bones, ligaments and other connective tissue get stronger and able to endure the repetitive pounding.
Avoid muscular soreness
Other advantages of plyometric training can be related to lower muscle soreness and increase in power output without necessarily increasing muscle mass. The prolonged muscle soreness is usually associated with exercises that involve steady and slow lifting of the weight. As a result, we get greater muscle tearing and microtraumas. A typical hypertrophy training belongs in this category. Later the damaged tissue, if adequate recovery is obtained, will recover resulting in muscle gain, which is an undesirable effect for the kumite competitors.
On the other side with plyometric training, we can avoid muscle gain and become more efficient in recruiting our muscle fibers by improving the efficiency of the CNS. As a result, the movement becomes more efficient, and muscle ability to produce more power higher, without necessarily becoming bigger and adding more muscles. So, you are increasing the power of your car engine without adding more weight.
Exercises related to karate and common mistakes in their implementation
The implementation of plyometric exercises should be progressive to avoid any injuries. You start from less complicated and stressful plyometric exercises (low load/impact) and slowly progress toward more demanding ones (high load/impact).
Low-medium impact exercises:
High load/impact exercises:
As mention before, more information does not mean anything if you do not know what to do with it or use it for the right purpose. The biggest mistakes related to plyometric exercises are connected to the volume, intensity, and timing.
The primary goal of the plyometric exercises is to make your nervous system more efficient. For this reason, it is crucial that you do these exercises in a rested state, fully recovered from your previous workout. So many times I’ve witness coaches giving plyometric exercises after intensive running or hour and a half of karate training when your CNS is already fatigued. Therefore, the plyometric exercises should be done at the beginning, or during the central part of the practice.
Another thing many coaches overlook is the volume. When it comes to plyometric exercises, more does not mean better, which is precisely what many people think. With the expansion of the fitness industry and the considerable number of workout programs that came along, plyometric exercises got misinterpreted. And the reason is that every movement that involves jumping could be categorized as plyometric exercises since it includes the stretch-shortening cycle. However, if you jump for 30 minutes nonstop, you do not get the primary benefits from the plyometric exercises. Paying attention to the volume (number of sets and repetitions) and the intensity (load and rest interval) is crucial.
Below is simple guidance you can follow when developing your plyometric training.
Number of reps
Number of sets
Rest between sets and exercise
|Hurdle jump – low||10-15||3-4||1 minutes|
|Medicine ball chest throw||10-12||3-4||1-2 minutes|
|Medicine ball vertical chop||10-12||3-4||1-2 minutes|
|Kneeling plyo push-ups||10-12||3-4||1-2 minutes|
|Lateral bound||10-12||3-4||1-2 minutes|
|Plyometric push-up||8-10||2-3||1-2 minutes|
|Medicine ball slam||8-10||2-3||1-2 minutes|
|Box Depth jump||5-8||1-2||30-60 sec between rep, 2-3 minutes between sets|
|Long depth jump||5-8||1-2||30-60 sec between rep, 2-3 minutes between sets|
In the following video, you can see different ideas for plyometric exercises implementation on the tatami. The guys from Team Ki give an excellent suggestion for making plyometric exercises karate specific.
The previous video is related to kata performance. How everything would look like regarding kumite practice, you can see in this short video with Sara Cardin. She’s been consistently among the top athletes in her category for years, so she must be doing something right. Have a look.
Wrapping it up
What about you
Have you ever been using plyometric training before? What exercises do you find useful for karate?
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