Finding the “sweet spot” for getting optimal results

In this post, I will talk about the idea of optimal training volume and intensity, and how much time and resources you need to dedicate for improving your karate. Now, this is personal opinion derived from my own experience. Of course, this is all backed up by science, and not just some Woo Woo thing. In some way this is my reflection, and what I could have done differently.

More doesn’t necessarily mean better. However, many coaches and athletes have that mindset. “If I do more than someone else, I should have better performance”.

In theory and to a certain point this is true. However, beyond that point, the “return for your investment” decreases. You do not get as much as you put in. And if you keep pushing you will start getting negative results. So, the ideas are to find the optimal effective dose, the sweet spot.


What do we get by finding the “sweet spot”?

Every training method poses some amount of stress on our body and mind. And stress is good, not a bad thing. It’s something that helps us become better and adjust to a new stimulus. It also helps us experience structural changes and physiological adaptation that will enhance our performance. Jump high, run faster, move explosively in kata or kumite performance, have more focus and better reaction time together with faster recovery.

Before you even become faster, stronger or more explosive, you have to become “slower”, “weaker” and tired. And then allow adequate time for your body to start the recovery processes and literary build a new upgraded body. This is phase is called a Supercompensation Phase.

Reaching a super compensation is something that requires coaches and athletes to take into consideration multiple variables such as intensity, volume, frequency, nutrition, rest. If you push too much, you might not recover properly (picture 2), and your performance will suffer. On the other hand, if you don’t put enough effort and stress on your body, you won’t see improvement. (Picture 3)

Therefore, you need to find the optimal effective dose for your training volume in general and every piece of the puzzle separately. This can be accomplished by presenting some of the variables affecting your performance by using the “inverted U curve.


Strength training inverted U curve

In my previous posts, I talked about the importance becoming stronger, faster and quicker than another karateka. This means, instead of comparing your performance with a bodybuilder or a powerlifter, focus on growing stronger than another karateka. It means karate should come first. Everything else should be complementary to it.

What is the optimal effective dose?

The optimal effective dose for each is different. However, as a starting point, you should dedicate a 2-3 workout to work on developing strength. Regarding the strength training, the most common question I get these days is “Can I do CrossFit.”

Using Cross Fit training methods could be beneficial for developing maximal and explosive strength. They can build a powerful body and functional movement patterns. However, they might overstimulate your energy and nervous system. Therefore it might deplete your energy and prolong your recovery; thus, you might end up tired for your karate practice.

For this reason, I think that using some CrossFit training methods can be beneficial if done in moderation. You can work on your mobility, learn some simple Olympic lifts and adopt good movement mechanics. Pushing your limits from time to time and try to break your record in an AMRAP workout is also fine. However, this would be in the preseason, and maybe ones a week.

Remember, “less is more” when it comes to your strength training. Stick to the basics, emphasize quality over quantity, and finish your workout strong. You can find more information about max. strength development here.



Aerobic training inverted U curve

The aerobic system supports a significant percentage of kumite performance. However, it does not mean you need to become a marathon runner. It also means you should not neglect your aerobic capacity and dedicate adequate time to its development.

For this purpose, you can use continues running with moderate/vigorous intensity or different HIIT where you work close to your anaerobic threshold. Although, both provide benefits, have in mind that HIIT might be more beneficial regarding time management. What I mean is, you get the same (or better) benefits with the HIIT while spending less time in training — less time spent on running means more time for recovery. Therefore, you have enough energy for karate.

Another thing that is worth mentioning is the specificity of the workout. It is undisputed that running will have a positive benefit on your VO2 max. However, not all the benefits are transferred in karate performance. So no one cares if you run 10-15 km a day. What counts is what you can do on the tatami. For this reason, having 4 minutes high-intensity karate kihoh with 3 minutes rest, for 5-8 cycles, would be something to consider when building your aerobic capacity. Of course, this one example, and for more ideas see the picture below.


Anaerobic training inverted U curve

A well-developed aerobic system supports the begging and middle of your karate performance, especially in kumite. But the anaerobic energy system is the one enabling you to perform on a high-level and push hard while being fatigued. You are breathing fast, gasping for air, your legs are getting heavy; however, you still manage to maintain your speed and power in your movement, punches, and blocks. That is a sign of an efficient anaerobic system.

The anaerobic training increases the body’s ability to sustain high-quality work in the presence of higher level of lactic acid. It also makes your body more efficient in using the lactic acid as fuel, increases mitochondrial density in the muscle and improves the oxygen flow.

The two anaerobic energy systems you need to be aware of are Glycolytic and Phosphagen.

Training modalities focusing on developing the anaerobic system include a high-intensity workout that targets the glycolytic and phosphagen energy system. Those focusing on increasing the lactate tolerance and the effects of the body to recycle and use it as a fuel target mainly the glycolytic energy system. Various HIIT training such as Tabata or Little method, or just a combination of high-intensity intervals followed by low intensity (20-60 sec) where work to rest ratio is 1:1 to 1:3.

You must be aware that in the “anaerobic family” we also have the phosphagen energy system. And this one support high-intensity work that lasts for a few seconds. The phosphagen energy system is the one we target while developing maximal strength and power. Workout for developing this energy system includes high intensity, low repetitions and long rest periods.

Because glycolytic and phosphagen energy system belong under the ambarella of the anaerobic system, it does not mean they should be emphasized in a single workout.

 The is the biggest mistake I’ve made and saw some athlete and coaches make.


Most of the time the main reason for underperformance is the overtraining or fatigue accumulation, not the undertraining. We tend to push the limits of our body by constantly adding putting the body under stress. And adopting that kind of a mindset might create real problems if you don’t pay attention to your recovery.

To be able to determine how much rest you need and when is the right time to schedule your workout you need to be aware of the physical state of your body. Different training modalities require a different physical state to provide benefit.  So what exercises you choose and how you structure your week, should be related to the physiological demand of each training method.

Wrapping up

No matter what quality you are developing, a certain amount of stress is necessary. Nothing grows in a comfort zone. The important thing is to determine the right (for you) amount of stress (intensity) that will provide the most benefits. Take time in planning and structuring your training plan or workout. And most importantly reflect on each one.

Each physical quality requires the engagement of a different energy system. Therefore, before you start planning your training practice make sure to you understand and follow the basic principles related to each quality and energy system.

For more about periodization visit the previous blog post related to block periodization. You can find them here: blog1, blog 2, blog 3.




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