Cardiovascular (aerobic) improvement is usually associated with the ability of your lungs, heart and blood vessels to get and distribute oxygen efficiently to the working muscles and get rid of the by-products such as carbon dioxide. However, when it comes to karate, considering steady pace running or biking as the only mean for improving your “aerobic” capacity might be an ineffective use of your time and limited resources, such as your energy.
Before you put your running shoes on, plug the earphones, and start your running workout driven by the bit, consider what do you want to accomplish with this workout. What type of adaptation do you what to experience and what you what to become better at? Better in karate or running? Or feel better?
What does aerobic capacity mean regarding karate?
In this post, I will talk about improving aerobic capacity from two perspectives:
First: Activity used, which is related to the muscles involved.
Second: The work volume and intensity.
As we all know a VO2 max or the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize, is a quality that is regularly tested and taken into consideration when determining whether athletes are in good shape or not. This test is often conducted on a treadmill or stationary bike, and it does provide reliable information for runners and bike riders. However, this is an inadequate test for other sports that do not involve the same muscle groups and movement pattern. Karate belongs to this group.
Any increase in the VO2 max shown on running or a bike test is real. But it will benefit only the performance in those disciplines, running and biking. This idea indicates that the improvement in VO2max should be related to the activity you perform.
First important point in this post
Type of activity and muscle involved
Metabolic changes that happen in our body are intensity and activity-dependent. A study conducted way back in 1976, observed 13 male subjects while performing workout on a stationary bike using only one leg. One group completed Sprint Interval Training (SIT) and the other group performed endurance steady pace workout. After four weeks, and four workouts per week, both groups improved their VO2 and blood lactate response while conducting the test with the “working leg.” However, there was NO improvement when carried the same test with the non-working leg.
Although this study is old and done with a small sample size, it still passes an important message. It shows that the cardiovascular improvement is not something centralized, but it is also a specific metabolic adaptation that occurs inside the muscle. The take away of this study tells us why an increase in VO2 max in the running does not mean that you have the same VO2max you can rely on during your karate training.
Let’s put the research aside. How many times you’ve found in a situation where you felt excellent during your running practice? Able to run as long and as fast you want, and recover from the workout pretty quickly? However, when the time came for performing a whole kata or having a 3-minute match, you found yourself breathless, sore and exhausted. Probably it took you some time to adjust and increase your performance in karate related activates.
For this reason, you might consider including as many karate sessions as possible even when you are in the General Preparation Period (GPP). Practicing kihon, combined with running, and maybe some strength and mobility exercises would be way better than just running. Remember your heart does not recognize the mechanical work. Mechanical work is mechanical work, whether that is running or kihon.
Does this mean you should completely get rid of running? Of course, not. Luckily, running includes many muscles that are involved in karate as well. So, it can support the development of qualities related to the lower part of the body. It is also a simple and easily scalable (concerning intensity) activity that everyone knows how to do. This takes us to the second point of this post.
How much time do you need to spend on “aerobic” training?
As mentioned above, the cardiovascular improvement does not only occur due to some centralized changes, but also as a result of muscular adaptation, or changes that happen inside your muscles. Those changes can we can achieve by using various training modalities, such as low, medium continuing activity, which is usually related to cardiovascular fitness, and High-Intensity Interval Training.
Most of the time we associate HIIT with building an anaerobic capacity, entirely discarding the aerobic component. Drawing a line between the aerobic and anaerobic mechanisms is unrealistic and wrong. They always complement each other and never happen in isolation.
Many studies have shown the effectiveness of different HIIT workout on improving VO2max and stimulating positive adaptation in skeletal muscles, by enhancing the oxidative capacity of the muscles. It’s worth mentioning that all tests were performed while biking, rowing or running. But, the point here is that the participants got the same benefits with much lower training volume and high intensity.
So instead of running for an hour and a half, you can get the same benefit by doing HIIT for 30 min, where the actual work to rest ratio is 1:6. For example, you can perform an all-out 30 sec running or biking, followed by 4 minutes rest. Repeat the cycle 4-6 times.
So how can you use this information in your karate training?
First, do not get rid of the medium intensity aerobic training. There is nothing wrong with that. However, you get the best of both if you combine it with HIIT training.
Instead of running, practice your kihon as part of your aerobic training with moderate to vigorous intensity. Now have in mind that this message comes from someone who preferred running over karate. People and ideas change.
Performing five sets of 3-5 minutes of work, followed by 2-3 minutes of active recovery, will provide a more significant benefit than continues running for an hour. Remember that any adaptation is also movement dependent. Cardiovascular changes do not occur only in your heart, lungs and circulatory system but in the muscles, as well.
Just running will provide incomplete benefit, making you better in the running, not in karate. I know I repeat my self, but this message is essential.
If you decide to do running, you should consider HIIT. What HIIT you are going to choose depends on your current fitness level and your previous experience with it.
In a systematic review of different studies, where subjects performed 30 seconds of all-out intervals, followed by 4 min rest, repeated 4-6 times, has shown to provide similar muscle adaptations and performance improvement, compared with continuous running. The difference is that the HIIT, in the study referred to as Sprint Interval Training (SIT) allowed much less training volume, providing the same benefits. This will save you more time for karate practice.
Now, this method is only one piece of the puzzle. There are other HIIT modalities you can use along with your karate training. Some of the most popular this days are the “Tabata Protocol,” “Little Method” or “Turbulence Training.” It’s up to you to decide which one fits best in your training routine.
What about you?
What is your experience with HIIT? What type of HIIT do you find the best for your karate practice? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
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