One of the many benefits that can be obtained from practicing martial arts is that of fitness. It’s the darndest thing… Learning a martial art seems to require a person to move their body around! Go figure huh. Before I go on, lets grab some statistics from the CDC's website, look them over, and then I will layout some common sense in relation to martial arts and fitness..
ADULT OBESITY FACTS from the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA)
•More than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese. [Read abstract Journal of American Medicine (JAMA)]
•Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. [Read guidelines]
•The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. [Read summary]
CHILDHOOD OBESITY FACT from the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA)
•Approximately 17% (or 12.7 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years had obesity.
•The prevalence of obesity among children aged 2 to 5 years decreased significantly from 13.9% in 2003-2004 to 8.4% in 2011-2012.
•There are significant racial and age disparities in obesity prevalence among children and adolescents. In 2011-2012, obesity prevalence was higher among Hispanics (22.4%) and non-Hispanic black youth (20.2%) than non-Hispanic white youth (14.1%). The prevalence of obesity was lower in non-Hispanic Asian youth (8.6%) than in youth who were non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black or Hispanic.
•In 2011-2012, 8.4% of 2- to 5-year-olds had obesity compared with 17.7% of 6- to 11-year-olds and 20.5% of 12- to 19-year-olds.
Note: In children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years, obesity was defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the sex-specific CDC BMI-for-age growth charts.
Now, there are a ton of factors involved in these statistics such as diet, exercise, economic circumstances, environment, and genetics. I bring these stats up because they help illustrate a large problem within the United States. There's an issue with a lack of fitness among our population. Roughly one third of the US could use a lifestyle change which involves more physical activity and a better overall diet. Take a look at these direct quotes from the CDC's Action Plan for individuals. They explain some key points regarding a healthy lifestyle.
"The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn't about short-term dietary changes. It's about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular physical activity, and balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses."
"Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases."
If someone were to ask me the question, “Can practicing a martial art make me fit?” I would have to answer, heck yeah! But…
But what? But... It depends on the effort that you put into it. Fitness comes with a cost and that cost is called effort. You must invest effort from your vault of stored energy, iron will, and unquestionable drive in order to take out a benefit such as fitness. Wait, don’t get scared off just yet, lets take a quick look at what effort is, within the scope of this topic.
Effort can be as simple as the act of trying or an attempt at something. For example: Doing a body squat requires you to bend your knees 90 degrees so that your thighs become parallel with the ground. Bending your knees only 45 degrees during a body squat could be considered only 50% effort, unless of course you have a physical reason you cannot squat all the way down in which case you get a pass on this one. Though 50% effort is better than 0% effort (not doing anything), are you going to get the most out of that 45 degree body squat? Probably not, so why bend only 45 degrees?
Over the years that I’ve attended martial arts classes and have instructed classes for kids and adults, I have witnessed students who put high amounts of effort into the warmups and the work applied to practicing basic movements and complex techniques. I have also seen many who do as little as possible to get through the regiment of activities before, during, and after a typical class, fully expecting to become the next superstar of martial arts. Though possible that outcome would be highly unlikely with minimal effort invested.
Lets take a look at another example of what I am talking about. If I ask you to make a fist or to show me what your punch looks like would it be a 100% effort or would it be some percentage below that? Can you tell the difference between the effort put into the fisted hand on the left and the one on the right? Which shows more effort being applied?
Each individual is responsible for what's gained from any venture they choose to embark on, and that applies to martial arts as well. To this day, I tell my students to go at a pace which works for them, but I follow that up with explaining that they will gain the most by pushing themselves to give 100%. They control the amount of effort thats put in, not me. I'm just there as a guide to direct them, to coach them, to encourage them and to inspire them if possible.
Fitness comes with a cost and that cost is effort. When you apply 100% effort you will maximize your benefits and your fitness level.
Push-ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, crunches, burpees, jogging in place, lunges, plyo jumps, body squats and all the variations of these basic movements are great exercises to warm up the body before working on your blocks, kicks, stances and footwork for martial arts. Why the heck do we do all those 15-20 minute warm-ups before practicing our techniques?
The answer is simple, martial arts are systems of physical movements we carry out with our bodies and in order for us to be efficient at those physical movements, we should be as fit as possible.
In many cases the movements of the art itself may be enough to develop the level of fitness needed to become efficient at it. In other cases we may need to supplement the practice with extra cardio such as jogging, extra anaerobic such as sprinting, extra strength such as weight training and extra endurance such as gained from doing static holds. In any case martial arts and fitness go hand and hand and tend to hang out together.
If you are getting involved with a martial art for the first time, it may seem like it’s a lot of work or a whole bunch of exercising. Even if you've been taking classes regularly, you may be sore afterwards or feel overwhelmed by the amount of effort it takes and may even want to take a day off now to rest or recover. Don’t let that detour you from getting into class and giving your all. Believe it or not, it does get easier. Your body is an amazing machine that adapts to change and the more you push the more your body will work to adapt. First you must apply the effort!
This of course doesn't mean you get a free ticket after working really hard in class to go home, sit on the couch and eat a pizza, drink soda and have ice cream. Your diet should consists of healthy foods that provide essential nutrients and the calories you need to fuel your daily activities.
Work hard with 100% effort in class, in the gym and everything else you do. Eat healthy meals, get a good night sleep consistantly, and before you know it, you'll be doing things you never dreamt of doing! Trust me…