The Importance of Breathing

Training Comments

Breath for Life

How much do you know about breathing? You do it every moment of every day. You’ve done it since you were born. We all know that we must breath in order to live. It is so necessary we do not even need to think about breathing for it to occur. Think of how inconvenient it would be to have to remember to breath! In this article I will discuss the correct way,yes there is an incorrect way. Before we proceed I need you to take a moment and observe how you breath. This will be difficult, but here are some example questions you can ask yourself.

  • Do I breath in through my mouth or nose?
  • Do I exhale through my mouth or nose?
  • Do I hold my breath between breaths?
  • Do I inhale and exhale in a consistent cycle?
  • Does my chest rise and fall?
  • How quickly do I inhale/exhale?

Have you answered these questions? Good, this will give you an objective point to start from. Reading the article and then answering the questions will be difficult as you probably have no preconceived idea of how you breath, having never thought about it before. This is typical for most things the Karate student experiences, they are learning about their bodies and how to control them.

Imagine you are a pilot in a futuristic airplane. The airplane is completely computerized and always fly on autopilot. This means you the pilot have sat in the pilots seat for your entire career but never actually flown the plane. You are just along for the ride. Now imagine that either the auto-pilot failed or out of curiosity and boredom you turned it off! Do you actually think you would be a competent pilot? If you answer anything but No you need a reality check! This is the way of the Karate student. While we think we are complete control of ourselves and our bodies the exact opposite is true. Only until we realize this and accept it can we take control and begin to learn to ‘pilot’ our own bodies.

Back to the lesson at hand. Now that you have an idea of how you breath let us examine the proper way. Very few people breath the correct way as adults. Everyone breaths the correct way as an infant. Yes, we actually forget how to breath correctly. I do not know the reason we forget but the majority of us do forget. So the moment of truth, the correct way to breath is through your diaphragm. The correct term for this is Diaphragmatic Breathing. This is not a guarded martial arts secret, however, I believe the discovery of it’s importance is founded in the martial arts.

To determine if you breath through your diaphragm refer to the questions you answered above. Does your chest rise and fall when you breath? Yes, then you do not breath through your diaphragm. When breathing through your diaphragm your stomach should rise and fall, not your chest. So why is this the Right way to breath, you ask? There are a number of reasons. One of the most important reasons is the increased amount of oxygen you get when breathing this way.

Your diaphragm is the muscle that runs across the base of your rib cage and separates your abdominal cavity (intestines) from your chest cavity. The diaphragm exerts pressure against the lower lobes of your lungs. To demonstrate the effect of this pressure, think of pressing a glass upside-down into a container of water. The glass is filled with air, as you push the glass into the water the glass fills with some water however can never completely fill with water. The only way to fill the glass in this position is to put a hole in the bottom of the glass so the air can escape. In the human case the only way to relieve the pressure is to extend your diaphragm.

Before we proceed I want to detail the benefits of learning to breath through your diaphragm. First and foremost, more oxygen. The increased capacity of your lungs increases the amount of power you can produce when practising Karate, especially when you Kei! Diaphragmic breathing massages your kidneys, increases blood flow, and purification of the blood. You expend less energy to breath. Your lungs retain less stale air that gets trapped in the upper lobes when breathing through your chest. The diaphragm is more efficient since it is an ‘internal muscle’ and does not need to work against the rib cage.

Given all of these benefits with NO negatives diaphragmic breathing is the only way to breath! So how do you learn to breath through your diaphragm again? One way is through practice and conscious effort. This is difficult and can take considerable time given that when you are not thinking about it you will probably revert. There is a simple ‘quicker’ way to train yourself to breath diaphragmically. This should also not be attempted alone in case you pass out or have other breathing difficulties. When you are home take a belt and tighten the belt around your rib cage just below your Pectoral Muscles. You want to make the belt tight enough to restrict breathing into the upper lobes of your lungs, but not so tight that your rib cage cannot expand at all. With the belt in place begin to consciously breath through your abdomen (diaphragm). You should find this is the only way you can get enough oxygen into your lungs without feeling you are running out of oxygen. DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH, keep your breathing smooth and rhythmic. Remember you are reprogramming your way of breathing so do it right. Keep the belt on for approximately an hour at a time. If you do this periodically and consciously try to only breath through your diaphragm you should be breathing diaphragmatic-ly  by the end of a week.

You are now on the road to increased power and stamina in your karate training. Your body is also on its way to being healthier and more productive. Check you progress periodically to make sure you are breathing the right way. Remember your breathing is the foundation of your power, clarity, and strength without it we are powerless to advance or control our lives.

The more you know the better you will do.

This article is written by: Mitchell Saba, WKC senior member and instructor.

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Your Heart Rate & Training

Training Comments

Our hearts pump pump the blood vital to our existence. This movement of blood supplies the nutrients and oxygen that our bodies require. Once the payload of nutrients and oxygen are delivered the blood removes toxins from our bodies to keep us health. All of this driven by the beating of our hearts. The workload on our heart varies depending on our activity level. When we exercise our heart rate increases as does our breathing to meet the heightened demand for oxygen. Measuring our Heart rate while resting and during exercise provides a benchmark of how physically fit we are, how hard we are working, and to measure our improvement over time.

Our heart rate when resting (doing nothing) is a good guide of our general fitness. The normal range for our heart rate at rest is between 60 and 80 beats per minute (60-80 bpm), lower is usually better. To improve our heart rate and fitness level we need to exercise a minimum of 3 to 5 times per week for 30 minutes to 1 hour. During this exercise period our heart rate should be elevated. An elevated heart rate of 60% to 70% of our maximum heart rate must be maintained during this exercise period. Our maximum heart rate is determined using the formula 220 beats per minute minus our age. While this is the maximum your heart should EVER pump it is not wise to approach this number without consulting a doctor. A good rule of thumb is to maintain a heart rate of 150 beats per minute or lower depending on your maximum heart rate. As your fitness level improves the amount of exercise you can do at this level will increase. It is better to make steady improvement, which you will, then to stress your most important muscle, your heart. As a secondary way to determine your general fitness level check your heart rate every minute after your workout. How quickly your heart rate returns to your ‘resting’ rate is a good indicator of your fitness level.

This chart is provided as a guide to the accepted normal heart rate ranges based on age.


This article is written by: Mitchell Saba, WKC senior member and instructor.

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The Importance of Stretching

Training Comments

Take this article for what it is, layman’s advice. All I know about stretching I have learned from reading and trail and error, no formal courses, no certificates, just personal experience and written material. With that said, read on at your own risk (I had to say that;).

Why do we stretch? The answer is simple, to increase our flexibility. Flexibility is important for many reasons. In karate it increases our abilities, speed and accuracy. Flexibility is good for muscle health and helps to reduce the likelihood of injury. There is no “quick” way to increase your flexibility, the only path is by regular stretching using the proper techniques. Using the proper techniques, anyone can improve their flexibility though the amount of time can vary from person to person due to our unique physical make-ups.

Flexibility is extremely important to karate training. Most people think of kicks when we talk about flexibility. While this is true, it is equally important to stretch your upper body after a workout. Chest and shoulder muscles can tighten up and restrict your movements and reduce your speed. Flexibility in your lower body is important for more then just kicks. Your stance will improve as you increase your flexibility. This is almost more important then kicks since your stance is your foundation. As you begin to assess your flexibility you will find that one side of your body seems more flexible then the other. This is normal as your non-dominant side (mine is the left) is typically more flexible. This is why it is typically easier to kick with your non-dominant leg. The one area that most forget about when training is the back/spin. This is very important in karate training since your power flows through your back to the point of attack. If your back is tight then its ability to twist will limit the amount of torque your body can provide.

Increased flexibility also decreases the amount of energy you need to expend as you train. Moving tight, inflexible muscles requires significant effort and energy that reduces the amount of available power. Generally speaking being flexible improves the fluidity of your movements, increases your speed and power, and reduces the amount of energy you expend, all important for your karate training.

Now that you understand the benefits of and reasons for stretching it is time to look at ways to improve your stretches. There are three types of body tissue that need to be stretched to gain flexibility, they are; muscles, joint capsules/ligaments, and nerves. The last usually surprises most people. In this next section we will look at examples of how to stretch these three types of body tissue.

groinLower Torso/Groin Stretch
In the example to the left, we use our leg and hip. This is a classic lunge stretch. The lunge is a muscular stretch that helps the flexor muscle. The lunge is performed by placing one foot forward and one foot back. The knee of the back leg is dropped to the floor, you lean forward keeping your body upright. You should be able to feel a certain amount of “give” with this stretch through the front of your hip.



adductorsAbductor Stretch
This stretch is performed while lying on your back with the soles of your feet together and knees stretched apart stretches your abductor muscles but is mainly a hip capsule and ligaments stretch. You will feel this stretch much more then the previous stretch. This is because there is less elasticity in the hip capsules and ligaments. Because of this it is much harder to increase your flexibility. Notice the word harder, not impossible is used here, give it time and you will increase your flexibility.

hamstring Hamstring Stretch
In the example to the left, we sit with one leg out straight and reaching forward to touch our toes. If you are not flexible you WILL feel this stretch! This stretch is both a muscle and nerve stretch. Bending the knee slightly takes the nerve off the stretch and makes it purely a muscle stretch. With the leg straight you can feel the nerve stretching by the tightness in the back of your knee, not in the center of your hamstring muscle.

When you are stretching it is important to remember that nerves are more elastic then ligaments but less elastic then muscles. Nerves take a long time to stretch. Many researchers say it is a bad idea to aggressively stretch the sciatic nerve before exercising as it can upset the nerve signal to the muscle leading to a loss of muscle control. There are indications that this loss of control can lead to hamstring strain or more serious injury. The logical solution to this is to aggressively stretch the nerve AFTER exercising. This is also wise because muscles are very warm but cooling and stretching is more effective.

It is important to remember to breath properly while you stretch. If you tense as you attempt to stretch your efforts will have little effect. When you tense your muscles constrict, not the result you want. Breath into your stretch and relax your muscles completely. Stretch a little before any workout but save the bulk of your stretching efforts for after your workout. Your muscles WILL NOT gain in length (stretch) unless they are warm and elastic. Aerobic exercise is typically best before stretching because it maximizes your blood flow and muscle temperature. Stretching is as much a mental activity as it is physical.


Stretching Cheat Sheet

  1. Breath into the muscle you are stretching, focused and relaxed;
  2. Move in a slow and controlled fashion with a strong stretch just short of painful;
  3. Listen to your body, slowly take up muscle slack (10-20 seconds);
  4. Once there is no more slack available hold the stretch for 10 more seconds, and;
  5. Slowly release the stretch, continuing to breath, relax, then shake off the muscle.

The order in which we stretch our muscles can be very important. The muscles in our bodies are tied together and pull and push against one another. The back is the best example of this. If our back is very tight we can feel muscle pull (non-elasticity) from simply reaching for a pen. These same muscles are tied into our legs. Bending forward or stretching your hamstring could be made difficult if your back is not properly stretched first. There are numerous inter-dependencies like this, to many for this article. Below is a suggested list for an optimal order for stretching. Don’t stop here, if you are interested pickup some books and read about anatomy, muscles, etc. Anything you do will benefit your karate but more importantly your life.

Optimal Stretching Order

  1. Lower back
  2. Gluts and hip joints muscles
  3. Quadriceps
  4. Hip flexors
  5. Abductors
  6. Calves
  7. Hamstrings

This article is written by: Mitchell Saba, WKC senior member and instructor.

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