Sammy Smith, CISSN is a world champion sport karate competitor for Team Paul Mitchell who is also a certified nutritionist. Her expertise has helped her, and now her students, win numerous prestigious titles.
Over the years of refining my skills as a martial artist, a big component that separates the good from great includes training the body in areas of strength, power, and endurance. After learning and practicing different exercise training methods, I believe the most rewarding form of exercise for sport karate athletes is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).
HIIT, on the surface level, can burn a significant amount of calories in little time while boosting your metabolic rate. This in turn can help you lose fat because your body is still burning through it after the workout is over. The workouts themselves involve intense periods of exercise that are followed by active recovery periods (still exercise, but at a lower intensity). This form of exercise is meant to push the aerobic system to the point where the body can no longer continue- almost to exhaustion. By not completely stopping exercise after the intense bout is done, the body conforms and overtime develops a better endurance.
A typical HIIT workout should only last up to about 30 minutes. Although this is considered a short amount of time to exercise, given the demands of the workout regimen, the body would not be able to exercise sufficiently and would no longer be receiving any benefits if it continued on. A quick example of what a HIIT program would look like includes: a warm up (running or biking) for a short period of time but with a high resistance, to then transitioning to several minutes of that exercise but with little to no resistance. Depending on what the remainder of the program looks like, this can be done only once or many times. After the warmup, the next workout usually contains supersets (two different exercises that are done back to back). The workout will continue like this, with those low intensity exercises in between until it is completed.
When finding the right training program tailored for you, it is important to keep sport specificity in mind. Sport specificity means that the exercises/movements you are training will translate into the movements that are involved in the desired sport. For example, if you are marathon runner, being in the gym and "bulking" your muscles would not be ideal because the more muscle mass you put on, the slower you will become. With this same logic, HIIT is beneficial for sport karate athletes because the short burst of intense exercise followed by lower intensity exercises mimics our routines. A routine (form) is about a minute and a half long; the first part of the form is the slower part (intro), and then we get into the main part of our forms which is an intense 30 -40 seconds of "go-go-go" movements, nonstop. The only breathing time we have throughout our performance is when we stop to "pause." This pause generally only lasts really one to two seconds at most. Until we finish our performance our body doesn't get nearly enough time to breathe and replenish oxygen into our lungs, (this is why competitors tend to get slower towards the end of the form). By utilizing the benefits of HIIT over time, our body will adapt and as mentioned, create a greater endurance to be able to get through those routines without "running out of gas."
Even with all of this being said, it is still important to incorporate multidimensional training. If you want to be the strongest in your division, you should also go into the gym and lift weights (just keep in mind what your main goal is). Incorporating weight training is an excellent supplementary method to HIIT that (in both moderation and using it sport specifically) can upgrade the competitor in you.