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Tips for Starting Martial Arts

Martial arts class

With the start of the New Year, many of us will be making fitness resolutions. Martial arts, which used to be associated with primarily grade schoolers, is increasingly becoming a popular choice for adults looking for an exciting, engaging and rigorous workout. Emil Berengut, Physical Therapist, says, “There are myriad of martial arts styles to fit most interests, which make this an exciting sport to explore.” Emil provides these tips to help make your foray into martial arts healthy and safe.

Style selection:The eternal debate in martial arts has been “Which martial art is best for me?” Instead of selecting based on a movie or what the Navy SEALs are using consider your goals: get in shape, enter competitions or learn self defense? If you just want to get in shape and have fun, there are plenty of classes that are offered by local gyms that focus on strength and conditioning aspects of martial arts, such as non contact boxing classes and cardio kickboxing. On the other hand, many individuals like the competitive aspect of martial arts. In that case, look for schools and instructors that have a record of competing in tournaments. The practice tends to be very physically intense and students are encouraged to compete. Finally, if you want to learn self defense, there are a number of styles that focus on protecting yourself physically and verbally. Just remember, self defense is not about the flashiest technique, but about awareness, prevention and the right mindset. Make sure to seek out a school that spends plenty of time on teaching these concepts in a safe environment.

Think realistically about current fitness level: Martial arts practice can be a very rigorous workout. While most martial arts schools make accommodations for beginners, you should be prepared to sweat and be sore after the first few classes. If you haven’t exercised in a while, there are a number of objective criteria that can be used to determine if you are in shape to start martial arts. For example, measure how long it takes you to run one mile. An average American male runs a mile in about 8-9 minutes and woman in about 10-11 minutes. If your mile time is within a minute or so of these averages, then your cardiovascular endurance is at a good level. If not, starting a jogging program will prepare your cardiovascular system for martial arts practice. In addition to endurance, improving your overall strength is important as most martial arts classes will begin with calisthenics. If you do not already include strength training as part of your fitness regimen, you can easily incorporate it without any fancy equipment. Exercises such as push ups, pull ups and bodyweight squats will improve your muscle fitness.

Evaluate previous injuries: Pre-existing injuries are a very important factor to consider prior to starting any martial arts program. If you’re a total beginner with a recent (within the 6-9 months) injury, I strongly advise you to wait until this condition has been addressed and you’ve been cleared to start working out by your physician or physical therapist. If the injury happened more than one year ago and you haven’t had any symptoms such as pain or decreased range of motion and you have been working out without problems, then you can ease into a martial arts program. Advise your instructor before class that you want to avoid re-injuring and ask for alternatives to any exercise or technique that seems uncomfortable or unsafe. If you aren’t a beginner and coming back from an injury, be aware of your limitations. Some common mistakes are coming back too soon or expecting your previous performance after time off. Remember, although the techniques are stored in your brain, your body will need time to recover its strength and level of conditioning. Inform your instructor that you will have to go lightly for a while. That means you might have to do a light warm up on your own, do some drilling with a cooperative partner and skip sparring until you feel 100%.

Emil says, “I know from ten years of personal experience that martial arts provide physical challenge, camaraderie and a constant learning experience. My hope is that by making it a safe and enjoyable practice, it will become a part of your life as well.”

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.