Well, that’s a bit of a pompous title for such a simple routine. I am not a fitness (nor combat) expert, mind you. The question everyone should ask themselves about exercising is “why?” Aside from the obvious health benefits. Knowing why, you can find out how.. My goal is to improve my Systema, and of course, looking better naked wouldn’t hurt. I have learned that there are three important exercises related to martial arts: Push-ups, abs and squats. You can find a flurry of great drills online to build muscles, some pertaining to strength building, others to looks, but those three are the strict minimum. I would even add pull-ups to the list, if I was doing them, but I still need to set-up a bar somewhere in the back yard.. By the way, follow my advise at your own risk.. As I said already, I am no expert, and I might be wrong. Advise from professionals is welcome by the way..
Push-ups: Are great to build your shoulders, arms, and strenghten your wrists, if you do them the right way, that is. They also can teach you to relax muscles that are not necessary to hold your position or go up and down. Breathing properly is of the utmost importance, as with any other exercise, your immediate strength comes from oxygen. Food energy gives you endurance, but in martial arts or dealing with violence (I mean civilian), you most likely wouldn’t be engaging long enough to deplete those resources. Not breathing properly though will bring you to your knees fairly quickly. So, get into your push-up position considering it mostly a breathing and relaxation exercise. Keep your body straight, but do not tense up too much. Muscles burn oxygen quickly, and you need to conserve it. Besides, tense muscles when hit will get damaged, and we want to avoid injuries when training in martial arts. Remember that drunk drivers often don’t get hurt in accidents, because they stay loose. You want to keep just enough tension to keep things in place, no more. That by the way includes your face muscles. Squinting, puffing and grunting won’t help you. Just keep breathing slowly in through your nose, out through your mouth. These principles hold true for the other exercises by the way. One last thing to consider is your wrist position. Bending your wrist ninety degrees is not a natural position. It might be less painful to have your hands flat on the ground, but there is nothing to gain from it, and it isn’t good for your wrists. In Systema, as in many other martial arts using strikes, we do push-ups on our fists. Make sure you leave your thumb ‘outside’. You will strengthen your wrists that way, which is great for striking. Do your push-ups slowly. I start by doing as many as I can, then rest a couple minutes before the next drill. I repeat the operation between all my other exercises, and one last time at the end of my session.
Holding a push-up position is also a great way to gain core strength. I like to stay in push-up position, elbows unlocked, relax and breathe with my eyes closed, listening to a song on my Ipod. You might only be able to hold one minute at first, but ten minutes is an attainable goal. I am now up to nine minutes, when I can relax enough. That’s two songs.. Knowing how much time is left seems to make it harder, so listening to songs allows you to forget about the time and concentrate on the music. You should try not to feel sorry for yourself and just keep going. You can always do more than what you think is possible. The mind quits first, not the body. If you can reverse that, you’re doing better than me.
Abs: Everyone wants a sixpack.. However, nutrition plays a big role here, and you won’t get one eating ‘normal’ meals. The goal in martial arts is core strength, which helps you keep a good form while moving around, and is also very important for ground fighting. I start by laying on my back, and doing a hundred crunches, looking up, lifting my shoulders off the ground. You don’t need to go all the way up, just rise straight up a few inches. Keep breathing, and use only the necessary muscles. After resting a couple minutes, and doing a series of push-ups, I repeat the operation, but with my left arm along my side, and my right hand behind my head, lifting my right shoulder up and to the left fifty times. Rest, push-ups, rest, and I repeat on the other side. At last, I put both my arms along my sides, straigthen my legs and do fifty leg raises up to ninety degrees (straight up), and down an inch from the ground. That works your lower abs. The numbers here depend on you. Do as many as you can, and that will be your starting numbers. As it gets easier, you can add weight by holding something heavy behind your head or on your chest. I use a cannon ball.. If you do so however, you will have to rest your muscles for a few days between sessions. Otherwise, you can do it without weight every day.
Squats: This one is very simple. Keep your back straight, heels on the ground, and slowly go down while trying not to bend forward. Breathe, relax. Repeat as many times as you can, then do a few more (good general policy ;-). In a fight, real or training, you don’t want top bend over or backwards, too dangerous. Someone can easily grab your head then and smash it on their knee, ground, or whatever other hard surface might be around. When you go down, you should keep your form and use your legs, just like you should do when picking up something on the floor. I do fifty squats, but again, that depends on your level.
Pull-ups: One thing I learned about pull-ups is to do them with the back of you hands facing you, not the other way around, which is pretty useless. Imagine having to go over a wall.. You can’t grab a wall palms up.. I am pretty bad at pull-ups, so I will probably start with a low bar, hanging at an angle, so that I can do more than one. As I get better, I will keep raising the bar until I can hang straight from it and do at least a few pull-ups. If you think about it, you really should be able to pull up your own weight, at least a couple times to go over an obstacle.. Sometimes, you might need to climb to safety. Accidents happen, you never know..
Cardio: Don’t forget to exercise your heart.. Running is good, but I can’t run with that titanium rod inside my femur, the impact hurts my hip, where the screws are.. So, I decided to try rope jumping. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but it seems to be a great workout and very popular with boxers. Right now bicycling works fine, although it isn’t quite intense enough, but it’s almost July here in Florida, and the temperature is in the high nineties. I wish there was an Olympic pool nearby, that would be great.
Right now, I exercise two to three times a week on top of my one or two Systema classes, and one Yoga class a week at Rosemary Court. Yoga helps my back tremendously, and I need to be more flexible. Not that I need to be able to kick high, we don’t really do that in Systema. I kick knees.. If I want to kick someone in the head, I’ll put him down first and kick his head then, much safer that way.. I will work my way up to a daily routine. It is hard to find motivation at home, but I am seeing some results, and that makes me wanting more. When the going gets though, just remember: “Pain is weakness leaving the body!”