“Get down and give me… ten?!”

In most Karate-schools, the training involves some kind of physical strength exercises.

This can vary quite a bit from school to school, but often it’s centered around variations of sit-ups, push-ups and high-jumps, either in the end or beginning of the training. With or without a partner.

These three exercises (sit-up/push/up/high-jump) are often chosen because they work the three muscle groups that you use the most: arms, stomach and legs. And that is great. But there is one thing you really should consider when training strength:

How many repetitions should you do?

When we have kids training, we do maybe a maximum of 10 repetitions of a movement, for example the push-up. There is no need to do more than that, because they don’t have the muscles necessary, and they’ll not get those muscles from doing it anyway, since they have a few years left to puberty (thank heaven for that). So it’s basically for fun, mental toughness and to learn correct technique (for the future) that we do it.

Over to the adult group. And this is where it gets interesting.

We all know that they shouldn’t do only 10 push-ups, like the kids, correct? They are bigger and stronger! They can do 50, or hundreds or until they throw up! It’s only good for them! Their arms should feel like french fries when they’re done… right?

Or should they actually only do 10, like the kids?

I think so.

To know why, you only need a little basic knowledge of strength training. The most important point is this:

There exists basically two types of muscle fibers (actually three). The first type is short and explosive,  and the second type is long and slow. Hence, they are commonly referred to as fast twitch and slow twitch.

In Karate, which do we want? Low twitch is good for marathon running, or a long wrestling match.

But Karate is the opposite. In my opinion we want to do short bursts of powerful moves. At least it looks that way when you see someone perform Karate-moves. This means we want fast twitch muscle fibre, and should train to avoid the other type of muscle fibre (the long twitch). Because a muscle can only consist of a certain amount of fibers, it’s really important how you train these. Your training decides how many percent of your muscle is fast twitch or low twitch.

Now let’s go back to the push-up. If you do pushups until you pass out, you train slow-twitch muscle fibers in your arms, and in the future your punches will be slower. The good side is that you will be able to do more punches before your arms get tired. Your stamina in the arms will increase.

Good for you.

However, if you do, let’s say, 10 push-ups, but explosive, and still feeling fresh afterwards, you will eventually get faster punches. The downside is that you won’t be able to do as many punches before you get tired in your arms. But the punches you do will be fast, strong and crisp.

Good for you!

Do you now understand the difference? Slow twitch fibers give you stamina, not explosiveness. Fast twitch gives you explosiveness, but not so good stamina (actually, the power drop [decrease in power] is the same for fast and slow twitch muscles during the first 15 seconds of a movement. After that, it drops more rapidly in fast muscles.).

So the conclusion is: If you want your students (or yourself, your neighbour, uncle, dog or anyone) to be more explosive, skip the traditional two hundred sit-ups and do less, but more explosive. The same goes for all exercises. This is the way to improve your Karate using strength training.

On the other hand, if you once in a while want your students to feel like they have really trained hard for their money, let them do two hundred!

It’s good for their mental toughness too!

And they will feel good the following morning!


  • Drew Baye
    Not quite... Motor units within a muscle are made up of the same types of fibers (innervation affects fiber type) and motor unit recruitment is determined by force requirements, in order of smallest to largest (fewest to most fibers per) motor units. It is possible to move very slowly, or even not at all in the case of isometrics, and recruit all the fast-twitch fibers as long as the weight is heavy enough, and it is possible to move quickly but only recruit slow twitch fibers if there is little resistance to movement. How quickly you move during exercise doesn't affect how quickly you are able to apply the strength in other, different movements. As long as you get stronger, that strength will improve explosiveness, even if you use slow movements when lifting. For example, if the most weight you can bench for one rep with an all out effort is 200 pounds, you won't be able to move it very quickly. If you become strong enough that you can lift 300 pounds, going back to the 200 you will find you can lift it much faster than before. Even if you use a slower more deliberate rep speed in your training, the increase in strength will translate to more explosiveness in other activities. The idea one must train fast to be fast applies to skill, rather than to weight lifting.
    • The key to quick movement is to be relaxed and also to have trained specifically for the althletic discipline you take part in . The explosiveness of a punch or kick coming from Kime . I train using different methods to prevent plateaus in my regime . My view is steal what is best from other disciplines and tweek them to suit your sport . I using agility ladders , weights , primarily kettlebells and resistance bands . I’m older +50 and my resting heart rate is 50 bpm. That’s pretty good I reckon and what I will say is I cannot be the man I was 20 years ago . So my view is you train according to your age , gender and skill levels . Learn from anyone. You want to lift weights and know how to do it . Go speak to a body builder . These guys and ladies are dedicated athletes . You want speed . Train with a sprinter . If you want to punch fast , look at how a boxer does it . Want to sweep well , look at how an ice hockey player does it . It’s easy really . Throw away your ignorance and learn from other sports . Learn the best they have and use it .
  • Jason
    This actually makes sense. I feel slow, sluggish and bulky if I did push ups before my martial arts drills (punches and other forms of strikes). I lose agility and my punches aren't explosive (though feels heavy) if I did push ups. In an actual fight, speed is very important, much more useful that strength. No matter how big and muscular you are, if you get hit in the face, its all the same with others
  • Julian Easterbrook
    As an older student (you are always learning in this game), I've stepped further and further away from endurance training, and focussed more on the practical side of karate training. The need to be effective in my opinion, is what Karateka should be concentrating their efforts on. If you need to use your skills, punching (or kicking) someone more than half-a-dozen times would tend to suggest that you need to change your tactics, because clearly something is not working. More sets doesn't give you bigger or better, it just strains and tires muscles. I must admit when I was 25 my 'attitude' was 'Bring it on' lets do hundreds of of reps - now my attitude is less is better - by far
  • Chris Walters
    We had some woman leave the dojo at beginning of lesson as a sensei was doing different types of warm ups such as partner up , run to one side through legs of partner back again and leap over top then swap , he then said do ten press-ups or as many as you can , she just walked out of class , somebody checked up on her and she said she comes for karate and not fitness ??????????

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