So how do you put a taiso workout together? Easy. First you remember the movements you need to cover, pick the appropriate mode of movement and a loading pattern. Then you pick one ‘anchor’ exercise for the day, that is to say, one big exercise you will use as punctuation. I usually settle on one of falling (ukemi), swings, pistols or maybe squats. Then you do some big complex exercise from each group. When you finish, do the anchor again and repeat with all different exercises. This I refer to as a period. Yes, this is also called a circuit and that would be a fine name for it except people tend to think it is “circuit training” which is different. You should change activity every 30 – 60 seconds and never do more than 10 of a given exercise. Yes, you will be moving lickety-split the whole time.
The main focus of an exercise is doing one of these motions along with maybe some other movements. You can intersperse smaller exercises, aerobic or anaerobic exercises (drop everything when in doubt and jump rope, sprint or do stars, for example) to vary the pace. Four or five such periods constitutes a workout and should take about 3 to 4 minutes for a period, depending on various factors. Remember, there are a lot of possible combinations and your goal is to have a pretty fair amount of chaos as you train. Normally I have more focus one day on bodyweight, partner or weights, depending on equipment and such, or just completely mix and match. A good measure of wear and tear is periods per week. Start with a couple of sessions a week with a couple of periods. You can gradually increase these. After several years of doing this, I can do a session daily with 5 periods per, five days a week, depending on how strenuous I want to do things. In other words, I find that about 20 periods a week is a pretty good goal. I might up this as a training program: Every summer I send myself to “boot camp” (alias shugyo or “ascetic training” in Japanese) for a couple of weeks, consisting of 40+ taiso sets weekly and a solid hour of cardio a day, but this can’t be maintained for more than a small march of time.
How to get hurt doing taiso
Maybe the title is a bit brash. I just want to emphasize to people coming from other backgrounds, especially powerlifting, that this is different critter. A problem I have seen is this. In powerlifting, your feedback that you’ve had a good workout out is that the target is really sore (‘man my abs!’). When such folks start doing taiso, they tend to think that they have to go as hard at it as possible. That is to say, one body part has to be really sore the next day.
This conditioning is distributed all over you. Nothing should hurt unduly. Oh you’ll know you trained, don’t worry. Overdoing it until something burns like in a powerlifting workout leads to the dreaded overtraining syndrome. In that case, you will notice this first in stiffness and vague soreness. There will be no one thing you can think of that would cause it. Warming up makes the problem go away, only to return more forcefully when you cool off. What is happening? Your body’s ability to recover from what you are doing to it has been exceeded. You must cease training the affected body part for at least a few days until all soreness and stiffness is gone. Why? Because you are working on somewhat damaged muscles and that bit of damage might lead to a big thumping injury. This training stresses all of you and whatever the weakest link is will probably go. Seriously, you can be working on what you think is a shoulder exercise and blow out a calf muscle if it is overtrained.
This is a serious exercise protocol. Never underestimate it.