Practitioners need to control the following to train movements with the appropriate skills:
- Maintainability. I want to hit a plateau and stay there, since this is an adjunct to training. I stress that skills are just that, not attributes. Being able to bench press a bulldozer is great, but if you take a month off from training, that will go away. Therefore, you must decide what skills you want to have available at all times and have a plan for keeping them where you want them. The measure of a good workout is not that you are sore, but that you know you worked and how well you feel you performed.
- Aleatoric training. The basic idea is to have a compendium of simple exercises that can be knitted together into complex exercises on the fly. This permits an aleatoric component. All together now, say ‘a-lee-uh-TOR-ic’, meaning that some elements are left to chance, unlike chaotic which means all elements are. No workout should really ever be repeated. Bonus: it always looks like you planned it that way.
- Low weights. Do movements with weights with much lighter poundages than standard weightlifting. A very strong person may use 50 lb dumbbells. A beginner should use 25 lbs or maybe even 20 lbs. Paramount importance is given to being able to move the weight in three dimensions with control.
- Speed. The lifting rhythm for weights is very different from powerlifting since firing muscles quickly automatically causes all fibers to conscript. You will be moving much more rapidly than you are used to and through a much larger range of motion.
- Avoid training to failure. Since the emphasis is on compound exercises, you should never do an exercise to failure. The next set will re-use those muscles again, so if it is at failure, you can bet it will fail. This is unacceptable when, for instance, you’re experiencing a full body inversion. If you cannot complete your reps, stop and try later. Only aim for daily totals.
- Use low repetitions in sets. We often do just 10 or so reps for a given exercise. Remember that the exercises are automatically compound and we switch tasks often. Don’t let the number of reps fool you! The cumulative effect can be staggering.
- Body-weight exercises are integral. Agility is based on the ability to move oneself. If you can’t do a push-up, you probably can’t do groundwork since you cannot really move yourself. Caveat: just doing your own body weight isn’t enough since you have to move things, so the aim here is to get experience moving you and other things all at the same time.
- All exercises should be as complex as possible. This mimics working with people in martial arts training. Great exercises are those that use body weight and dumbbells or partners (or all three).
- Cycle aerobic and anaerobic modes. It’s true that you will not need much aerobic capacity in training, but what gets a lot of people is switching from one mode of operation to the other. Train this too, so your body is able to do it easier.Technical note: This ups what is called your metabolic fitness which is the body’s ability to provide energy consistently to the muscle. It is metabolic fitness more than cardiovascular fitness that is the major limiting factor to high performance. The most recent work in training endurance athletes has switched from just having them do their sport for longer times to mixing in sprints and rests to up their metabolic fitness levels — essentially what we do in taiso. This causes you to grow more mitochondria.
- Task-switching is resting. Endurance is increased by task switching. Since focusing on a set of muscles, then using that same set at a lower level forces the body to recover faster, task switching permits you to effectively increase your endurance of fast twitch fibers. Keep things zipping along nicely and switch tasks every 30-60 seconds. If you actually make a tally you are apt to find you have done literally hundreds of exercises from various angles for a body part.
- Tax your nervous system. One roadblock for athletes is not muscular exhaustion, but overtaxing the central nervous system. That is to say, that for a compound motion, while the body has the nerves in place to theoretically perform the action, coordinating this is another matter. Think of it as having too small of a switchboard. Conscripting muscles the way we do it will force your nervous system to get better at using more fibers. Moreover, the aleatoric nature of the training means that you will be a lot more coordinated naturally when new and bizarre movements are encountered. A lot of weightlifters who have done this note that their poundages actually appreciably jumped when they started taiso.
- Plyometric work is integral. Either doing this with the dumbbells (most people only do plyometric drills for their legs, not their upper bodies or abdominals) or body weight. Most martial arts are explosive, so train that way.If you are not familiar with this training, it runs as follows. When you load a muscle (think of doing a squat; at the bottom of the motion the muscle is loaded with your weight), the fibers are a lot like rubber bands that have been made taut. Now, with a rubber band, you can recover that energy by releasing it. In the body, the fibers can release it by moving or if not allowed to move, by getting hotter. If you immediately contract the muscle as soon as it is loaded, then you get that energy back before it dissipates as heat, plus whatever power the muscle can generate. This is why basketball players bounce before doing a high shot. We actually use this when we strike or throw, so getting your body used to this with all motions is a grand idea. Plyometric training for track is now standard because it has been shown to be so successful.
- Partners are the perfect training equipment. Two partner drills are included as well, where one person gets practice stabilizing with their core muscles as the other does an exercise. There are few better ways to get all of your core utilized than having someone climb over you. This is core training with a vengeance.
- Be a cheapskate. Really fancy equipment does a lot of the work for you usually, so I tend to avoid it. Exercise machines do have their place though, either to rehab an injury in a safe way or to compensate for a strength imbalance/deficiency.
- Vary Exercises. As I stated above, there are only so many motions. Work within that framework as a basis for training and hit every motion (see our quick guide to types of strength and motion). You can do them with a twist, unilaterally (e.g. one-legged dead lifts, one-handed pull-ups), bilaterally (two-legged dead lifts, standard push-ups), as well as body weight and weighted exercises. Finally these can also be done as open or closed chain exercises too. (Open or closed chain is a fancy way of stating if the limb where the load is moves or is fixed. A handstand push-up is closed chain since the hands stay planted, but an overhead dumbbell press is open chain. ) A goodly compendium of movements constitutes a workout. You are limited only by your inventiveness here.
As an aside, by using smaller weights you get a feel for how to move with control and power against a manageable resistance. A cornerstone of our art is yielding to an overwhelming force and redirecting it (this is the ju is jujutsu). If you experience a force that is higher than what you experience in taiso you are in over your head and should switch tactics.