Everybody knows how important physical fitness is to your mental and physical well-being. Studies have shown over and over again that getting exercise a minimum of 3-5 days a week will significantly reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and many other maladies. One type of exercise that has a ton of physical benefits is martial arts.
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Finding a Good Fit is Hard!
It’s so difficult to find an exercise you enjoy and will stick with it. I struggled with this for years! I tried running, walking, aerobics, swimming, and weightlifting, just to mention a few, but I struggled to keep going long term. Bad weather, expensive gym memberships, and just not enjoying the type of exercise I was doing were three of my main reasons I would give up an exercise routine.
I knew that if I was going to stay motivated to keep moving, I would have to find something I would continue to enjoy for many years. So, when my kids suggested martial arts over 8 years ago, I decided to give it a try. And I’m soooo glad I did!
Any type of exercise you get is beneficial. But, in martial arts, there are some unique benefits that other physical activities aren’t going to give you. For today, I’m going to keep it simple and share with you the physical benefits of martial arts.
So What is Martial Arts?
Martial arts is one of several sets of self-defense moves that are practiced as a sport. There are several different styles of martial arts, Karate, Judo, Tai Kwan Do, and Krav Maga, just to name a few. Each style is based on self-defense and coordinated moves. Many styles include the performance of katas, which is a set combination of positions and movements performed together as an exercise.
When my family joined Central Shaolin Martial Arts 8 years ago, I had no earthly idea how much I would enjoy karate. I was also blown away by how many benefits there are to practicing martial arts. I could go on and on about it forever, but today I would like to share with you the many physical benefits of martial arts.
Increased Strength and Flexibility
Any time you begin a new workout or increase your workout intensity, you’ll become stronger. That’s a no-brainer, right? When you join martial arts, even if you normally work out a lot, karate uses many different muscle groups than in other workouts.
In our karate club, we always begin class with the same warm-up exercises. Deep squats and sit-ups help to strengthen muscles before the workout begins. Our instructor also likes to throw in conditioning activities upon occasion, usually at the end of a particularly strenuous class (I think he does it on purpose haha). Practicing katas, kicks, and punches over and over will also help you grow stronger as you practice martial arts.
Martial Arts Will Make You More Flexible
Martial arts training will also make you more flexible. There are tons of stretching during warm-ups, and practicing low stances over and OVER again will make you much more limber than you were before. I’m not the most strong or flexible person by far, but karate has helped me improve in both of these areas.
Increased Coordination and Balance
Becoming Less of a Klutz
Better coordination is another great side effect of joining martial arts. Learning the step by step movements in katas, then practicing them repeatedly, is bound to make you more coordinated.
I’m not normally an athletic person, and I tend to be a bit of a klutz 95% of the time. But karate has improved my coordination so much, some of my dojo friends didn’t realize I consider myself coordinationally challenged (I’m not sure if coordinationally challenged is a word or not. Oh well).
Improved balance is also something you can expect after you practice martial arts. I’ve had vertigo issues for several years that come and go. Right now they’re gone, which is AWESOME, but there have been times that I’ve had constant dizziness for months at a time. Working through katas that require me to stand on one leg or up on my toes for a period of time has helped increase my balance tremendously.
The increased strength and coordination you’ll get from karate or any other martial art also goes along with helping your balance. These types of exercises work your entire body, including your core muscles. Increased core strength helps your body become more stable and balanced overall. As we age, our center of balance gets a little off, which is one reason why the elderly are more at risk of a fall. Anything you can do to increase your balance now will also help in the future.
Muscle Memory and Increased Speed
What’s Muscle Memory?
Have you ever practiced a sport or skill over and over again, then stop doing it for a long period of time? When you decide to try it again, you may not be able to do everything you did before, but I bet you’d be surprised at how much you can do, even after a long break. This is called muscle memory. It means your muscles can remember the familiar movements even after your brain can’t recall them anymore.
It’s kind of like when I went from teaching 1st grade to 3rd grade, and I realized that I would have to teach (and write in) cursive. I hadn’t written in cursive in YEARS except to write my name! Being left-handed, I avoid writing anything by hand if possible. Well, it only took me a little bit of practice over the summer to be able to write fluently in cursive. My brain couldn’t recall much about it, but my hand and arm pretty were good to go as soon as I tried.
Martial Arts Increases Your Speed
When you’ve practiced a motion so many different times that muscle memory kicks in, then your speed begins to pick up as well. When first learning a kata, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re going to do it slowly. After a while, though, you can go through the motions with little thought, and the movements become much more swift and natural
During one of our sparring and conditioning classes, which I was crazy enough to sign up for voluntarily, the instructor had us practice doing full punches for a minute. By full punches I mean coming from your waist, extending, and twisting your arm completely, alternating each arm. Your partner would count all your punches on one side and multiply by 2 to get your actual count. We would do the same thing with kicks, only we would do one side at a time.
At the end of these one-minute sessions, he would have us write down the count we had for each exercise along with the date on individual index cards. Each class we would do this, and at the end of the 3-month course, we could look back and see how much faster our punches and kicks had become as compared to the early classes. It was really cool to see how much our speed had improved in such a short time!
Possible Weight Loss
As with any cardiovascular exercise, many people experience some weight loss when they join a martial arts class. This is especially true if you’re normally a sedentary person, either at work or at home, and you suddenly become active by taking karate. However, after your body becomes used to the extra exercise (think muscle memory again) karate becomes the new norm for you, your weight loss might begin to taper off.
What if You Don’t Lose Weight?
Even if you join martial arts, and you don’t lose weight, you’re still becoming much healthier than you were before. With increased strength and coordination, you’re building muscle mass, which weighs more than fat (yay)! Plus muscle burns a lot more calories than fat does. That’s always a win-win in my book.
Any type of exercise you choose will have benefits. However, if you decide to give martial arts a try, you’ll find tons of physical benefits from it! With so many physical benefits in martial arts, if practiced regularly, it can be one of the most efficient exercises out there.
Now that you know more about the physical benefits of martial arts, what do you think of it? Would you ever give it a try? Drop a comment or email me and let me know what you do to stay healthy because that’s what it’s all about!
Thanks for reading,