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Drew Loto
Drew Loto's picture
Interval training for combat

I'm hoping to adopt an exercise regime that will actually aid me in self-defense and combat while improving my cardio vascular endurance and health--and that I can perform on my own, without any equipment other than standard household items and a stand-up punching bag. I know that a lot of combat sports utilize interval training to great effect. I also understand that there are different types of interval training--to develop explosiveness, endurance, etc. I have very little experience with interval training, but I imagine these different types of interval training tend to involve different types of exercises, (as well as different lengths of time for rounds and rests). Does anyone in this fine community have any advice that might help me when developing a regime? My lack of experience basically means that any advice is valuable. In particular, if anyone has any exercises they want to suggest, please do so.

My primary motivator is improving my cardiovascular health, however I'd like to improve my martial attributes at the same time if possible. If anyone has any suggestions besides interval training, I'd love to hear them as well.

gazrichards's picture

I am a semi pro track racing cyclist as well as a full time karate instructor so obviously CV endurance and interval training is a day to day occourance for me. 

I do use interval sessions in my karate training but it's not really suited to it if I'm honest. When I do bag work sessions or sparring I try and concentrate on power generation and good technique but I do like to throw in some timed rounds. 

Here is some of the stuff I do. 

You will need a stopwatch, you can download tons of smart phone apps that are great and you can wear earphones and listen to your music with the stopwatch beeps over the top on most. 

Timed rounds

30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for 5 minutes

so you will do 5 efforts with 5 recoverys. I usually do these 3 times. 1st block just punches, 2nd block just kicks, 3rd block both punches and kicks. In between each block make sure you have complete recovery so you will have gotten your breath back and your heartrate will have lowered to a more normal level. 

30 seconds is quite a long time to be punching and kicking as hard as you can but you should be able to start as hard as you can and maintain it to the finish. 

With all interval training the idea is that the first few efforts are actually feeling quite "easy" but by the last few you are really struggling. If you start too hard you won't be able to finish the block. 


Increase the effort sections each time. Try starting with 15 seconds, 30 secs, 45 secs always with 30 secs recovery. Again you can do this in lots of blocks and do a block of just punches, just kicks and then a mix or whatever you feel like. 

You can also invert the pyramid and start with the long effort and decrease the time or go nuts and build the pyramid and work back down again (sometimes known as Russian steps) so 15,30,45,30,15 all with 30 seconds recovery.

you can do tons of variations on these intervals once you have played around with them and vary them based on your current fitness. 

I do a weekly session with a few training partners and we throw them in on the end of an hour session after warming up and working on technique drills etc. if you are doing them properly you should feel close to throwing up after a few blocks. 

rafanapa's picture


How do you balance the different needs of karate and cycling?

I have a good friend who has switched from serious rowing (henley level) to cycling competetively as a hobby, and the two things that I get from that is that they they do not need upper body strength and they can get very tight hamstrings. I remember watching the olympic edition of superstars and was struck by how all the track cyclists had no upper body strength. I had a long discussion with my friend about how she had lost a load of her upper body rowing strength as it wasn't needed, wasn't worked, and contributed extra mass.

I also cycle, but just for commuting, and I find that I have to be very careful about keeping my hamstrings loose for training. The classic "bike quickly to be in the time for karate, then jump into doing loads of maegeris" routine.


gazrichards's picture

I no longer compete in karate events, just train for my own pleasure and teach. 

When I was competing in both I used to switch focus to karate more in the winter  when I wasn't racing and vice versa. Since retiring from karate competition I have had much more success on the bike than before (although comparatively I was competing at a far higher level at karate - national/worlds compared to regional on the bike)

I am not too bothered in upper body strength and never have been. My competitive karate was always points kumite in my teens and kata events in my twenties. 

I have regular oesteopathy and deep tissue massage treatments and have for years (I am also a sports massage therapist so can get treatments free and easy) this helps with the general tightness both sports brings on. 

There tends to be a lot of cross over between rowers and track cyclists. Both require cv endurance and good recovery skills. It's also a mis conception that cyclists just use legs and rowers just use arms. A good rower rows with the body and a good cyclist pedals with body, just like a good martial artist kicks and punches with the body and not just the limb. 

Think athlete first, cyclist/rower/martial artist second!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Drew Loto wrote:
I have very little experience with interval training, but I imagine these different types of interval training tend to involve different types of exercises, (as well as different lengths of time for rounds and rests). Does anyone in this fine community have any advice that might help me when developing a regime?

Tabata training is something you may want to look at. It’s a simply enough premise with lots of variations. Very time efficient, effective and exhausting when done right. I’ve done a quick web search and this page seems to have lots of information and plenty of videos showing the various options: http://tabatatraining.org/

I have a tabata timer on my iphone (an mp3 I made myself) which I have used for bag work, pad work, high pace shadow fighting, stair sprints, body weight exercises, kihon, TRX training, rowing machine, etc, etc, etc. It’s a very versatile tool.

It’s a tough four minutes (when you put some effort in) and I joke with my students that “Tabata” is name that all martial arts should learn to fear :-)

Here is the relevant part of this page from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_training

Tabata regimen

A version of HIIT was based on a 1996 study by Professor Izumi Tabata et al. initially involving Olympic speed skaters, uses 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise (at an intensity of about 170% of VO2max) followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 cycles). The exercise was performed on a mechanically braked cycle ergometer. Tabata called this the IE1 protocol. In the original study, athletes using this method trained 4 times per week, plus another day of steady-state training, and obtained gains similar to a group of athletes who did steady state training (70% VO2max) 5 times per week. The steady state group had a higher VO2max at the end (from 52 to 57 mL/(kg•min), but the Tabata group had started lower and gained more overall (from 48 to 55 mL/(kg•min). Also, only the Tabata group had gained anaerobic capacity benefits.

I hope that helps?

All the best,