Sunday, November 28, 2010

Misconceptions of Abdominal Training

Abdominal strength exercises such all types of crunches are popular both in the general public and with those involve in rehabilitation.

The reasons for this popularity is appearance of a flat stomach and the assumption that a strong abdomen protects the spine.

However, many people with strong abdominal muscles develop back pain.

Often, programs designed to strengthen abdominal muscles will contribute to muscle imbalances and pain syndromes.

The most important aspect of abdominal muscles performance is obtaining the control that is necessary to appropriately stabilize the spine, maintain optimal alignment and movement relationships between the pelvis and spine, and prevent excessive stress and compensatory motions of the pelvis during movement of the extremities.

In fact, Cholewicki and others report that only 2% to 3% of maximum voluntary activity of the abdominal muscles is necessary for stabilizing the spine during upright unloaded tasks. In sport performance the abdominal muscles are also helping us explode while decelerate and prevent unwanted movement and leaks of energy. At the same time some muscles contract concentrically to produce force while others contract eccentrically to decelerate and stabilize and prevent unneeded movement.

From this we understand that the selection and instruction of abdominal exercises has to be based not only on strength but the control that is needed and in the case of back pain the type of stresses that contribute to pain.

The most important factors that need attention are sequence of activation, with the deeper, smaller, stabilizing muscles firing before the big prime movers and maintaining balance development between abdominal and back muscles, flexors and extensors.

Because of misunderstanding many people perform various forms of crunches which cause the rectus abdominis to become dominant over the oblique’s external and internal.

Study shows that there is greater rectus activation during sit up (68%) comparing to external oblique (19%) and internal oblique (14%).

The disadvantage of this is that the rectus abdominis cannot produce or decelerate rotation which is most important in most life tasks and sports and shortness or stiffness contribute to thoracic kyphosis.

Also during sit up there is strong activity of the iliopsoas, and in the case of a person with back pain when the source is compression and anterior shear, which is what the iliopsoas are causing, the activation of this muscle should be minimized.

The best way to train the abdominal muscles is through functional whole body movements, strengthening the abdominals while it cooperate with the whole kinetic chain.

Some isolation exercises are useful when certain muscles are dormant or delayed in recruitment, in particular the inner unit, the deeper stabilizing muscles, closer to the spine.

Also in the common case of slouched posture, strengthening the back extensors is necessary.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Uke Waza (blocking technques) part 1


Our karate distinct advantage and superiority is the precise and very advanced use of body mechanics to achieve Todome (finishing blow), and the use of precise timing and distance so one does not meet the opponent’s strength.

Those elements allow a karate person to use less power to over come big power; the small and week can overcome the big and strong.

Understanding those elements intellectually is not enough one has to digest and internalize to the point that it is no more in our brain, but in the nervous system, the way your nervous system is wired, or in sensei Nishiyama’s wards “body system”.

But mere repetition is not enough, there is a certain order in when and how one should practice timing, and each step should make you ripe and ready to digest and step to next level, and than of course it is like a spiral, we return and repeat certain drills with the emphasize depending on the needs, this is quality rather than quantity training.

The first and most basic timing we learn and repeat the most is Sen (ahead), which is to anticipate the opponent’s action, ideally to hit him at his mental commitment (Kake no Sen)and at the latest during the physical action (Tai No Sen). When doing Sen, our offense is our defense.

Sen teaches us to react with the breath and directly from the nervous system (not brain), to make the reaction and action as one, without space of judgment, and mentally/physically to give everything once we go (Ho Shin).

In Sen we are doing single reaction, we don’t have to select between opponent’s techniques, we trust our feeling and shoot like a bullet, yet with awareness, monitoring.

Uke Waza is similar, when we are slightly late for sen, we attack the opponent’s technique on the way to attacking his body, therefore Uke Waza, is not defensive. In Uke Waza like any other timing the reaction is with the breath, but unlike in Sen timing there is selection reaction, because choice has to be made to what technique is coming at you, of course we developed methods to minimize this selection.

Uke Waza is very important first of all because it is very effective and useful in application.

Second and very important benefit of Uke Waza is that when you get good at it, all other timing and footwork become easy to apply.

When you are comfortable in front of any attack that might come at you, which seem very difficult initially because when you block you do have to select between many options that the opponent has and you move into it. You have to select not with your eyes and brain, but with your intuition, with the wisdom of the body, you have to see without your eyes.

Sensei Nishiyama used to say that if properly trained anyone could use Uke Waza within short time, one needs to repeat over and over.

When you can stay relax and calm and tune to the opponent, no matter what speed or technique he will use, when you can be comfortable to see the attack coming at you and move into it with confidence, than it is easy to apply all other kinds of Oji Waza (response techniques) and footwork, such as Amashi Waza, using space to avoid opponent and than counter, or Mawashi Ashi, (foot circle) to avoid the line of attack, or Hiraki Ashi, (to open the foot) in order to move out of attack line.

When you are comfortable with Uke Waza, all of the sudden all other timing options become easier and natural to use, because you are relax and confident and therefore can perceive the opponent and see what is not there yet, and can easily capitalize on any attack.

When you are expert in Uke Waza, you accept the opponent’s attack, you welcome it, and take advantage of it, which also allows one to set the opponent up without rush, since you have to be confident to set the opponent up and allow him to attack first yet be ahead of him.

In general you initiate Uke Waza as quick and early as possible but it is not always the case, Aiko San used to point out to me to watch Sensei Nishiyama blocks, and he does not move until the attack is almost there, he receive the attack when it starts but actually moves to it late and without rush. This is, of course, mastery.

The Kinetic Chain



Sensei Nishiyama used to say: “ what is the point of having 8 cylinders if we use only 2”.

He also used to joke: “we don’t need muscles like Popai, we need to learn how to use what we have”.

In a karate hand technique, but also in overhead throwing motion and other functional movements, force is summated through the kinetic chain via force production at the various joints, from the lower body to the hand.

Any change in timing or force generation may result in poor performance and or eventual injury at another level within the chain.

The kinetic chain is only as strong as it weakest link.

Functional movement is never isolated, because it is produced by several muscles acting as prime movers, synergists or stabilizers that coordinate together.

Functional strength does not require maximal activation, rather optimal activation in precise timing is more important.