Friday, 17 February 2012

How to organize your training sessions

Today I wanted to share some of my thoughts on how to structure your training sessions in a Dojang setting.
This came about after talking with some friends who are training in another dicipline about their latest training session. They explained how they had been pushed to the limits during warm ups, been doing some grueling strength excercises after the warm ups, and pushing themselves down into the side splits for 30 minutes and then moving over to forms training, some stretching and finished training. Is there anything wrong with this kind of training? I for once think that there are issues with this kind of training structure but many "traditional martial arts" do this because it is "tradition". I am not saying it is a black and white picture, but click on the read more button to see my thoughts on how a training session should be structured for optimal training

  1. First I would line everyone up, do the salutation, and then sit down in a formal kneeling postition and meditate. This is so that the students can leave their everyday worries outside the Dojang and focus on the task at hand (:Taekwondo).
  2. General warm up follows the meditation. This can be excercises like squatting (stand with feet parallell to each other, shoulder with apart, toes pointing forward. Bend your waist and knees and sit down as sitting down on a chair. When the knee joint is bendt 90 degrees, stand up and repeat. Do this for about 20 reps). Jumping Jacks, Mountain climbers (go down into the starting push up position. Move your right foot so that your knee tuches your right shoulder, move the right foot back into starting push up position while simultaniously moving your left foot forward so your left knee touches your left shoulder repeat perhaps 20 times depending on your fitness level), One legged stance (stand on one foot for 30 seconds, then change to your other foot 30 seconds), Roll your arms forward and then backwords 20 reps each way, etc.
  3. Specific warm ups follows the general warm up. Now the body should be warm, the blood circulation should be elevated and oxygen should come out to your muscles. Now is the time to prepare the body for Taekwondo specific excercises. Dynamic stretching/Leg swings falls into this catagory. Other things are moving into the different stances slowly and maybe deeper than normal, doing slow kicks to low height, etc. When finished with the general and specific warm ups the body should be warm and loose but also fresh for the next part. DO NOT USE THE WARM UPS FOR STRENGHT AND OR ENDURANCE TRAINING. This is maybe the more old school way, but it really kills the rest of the training session!
  4. I will repeat myself: Your Body should by now be all warmed up, loose but still fresh. You should not feel tired in any way.  Now is the time for technique enhanced training excersises. In short now is the time to practise stuff like basic techniques, formal sparring, forms, combat techniques, new skills in all the above or polishing on stuff you allready know. I guess this should be the bulk of the training. If your goal as the instructor is to increase the knowledge or performance level in for example Poomsae; this is now the time to drill the Poomsae and its techniques. If you want the students to improve in sparring, this is the time to do kicking drills to increase the speed, body controll, accuracy, timing etc.
  5. Strength should not be forgotten and after you have finished with your drilling on skills/techniques whatever you want to improve, now is the time for strength training. I recomend doing excercises for your core muscles as they are involved in all the things you do. Other than that you should consider what type of strength training you are doing. Taekwondoin does not need to do bodybuilding routines. They should be doing excercises to develop fast twitch muscles and wich support the techniques the Taekwondoin are aiming to do. For instance squats are great because you excercise your legs and more importantly your hips. This translates well to our power generation methods for punches (hip twist anyone?) and kicks (especially thrusting kicks like side kicks or pushing kicks etc). This with the added bonus of increasing your jump height for those who wants to do jumping kicks. Doing the wrong kind of excercises or even doing correct but not Taekwondo apropriate excercises will diminish your skills instead of enhancing them! This is probably where the old "Weight training makes you slow" myth comes from. There is truth in the myth because some body building routines will make you bigger and bulkier but it will also make you slow, while other weigth excersises will make you faster and more explosive.
  6. Now it is time for endurance training. For Taekwondoin I recomend high-intensity interval training (HIT). A great method is the Tabata method. Read and become wise (click the link). When most people think of endurance training they envision running for hours on end like in the Rocky movies. This is not efficient use of training time in the Dojang and for Taekwondoin in general. You need endurance in Taekwondo for either: A: Poomsae competition/Performace, B: Sparring competition or C: Self defense. Neither one involves prolonged low intensity work for 30 minutes up to 2 hours like many envision endurance training. If you compete in Poomsae competition you will do 3 Poomsae performances if you are lucky. If we take the longest Poomsae 1,5 minutes and multiply this with 3 performances and assume a worst case scenario of you competing alone so you have to do all three one after another you will have to stay fit enough to do your best in a 4,5 minute timespan. Long time of jogging does not prepare you for that. High-intensity interval training will. If you are a(n) (aspiring) sparring champion on the other hand you need to be able to do ca 3 rounds of 2 minute high intensity work (this will depend on the organisation that holds the competition). In Norway you have a minimum of 10 minutes rest before the next fight so doing one fight after another is not really an issue. 3 rounds of 2 minutes lenght gives a 6 minute timespan you have to stay your best (and you do have break time between the rounds no?) . Again long hours of jogging will not prepare you for this. In a Taekwondo competition context it is waste of time. Self defense situations are fast and brutal. Most last shorter or up to 30 seconds. In rare instances up to 1-2 minutes. Again looong jogging sessions will not prepare you for this. High-Intesive Interval training will. For life quality doing long jogging sessions will be good for you and it does have health benifits, but I would not use most of my training time on this. 
  7. Now is the time for the last parts of the session. Cooling down, I reccomend jumping ropes for a few minutes (translates well into your competition footwork for the sparring guys) or other light excercises. Then it is time for stretching. Most of the research I have read indicates that stretching has little if any impact on how you will feel the next day. Some scholars on the subject also say that for increasing your range of motion stretching when you are cold is the best thing to do. You might not believe it but if they are right then you do not have to waste 30 minutes of your training to stretch but rather do a 5-10 minutes of stretching and then do what most dojangs consider "real" stretching infront of the TV. Or if your goal is to increase the range of motion in a dojang setting maybe relegating this to somewhere between step 2 or 3 in this structure. 
  8. When all this is done you sit down into a formal kneeling postition to readjust yourself to the outside world, to contemplate on what you have learned and to organise your thoughts.  

How much time spendt on each part of the training will depend on the sessions goal(s), but I strongly feel that if you include all the above in that order you will have a solid structure in your training session wich is inline with current knowledge and not buried in "Tradition". Doing 5 000 reps of one kick in one session does not improve the kick at all, but doing an insane number of repetition of one technique is something many label "traditional". If your goal is to improve the kick you do it 10 times on each leg. That way your nerve system will learn to do it with perfect form each time. You can do something else for a while and then revisit the techniqe and do 10 more reps on each leg. Again your nerve system will learn to do the kick with perfect form each time. If you do the more "traditional" aproach of doing say 200 kicks on each leg in a row you will learn your nerve system to do the kicks with poor form. You do the first 10-20 or 30 kicks (depending on fitness level) with good form but you will do say 180 kicks with bad form because of you are out of breath and tired. Your nerve system will remember the bad form the best since it has done bad form 180 reps and good form 20 reps. Not optimal training at all, and it is pure logic if you think about it.

Remember I said it is not all black and white when it comes to this? I see the need to work to exhaustion once in a while. This teaches you to push through pain/exhaustion and keep going strong. It teaches you an iron will. This is important too, but I would focus most of my training sessions like the one described above and then once in a while "go crazy" and just go for it. You need a little "crazyness" in your training, but you do not need it everytime. The most important thing for each session should be to A: Learn something, and B: Improve something while C: Maintain everything:-) If you acchieve this you have come a long way towards teaching excellence:-D You do not have to wake up the next day feeling like your body has been through a meat grinder to know you have had a good training session (this is old school), but rather wake up and look forward for a new invigorating training session:-)


  1. This is very informative. It really does require a lot of discipline and preparation to optimize your training sessions. Martial arts, of any form, really require a lot of discipline and hard work in order to perfect the techniques and the craft itself.
    Ari Maccabi

    1. Thanks for you feedback:-) I should have written it more clearly though as this is more catered for instructors planning training sessions that will be taught in a Dojang. As for self training the same principles apply if you want to practise all of the above, but you could also do like I do and make a much more specific focus when practising alone. For instance these days I work on strength and endurance training coupled With dynamic stretches for my kicks when practising alone. When I practise With friends I make sure to include as much partner work that I can get into the session because the training time spendt With other People is precous:-) And when practising in the Dojang I follow the above formula for organising the session:-)