Free Guide: Strength & Cardio for Karate Practitioners (2023)

“Lifting weights makes your Karate bad.”


Physical training is essential for Karate.

Aweak body cannot sustain high-level Karate practice for long.

Free Guide: Strength & Cardio for Karate Practitioners (1)

But it has to be done right!

For example, you should NOTfollow a standard bodybuilding program.

Studies show that a bodybuilding program decreases your activation of motor units (making your Karate techniques worse) and only gives a minimal boost in speed-strength (the ability of your neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible impulse in the shortest possible time).


Forget Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Think Bruce Lee!

You need functional strength that improves yourKarate performance.

Therefore, I invitedmy friendVilhjálmur Halldórsson,agraduate of the most prestigeous physical education program in Iceland, to share his expertise with you.

In this articleyou will learn exactly how toconstruct your own physical training program for Karate.

But wait!

If you DON’Twant to createyour own program, click here to downloadStrength Training for Karate instead– my ready-madeprogram for you.


Let’s start the free guide:

First of all, the basics.

I often have a hard time convincing Karate-ka that they should lift weights.

Typically, this resistance stems from bad experience with prior strength training (i.e. feeling heavy, slow gains, gettinginjured etc.). I don’t blame these people, because oftenthey’ve beendoing a “body-split routine”, which is not good for Karate.

Body-split routine means that ineach sessionyou’re working only one bodypart.

Like Arnold.Free Guide: Strength & Cardio for Karate Practitioners (2)

For example; on Mondaysyou work chest (Mondays are international chest day) and on Tuesdays you dothe back. This allows you to put a great amount of training volume onspecific bodyparts.

That’s great – if you’re getting ready for the beach!

The rest of us wants to strength and cardio to enhance our Karate skills.

(Video) Martial arts exercises💪 #shorts

In Karate, we are always trying to use our body the most efficient way.Thus, we should pick exercises that challenge the entire body as a unit, based on the true concept of Karate.

This allows us tomaximize our power for Karate.

Butphysical training is more than lifting weights. It’s about optimizingyour performance for any activity.

Therefore, a personal trainer will look at how you run, squat, jump, push, pull and twist to find weaknesses in these basic human movements, and then prescribe specific exercises aimed atovercoming imbalances and dysfunctionsin your body.

However, most of us don’t have access to a personal trainer.

So let’s dig deeper…

Yourbody can move through three different planes of motion:

  • Sagittal (moving forward and backwards)
  • Frontal (from side to side)
  • Transverse (rotational movements)

Why is it important to know these?

For example, in activities where we move excessively in the sagittal plane, and are constantly trying to create power forwards,stability in the frontal plane(sideways) is extremely important.

If you watch Karate-ka do techniques in the sagittal plane (i.e. stepping punch), you’ll oftensee their hip falling out as a consequence of weak hip abductors.

This is a common problem!

Whenever you step forward in a zenkutsu-dachi, you need to stabilize the front knee in the frontal plane (to the sides). But if you’re weak in this plane, your muscles can’t provide enough stabilization andthis will lead to knee injury, most likely ACL injury.

So, it’s vital to know the planes of motion.

Now let’s look at how to maximize gains…

In several sports, there are seasons that dictate how an athlete trains.

The seasons are typically divided into various periods, i.e. competition period, pre-competition period, off-season etc.

Here’s a basic example for somebody who competes in Karate:

  • Pre-competitive period: In this phase the Karate-ka typically works on fundamental strength, endurance, lots of technique and basics. This is known as the GPP (General Preparation Phase)
  • Competitive period: In this period the Karate-ka tries to make his/her training reflect the competitive environment, with less focus on quantity and more focus on quality. Mental training and recovery plays a bigger role. This is the culmination of what’s known as the SPP (Specific/Special Preparation Phase)
  • Off-season: Lastly, after your goal has been reached, a common mistake (typically in young Karate-ka) is to take a complete break from training. It is, however, much better to spend this time working against muscular imbalances, rehab and stability. Training can take a less serious tone, but a general level of fitness should be maintained. This is commonly known as the CBP (Chill on the Beach Phase) for most people. Piña Colada not included.

In Karate we don’t have the same “seasons” as regular sports though.

The lack of these defined seasons makes our periodizationplan difficult. We must constantly train speed, flexibility, conditioning and strength throughout the year.

Therefore, try to always incorporate strength, speed, mobility, flexibility, stability etc. in your weekly regimen and vary the emphasis depending on how close to certain goals you are.

Try to also surprise your body with different exercises during the periodization process, and focus on improving your weaknesses in order tonot burn out.

Next, exercise selection…

When it comes to exercises, you need to know that your body doesn’t care about“muscle groups”.

It thinks in terms of “movement patterns”.

Therefore, your training program should be a) primarily based on functional movements and b) involve core demanding full-body exercises.

Below is a list of suitable exercises for creating your ownprogram.

(Video) Karate fitness for children # 31

In the list there are many exercises that can be performed on one leg or two legs.

If you do the single-leg variation you have to stabilize the movement more, which takes focus away from the prime movers. Meaning, you can’t handle as much weight but you’ll greatly improve your “functional” strength and stability. When you are on two legs it’s the opposite; you are more stable so you can use more weights, but you won’t develop the same stability.

(Which one should you choose? It depends on your skill level and goals. If your idea of fun is not being able to sit without pain for a few days, I suggest combining them both.)

Hip dominant

Knee dominant

Vertical pulling

Horizontal pulling

Vertical pushing

Horizontal pushing

Anti-extension (core)

Anti-rotation / anti-lateral (core)

Mix exercises from each category to create your own program!

Keep in mind that some of these exercises require extra instruction and preferably a spotter before your form is good enough to perform it on your own (i.e. back squat, deadlift, barbell row, bench press etc.).

All exercises can be made more or less difficult with single/double legs & arms.

It’s worth mentioning that everyone is different and you might have a muscular imbalance that prevents you from doing some of these exercises above.

Now let’s talk cardio…

The human body is brilliant.

It constantly adapts to the stress that we put it under.

If you train your endurance by lifting light weights for fifty reps, you are going to get good at that. Or if you run slowly for a long time, you are going to get good at that.

People call the above “endurance training”, but neither of those options are very appealing for someone who wants to improve their Karate endurance.

Free Guide: Strength & Cardio for Karate Practitioners (4)The best advice for someone who wants to improve their conditioning for Karate is:

Do more Karate!

That being said, if you feel that your Karate training is not building your endurance I suggest Tactical Metabolic Training (TMT).

TMT simply means that you emulate the metabolic demands of the sport/activity you’re performing – through tweaking the various parameters of work (timing, movements, tools, intensity, frequency etc.) corresponding to your chosen activity.

For instance, a Karate athlete who competes in kumite should have the ability to go all out for three minutes, then recover, and then go again. Hence, their endurance training needs to reflect this.

For somebody who wants efficient all-round conditioning, I recommend high intensity interval training (HIIT), which has been scientifically proven to improve cardio and endurance greatly. A good example is the Tabata protocol, where you perform 8 sets of 20 sec work with 10 sec rest between, for a total of 4 grueling minutes.

Obviously the work/rest periods and types of exercises can be adjusted to better reflect your specific goals in training.

The final point I want to make here is that there’s a trend in the fitness industry that goes, “if you leave the gym still able to walk, withoutthrowing up five times, you have wasted your time, bro!”


If you think of training as medicine that is supposed to improve your health and well-being, does it make sense to constantly leave the gym feeling miserable?

Of course not…

Martin Rooney, a world-famous strength coach I admire greatly, once told me, “Anyone can make somebody tired, but not anyone can make somebody better”.

Train smarter – not just harder.

Now, time for 6-pack stuff:

(Video) 10 MIN Martial Arts Workout // Full Body Strength Workout (no equpment)

Anyone who has ever been to the gym has an opinion on this subject, and it’s becoming one of the most talked-about topics in the professional strength community.

I’m talkin’ core training.

Free Guide: Strength & Cardio for Karate Practitioners (5)

Now listen…

People say things like “use your inner core” or “this is a great exercises for your lower abdominals“, without fully comprehending what they’re actually talking about.

Point being, your inner core consists of many things; including the diaphragm, transversus abdominis, multifidus and the pelvic floor – and your “lower abs” are quite often really your obliques.

Also, there’s a difference between core strength and core stability:

Core strength is the ability to move your trunk powerfully, while core stability is the ability to maintain and resist outside force – whether that force is a barbell or your own hand waving around.

An exercise where you perform a movement that directly challenges your core develops your core strength, while an exercise where there is a challenge not to move your trunk develops your core stability.

The core is important in all exercises.

This is why personal trainers don’t let their clients perform heavy lifts like deadlifts or squats if they have a weak core, since the primary function of your core is to stabilize the spine and keep it safe.

Make sure you always activate your core!

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Another function of the core – especially in Karate – is to transmit energy.

If we use the example of the stationary gyaku-zuki (reverse punch) twisting your hips from hanmi to shomen (half facing to facing) you will realize that with a weak core the energy will get lost along the way, and you will have an inefficient technique.

This is whyKarate-ka should strive to train rotation – because it’s one of the main components when executing techniques.

Note: My programStrength Training for Karate contains detailed video instructions of specific rotational coreexercises for Karate.

However, it’s important to make sure that you rotate your hips along with the torso (keeping your back straight), otherwise you twist your lumbar spine – which is a quick way to get injured.


Some people will tell you that if you squat, benchpress or deadlift, you don’t need to strengthen your core specifically.

This is true if your core is firing in perfect sequence and you have goodbalance in all your core muscles.

But, I’ve seen really top-class athletes with inactive obliques, weak technique or a bad firing sequence (referring to the order in which the core muscles activate to hold the spine stable), so this isn’t always the case.

So train your core, bro!

Simple rules for core training:

  • Do not twist and bend your lumbar spine at the same time.
  • When you train rotation, make sure you rotate your hips as well.
  • Make sure you train anti-extension, anti-rotation and anti-lateral flexion to have balance. Too many people just focus on anti-extension.
  • Stop doing crunches. You’re most likely just training your hip flexors.
  • When you can perform a one-minute plank for several sets, move on.
  • Save the core exercises for last. This is for your own safety. If you have an exhausted core, you could get injured when doing heavy lifts.
  • Did I mention “stop doing crunches”?
  • If you don’t like core exercises, pick other exercises that are core demanding – preferably unilateral (one arm/leg).

Now let’s talk painful stuff…

What does having a muscular imbalance really mean?

And does it truly matter?

Bad posture or repetitive movement can easily cause a muscular imbalance – often without you even noticing.

(Video) FREE WEBINAR: GGP - The Great Gama Protocol | SIMPLEXSTRONG

See, your muscles have contractile fibers which are called actin and myosin.

These fibers have an optimal position for performance; meaning that when your muscles are too tight, these fibres are jammed together and can’t perform to the best of their abilities. The same thing goes when they are too far apart.

Free Guide: Strength & Cardio for Karate Practitioners (7)

For example, when you punch you internally rotate your arm.

This internal rotation is done mostly by two muscles; the pectoralis major and the subscapularis.

When you do this repetitively (anytime you punch a lot) and don’t let these muscles recover properly, they become overworked and too short, while the external rotators become too long, causing shoulder stiffness and pain.

Ever noticed how basketball players turn their hand when they make a long pass?

It’s all about smart movement!

This is why strength and conditioning coaches not only look at movements in the sport their clients play, but also look at what movements are not there.

For this reason, Karate-ka who are hitting the gym should perform more pulling motions, to balance their bodies.

Common muscular imbalances in Karate:

  • Like we discussed above, because we internally rotate the arm/hand bone (humerus) so much, the muscles that do the rotation can become short. The way to fix this is to strengthen the external rotators and stretch the pectoralis major and subscapularis
  • Winging scapula is a common muscular imbalance among throwing/punching athletes. What happens is that the shoulder blade moves too far away from the spine because the serratus anterior muscle is too weak. The way to fix this problem is to perform wall slides or serratus push-ups.
  • Poor internal rotation of the leg bone (femur) happens when the external rotators of the leg are so tight they don’t allow the natural internal rotation which the bone requires. This causes all sorts of hip problems. Anytime you kick a mae-geri, yoko-geri or mawashi-geri, you are using these external rotators. Imagine how tight they can get! The way to fix this is to perform passive and activ stretching, and foam roll/massage the external rotators combined with slow strengthening exercises.
  • Stiff ankles is another problem in Karate. There are many muscles in the foot, and some of them sound like a Harry Potter spell (flexor digitorum profoundus is a good example). Two muscles which typically hinder dorsiflexion (the ability to lift the toes to the shin) are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These often require extra stretching.Flexible ankles are important for many reasons in Karate, including knee protection; because if your ankles are too stiff and can’t move correctly, the knee will take over – and you knee is not designed for that kind of movement. There are tons of ankle mobility exercises out there, spend some time looking them up with sensei Google.

You get the point. Now…

“What happens if I try to do a movement but lack mobility?”

This is quite simple. Your body finds a way. It’s smart. The body always chooses the path of least resistance.

This could be good–or bad!

For example, when you squat and have poor ankle flexibility, your knees are unable to go far enough forward – so when you get to a certain depth you will compensate by letting your upper back fall forward and flex the spine, which is not a good idea when you have a barbell on your back.

Therefore, posture and techniqueshould always precede heavier weights.

In a challenging martial art like Karate, the feeling of getting stronger can be a lifesaver.

Both physically and mentally…

That’s why you need a goodstrength training plan!

Free Guide: Strength & Cardio for Karate Practitioners (8)

However, it’s important that itdoesn’t disturbyour Karate.

If you are constantly tired from hitting the gym, your Karate skills will suffer.

The #1solution is therefore to geta personal trainer.

If that’s not possible, downloadStrength Training for Karateinstead – my ready-madeprogram consisting of 30 exercises divided into 3 levels, presented in a 16 page manual with video.

Or justtry to create your own program.

Good luck! 🙂



How do you train for karate at home? ›

And from here you can work on pretty much any technique that you want to throw straight in do you

Does Karate require strength? ›

To perform well in kickboxing, karate, and most martial art forms, one must develop strength, power, and muscular endurance.

Is weight training good for karate? ›

In FITNESS LIFTING, there is no real goal in mind other than working out to stay healthy. However, with no real goal in mind, this does nothing for a martial artist other than maintaining basic health and wellness. It will not help in increasing strength, speed, endurance or any athletic needs in the martial arts.

What was Bruce Lee's workout routine? ›

He usually rode full speed — 35 to 40 miles an hour continuously for 45 minutes to an hour. Frequently, he would ride his exercycle right after his running. Another aerobic exercise that Lee scheduled in his routine was skipping rope, which you can adopt.

How do I get stronger for self-defense? ›

To get the most out of strength training for self-defense, you'll need full-body workouts, heavy weights and explosive movements. You're best with an Olympic barbell and rack but dumbbells and a pull-up bar can work in a pinch. These workouts are only a starting block and can be completed in 30-45 minutes.

Can karate be self taught? ›

You can learn Karate techniques, stances, strikes, and Kata by yourself simply by watching tutorials. If you want to practice Karate just to get a hang of self-defense or as physical and mental training, then learning yourself is a great option.

Can you practice karate by yourself? ›

Yes, you can start martial arts training at home. Whether you can do it effectively is another question. If you want to become an elite MMA fighter or boxer, then training at home isn't a good choice. In fact, most martial arts have some element of combat involved, so you'll need to find a trained sparring partner.

What is the first thing one does before beginning a karate fight? ›

The fight starts when the referee shouts “SHOBU HAJIME!” Both fighters should attempt scoring techniques (punches, kicks and throws) on their opponent. These are classified as Yuko, Waza-ari and Ippon and are one, two and three points respectively.

What muscles does Karate work? ›

Muscles used in Martial Arts
  • The core muscles, especially the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, hip flexors and spinal erectors.
  • The muscles of the legs and hips; the quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor group, abductor group, gluteus muscles and the lower leg, gastrocnemius and soleus.

Which is better gym or Karate? ›

While most people would contest that working out at the gym is the best way to get fit, karate enthusiasts would say that their discipline is the ultimate when it comes to physical activity. Not only does karate contribute to strength gains, but it also provides mental exercise and a focused state of mind.

Why are martial artists not ripped? ›

Instead of increasing muscle mass, fighters focus on muscle endurance training that makes them lean and shredded. This type of skinny body allows them to perform at the best of their abilities without a sudden decrease in performance. Imagine yourself sprinting across a field as fast as you can.

What should I eat before martial arts training? ›

Bananas, apples, oranges, strawberries, and blueberries are great choices for a light meal before your jiu jitsu, martial arts, or group fitness training. If you do eat a larger meal containing fats and protein, try to give yourself a couple hours between eating and training for best results.

Should I lift weights if I do martial arts? ›

Martial arts practitioners can also benefit greatly from lifting weights. It will: Make you faster. Make you stronger.

Is running good for Karate? ›

Running is a good martial arts conditioning exercise because it works on your cardio and endurance. Don't just go for distance, you also need to get your heart pounding. Therefore, you need to mix in a variety of sprinting drills, uphill runs and long distance runs.

How fast could Bruce Lee run a mile? ›

Just under eight minutes a mile [Note: when running on his own in 1968, Lee would get his time down to six-and-a-half minutes per mile].

How do you finger jab? ›

Jeet Kune Do Technique - JKD Finger Jab - YouTube

How do I gain strength like Bruce Lee? ›

He would typically run about 40 minutes per day three times a week, changing tempo as he ran. Lee enjoyed jumping rope because he thought it would increase his stamina as well as build the muscles in his legs. He jumped rope three times a week for about 30 minutes a day.

Is lifting weights good for self-defense? ›

Resistance training helps your body build and and strengthen muscles. Your muscles give you the ability to do work and be active, so building and strengthening muscles is essential for any activity, especially self-defense training. Lifting weights isn't the only way to make that happen.

What should I train in for self-defense? ›

Many mixed martial arts styles will include boxing, Muay Thai, Kempo, Jujitsu, Judo, and possibly other martial arts. This is the best way to train for self-defense.

How fast can you learn karate? ›

Regular training in karate will help a student learn the basics in one year. Good form and timing with basic techniques are demonstrated by the student within six months to one-and-a-half years of training.

Is karate useful in a street fight? ›

Modern karate is ineffective in street fights because they are designed for sports competitions with rules and limits on where you can strike. In contrast, traditional karate is practical because it prepares you for real-life fighting where there are no rules and no limits.

How long does it take to become black belt in karate? ›

That being said, the average time to earn a black belt in karate is five years. This is what an adult student faithfully attending classes at least two times per week could expect. A hardcore student dedicating themselves to rigorous hours of training each week could potentially earn a black belt in two years.

What are the basics of karate? ›

The fundamentals of Karate are arranged around the four main Kihon: stances (Tachikata), punches (Tsuki), blocks (Uke), and kicks (Geri). Mastery of these basics is necessary to excel as a karateka.

How do I know which martial art is right for me? ›

If you want to choose the best martial art class for you, think about your overall goals. For instance, if you want to learn all-purpose self-defense, try taking Jiu Jitsu classes. If you want to get more active and build muscle, opt for Kung Fu or kickboxing, which involve intense sparring.

What is a karate Do practitioner called? ›

A karate practitioner is called a karateka.

What is the first rule of karate? ›

Rules of Miyagi Family Dojo

The first rule is that karate is for defense only.

Does Karate build muscle? ›

Karate is great for building strength, flexibility, and coordination. It's easy on the joints and combines cardiovascular training with muscular exercises. When practicing Karate, the body makes rapid, explosive movements to help maintain proper form and balance.

Is running good for Karate? ›

Running is a good martial arts conditioning exercise because it works on your cardio and endurance. Don't just go for distance, you also need to get your heart pounding. Therefore, you need to mix in a variety of sprinting drills, uphill runs and long distance runs.

Is Karate a good workout? ›

Karate is easily the best martial arts for you if you are aiming for a full body workout but don't want to spend hours in a gym. From kicks, strikes, punches to throwing over the opponent, it works up your core muscles like nothing else.

How many days a week should I do karate? ›

As a beginner starting karate it's best to train 2 to 3 days per week. You may say that you want to train five or six days a week, however you need to ask yourself if you are able to sustain that level training for years to come. As a beginner you still haven't developed that strong passion for your training.

Which is better gym or karate? ›

While most people would contest that working out at the gym is the best way to get fit, karate enthusiasts would say that their discipline is the ultimate when it comes to physical activity. Not only does karate contribute to strength gains, but it also provides mental exercise and a focused state of mind.

What muscles are used in karate? ›

Muscles used in Martial Arts
  • The core muscles, especially the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, hip flexors and spinal erectors.
  • The muscles of the legs and hips; the quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor group, abductor group, gluteus muscles and the lower leg, gastrocnemius and soleus.

How can I make my hands stronger for fighting? ›

How to Condition Your Knuckles: Guide to Harden Your Fists - YouTube

How can I improve my fighting reflexes? ›

Slow sparring is exactly what it sounds like. It's when fighters perform all of the same techniques they would use in a real fight in slow motion. It might look ridiculous and counterintuitive at first, but it's one of the most effective ways to improve your reflexes.

How can I improve my fighting techniques? ›

10 SIMPLE Fighting Tips
  1. Commit to the fight. ...
  2. Focus on what you have to do. ...
  3. Exhale sharply with every punch. ...
  4. Breathe when you defend. ...
  5. Walk, don't run. ...
  6. Drive your elbow (rather than the fist) into each punch. ...
  7. Never cover your eyes or let your opponent go out of your vision. ...
  8. Lean on your opponent.
23 Jun 2015

Is karate hard to learn? ›

Martial artists consider karate to be highly adaptable, easy to learn and, when done correctly, very effective as a form of self-defense. Techniques integral to karate include punching (such as straight punch and elbow strike), kicking (such as round kick and front snap kick) and sparring.

Is cardio important for martial arts? ›

There's no question how important cardio is for martial arts. It increases the efficacy and capacity of your heart and lungs, which allows you to perform more consistently for longer periods of time.

How do you train for Shotokan Karate? ›

10 Minute Total Body Shotokan Workout - YouTube

How does karate change your body? ›

Students of martial arts can increase muscle mass and help them become more toned over all. Punching and kicking requires a lot of strength, demanding the muscles in your arms, legs, and core work hard. Muscle mass and metabolism are connected, as the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic demands become.


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