A little science for your training?

Many years ago, I trained as a gym instructor and personal trainer, I was lucky to do some of my work experience at an elite sports centre and much of their methodologies remain with me to this day, they key one being, things evolve all the time, keep reading and researching. Before finding commerce and human resources as a career, this University course (where I had so much fun) incorporated anatomy, physiology, and a hell of a lot of science related to physical fitness. 40% of our time was physical, in the gym/labs testing the theories we were learning to use. I thought that I would share some of the thinking behind the things that we do in our dojos and share some of the latest thinking as I’ve found it I don’t get into gender, age etc otherwise it would be a long article.  

It’s an accepted reality that physical activity increases fitness and conversely that a sedentary life is not good for humans in general. Sedentary behaviour refers to any waking behaviour done while lying, reclining, sitting, or standing, with no ambulation, irrespective of energy expenditure” (SBRN Terminology Consensus Project, 2019), this can be further defined in energy as any waking behaviour with an energy expenditure of ≤1.5 Metabolic Equivalents (METs, Metabolic equivalents are defined as caloric consumption (by means of breathing) of an active individual compared with their resting basal metabolic rate). Several studies have now corroborated that a lifestyle with extensive sedentary elements can lead to some types of cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and potentially an early death. One study (Sanchez-Villegas et al., 2008) took things further by suggesting an association between physical activity and sedentary behaviour to mental health disorders. Much more consideration needs to be given to the area of mental health, but that’s for another blog. 

Taking all the above into account, when we do get to the physical activity bit, my key question remains… am I doing the right things to enhance my training? This is something that has “bothered” me for many years. Will my efforts actually result in improvement to my technique, speed, agility and co-ordination, the latter three being areas I measured in athletes in the past. I’m not going to get into endurance, cardiovascular fitness, muscle mass etc. in this article, but maybe in another one. Suffice to say, for serious Karateka care and attention should be given to these areas as Karate training does not increase these in a manner that will allow for continuous improvement. Put simply, Karate training alone is not sufficient in my humble opinion.  

This article will look at a few aspects of training, for the record, this is aligned to a Goju Ryu Karate class. 

We can start with Jumbi Undo (Preparation Exercises). 

Common in styles such as Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu, this is a process of preparing the body for what is to come in the class. In Goju Ryu, this is a series of exercises that vary only slightly from instructor to instructor and follow a process developed from back in the days of Chojun Miyagi. Not only do these exercises have the intention of warming up the body, they also aim to join the mind and body for the training.  For those who have not experienced this, in these styles there is a known series of preparation exercises that are conducted at the start of each class. In other styles the process of warming up the body is just that, a series of exercises that increase heart rate and start to stretch out the body. In Shotokan, where I spent 35å+ years, this is pretty much left up to the instructor to use their experience to warm up the class. Now actually, in some ways as you may see later, none is better than the other if similar overarching practices are followed

  • a period of aerobic exercise to increase body temperature;
  • a period of sport-specific stretching (mores specifics on that later) to stretch the muscles to be used in the subsequent performance;
  • a period of activity incorporating movements similar to those to be used in the subsequent performance.

Lets take a step back from all the terminology, at it’s heart, a warm up exists to increase heart rate and blood flow, and in doing so, range of motion should be investigated at the time of warm up (Warm-up and Cool-down, n.d.). Regarding injury avoidance, a Norwegian investigation in 2008 studied thousands of female soccer players and found that those who warmed up sustained fewer injuries, and if they were injured, these were less severe to those who did not warm up. An aspect of this study that is also interesting in the way in which the athletes warmed up via stretching. Rather than static stretching (more on that later), they used “active” stretching. Basically, they used skills such as jumping jacks or lunges to engage the muscles before a workout, not simply stretching in a static manner (Warmups for Strength, Awareness, Coordination, 2015)

Why don’t we take a moment to look at the range of motion (ROM) we are looking to increase in our stretching. Our bodies are made up of loads of interconnected elements, but we can narrow this down to the two main entities when looking to stretch, this comes as no surprise as to being joints and muscles. Our joints can be limited by their geometry and congruency (how they fit together) and the capsuloligamentous structures (a fancy way of saying the ligaments etc that surround the joints). We could get into a lot of elements surrounding how muscles work, but going back to our ROM, one aspect worthy of consideration is muscular tightness. Something that I’m sure we’ve all known about at one time or another… Page (2012) describes this very well, 

“Muscle “tightness” results from an increase in tension from active or passive mechanisms. Passively, muscles can become shortened through postural adaptation or scarring; actively, muscles can become shorter due to spasm or contraction. Regardless of the cause, tightness limits range of motion and may create a muscle imbalance.”

Page 2012

Therefore, by the end of Jumbi Undo, the participant should have an understanding of how their body is functioning that day, be aware of any niggles, have a heightened blood flow, temperature and overall feeling of readiness to go into the training. 

The thinking around stretching evolves constantly as researchers understand more and more about how the body reacts to stimuli. I’ve included a small diagram that outlines the different types of stretching, but that area itself merits an entirely specific blog and as such the key component of this blog is to realise the differences in stretches that should be performed during a warmup sequence.

Why is all this important?

Flexibility is often cited in research as one of the primary factors associated with injury, strains and sporting injury (Weldon & Hill, 2003). 


Now don’t get me wrong, I (try) to do my static stretches in the right physical conditions, that’s they key. In much research, Static Stretching has been shown to increase ROM if held between 15 and 30 seconds, more for more experienced athletes, up to 3 minutes. However, static stretching as part of a warmup has been shown to actually cause loss of strength whilst the muscles recovers (Small et al., 2008)

Techniques of Muscle Stretching. HR=Hold relax; CR=Contract relax; CRAC= Contract relax, agonist contract; PIR= Post-isometric relaxation; PFS=Post-facilitation stretching, MET= Medical exercise therapy. Ballistic stretching no longer recommended except for experienced elite athletes under supervision. 

So, what does all this mean, during Jumbi Undo, we are working to get our heart rate up, checking our ROM at that moment in time, and joining our mind and body for the training. Care should be taken with developmental stretches (static stretches aimed at increasing flexibility) at this point in the class as they can take away from performance rather than add to the ability of the participant (McHugh & Cosgrave, 2009).

At the end of Jumbi Undo, it is traditional for Goju Ryu dojos to enter into a series of further warm up exercises. These are often high intensity interval training/high intensity functional training (HIIT/HIFT) in nature and incorporate a range of exercises from push ups to burpees etc. 

Jumping into this a wee bit more, HIIT and HIFT are often mistaken as synonymous, however they result in different performance outcomes and physiological responses. Furthermore, HIIT is unimodal, one exercise repeated for a period of time with a recovery period in between sets (e.g. burpees for 20 reps with 20 secs in between for 5 sets). HIFT is multi modal and has no defined rest intervals, think circuit training with no rest period. HIFT uses a range of functional based exercises to “overload the body” and can result in muscle strength and power improvements, lean muscle mass gain, and improve aerobic endurance capacity. Care should therefore be taken by instructors to create a programme targeting different types of training that evolve over time so that the participants do not become “used” to the exercises. 

So what does all that mean?

This is a huge area that one short blog does not really do justice. Going back to the question of “am I doing the right things for my training?”. Well, kind of, I do try and remain in the moment during Jumbi Undo and investigate how my body is feeling that day. Moreover, if I’m teaching, I do stress the need for stretches in Jumbi Undo not to be held for long or deeply, preferring myself to get people moving and mimicking the sorts of movements that we will do later in class. I talk a lot about having a “glazed donut look” before developmental stretches, basically being fully warmed and into the nuts and bolts of the class before attempting these.

In my own training, I’m a huge fan of interval training for both cardio and weight work. Not only does this increase levels of fitness quickly, the range of skills that can be utilised quickly remove any chance of boredom.  Perhaps it’s my training, but I often use a heart rate monitor so that I can see if the training I am doing is actually improving my fitness. Again, this would be a blog of its own.

Now for some people all this is just noise and they just want to get on with the training, I completely get and respect that.

If this area interests, I’ve added in my references below.


As always, welcome comments, criticism and feedback!



McHugh, M. P., & Cosgrave, C. H. (2009). To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01058.x

Page, P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22319684

Small, K., McNaughton, L. R., & Matthews, M. (2008). A Systematic Review into the Efficacy of Static Stretching as Part of a Warm-Up for the Prevention of Exercise-Related Injury. Research in Sports Medicine16(3), 213–231. https://doi.org/10.1080/15438620802310784

Warm-up and cool-down. (n.d.). NHS Inform. https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/keeping-active/before-and-after-exercise/warm-up-and-cool-down#:~:text=Warming%20up%20increases%20your%20heart,improves%20the%20efficiency%20of%20movement.

Warmups for strength, awareness, coordination. (2015, July 6). http://www.PainScience.com. https://www.painscience.com/biblio/warmups-that-improve-strength-awareness-and-neuromuscular-control-might-prevent-injury.html

Weldon, S. M., & Hill, R. (2003). The efficacy of stretching for prevention of exercise-related injury: a systematic review of the literature. Manual Therapy8(3), 141–150. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1356-689x(03)00010-9

One comment

  1. This is a very informative article with a lot of useful insights on the importance of training warm-ups and stretching. It emphasizes the need for awareness of one’s body and mind connection, and updates readers on the latest research on physical fitness and well-being.

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