- By: Pedro Candeias
- Date: 03/29/2017
“BALANCE TRAINING” IN KARATE: YOU MUST BECOME AN EXPERT!
We all agree on one thing…
… Balance is a central and essential skill for any Karateka!
You need balance to perform your best Kata, you need balance to recover your position or make a quick change of direction in Kumite.
You even need balance to prevent a serious ankle sprain or to avoid falling when you are walking on the street!
But Balance Training is a too wide-ranging definition. Because balance skills are present in almost every actions you make in Karate.
You can improve your student’s balance with Plyometrics, Core training, etc.
But we all know that everybody develops specific exercises for balance training, that isn’t Plyometrics, Core training or Technique.
And that’s correct…
Let’s see why you should keep specific “balance” training and what’s the best method.
SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING IS THE RIGHT TERM
Why is Proprioceptive Training also a wrong designation or an insufficient method to what you pretend in Karate?
Because in Karate you want to stimulate the vestibular receptors, cutaneous receptors (skin receptors) and visual receptors. Not only proprioceptive receptors!
Let’s see a brief resume of this three types of receptors:
- Vestibular Receptors – Vestibular System provides you the leading contribution to the sense of balance and spatial orientation when you try to coordinate movement with balance.
- Cutaneous Receptors – They are a part of the Somatosensory System and contain a variety of nerve endings that react to touch, pressure, vibration, and tissue injury. Some of the most important skin receptors are the ones placed in your sole of the foot.
- Visual Receptors – Basically, your eyes.
- Proprioceptive Receptors – Sensors that provide you information about joint angle, muscle length, and muscle tension. They give you information about the position of the limb in space. Examples of Proprioceptive Receptors are Muscles Spindle, that provides information about changes in muscle length, or Golgi Tendon Organ that gives information about changes in Muscle Tension.
Proprioceptive Method refers to a set of exercises that are focused only on the sensitive component of the training process. In Karate we want to promote changes in the entire motor component.
The right term of what you want to develop in your Dojo is Sensorimotor Training!
3 MAIN GOALS OF SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING
Sensorimotor Training is essentially used in 3 areas:
- Motor and Sports Performance
- Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation
- Fall Prevention in Elders
Several studies found positive effects of Sensorimotor Training in Maximal Strength, Explosive Strength and vertical jumping in different types of jumps (squat jump, countermovement jump, and drop jump).
Another effect is a better postural stability. Essential for Kata execution, for example!
In injury prevention, this method is used to achieve stability gains, especially with athletes that had previous ankle sprains and anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Sensorimotor Training will help you Karate students and athletes to have quicker joint stiffness reactions to unexpected disturbance. An unexpected disturbance like a kick that hits you, a throwing attempt, a stumble in a sidewalk during a self-defense situation…
Besides, that will help your athletes or students to restore the normal motor program after injury episodes or if they suffer from chronic muscular pain.
Imagine your satisfaction and the credibility that you gain in your community if you know how to actively help your Karate students having a better quality of life. Every student and every parent will put you on a much higher level if you can explain them simple concepts like these ones.
You’re not only the Karate Sensei that knows how to punch or how to teach them 30 Kata. They will boost their confidence when they perceive that you know all that, but you also know how to improve their life far beyond the Dojo!
HOW SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING HELPS YOU TO IMPROVE YOUR KARATE AND YOUR HEALTH
Sensorimotor Training has the main goal of keeping your postural control while standing! With our without movement.
Postural control is the ability to balance and move your body in your support base while maintaining the balance and avoiding a fall.
You do that with success when you have the ability to maintain your joint stability against any kind of change.
In Karate it’s crucial that you can guarantee the best relationship between movement and stability!
When your body moves actively or is forced to move by external factors (expected or unexpected) it will get information from several sources and has to integrate them in the Central Nervous System.
The control between movement and stability can be made in two ways:
- Through reactions after unexpected stimulus
- Through the activation of previous mechanisms when you know what and when the disturbances are going to happen
What does this teaches you?
That Sensorimotor Training must have different methods if you are training Kata or Kumite…
If you want to develop a greater balance for Kata you can use only predictable and controlled exercises.
But if you want your Karate students and athletes to be effectively balanced in an open fight you need to create exercises that include unexpected stimulus. No matter if you are training them for sports Karate or self-defence!
How can you do that?
Let’s see some types of exercises:
- Exercise 1 – you ask one student to close the eyes or to look to a wall. The partner will push or pull him in a unpredictable way or timing. The Karateka that is training balance skill must restore balance as soon and stable as possible.
- Exercise 2 – agility drills are also a great method for stimulate this type of response. To know more about Agility training, go to What the hell is agility and why is so important to karate?
Attention!! Your Kumite athletes also have to train pre-planned and controlled Sensorimotor exercises… But you must conciliate the two types of methods if you want your Karateka to be more effective in a fighting situation!
Sensorimotor Training leads to improvements like:
- Increase of neural conduction speed
- Improvements in sensory integration at spinal cord and supraspinal levels
- Modifications in the excitability of alpha and gamma motoneurons
But one of the most relevant neuromuscular adaptations are the ones found by Gollhofer (2008) in a study based on unstable surfaces.
In his intervention there was an improvement in explosive strength (rate of force development). In other words, the subjects developed a greater ability to produce high levels of force in the first 100ms after muscle activation.
This is extremelly important in situations where your balance is suddenly broken!
Allows a fast increase of your muscles stiffness. What leads to a greater stability of the unbalanced joints.
HOW TO ORGANIZE A SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING PROGRAM?
When you are creating a Sensorimotor Training program you should attend the following components:
A) Type of Exercise – can be modified by the use of different equipments
B) Progression – you can increase exercise difficulty by increasing instability and complexity. This way you can stimulate more balance mechanisms
C) Load Structure – changing features like the number of series, repetitions and pause time
You also need to classify the types of exercises…
You should consider these variables:
1) Two Legs or One Leg
2) Surface – stable/unstable; hard/soft; relief/without relief
3) Sensorial channels involved in balance regulation – eyes opened/eyes closed
If you consider all this you easily understand that one exercise with two feet on the ground, on a stable surface and eyes opened is more demanding than other exercise where you are only with one foot one foot on an unstable surface with your eyes closed.
All these components should be adapted to the characteristics of your Karate students: children, healthy young adults, athletes, elders, etc.).
And inside each one of those groups you must divide them as beginners, intermediates and advanced.
In the next sub-chapters we will see the 4 Phases of Sensorimotor Training.
PHASE 1 – STATIC SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING
In this phase, the main focus is the development of adequate activation patterns of the Core.
If you want to know more about Core Training for Karate, read Ultimate guideline about core training for karate!
Your Karate students and athletes, first of all, have to learn how to stabilize the Core region.
When you achieve this goal Core muscles will be able to activate in the right way and at the right time.
Why is that important?
Because they will be the support for every dynamic technique you make in Karate – Mawashi-Geri, Oi-Zuki, etc.
This first phase should include static or almost static exercises. Where the balance adjustments are made slowly allowing the stimulation of mechanoreceptors.
The progression is the one we already presented before…
… Two legs to one leg.
… Opened eyes to closed eyes.
… Stable surfaces to unstable surface.
When your students execute exercises with their eyes closed it’s normal that they are not completelly static, specially in unstable surfaces.
PHASE 2 – DYNAMIC SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING
This phase is characterized by the introduction of exercises with progressively larger movements.
You will challenge core muscles stabilization with bigger movements of the arms and legs.
In Dynamic Phase you also use different training equipments like balance platforms, elastic bands, unstable surfaces).
The integration of movement in the exercises allow you to challenge central nervous system control mechanisms (medullar, subcortical, cortical).
In the early phase of Dynamic Sensorimotor training your Karate students should execute slow and controlled movements.
Progressively the exercise should evolve to faster and less controlled conditions.
Examples of Dyamic Sensorimotor Training:
- Exercise 1 – Your Karate athlete is on an ustable surface (two or one leg) and you pass him a medicine ball that he or she has to return back to the colleague.
- Exercise 2 – Your Karate athlete is with just one foot on the ground or unstable surface. The other foot must move against the resistance of an elastic band.
PHASE 3 – FUNCTIONAL SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING
After your students or athletes have a good pelvic control while moving the arms or legs you should progress your program to the Functional Sensorimotor Training.
In this phase you integrate more natural and ecological movements like walking, running, jumping, lunges, etc.
You make it on gradually more unstable surfaces.
PHASE 4 – SPECIFIC SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING
Scientific classification calls this phase “Functional Dynamic” but, honestly, we don’t like the term!!
We decided, in Karate Science Academy, to designate it as “Specific”
Because in this phase you must create exercises as close as possible with Karate training.
You must think how you can improve specific balance for Kata or Kumite.
And remember that for Kumite balance training you must add unexpected disturbance like pushing or pulling.
RELEVANT NUMBERS FOR SENSORIMOTOR TRAINING
If you want to train, for example, healthy adults you should memorize these numbers:
- 2 to 3 Sensorimotor Training sessions per week.
- Minimum period of 6 weeks to have effective results.
- With athletes you can plan specific sessions with 60 minutes , including 10 minutes to warm-up and 10 minutes of cool-down.
- Include 4 to 6 six different types of exercises.
- It’s recommended that each exercise lasts between 20 and 40 seconds.
- Make 4 repetitions of each exercise with a 40 seconds period between each repetition.
- Make a 3 minute break between exercises.
We leave a short list of great equipment for Sensorimotor Training:
- Balance Disks
- Balance Cushions
- Soft Mat
- Elastic Band
- Medicine Balll
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Quality is the most important aspect of Sensorimotor Training!
More important than quantity.
Independently of the complexity and intensity level, correct posture must be always guaranteed!
Don’t forget that one of the main goals of Sensorimotor Training is to create and consolidate coordenative patterns. Specially the unconscious mechanisms of movement control!
You only move forward to more complex and demanding exercises when your Karateka have a complete command of postural control!
You must give them constant external feedback so they can understand and correct their body position…
And you must always be alert to the appearance of fatigue.
Fatigue may provoke muscular compensations that are not the best intermuscular patterns for a correct posture.
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