Karate is physically demanding. You need to fuel yourself correctly in order to maximize your potential. And diet cannot be understated. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying how diet and exercise impacts the body. My first read on the topic was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book, “The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding“. A massive resource of nutrition and weightlifting information, for which Schwarzenegger received an honorary Doctorate from USC.

Bodybuilders and Karate-ka are not the same…

There are many exercises that are good for Karate-ka and conversely, there are many that are not so good. Think of Karate as an activity which utalizes quick twitch muscles to deliver effective technique. Velocity gives way to “power”. In order to develop proper technique, a student needs to work on core strength to develop quick twitch muscles and “bulking up” does not achive this. In short, you’re better off striving to look like Bruce Lee (from a physiological standpoint) , then you are to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger – for the purposes of martial arts anyways. It can be almost impossible to be flexible and extremely agile while bulky at the same time. There are a few who can pull it off – but generally speaking, it’s a pretty rare thing. And besides, all that extra bulky muscle just makes you slow. Well, slower than someone without it, so it’s probably a good idea to avoid getting too bulky.

Weightlifting for tone, not bulk…

You’ll often notice that there are essentially two different ways to weightlift – depending on your goals. Bodybuilders are consistantly trying to put on bulk in the “off season” and then when it’s time to compete, they diet hard and burn excess fat, giving them that “ripped” look. BUT, when they are in the “bulk up” phase, they lift extremely heavy loads, with few repititions. The idea is do as much deep tissue damage as possible and then they bulk up as their muscles repair themselves. Performing this type of workout over and over and over again will produce the desired result – a bulky look.

Karate-ka should avoid putting on too much bulk…

As a martial artist, you want to avoid excessive bulk. Naturally, some weight is always good – you don’t want to look like a rake – but then again, you don’t want to look like you’re on roids. 🙂 What you need to do is find balance between the two. When you’re crafting your workout routine with Karate in mind, you want to shoot for medium to medium-heavy weight. How do you know if you’re doing this? You want to get between 8-12 repetitions in your sets. If you can hit this mark, you’re probably doing okay.


The importance of cardio as it realates to Karate cannot be understated. It makes sense too. Assume you have two opponents, who are equally matched when it comes to technique. The opponent who has better cardiovascular capabilities will no doubtably come out on top, assuming the other does not score an early knockout blow. And good cardio development lends itself to more effective technique in general – think about it… your ability to replenish your cells with fresh oxygen will have a fundamental effect on your ability deliver effective technique. Better oxygen supply lends itself to faster muscle response, which in turn lends itself to more velocity, etc.

How do you develop good cardio?

Going to the gym and running endlessly on the treadmill will in time lend itself to good cardio development, but it’s as boring as hell. There are far more fun and social ways to develop your cardio abilities. Pretty much any sport will do it. Hockey, soccer, ultimate frisbee, even baseball. You should try challange you cardiovascular system at least two to three times per week. You will notice that the improvements at first will be quite subtle, but over time you will find that you are able to perform you Karate more effectively for longer periods of time. I play pick-up hockey for example and we have no line changes or referees. We skate for an hour straight. At first, I could barely make it through the game but as time went on, my body adjusted to the challange and my cardiovascular system improved. Now, I can skate the entire hour, no problem. Read up on high intensity interval training to learn more.

Be honest about your current diet

Obviously diet is key to achieving your fitness goals – but lets face it: it can be pretty tough to stay on the path. Temptations are everywhere! For me, it’s Mrs.Viki’s sea salt and malt vinegar chips… omg – so delicious. Unless you’re The Dalai Lama, you’re going to have moments of weakness. And you know what? That’s okay! The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up because you vegged out to an episode of House of Cards and demolished a bag of chips. All you can do it just try to improve day by day. Try to keep saturated fats to a minimum. Avoid the obvious mistakes: Big Macs, etc. Lots of fruits, vegtables, and lean meats are great! And ALWAYS drink water! It’s really the best fluid you can drink. Juices tend to be high in sugar, as well as energy drinks – which don’t really do anything valuable. The key is to eat a BALANCED diet.