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How to increase stamina and improve cardiovascular system.
December 1, 2010 8:05 AM   Subscribe

I do Kyokushin karate, but my stamina burns up too quickly. What's wrong with my stamina or cardiovascular system, and how do I improve them (or at least increase my stamina)?

I do Kyokushin karate, and I really enjoy it -- the hard exercises, the full contact sparring, the body conditioning, etc. I do Kyokushin mainly for the fighting and for the health benefits.

My main problem however is that I have really, really, really bad stamina, and have to consciously struggle to keep up with the training, unlike the rest of my dojo mates who, although they too similarly exert their bodies, seem to fare much better during the training sessions compared to me.

For example, in Kyokushin, we usually have extended sparring sessions; e.g. 5-7 continuous rounds of 2-minute full contact fights, with only 15 seconds of rest in between. Usually, by the 4th guy I'm straining myself to even just stand; I won't even be able to see or aim properly, and I'd be too tired to even just whip a punch or a kick back at my opponent, so I'll be forced to just defend and take blows (painfully, I might add, especially those low kicks and knees). This is really pathetic of me, in my opinion.

Running exercises are the absolute worst. As we run around the dojo, the Shihan (instructor) will give out commands to shift between medium-speed jogs and exerted runs; honestly, I've never ever been able to complete one session without buddies having to forcefully push me from the back to make sure I keep running, and I've never ended the running exercises without being completely out of breath and almost unable to stand.

A friend from the dojo interestingly noted that while I tire out faster, once I am given some time to recover, I would recover fully and be able to hit the bags or go into fights full force once again, so he says that it's not as if I have fully used up all my stamina. (Well, that's what he says, but I note that during training I honestly feel like I've burned out all my energy, especially because I don't hold back, so I'm also surprised that I can 'recover' that energy if given a bit of time.)

My guess is that my cardiovascular system is too weak to take extended periods of exertion (but this is just a guess)? Furthermore, I wonder why I am able to fully recover given some time -- does this mean that I have unused stamina in reserves, or does this just mean that I have good stamina recovery (with a bit of time) despite my small stamina limit? (i.e. 'The body battery has a small load, and dies fast, but recharges just as fast as well.')

If it's a cardiovascular thing that's the problem, what can I do to improve it? (I note that I do not enjoy plain running, because it's very unsafe to run where I live and because it's not a personal preference of mine; also, I have no access to a swimming pool.)

If it's a problem of stamina, well, what can I do to build up stamina? And what can I do to make sure that my body can withstand prolonged physical exertions? (Also, please bear in mind that my understanding of the cardiovascular system and principles, and even the definition itself, may be completely wrong, so feel free to correct me. I'm here to learn.)

Thank you for your time and help, I appreciate it.

P/S: Since I have some problems with my knee, would instead walking on a treadmill for 1-2 hours a day be helpful to improving my stamina?
posted by wz to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've had bad stamina since childhood and was eventually diagnosed with a type of anemia. Your problem could have more to do with health than fitness. Consider having your blood iron and B12 levels checked. Although I'm still out of shape, exertion doesn't wipe me out nearly as much now.
posted by Nomyte at 8:19 AM on December 1, 2010


1) Make sure you're getting enough sleep.
2) Eat properly. Only lightly before working out, and enough protien to feed your muscles.
3) I spent some time in a boxing gym, and they ran for thirty minutes to an hour before training, followed by a good 15-30 minutes of skipping. You really do have to work for cardio.
4) Other insights from sports fighting: They try to train as hard or harder than they'll have to fight. If you spar for fifteen minute bouts, then train for thirty minute bouts.

Honestly I don't know if there's a miracle cure here, other than working your ass off. Take up running, biking, swimming, showshoeing, or whatever seems appropriate where you are. Work, work, work.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:19 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I missed your last point. Knee troubles suck. Find something with lower impact on your knees, and probably double check with a doctor before you start it.
Swimming or biking might be better for someone with knee trouble than running, but it probably depends on the nature of your injury. And I am not a doctor.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:23 AM on December 1, 2010


It turns out I get all out of breath because I have beta thelassemia trait. So my body just plain doesn't take in as much oxygen as most people can. This can be indicated in blood tests by smaller red blood cells and mild anemia. It's a longshot, but just thought I'd mention it.

You probably just need more cardio exercise.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 8:25 AM on December 1, 2010


Are you a bigger guy? I know that for me, there's a weight above which running becomes much much more difficult.

I'm not a Kyokushin guy, but from BJJ and Judo, I know that a lot of novices get tired really really quickly during sparring because they exert their power constantly. More experienced people use their power in quick, explosive bursts.

It may be that you have to do more cardio work.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:35 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Firstly, no, walking on a treadmill will not cut it. You don't need "cardio", you need conditioning. This will suck but in the good way that physical exertion does.

Fights are anaerobic events. This isn't a marathon, aerobic endurance will be nearly useless here and increasing aerobic endurance has a smaller carryover to anaerobic endurance than the opposite. You need to condition yourself for anaerobic events and the best way is through anaerobic conditioning: repeated high intensity events over short time periods.

Follow these links to get some idea what you need to be doing:
CrossFit
Ross Training
Dragon Door
posted by Loto at 8:36 AM on December 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


@ Nomyte and The Biggest Dreamer: Last time I went for a checkup (t'was last year, methinks) the doctor's report stated that I was perfectly healthy, so I don't think I have anemia or something, but it's a worthy mention, and the next time I go for a checkup I'll be sure to highlight the possibility of it to my doctor.

@ Stagger Lee:

1/2) Yeah, I also noticed that if I get a good night's sleep and a proper meal several hours before training, I'm at my best physical state.
3) We do bags and fighting training only after the workouts as well; running, jumping, squatting, pushups, crunches, etc (which usually takes up about 45 mins to an hour). I'll take note about the cardio part though.

My last point is basically this: I'm thinking of getting a treadmill and making myself one of those treadputer desks, so that I can work while exercising. I'm aiming for fitness and some weight loss, but mostly it's about increasing stamina and whether a treadmill is good for all that.
posted by wz at 8:37 AM on December 1, 2010


They can be, but you can't expect to stroll on them. You get pretty minimal cardio gain if you're not raising your heart rate; interval training and hard long runs on the treadmill can be great, but I'd expect to spend the time on the mill sweaty and generally unable to type or read.

IMHO if you're reading a book or typing documents up while working out, you're not working hard enough to see any substantial improvement.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:42 AM on December 1, 2010


Comrade_Robot: Are you a bigger guy? I know that for me, there's a weight above which running becomes much much more difficult.

I'm not a Kyokushin guy, but from BJJ and Judo, I know that a lot of novices get tired really really quickly during sparring because they exert their power constantly. More experienced people use their power in quick, explosive bursts.


According to my BMI, I'm about 20kgs overweight (at my height, I should be around 60-65 kgs, but I'm around 85 kgs currently), but it doesn't feel that bad. I can do fast high kicks quite easily, and if I push myself I can run pretty fast (but I can't last in running, which is exactly as per your description).

If I may ask, how do you control those explosive bursts? Honestly, I feel like if I don't use enough power I won't be able to take down some of these guys, who come at you very hard.

----

Loto: Firstly, no, walking on a treadmill will not cut it. You don't need "cardio", you need conditioning. This will suck but in the good way that physical exertion does.

Fights are anaerobic events. This isn't a marathon, aerobic endurance will be nearly useless here and increasing aerobic endurance has a smaller carryover to anaerobic endurance than the opposite. You need to condition yourself for anaerobic events and the best way is through anaerobic conditioning: repeated high intensity events over short time periods.


Thanks for the links! I'll read them immediately tomorrow. If I may ask: even if the treadmill won't help with anaerobic events (I still have to read on what that means, other than assuming it doesn't use oxygen) like fights, it will still help me last better during running sessions, yes? Or will it not?
posted by wz at 8:45 AM on December 1, 2010


Basically whatever you practice, cardio-wise, will help you get better at that - it doesn't really translate well across modes. In order to get better at high-intensity anaerobic work, you have to do a bunch of high-intensity anaerobic work. Crossfit is aimed pretty specifically at that kind of effort - it's probably worth a look. Walking on a treadmill won't help you run faster or farther past a certain minimum, and you're probably more fit than that already.

(I study at a formerly-Kyokushin school, so I totally feel your pain. When a couple of our students were invited to test for their black belts, we all got together two or three times a week to spar with them so they could work on staying upright for half a dozen rounds in a row. It did help them, actually.)
posted by restless_nomad at 8:52 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a former ultra-marathon runner (but not a karate expert)....

The above post is right on. You get good at whatever it is you're practicing. It sounds like you're getting a great karate workout with your karate, and that's one (but just one- see below) great step to improving your stamina. How fast your cardio improves depends on how often you're doing this. At once a week, this kind of exercise will not get you to a very high level. Twice a week will get you to a decent level. Three or more times a week of this kind of exertion will lead to a high level of fitness. If you're doing it once a week or less and not getting other exercise, it's not surprising that you're not in great shape. Unless you're starting from a low base-level, walking on a treadmill won't do much for the high-exertion exercise you're training for, and running might be bad for your knee. How about an elliptical trainer? Do sprints followed by brief breaks to mimic your karate workout. Also, doing simple things like many fast reps of pushups, situps, chinups, and burpees can do wonders for both cardio and fast-twitch muscles and except for burpees are all easy on the knees, are free, and don't require a lot of space. Do crunches when situps get hard, or knee pushups when you're too tired for regular ones. The idea is to get your heart rate up, not so much to build strength.

As some of the above posters have said, it also sounds like you might also have some nutritional issues. Before looking for the specific deficiencies being cited by posters above, I'd make sure you're doing all the basics right (just the obvious: vegetables, protein, carbs all mixed, and enough of all of them, not too much processed food). Besides that, this is some simple advice that helped me with endurance:

1) Increase your carbohydrate-intake in meals before the workout. Preferably the night before, or at least 4 hours before. Pasta, rice, etc. Make sure you've got enough energy for the workout. Think of this as fuel.
2) Drink lots of water before, during, and after working out.
3) Focus on proteins and carbs after working out. Meat and potatoes. Tofu/rice stir-fry. Whatever you like. Think of this as re-fueling and re-building.

Finally, it sounds like you're motivated and hard on yourself- those are good things. Don't lose that, exercise smart and often, and you should see some encouraging improvements. If none of that works, only then should you see about medical conditions. But don't look for a condition if all you have is a poor diet or inadequate exercise. The one exception I'd make is iron, which can lead to fatigue and which is commonly at low levels. Green leafy vegetables, beef, and even bagels can help with that.
posted by the thing about it at 9:07 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anaerobic exercise. Sorry, should have included that the first time around.

Depending on where you are at with regards to conditioning, walking may or may not help with your running sessions. If you can complete the running session then it is pretty unlikely to help. However, conditioning work would definitely help. Doubly so if the conditioning work involved interval sprints (sprint for so many seconds, rest for so many seconds, repeat for N times).
posted by Loto at 9:12 AM on December 1, 2010


I could be wrong, but I believe to increase stamina like this, you need to increase the time (and intensity) it takes for your body to go from aerobic to anaerobic. Example: most people can walk at a certain pace basically forever before their heart rate goes up and they tire and sweat out. But increase that pace just a little bit more, and they tire much more quickly.

So, what you do is take your body weight and age and all that, and figure out what your target heart rates are. Get on a treadmill and start figuring. Say you can do 2.5 MPH for 30 minutes and your heart rate stays at the (I think) 80% level for aerobic training. Up that to 2.6 and keep going until your heart rate hits the 80% level. Do that until you can again do it for 30 minutes. (There are instructions out there on how to train like this and what percentages of heart rate and time at that heart rate you need. I'm not doing a terribly good job at explaining it- part of the idea is to also go into sprint mode at times.)

For example, when I was less lazy and running, I made little improvement by just trying to maintain a pace for ever longer times. But if I ended the run with an all out sprint, I found that my endurance time and tolerance went up very quickly. The point others make is correct, just jumping on a treadmill and surviving won't help. But using it along with a heart rate monitor and varying the intensity to go back and forth between aerobic and anaerobic will help. Think of one of Walter Payton's training methods- he would run up sand dunes as fast as he could, churning his legs until exhaustion, over and over again. The point was that by training HARDER than what he would ever need to do on the field, he would have the depth of both aerobic and anaerobic reserves to be able run his routes and cool down and recharge quickly enough to be back at 100% for the next play.

What the goal is is to stay in the relatively comfortable aerobic range for more time during your fight training. If you are in anaerobic mode for the entire time, you tire easily. This may eventually build some anaerobic endurance, but it is doing it the hard way. What you want to do is build up your aerobic performance so that, for example, you are in aerobic mode for the running, and only briefly pop into anaerobic mode for the more intense kicking and whatnot. So that when that part is over and you have to keep running again, you have some "reserves" of aerobic performance available to recharge the mitochondria in your muscles and still maintain pace.
posted by gjc at 9:17 AM on December 1, 2010


According to my BMI, I'm about 20kgs overweight (at my height, I should be around 60-65 kgs, but I'm around 85 kgs currently), but it doesn't feel that bad. I can do fast high kicks quite easily, and if I push myself I can run pretty fast (but I can't last in running, which is exactly as per your description).

The thing about being a bigger guy is that you're stronger, because you're used to carrying around that extra weight, but your stamina gets shot, because you have to carry around a bunch of extra weight. It sounds like you're working on this already, though.

If I may ask, how do you control those explosive bursts? Honestly, I feel like if I don't use enough power I won't be able to take down some of these guys, who come at you very hard.

The idea behind this -- and I guess a lot of this comes with experience -- is that you only really need to use strength at very specific times. For example, in Judo (which is that art where everybody wears a jacket and tries to throw the opponent), after we've gripped up, if we're both moving around, my arms are loose and relaxed. This has two benefits: it 'disconnects' my body from his so he can't feel what I'm doing, and I use much less energy. New people don't do this; they grab you as hard as they can, and their arms are rigid, with their arms locked out. This uses up a lot of energy, telegraphs every single motion they make, and actually slows their technique, because they have to unbend their arms to get the body contact to throw.

When I throw, my entire body exerts a great deal of energy, but only for that instant. The rest of the time I am semi-relaxed. I did a bit of boxing, and it was similar. I was told to relax until the moment before impact.

I agree with anybody who tells you to try Crossfit: Crossfit (or Crossfit style exercises) have helped me enormously. Conditioning is a giant advantage when fighting people, and it's something that you really appreciate if you ever visit other schools where they don't condition as well.
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:25 AM on December 1, 2010


1) Increase your carbohydrate-intake in meals before the workout. Preferably the night before, or at least 4 hours before. Pasta, rice, etc. Make sure you've got enough energy for the workout. Think of this as fuel.
2) Drink lots of water before, during, and after working out.
3) Focus on proteins and carbs after working out. Meat and potatoes. Tofu/rice stir-fry. Whatever you like. Think of this as re-fueling and re-building.


This is correct, but I would adjust it slightly to say "fuel your body for what it will be doing until the next meal, no more, no less".

Using the refueling and recharging framework for the after-workout protein meal is correct, but can lead to bad habits where food becomes a reward.

The object and methods are the same, but the mindset is slightly different and more positive. The further out before the workout the meal is, the more complex the carbs need to be. A big-ass bowl of pasta the night before will be mostly unavailable for a noontime workout- the body will already have extracted the carbs, turned them into fat and moved the remains along your 'tract' by the time of the workout. If you want to get super scientific about it, get a blood sugar monitoring kit and chart what your sugar levels do after different kinds of meals. And the after workout meal needs to be protein because all your body will be doing is repairing muscle damage, and it needs protein for that.

(And you'll have to sort of measure and adjust water intake. Too much can be harmful too. Not even the extremes, but just marginally too much will at the very least fill the bladder and cause discomfort and "sloshing" (scientific, I know) during the workout.)
posted by gjc at 9:33 AM on December 1, 2010


Fellow karateka here, different style, less sparring, but still can be intense to the point of collapse. I had a stamina problem, it was ultimately related to anemia, and exercise-related asthma. Taking care of the asthma alone, I can run about 25% longer than before - the change in stamina was shocking. I have no idea if these are of any relation to you, but don't discount a mild medical problem causing that difference. I'd recommend taking a daily vitamin, since it can't hurt, and see if that affects your stamina.

Also, just from a physics point of view, exercise in general, but especially running is much, much easier the lighter you are. So if you are carrying extra weight, you're expending much more energy to do the same thing as your lighter classmates. Not an excuse to fall behind, but it's reality.

I can't imagine walking would help, you know? It's just so low-impact. I also have knee problems, my Sensei suggested biking, since that will strengthen knee muscles. But my O'Sensei (a squat 80 year old Okinawan man) doesn't understand Western obsession with cardio for cardio's sake. He says instead of cardio, "maybe better do 10 kata fast."
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:47 AM on December 1, 2010


I've been doing martial arts on and off for years too. So 2 things.

I've had asthma since I was a kid. I wanted to ween myself off the medications. So 10 years ago I took a class in something called Buteyko breathing. Their counter intuitive premise is that most people actually chronically over breath, asthmatics particularly so. The short of it is that I did their breathing exercises for a few months at the end of which not only were my symptoms eradicated but all of a sudden I was fit without having worked out. I could go and jog miles without getting winded or tired whereas before that was an impossibility. Basically to start figure out if you're a mouth breather .. if so you are almost surely over breathing. Then you might take a look at some of their breathing exercises and gradually improve your control pause.

Second thing, the recent studies on exercise show that the most effective cardio exercises are High Intensity Training (HIT). Its basically interval training where you go all out for short bursts, rest and repeat.
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-03/w-tne031110.php
posted by blueyellow at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2010


Many good candidate ideas above... all I can add is that in the case of one friend I have who suffered a similar issue, it was eventually discovered that he was unwittingly tiring himself out by wincing/tensing up badly every time he got hit. A conscious effort was made to train him out of it, and his combat stamina improved radically... and quickly.
posted by Pufferish at 10:57 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


For me, interval training (HIT as blueyellow mentioned) is the best way to increase my stamina. I do it on an elliptical. Warm up for 10 or so minutes, than go as hard as I can for 20-30 seconds, wait for my HR to go back down and repeat for 15-20 minutes. Eventually you will be able to spend more time in the high-intensity part of the exercise.
posted by thylacine at 11:04 AM on December 1, 2010


Another form of interval training that's easily adaptable to your activity is the tabata protocol. This means 8 rounds alternating between:

-- 20 seconds all-out effort
-- 10 seconds rest

The total workout, including rest, is only 4 minutes long. But at the end of that 4 minutes you will be very, very happy to be done.

Here is a video of an extremely in-shape guy doing tabata punch-out drills: http://tinyurl.com/37dux5p. But you can do these with anything. Bodyweight squats, roundhouse kicks to the bag, whatever.

I did these punch-out drills for a while, but had to modify the protocol to 15 seconds work, 15 seconds rest. Even then, I was in a deep, dark place from the 4th interval on.

For tabata or any other timed intervals, I recommend this timer: http://gymboss.com/. It lets you separately set the times for your work and rest intervals. So all you have to do is listen for the beep. Watching the clock is way too distracting for this type of training.
posted by anonymice at 11:12 AM on December 1, 2010


The only thing I haven't seen suggested is rest. Doing the hard kyokushin workouts will themselves make you better at them, but your body will rebuild (and build you greater anaerobic capacity) from these workouts faster if you make sure you get enough rest. Make sure you get a good night's sleep after training. If your muscles are really hurting after a workout, ice them down for a bit.

Additional anaerobic exercises are great, but only if your body can handle them.
posted by ignignokt at 9:20 PM on December 1, 2010


Wow, you guys are really awesome and knowledgeable! I learned so much, THANK YOU! I'll try incorporating whatever you've suggested into my training, and I hope I'll get to improve in the long run.
posted by wz at 6:14 PM on December 2, 2010


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