“The bottom line is that you can train your muscles to be more responsive and resilient, decrease incidence of injury, decrease pain, and experience many years of enjoyable and productive training.”
Aikido is known as the way of harmony. We learn to gain an advantage over another’s center by maintaining and controlling our own center. This requires, among many things, smooth coordination and timing of the physical motion within our own body so that we can blend with, and capture, the other person’s movement and timing.
Aikido masters and long time practitioners can do this seamlessly and with little effort. However, when in the trenches of learning this simple, yet sophisticated, art, good physical conditioning is tremendously helpful, especially if we want to practice for many years.
All of the great masters were in top physical condition as they honed their skills. They were also quite active outside of the dojo. In contrast, many people today are deconditioned due to sitting for hours on end and they often suffer from the weekend warrior syndrome. On the other side of the equation, there are hard-core people who suffer from general over-training and/or repetitive training patterns. Either of these scenarios opens the door to imbalances and weak links that decrease your abilities and promote injuries.
I don’t know about you, but even though aikido is often portrayed as “gentle,” classes can be quite quite physical! You take falls, get pinned, pivot, deal with ill-timed partner movement, etc.
How can we hope to influence someone else’s center with harmonious timing, when we have lost our center and the harmony within our own physical structure?
Practicing exercises that develop and maintain a strong core, promote good posture, and alignment helps our basic health, but it also allows for better aikido training.
A good fundamental exercise program is all about balance. The following is a brief example of the benefits derived from this type of program.
A healthy core (trunk musculature) harnesses and unites power. It harmonizes forces that flow from the bottom up, top down, and either side of the body, which allows for balance throughout circular motion, which is key in Aikido.
Concentrated and solo training of coordination and balance exercises will promote better reflex synchronization and improve timing of muscular contraction and relaxation, which will help you when working with a partner.
Practice of good alignment and joint tracking habits, development of strength and suppleness throughout the body will protect your joints (knees, spine and discs, wrists, and shoulders).
A well-tuned body allows you to acquire new skills more efficiently.
The bottom line is that you can train your muscles to be more responsive and resilient, decrease incidence of injury, decrease pain, and experience many years of enjoyable and productive training.
I divide this type of training into 3 general categories:
1. Stop the downward spiral:
Post Injury/rehabilitative training replaces unhealthy movement and alignment patterns with healthy ones. Decreases incidence of flare-ups. Creates, or restores, healthy and appropriate range of motion, strength, and stability. Decreases pain. (This is often combined with in-office therapies to influence and speed the trajectory of healing.)
2. Foundation Building and Injury Prevention:
Basic Health training can include aspects of rehabilitative training, but it focuses more intently on full body integration of movement to ingrain healthy patterns that will protect your joints. You develop strength, flexibility, and stability that stand up to the demands you place on your body. This training decreases your limitations and slows degeneration of joints.
How does this type of training slow joint degeneration? The more balance of strength and flexibility is available to the muscles that cross and attach to a joint, the less stress and uneven wear and tear to the joint. Also, when in a deconditioned state, or after an injury, the timing of muscle engagement is faulty. Stability training, which is often overlooked, re-establishes good timing of reflexes and decreases chance of re-injury. Well-trained muscles provide a fortress of support and protection, which is their job after all!
3. Peak Performance Enhancement:
Athletic Performance training incorporates aspects of the above, but there is an emphasis on timing, coordination, development of stamina while maintaining the healthy integrated movement you established with prior training.
The benefit of practicing fundamental core and postural exercises is that you develop a robust body that can handle demands and adopt new challenges with ease.
The solo aspect of this type of training allows you to concentrate on the acquisition of healthier movement patterns, which will become habitual.
You will be able to strengthen weak muscles, bring range of motion to stiff areas, and safely integrate or re-organize your body to perform better on or off the mat.
There are many programs that can give you this type of training. Find the one you like and weave it into your training regimen. Your body will thank you for it.
Healthy Backs For All
Three Basic Core Strength Exercises:
Good for beginners or people recovering from back injury.
Lie as shown in the picture. Place the tip of your tongue just behind your front teeth and push it upward into the roof of your mouth. This may help to stabilize your head/neck. Think of your mid-upper back, neck and shoulders as one rigid unit, then lift that unit off the floor in a vertical motion. You are lifting only a few inches off the ground and you are looking at the ceiling. Hold the contraction for a few seconds. Then, switch legs.
1. For this particular exercise, avoid doing a crunch or curl up, instead focus on the vertical lift off.
2. Keep your head aligned with the rest of the upper body.
3. Avoid leading with the chin jutting towards the ceiling.
4. Move the entire upper body (shoulder blades to top of head) as one unit.
5. Keep the natural curve of your low back (the hands will help you monitor the low back curve). Mild low back downward pressure into the hands is ok, but avoid doing a full downward press into the floor. You should feel a stiffening in the trunk muscles.
A great basic exercise for activation of core, balance, and alignment. This exercise, if done correctly, poses low stress to spine and discs. It’s subtle, seems easy, but there is a lot to it. So, take your time and focus on good technique. Keep your head aligned. Maintain the natural curve of your low back, but support it with the abdominals. Work on staying parallel with floor.
As usual, there are many variations of the side plank. It’s important to focus on good technique and progress as is appropriate for you.
The Quadratus Lomborum is a back muscle that goes from the last rib to the top of the pelvis. There is one on each side of the spine. It is a major player in the health of your back. The muscle is a substantial part of the 360 degree corset of muscles that protect your spine and discs.
These muscles are targeted in exercises like the side plank. Good technique is key when practicing any exercise, so progress at your own pace, focus on alignment, and proper activation.
Lisa Allaire, DC
Dr. of Chiropractic and creator of the Allaire Back Fitness PBS TV series and DVDs.
Allaire Chiropractic and Rehabilitation
She studies Yoshinkai Aikido at the Higirikan Dojo in South San Francisco.