Friday, December 21, 2012

0 Martial Arts and Running: Balancing the Yin with the Yang :)


As I mentioned in previous post, I'm now enrolled as a student at a martial arts school, in addition to my other exercise activities. I'm currently taking (Northern Shaolin) kung fu and t'ai chi there, and at some point, will probably also toss in a kickboxing class here and there. After some trial and error, I've had to shift my schedule around a bit, but now think I've found the perfect balance to fit everything in. I was originally going to lift on my off-days from martial arts and running, but as I soon discovered, that wasn't feasible. After doing lifting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and then doing martial arts and running in between, I noticed that, not only was I dead tired, which of course wouldn't be permanent [it takes time to acclimate to a completely different form of exercise (i.e., martial arts) than I'm used to doing], but my muscles were staging an out-and-out coup that only a fool would ignore.

Kung fu, in particular, develops strength (among other attributes), and of course, so does lifting. This means that, as I soon realized, I was actually doing back-to-back full-body strength training workouts from Monday-Friday, which is definitely not a good idea. Full-body strength workouts should be done every other day to allow your muscles time to recover, repair, and rebuild. And by following a workout schedule such as the one outlined above, I wasn't giving my muscles (particularly my lower body, triceps, and core) any recovery time at all. Well, there was hardly any recovery time, since I only took one day off (Sunday).

So, I decided to lift immediately after my martial arts classes instead. My muscles were already warm, and it was actually a heck of a lot easier to lift after class than on the days in between. And so, I switched my strength training days to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and decided I'd run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays instead. On Friday, I also do a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout while I'm at the gym, but doing back-to-back cardio isn't as much of a concern.

Things started off well, and I began by keeping to my 6-days-a-week workout schedule. However, I've noticed that there are days in which I'm still fairly tired and sometimes just not in the mood to run, so on these days I'll motivate myself to exercise by doing other fitness activities. I'll hike, walk, cycle, etc. I clearly love to run, but lately, I just seem to be gravitating to other things. My runs, when they do happen, are typically fairly short (2-3 miles) right now. Once April rolls around (i.e., after The Athlete's Cookbook fitness photoshoot wraps), I'll shift back into serious race training mode. Or, at least that's the plan right now. :)

In truth, lifting is a bit boring, but it gets the job done. Plus, between that, the kung fu, and the 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle nutrition plan I'm now following, I can really see some significant improvements -- my lean muscle mass is increasing and I'm getting stronger all over, and of course, that'll pay big dividends when it's time to go out for a run. :)

It's interesting to compare all of the activities, because what I'm getting out of each of them is so very different. And I'm not just talking about the obvious physical fitness benefits either. However, there is some overlap. In some ways, long distance running combines some of the feelings I get from both kung fu and t'ai chi, but at different phases of the run itself. For example, I feel really energized after kung fu, like I could take on the world. That's the feeling I often get from running, i.e., the "runner's high." However, when I run, that euphoric feeling almost always comes during the run, whereas in kung fu class, I notice that this feeling happens most commonly after class. That's why it's so easy to go and lift after kung fu class. My energy levels skyrocket and I feel like the Energizer Bunny. :) Boing, boing, boing! It's honestly hard to stop. :)

There's also this factor: I'm naturally a night person, so it probably doesn't help that kung fu class gets out at 8:30 pm. However, a lot of us typically stay a half hour later or more to work on our forms some more, stretch, &/or do more bodyweight exercises. And then of course, we also chat a bit afterwards too. :) So, in reality, I get out of class closer to 9 pm, or if I chat with other students, sometimes it can be even later. ;) So, by the time I get to the gym it's often closer to 9:45 or 10 pm. Then, I lift for an hour and get back around 11 pm or if I'm really time-conscious, then sometimes a bit before. Sometimes the lifting calms me down and other times, I'm still wired afterwards. I've been trying to get to bed before midnight, and lately, I've been so tired, that it's usually not very hard to do that. :)

As for t'ai chi, it does share some common elements with running, in terms of its meditative qualities and aftereffects. It's considered to be an internal martial art, (except for the chen style of t'ai chi, which is more external). It still requires strength, balance, and coordination, like kung fu, but unlike kung fu, its movements are very slow and controlled. It gives me a feeling of inner calm, but I also feel alert and energized in a gentle sort of way. Or, in Chinese terms, t'ai chi helps to build, well, chi (qi). :-D Qi (or chi) is the Chinese word for "life force." Basically, it's energy, but there's actually a whole lot more to it than that. Qi can be a pervasive force that not just flows through one's body but also connects all sorts of life forms to each other. In fact, if your hands are red after doing t'ai chi, then it is said that are producing and circulating qi. Your blood is certainly circulating at any rate. :) Also, various martial arts forms can produce qi, not just t'ai chi.

The feeling I get after doing t'ai chi is somewhat similar to the feeling I get either during or after a long distance run, in that it's that calm, rhythmic, meditative state where you almost forget that you are moving. The big difference is that running is a natural motion, whereas some of the movements in t'ai chi are not, or at least not at first, and take years of practice before you can attain a certain level of flow. The foot, arm, and torso positions, the various stances -- they all take a lot of practice to learn and master. Even so, there are times in both activities when I turn inwards (I'm a very internal runner by nature anyhow) and will just exist in the moment. Running requires a natural presence of mind, just like t'ai chi. This is why I like running on trails. Not too many traffic crossing involved, so you can just experience the run on so many different levels -- mentally, physically, spiritually, etc. But you can still be aware of your environment at the same time. Sure, you are breathing and putting in effort, but through it all, your mind is just there, almost in a suspended state. You're just letting your thoughts flow and on some days, when you're having a really good run, your body also seems to almost floating along too, just doing its thing. This is also where peace and joy are often found. (Geez, now I sound like a Christmas carol. Lol.)

To my mind, all of these activities really enhance each other in so many different ways.

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