Thursday, January 19, 2012

7 Exercises to Test Fitness, Flexibility and Balance

Bruce Lee - Two Finger Push-ups
How important is it to test your students (and yourself) in fitness and flexibility?

In 1908, Anko Itosu (considered to be the father of modern karate), wrote his "Ten Precepts of Karate" to the Okinawan Ministry of Education as a way to introduce karate to the Okinawan school system.  His 7th precept stated, "You must decide if karate is for your health or to aid your duty."

(To get more info on Itosu's Ten Precepts, check out this excellent blog post by Iain Abernethy)

It should be safe to assume that the majority of people practice martial arts primarily for the health and other (non-combat) benefits that they provide.  Even the advertisements for most schools focus on the health, coordination and similar benefits that martial arts provide.

Unfortunately, I am not convinced that many martial arts schools really fulfill their claims.  After all, I've certainly seen my share of overweight black belts.

I believe that martial arts truly can provide some outstanding health benefits when practiced often and with intensity.  However, therein lies the sticking point.  Most martial artists do not train often enough or hard enough.  So, I decided to perform a test on my martial arts students (and myself) to see if they really were getting any measurable health benefits.

I chose seven exercises that were simple, measurable and repeatable and tested 46 students across a variety of ranks, ages ranging from 5-18.  The first test was taken in the beginning of January to create a baseline.  Subsequent tests will be held every two months up until the 6 month mark to gauge progress.

The exercises included:

Fitness -             Pushups - Maximum amount in 1 minute
                           Crunches - Maximum amount in 1 minute
                           High Jump - Highest Jump out of 3 attempts

Flexibility -        Modified Sit and Reach - Maximum Stretch out of 3 attempts
                           Wall Leg Stretch (V Stretch) - Maximum Stretch
                           Shoulder Stretch - Maximum Stretch

Balance -            Balance Board - Maximum Time in 1 attempt

(Click for downloadable Exercise Instructions and Fitness Assessment Form)

The tests were easy to demonstrate, simple to perform and the largest class (18 students) took just under an hour to complete.

I timed the test to coincide with the New Year so that I could also introduce the idea of goals to the younger students.  I also made sure to stress that while the initial numbers give us a baseline, the improvement is what I'm really interested in measuring.  And, to make it more exciting for them, the students with the greatest gain in each area and the student with the greatest gain overall will be recognized!

I have attached the test scores for my students (yes, mine are there too, on the bottom) in the below image.  How did you students do?

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